Archive for the ‘Cascadia’ category

A Different Angle on the Chief

September 1, 2017

In an effort to get back to more posting here, let me begin with some photos from the rock climbers’ access to the Stawamus Chief at Squamish, BC, Canada.  This follows on the previous post about my favorite hike to one of the granite monolith’s main three peaks.

On this recent occasion, my friend Bob, who is a devoted hiker of just about anything in the Squamish-Whistler corridor, told me it was quite interesting to walk along the bottom of the cliffs where the rock climbers go.  Neither of us are rock-climbers, although I like to bring up that I did do some rappelling and rock-scrambling in my youth.

This is also an area with truly massive boulders where we passed several parties of younger climbers practicing, crash pads at the ready on the ground.  But we went inside that belt to approach the bottom of the Grand Wall, and moseyed our way along for a while right at the bottom.

(At the second photo down, where Bob is standing against the cliff, if you look up, up, up you can just make out a couple of climbers – one with some red on.)

Climbing the Wall

Scaling the bottom of the Grand Wall

Bob Pan Stitch

At the bottom of the Grand Wall

Chief ClimberRV1

Rock climber prepared for the Chief

Notes on images:  These were all shot with my Fuji X-100s.  The second is a vertical panorama of course, stitching three photos together with Microsoft’s wonderful (and free) Image Composite Editor.




Hiking the Chief

March 11, 2017

Last fall, in late September, I hiked the Chief in Squamish, which I try to make an annual habit.  The Stawamus Chief, as it is officially named, is a massive knob of granite overlooking the town of Squamish, BC.

Some claim it to be the second largest granite monolith in the world, after El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California.

In any case it is an impressive hunk of rock.  I can see why the local natives might view it to be of spiritual significance.  In some sense it has become that to me: as I get older it becomes a measure of what I can do, and it has long been my favorite hike in the Lower Mainland.

Although steep and mildly challenging in a few parts of the ascent, getting up to one of the three peaks, and back, can be done in a long afternoon.

I’m talking here about the hiking trail; the Chief is probably more famous as a destination for rock-climbers.  I remember sitting up on First Peak with a friend having lunch near the rim of the cliff overlooking Howe Sound one day, when a helmeted head peaked up at us from over the sheer drop, shortly followed by another.  Two young guys clambered over the rim, gathered their ropes amidst the clanking of carabiners, said hi, and made their way nonchalantly to the trail we had come up on.

There are three main summit areas, First, Second and Third Peak, but apparently there is also a more distant peak called the Zodiac Summit, which I’ve never been to.  On the occasion of this hike, I decided to go up to Second Peak.

At 65, the steepness of the hike over the rocks, although occasionally arranged stepwise by those who maintain the trail in this provincial park, made me understand more of the reality of aging.  I had to stop and rest a number of times, but I was glad to see that many of the younger set also had to pull over for a moment or two to catch their breaths and allow their legs to recover.

I don’t know how many more years I will be fortunate enough to clamber upwards on the Chief, but I am grateful for all the the times I have done it.  To stand on the top on a sunny day and gaze over Creation with a friend or on my own lifts my spirits.


The Chief


At the Trail Bottom


A Steep Hike


Alternate Path to First Peak

Upwards to Second Peak

First Peak

From Second Peak, the View Over Howe Sound

The Way Down


Note:  Photos taken with my little Olympus XZ-1.

Coming of Age with the Folk Music Revival

September 27, 2011

The music that formed my childhood and pre-teen years during the 1960s in the northern wilds of British Columbia was much the same as for the rest of North America.

Although my parents and their three boys moved to a log cabin within sight of snow-covered mountains in the Bulkley Valley, it didn’t mean we moved off the face of the Earth. Although it must have seemed close enough to my mother.

No, when we moved there from the Bellingham area of Washington State in the early 1960s, my parents took with us our ‘Lower 48’ fears of a nuclear end to the Cold War and a love of music of the era (along with books of all kinds).

On winter nights especially, with snow and cold occasionally snapping poplar trees outside, we could hear powerful AM radio from all up and down the west coast of the continent.  Later in our teens, that was the window to all the rock music of the world from Donovan to the Beatles, Van Morrison and Led Zeppelin.

Splitting wood, carrying water

But when we first moved north, I was eleven years old, my brothers seven and eight.  The first year was hard becoming country folk, learning to carry water in buckets and splitting wood for the cook stove.  But we had the music my mother loved, long-playing 33 rpm records of the musicals My Fair Lady and The Music Man, although we couldn’t play them for awhile.

My father dragged with us north an old-fashioned, even then, wind-up phonograph with an actual trumpet and the blunt needles to play his collection of old foxtrot and Josh White 78 rpm records. He found it in some second hand store in Washington before we left.  It fit so well with his vision of re-inventing a pioneering version of himself and his family.  I think we played it a few times that first winter, in the crowded one-room cabin.  (We were to live off the power grid for many years, and even outside the reach of phone lines, for a shorter time.)

But in another year or so, my father had died of stroke, probably from complications from banging his head so hard on a cabin log he knocked himself out… he lived long enough to build artful extensions to the base log cabin, and to have established us in the life of the valley around us.  There was no going back.

Heating up the batteries

In those days of little money, Ma found enough to buy a compact, battery powered phonograph made by Phillips.  We played that and its successors to death, sometimes resorting on cold winter nights to heating up batteries on the top of the small oil furnace to get just a few more plays.

At first we had only a few records, Ma’s show tunes, mainly.  “You got trouble…. trouble, I say, right here in River City!”  I can still clearly hear that from The Music Man….

On rare occasions Ma went south to Seattle to visit her mother and settle some of my Dad’s affairs…. our sole source of income for awhile became monthly payments from Dad’s GI Bill benefits, since he fought as a Marine in the Pacific during WWII.

When she returned, she always came back with a few LPs.  The first time, there was a Weavers album, I remember so well, and the Swingle Singers singing Bach.  Eventually from the south and then more locally she might find albums by Louis Armstrong, and more obscure, especially to us boys, LPs by other jazz artists like Errol Garner.

This was the time though, in the early 1960s, of the folk music revival.  It was the time of the Weavers, the Kingston Trio, Harry Belafonte, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Odetta, Miriam Makeba, Burl Ives, Joan Baez, the Limeliters, Judy Collins, the New Christy Minstrels. Many were deeply involved with the civil rights struggle in the States.

We listened to them all, as Ma brought them home… some more authentic than others, but all catching a spirit of the time: it was a kind of awakening, or call to awakening that foreshadowed the more turbulent times of rock, the counterculture and the Vietnam War and its protests that lay ahead.

Although we were quite far away geographically from the mainstream, thanks to Ma, my brothers and I were able to participate in the wider spirit of the times by being exposed to the effervescence of this music.

By the time we entered our teens, my brothers and I began bringing our own music home: Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot.  The earnestness of the early folkies transitioned to something more complex, more electric, even subversive and occasionally confrontational.

But I still have a tremendous feeling for the folk music revival, as it has become known.  I rediscovered this recently when our local PBS station in the Pacific Northwest (I live in the Greater Vancouver area) began showing a number of documentaries and performances from those times.  What a beautiful young woman Mary Travers was! (Of Peter, Paul and Mary.)

These days I take blues and rock guitar lessons from a younger fellow, a rocker whose formative years were shaped more by punk rock than folk rock.  Although he is well-informed about the acts before his time (he loves the Kinks for one), his affinities are understandably different, louder and more cynical than mine.

I come of a softer, more earnest stock, willing to believe in song.



Sources/links for images, from top down:

The Music Man Poster

The Weavers

Harry Belafonte

The Limeliters

Mary Travers

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The Olympics Came to Town

March 1, 2010

We’ve lived through the final weekend of the Winter Olympics now.

It became quite a party.

I’m not a fan of the Olympics. The “Olympic Movement” has become a con, a scam, and an avenue for corporations and friends of the government to access public dollars for projects that benefit their interests. It’s the kind of elaborate kick-back scheme that major contributors to political parties expect.

And don’t get me started on the “Olympic Family,” the portable police state, and corporate infringement of free speech and public assembly that might interfere with this oh so important sporting event.

But when the party does come to town, it would be too churlish to deny its attractions. We live in Richmond, a suburb of Greater Vancouver, which includes Vancouver International Airport, and so were in the thick of it.

Oval Main Activity Area

Richmond had one of the Olympic venues, the huge speed skating oval built from the province’s pine-beetle damaged wood specifically for the Olympics, and acclaimed as an architectural wonder even exceeding the  Olympic Birds Nest Stadium in Beijing. Its life as a skating rink will be short, I understand, and it will be turned into a community centre for a variety of activities.

P1020264I had a day off during the week, and walked over to the O-Zone, which is where the free events associated with Olympic events occurred in Richmond, on a large playing field and track with nearby ice rink and arts centre.

On that day, my camera bag was perfunctorily examined by a volunteer. Happily nothing led to a strip search. I wandered around the artificial turf of the playing field, while a school brass band played shrilly on the nearby stage.

A large flat screen showed a skiing event at Whistler. A couple stood with burnt-out Olympic torches, scorch marks still evident on their curved shells, and encouraged passers by to have photos taken with these authentic pieces of Olympic kitsch. It seemed to be a free service, and many took the opportunity.

Richmond has a very high proportion of Asian immigrants. It is the first choice of abode for many Hong Kong and mainland Chinese, and has a high proportion of East Indians as well. So it was not surprising that the majority of the faces with waving flags and maple leaf mittens were Chinese or Korean or Punjabi.

The food concessions around the edge of things were Korean, Japanese and Chinese as well, with some burgers and hotdogs thrown in. All overpriced of course. The $5 latte was a reality.

I had a small Korean pancake which was actually quite tasty, served by an attractive overdressed young woman at a ramshackle booth who spoke perfect colloquial Canadian; perhaps a college student helping out her parents.

P1020268Different countries had their pavilions at various spots in the Lower Mainland. The Dutch had theirs at the Richmond O-Zone: a building with orange and green paint and a long line up for Heinekens. Right nearby was a big Coke trailer extolling the spiritual and athletic benefits of fizzy brown sugar water.

The overall impression was that of a fall or county fair. There was a small skating rink filled with kids and their parents. There were a couple of tents of Olympic related exhibits.

It didn’t quite feel like a major international sporting event, other than for the presence of the Dutch.

But my wife and I did travel eventually to downtown Vancouver and to nearby Granville Island to take in some of the Olympic atmosphere before the closing ceremony on Sunday (although we avoided the crushing crowds of the late afternoon and evening).

I commend to you this posting from mrbeernhockey for his description of a more… intense Olympic experience in the boisterous night time.

We watched a lot of exciting and dramatic Olympic TV coverage. But now, except for the much lower key Paralympics, the party’s over.


Haida Gwaii Watercolor, Part II

October 21, 2009

This continues a much earlier post, Haida Gwaii Watercolor, Part I, when I first began exploring doing a watercolor painting of the North Beach area near Tow Hill on the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the west coast of British Columbia. (The Islands are known more and more by their Haida people’s name, Haida Gwaii.)

It’s taken me awhile. I’ve struggled with the watercolor medium, partly because I’m not painting as much as I used to, and I digressed to work on another painting or two, and because technically it always seemed to be just beyond my grasp.

The end result, as you will see below, is still not completely satisfactory, but it does give me the feeling of space and wildness I was working towards, in the kind of sketchy impressionistic manner I like. It will have to do…

P1020236Here are several of my aborted attempts. It pains me to show them but I learned one or two things from each abysmal failure — especially what not to do. The things that kept throwing me (you wouldn’t know from these outings that I’ve actually painted a few acceptable daubings of other subjects), were the sunlight in the trees and the mist or fog. OK, I was having trouble with the ocean, too… and the waves… and the figure on the beach…

P1020237Getting the mist should have been really simple. Work wet on wet, let the paint fade in the background and in the foggy area. But it never seemed quite right. I started to develop a complex about it. In the final version, I got the fade as much as possible and then clouded it up more with a tiny little bit of pthalo blue in chinese white, just enough to cool it, and that seemed to get closer to what I wanted.

Waves on the seashore were a new subject for me as well. I approximated more by suggestion and innuendo than by a convincing depiction, I think.

P1020235The sunlit portion of trees also gave me trouble. I studied my little reference photos a lot, trying to find the simple signs that would tell the viewer, if I could get them down, that these trees were lit by the sun. Again, the final version makes an attempt, but how successful I don’t know.

On separate sheets of paper, I tried to produce dry-brush figures that actually looked like some kind of person, and not a blob with blobby appendages, after choosing the size I wanted with a couple of pencil marks on the painting.

Finally I worked at getting the suggestion of a person walking the beach with a stick. With trepidation, I brushed something down on the actual painting.

He even seems to be wearing a hat… The dog was an afterthought, and turned out surprisingly well.

Pilgrim Seeking Where Raven Created Man Framed

I’ve settled on the slightly pretentious title, Pilgrim Seeking Where Raven Created Man, referring to the Haida creation myth at this location.

Since I like my little figures, here’s a close-up:

Pilgrim detail

Now I have to figure out what the next painting project should be… I’ve got some great subject matter to choose from, and I hope not so difficult to get to grips with.

Some wonderful pastels are standing by that I haven’t used at all yet. But I think I will stick with watercolor again… I’ve a new limited palette idea to try out, courtesy of John Lovett. That’s the thing about watercolor… there’s always something more to try.


Travelling Books

October 21, 2008

I haven’t found much to write about lately, besides being quite busy. I’ve got a whole list of things I tentatively could blog about, but… I lament the lack of inspiration.

So last Saturday morning, while pondering what I might write about — maybe the amazing sentence structure of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or my secret fascination with Tarot cards of all kinds — I drove my wife to her work in Vancouver near the corner of Broadway and Granville.

I always enjoy that destination. After I drop her off and park her car at the underground parking under a nearby old age pensioners’ apartment building, I can go for my morning designer coffee at Big News right at the corner of this junction of major Vancouver streets. Surprisingly, perhaps, it’s not in the downtown core. But to me this is one of the great city intersections of North America, never mind what metropolis.

aristocratic300hIn the old days the Aristocratic Restaurant neon sign used to be there, a Vancouver landmark, where the Chapters book store is now. There’s a Restoration Hardware store (which I just discovered is an upscale international chain) on one side of Chapters and a Cactus Club restaurant around the corner on the other side. The Cactus Club specializes in stacked waitresses sashaying from kitchen to table in black lowcut sheath dresses. Oh yeah, they have food too.

Then back over on the opposite corner there’s that Big News coffee shop under the clock tower, which is one of my favorite places in Greater Vancouver to sip a latte and read. It’s not a Starbucks which somehow lost out in the corner location wars here, but a small chain (I think there might be one other) run by a Korean family. They’ve got good food, the Korean daughter is charming, the son pours a mean latte, and the place’s got soul.

There’s a Blenz coffee shop kitty corner across the intersection, which in comparison seems corporate, staffed by the unsmiling.

2687611919 47880e07a6 Tourists in the know come here to visit all the private galleries and art auction houses down the street on Granville with at least one inspiring display or two. Turning in another direction along Broadway, in just one or two blocks there’s a Vietnamese restaurant, an Indian restaurant, a Chinese restaurant and one place that specializes in heavy meat eating, the Memphis Blues Barbecue House. I’m talking serious meat intake; no adulteration with vegetables or fruit or any other food group except beer.

In the midst of the restaurants on Broadway is a large Loomis Art Store, where I sometimes hang out, looking for quinacridrone burnt sienna watercolour paint or cheap soft artists pastels.

In the other direction on Broadway there’s a couple of used bookstores, a magazine store and Oscar’s Art Books, a wonderful store full of art books, strangely enough, and where they give you a 10% discount just for submitting your phone number to the old DOS program on their computer.

img 0017Anyway, I’m putting in my order Saturday morning at Big News. There’s a big wooden rack with old magazines on the side and coffee fixings on top in the middle of the entry way which separates the ordering area from seats and a window view on the other side.

On this rack, low down in the midst of old National Geographics, People and Cosmo magazines, there’s a hardback book. I pick it up because the title catches my eye. The Perfect Murder: Five Great Mystery Writers Create the Perfect Crime. Hey, it’s got chapters by, among others Lawrence Block, Tony Hillerman, and Donald E. Westlake. Donald Westlake!

I’m always, in the back of my mind, playing with scenarios for a science fiction story I’m been thinking of for a long time. There could be a murder mystery involved. I haven’t quite decided about the mystery, although there’s definitely murder. But I’m very curious about how to create a good murder mystery, and this is a fortuitous find. Although obviously this must belong to Big News. Maybe as an occasional customer, they’ll let me borrow it… It does look a little battered although it still has the dust jacket.

I open the book, and on the inside flyleaf there’s a bookplate with a painting of a cat lying on books. It reads:

“I’m a very special book. You see, I’m travelling around the world making new friends. I hope I’ve made another one in you. If so, please go to, where you can make a brief journal entry with my BCID number (below). You will see where I’ve been, and my old friends will be happy to know I’m safe here in your hands. Then help keep my dream alive – READ & RELEASE me!”

At the bottom of the bookplate it says “ – the karma of literature – free and anonymous”

2241157038 ce7d62ce52 I like that, “the karma of literature,” so after I finish my coffee I walk out of Big News, taking the serendipitous find with me, not asking anybody for permission and yet not stealing the book.

This is a neat idea. It turns out Bookcrossing was started in 2001 by Ron Hornbacker and his wife Kaori after they tried to imagine a similar project to Phototag, where disposable cameras were sent out into the world. A photo was snapped anonymously and the camera passed on. A return address was included on the camera so it could be returned and processed. Sadly (I suppose with the swift ascendency of digital cameras) this project no longer seems to have a home on the web.

The Hornbackers also liked the idea of Where’s George, the United States currency tracking project, where the serial numbers of bills are registered and their wanderings recorded; and GeoCaching, where Global Positioning System (GPS) units are used to hide and find caches of whatever, and then the experience is reported online.

In the case of Bookcrossing, you can sign up for free and register one or more books. Then leave a book where you will: at a bus stop, a bar, a baseball game, on a bookshelf with the fake display books at IKEA…

Then with the book’s ID number, you can track its travels wherever they lead.

In the case of Perfect Murder, this book was “released” almost two years ago at the same coffee shop where I found it. I am the only one so far to remark upon it, which was kind of disappointing. Maybe no one else even looked at it until I did.

The person who gave up this book to the “wild” as it is termed, calls the book “funny and terrifying. …Well worth the morbid fun.”

On the one hand, choosing the right book to let go at the right place and then to observe its journeys and comment on them could be a lot of fun. Even subversive or satirical depending on the book and the place.

On the other hand, a lot of books may be a bit of a dud, like the adventures of this one so far. And the Bookcrossing site is out to make money, selling premium memberships and leading people to book seller affiliates. I suppose it must make money to pay for its existence, but it seems like it may be a little too commercial for my taste. It’s not just a kind of internet hobby effort. It’s another kind of monetized social interaction site.

They have a store too. If you want to buy their artsy ID bookplates, you’ll have to shell out $80 for 250 of them. They’re nice, but for that price I can make my own.

But I will read The Perfect Murder and give it back to the human jungle, although certainly at another location than where I found it. And I have a couple of books I can do without… amusing to see what if anything becomes of them, out there on the road.



Notes on images, from the top down:

At the Vancouver Neon site, the famous Aristocratic sign as well as other similar city landmarks can be appreciated.

This photographer shows us what at first glance might be a shot of Granville and Broadway from the 50s, but it’s actually more contemporary than that, looking at the cars. The main building seen here is the Royal Bank on one corner of the intersection, which no doubt anchors the area despite being essentially uninteresting.

Like meat? This photo is from a review of that Memphis Blues restaurant on Broadway.

And this photographer has captured a view of the ambience of Vancouver, a little ways down on Granville, between mountains and the ocean you know is there.

Flood Zone

June 16, 2007


I’ve been away for two weeks fighting floods in the northwest of British Columbia.

That’s my job in this era of my life: I work in flood hazard management for the province of BC.  Most of the time it’s office work with a small leavening of field time.  Occasionally though, when the snow stacks deep in the mountains or the rains fall heavy for days at a time, our small work group must go out where the flood waters rise, and report and recommend possible responses. 

bulkleytelkwa.jpgWe coordinate our activities with a provincial emergency response centre and try to give the decision makers the information they need in situations where residents and local authorities are often panicking, or shouting for resources, or just intensely focused on saving their homes.

The protection provided by dikes built on the edges of the fierce rivers of the province, built in many cases decades earlier as the result of earlier floods, are part of our concern.

Are trees swept down the river knocking off the riprap rock that protects the dikes?  Are the dikes high enough?  Will internal flaws cause them to breach?  Is water seeping out the other side uncontrollably?  Are they being outflanked by rising waters?

The snow in the mountains of the headwaters of the Skeena River, and the Telkwa and Morice Rivers, which feed into the Bulkley, which in turn swells the Skeena, was the most this winter since such records were first kept.  However, these records extend only back to the first half of the 1900s, giving an idea of how young this province is for the white man.  The name “Skeena,” by the way, means River of the Mist in the native Tsimshian.

The valleys where the rivers threatened the towns and hamlets of Quick and Telkwa, Smithers and Terrace, are also where I was fortunate enough to grow up.

The Fraser River, the only river in the province larger than the Skeena, also had serious flood potential due to major snowpack.  Its huge basin affects, of course, all the metropolitan centres to the south.  Another part of our workgroup was committed there.  Our little band, though, was destined for the northwest where, although the population was less, the potential for serious flooding was greater.

hwy16exstewcnrkm112.jpgThe rivers began to rise.  Our group flew up to the north.  I went ahead to Terrace on the Skeena to help coordinate our people in the field from the provincial emergency response centre. 

We had heard that most of the motels in the area were full with an influx of workers for the annual refitting and repair of a pulp and paper mill.  With some trepidation, I was told I’d be staying at the Costa Lessa Motel, which I assumed cost less.   I arrived to find its large signs adorned with cactus and palm trees in this northwestern rain forest, and to have my registration taken by a tough looking woman with one arm named Holly.  Unfortunately for what could have been a really interesting story, the motel was well-kept and Holly most pleasant.

hwy16eastkm198.jpgTwo or three days of hot weather combined with a following rain shot the rivers upward from an already high base.  Lowlying areas began to be threatened and then overwhelmed by water.  The water kept rising:  residences and barns began to be flooded, banks were eroded, last ditch sandbag defenses were mounted.    The fear grew of a repeat of the 1936 flooding on the Skeena where entire houses were swept down the river.  There began to be hoarding of food and fuel.

160_bc_flood2_070606.jpgThe City of Terrace became cut off as both directions of highway were flooded by the Skeena.  Even the railroad was overwhelmed, as water forced ballast out from under the tracks.  A gas pipeline was broken, fibre optic communications were severed.  Evacuations were ordered and road checkpoints set up to keep people out.

And then the unseasonably cool weather settled in.  One day, two.  The rivers reached their crest and began, very slowly to fall back.  The freakishly cool weather continues today, 10 days or so later, with the rivers dropped swiftly from their heights, and myself back at home for a couple of days.  There’s still much snow in the mountains, and so the rivers might easily roar back and force our return.

rainbowterrace.jpgThe weather was mercurial, unsettled, the last couple of days before I returned.  One evening, in the slanting of the sun’s last rays, appeared one of the most intense rainbows I’ve ever seen.  One can’t make too much of such things, but a rainbow is always a blessing.