The Ritcey Maxim

 Pick out the predators (2 eyes) and the prey (1 eye)

Now ever since I had learned Boyle’s law in a grade nine science class I wanted a law named after me. As I matured however I realized that most good laws had already been taken and started to lean towards perhaps postulating a good theorem. Theorems are by definition a lot less stringent than a law and should have been easier to come up with. Now I have come upon something a little more attainable – a maxim, which by my understanding is a step above “some guy I know told me” or “a friend of a friend says”.

So I am now presenting the following maxim to biologists and naturalists the world over. The Ritcey Maxim or the One-Eye Maxim states that if you have a picture of a bird or a mammal and you can only clearly see one eye, then the animal is most likely a prey species. Two eyes clearly visible in the photo and the animal is most likely a predator.

Try it out with your own photos. And yes there will be exceptions to the rule, even I have photos of a rabbit with both eyes clearly visible – but I would estimate that this maxim holds true over 78.6% of the time.

Breakfast in Spain

I added this photo as I loved the feeling it invoked. The brightness of the courtyard playing off against the darkness that partially obscures the produce gave it an interesting ying-yang effect.

Now I don’t know that produce in Spain is necessarily any better for you than that grown in Mexico or where-ever it is that we get our fresh local produce from but it sure tasted better. Daughter Lisa and I would take the train into Barcelona or the el-traino as those of us who don’t speak Spanish would say and after doing the sight seeing thing we would go to the marcado and load up on whatever caught our eye.

Now it may just have been clever marketing but it looked like the vegetables were from small truck gardens and the produce was always fresh, clean and very very bueno. Fresh salads were always the order of the day as were interesting stir fries and rice dishes.

The marcado often provided a palette for both the eyes and the taste buds.

That last glimmer of hope

the last glimmer of hope

Well I thought I’d best get this blog entry in while there was still a glimmer of hope. If I wait til tomorrow I might have to write an all doom and gloom post and that just isn’t fun to read.

I arrived home yesterday to a message on – you guessed it – on my answering machine. It was a pleasant sounding lady from the CBC out in Montreal, asking me to call her back with regards to the “Canada Writes” competition. Now, I can’t be sure but she was either phoning me for the necessary phone interview to see if I would be a suitable candidate for a “game show” or she may have been phoning to ask that I quit submitting things to CBC literary contests.

Either way, I was a blip on the radar for a moment and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and then. . .

And then I drew a blank – I couldn’t remember which piece of prose I’d wowed them with. I knew it wasn’t in my sent files as you submitted via a form on the web so I had to search all of my files that had anything to do with CBC. It seems I’ve entered a lot of CBC contests in the last number of years, but adding a chronological sort along with a word search for CBC found the two most likely culprits – my “dog-gone” song – an homage to all dogs that have packed it in on film or in song, and then my pitch for my next great “B” movie -“The Attack of the Mutant Kreepy Krawlers”

After having re-read both submissions I have unfortunately concluded that CBC must have been calling to persuade me to give up writing in favour of something more in the realm of reality. Something like moose polo or rabid beaver toss.

Oh fame, you’re a cruel temptress.

Indicator Species

Indian Pipe – a saprophytic plant

I was out on an extended hunt in the mountains with another guide and a hunter. We were after Thinhorn sheep and we may as well have been hunting hippos for the amount of game we were seeing.

As we were making our way through a valley pass to the next mountain range the other guide commented on how much our horses seemed to enjoy “that swamp grass”. I mentioned that the swamp grass was in fact some form of “equisetum”. He looked at me as though I was from another planet and then took up a good fifteen minutes of our ride to explain to me how ridiculous it was to have that piece of information at the ready.

At that point I realized that I was dealing with a lost cause. There are people who go through this world, not only ignorant, but in fact reveling in their ignorance of many things. This was not an uneducated man but one who simply didn’t understand nature and the bigger picture.

“Why would you want to know about something like that?”

I knew the question was rhetorical so I didn’t bother to answer. I’m sure one of you reading this might want to know, so here it goes: When you understand all, or some, of the components of an eco-system you can glean what is going on from all types of “indicator” species. Maybe at the time you don’t know that you are in fact looking at an indicator – but at some point the light will go on – and you’ll have that moment of knowing how everything fits together.

The photo at the top of this entry is of “Indian Pipe” a saprophytic plant that feeds of dead plant material and is white due to it’s lack of chlorophyll. The plant, in of itself, is not that useful to we humans directly, but it is an indicator of the plant in the photo below – the Huckleberry. So, find some Indian Pipe and you know you’re in a good huckleberry hunting area. This I know only to be true in the environs I’ve traveled in and it may not hold true for your neck of the woods so please don’t raise too much of a protest.

Equisetum, apart from being great horse food, is also great bear food – especially if the berries or food sources are not ready at that particular time. So why know this? If you find yourself in a big patch of equisetum and you’ve noticed a lack of berries or other things a bear might want on his plate, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re walking into Yogi’s kitchen/dining room and you might want to be taking the necessary precautions.

Huckleberries – as indicated by Indian Pipe

Sunrise – Sunset

sunrise over Kamloops

Mornings have to be the best part of my day. I guess it is because I am always the optimist and believe that each day has that immeasurable opportunity for greatness. Some days I make it through till lunch before having that notion beat out of me.

Sunsets are the second best part of the day because it means that in a short while, it’ll be sunrise again and in the words of Little Orphan Annie:

The sun’ll come out
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There’ll be sun! 
 Sunset -Puerto Escondido

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.

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 4×4 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

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.

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?

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!”