A hike with Raven and Karma

Two of my favourite hiking companions.

Captain’s log, stardate 2017 – We’ve just left the alpha-centauri sector. . .

No wait, that is another entry I have to finish for my other job. This entry is a little more exciting.

Raven, Karma and I went for a hike in the transition zone between the dry grasslands and the dry Douglas Fir/bunchgrass zones (you may recognize a theme here), and yes, it was pretty dry out there.

The juniper berries are doing well – which bodes well for the Townsend’s solitaire but the bear-berry plants were devoid of fruit which forebodes poorly for the bears next spring.

The air was crisp and clear, the skies blue and the company splendiferous.

A high point was watching the rare Arkansas Stump hound do her thing – hunting out stumps and rocks and pouncing on them until treats were handed out.

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Now I’m really gone!

Me and Ricco before being famous

So I checked my email this morning and I had a very good song suggestion by one of my co-workers from many years back. Alanna, with whom I worked in the newspaper business, has gone on to become a writer of incredible talent and covers international stories like the jet-setting heroines in those spy-thriller movies.
When I knew her however it was a much more mundane beat – reporting on the beer-belly league of men’s hockey in Clearwater, BC and covering the escape of farmer Brown’s prized Hereford. I sold ads for the paper and was allowed a small column on page 43 under the stipulation that I had to sell enough ads to make a 44 page newspaper. She has gone on to much better things – I went into the mountains and learned how to ride a horse.
Anyhow, she suggested I rewrite the words to Hallelujah and I did and here it is:

Two more beers Bro
Now I’ve heard there is a secret bar
Where rock still plays, and not so very far
But you don’t have the cover charge, do you?
What beer was this
The fourth, the fifth
I had a fall, I need a lift
But better yet I’ll have two more beers bro
Two more beers bro
Two more beers bro
Two more beers bro
Two more beers bro

The scotch was strong, some say over proof
Next thing you’re dancing on the roof
But security and cops overthrew you
They cuffed you
And wino bill
They harshed your vibe, and your buzz they killed
And from your lips I heard the “two more beers bro”
Two more beers bro
Two more beers bro
Two more beers bro
Two more beers bro

me and Ricco after being famous

Farewell and adieu

Sunset last evening over Kamloops Lake

I had hiked out to my favourite little corner of Kenna Cartwright Park last evening – to get some more footage of the owls, stretch my legs and try to get my fix of bugs and snakes.

The weather had been miserable all day and there was a major round of hockey going on, so consequently I had most of the park to myself. The owls co-operated, the lighting even turned out to be all right as the storm passed and some of the setting sun’s rays made it through the dead pines to illuminate my subjects.

After the obligatory 30 minutes of an owl sitting in a tree doing pretty much nothing, my mind wandered and I ambled off looking for other subjects. I found a Meadowlark staking out his territory and while filming that process I was treated to the chorus of coyotes from down the bluff.

But I must now pack my bags and get ready to head out for the bright lights of the ‘Peg. I’m hoping they still take B.C. dollars at par out there.  I will be back in a few days and will have great tales of excitement and “daring-do” from my sojourn to the city.

Remember, never say whoa when you’re half way into a mudhole!

“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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

Dr. Dirt and the Masters of Mud

Out for a ride?
My friend Jason (lower right) just had a birthday and I knew I had to send him this photo. The three of us; me, Noah and Jason, were having a contest to see who could ride the furthest out into the river on our mountain bikes. 
The contest seemed like a pretty good idea until I got out over my head and then remembered my feet were stuck in the toe clips and I am far from being a good swimmer. I swallowed a lot of river that day and Jason and Noah had a good laugh about it. 
I really couldn’t fault the two for it was pretty funny – seeing your buddy struggling between life and death and trying to swim while packing a mountain bike under one arm. The insensitive clods!
But what was funny was when on the next day we rode up to Sylvia falls and I played a little trick on Jason. After leaving the falls we tried going further up the trail to Mahood Lake. Now the trail is very steep on one section and we had to push our bikes up the narrow trail and we finally tired of that, left our bikes, and finished the hike on foot. On our return to the bikes we stopped and had a little lunch. While Jason wasn’t watching I unhooked his brakes. Now that was funnier than a man drowning! Jason, was a very good rider but even he had to bail after about five seconds. We all had a good laugh about it (well Noah and I had a good laugh about it).
I think it was shortly after that, that Jason retaliated by hiding about ten pounds of rocks in the bottom of my panniers at the start of our ride up to the top of Baldy Mountain. Now Baldy is about a six hour climb on the bikes with nary a level piece of ground on which to catch your breath (we did it once in under two but that was during a race). Anyways we started out in good spirits but I just couldn’t seem to get my wind that day and my legs felt like lead as I struggled to keep up with Noah and Jason. About three hours into the ride I had a flat and had to go into my panniers – when I found the rocks I was not a happy camper! Noah and Jason again had a good laugh about it.
Those were the good ole days – we rode most everyday – wind, rain or snow. Actually the worse the weather, the greater the adventure. My bike is still hanging in the garage, perhaps I’ll dust it off and coast down to Tim Hortons one day.
Dr. Dirt and the Masters of Mud at Sylvia Falls