St. Bernard, Nova Scotia
Happy Canada Day! In honour of the occasion and of our current bountiful strawberry harvest, here is a little seasonal artwork.
This morning was the Fire Department's annual Canada Day pancake breakfast. The Fire Department, Ambulance Crew, the island's doctors and the Emergency Social Services committee all get together to put on one of the biggest social events of the year. We serve over 500 pancake breakfasts between 9:00 AM and noon.
The event has been running for longer than most people can remember, so it is a well planned and highly coordinated operation. Not counting all the preparations ahead of time, the day started with an early morning wakeup call on our fire department pagers. In a couple of hours, we had grills and tables set up, trucks decorated and food prepared.
A large portion of the island's population turns out every year for the breakfast. Proceeds from the event go into a separate fund from the fire department's tax-supported money. The fund is used for such things as a scholarship fund for Denman Island students and fire hydrant standpipes that we are installing at various strategic bodies of water around the island.
The weather was pleasant for the breakfast: a mix of sun and cloud, no rain, and not too hot. It was quite a welcome change, in fact, from the cool and damp weather we have been having all last month. Our rainfall in June was well above average, and the temperatures have been cool.
Our strawberries, however, don't seem to have minded one bit. We have been harvesting a big bowl of berries every day. The yield is starting to drop off a bit now, as the season draws to an end, but we will still be picking them for a while longer. We have frozen quite a few, as well as enjoying lots of big strawberry desserts, and the occasional strawberry flag.
Just as I was typing up this diary entry, Wendy spotted an unusual visitor on our deck: a Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea). We have seen them on our property before, but they are not common, and they tend to be elusive, hard to spot even when they are known to be around. Like all lizards, they like to hang out in sunny spots. I have sometimes had to brake hard to avoid one on the driveway. The deck, of course, is a perfect spot.
To keep the lizard company, one of the tree frogs that spent last summer on our deck is back today. Of course, we don't know if it is the same individual, but it is hanging out in the same spot as last year's did.
The weather has finally switched over to summer mode. We have been having temperatures in the high 20s, with a forecast of 30s in the coming week. It is a pleasant change from the cool weather we had through June, though this week sounds like it will be unpleasantly hot. We are not likely to get much rain now until October.
The strawberry harvest is over. For over three weeks, we have been collecting an average of one big bowl of berries every day. We have had strawberries on cereal for breakfast, strawberries on bread, strawberry shortcake, strawberry-rhubarb crumble... And, no, we are not tired of them at all!
The raspberries are starting to ripen up now. It looks like they will not be quite as bountiful this year as they were last year (or as the strawberries were). However, the new canes look very healthy, and we are looking forward to a good harvest next year.
I have been working on various mechanical projects this week. The solar-powered water pump is just about ready for use. I am waiting for a part to arrive, and then it will be ready to go. Not a moment too soon, as we have started watering by hand this week.
My well depth gauge is now operational. I lowered the end of the plastic tubing, with suitable weights attached, down the well shaft until it reached the top of the pump. At the top end, the tube runs through an underground conduit to the pumphouse, where the compressor and pressure gauge are located. When I fire up the compressor, it blows bubbles down the well. The air pressure required to blow bubbles tells me how much water lies above the pump. At the moment, we have 62 feet of water, which is relatively healthy, but considerably down from the 85 feet we had in winter.
The plan is eventually to have the gauge operated automatically by computer. I will then be able to keep proper records of the level throughout the year, and to monitor the recharge rate after heavy use. That will require a bit more tinkering and experimentation. For now, I just operate it manually.
The first photo this week shows one of our regular visitors. Several deer visit our place on a regular basis, and they are quite used to our comings and goings. While they would never let us approach them, they don't seem to mind if we are moving around and doing stuff.
Daisies are the wild flower of the season right now. Our meadow is covered with them. The second photo gives a good view of the house from the meadow, with the woodshed to the left and a pergola with a young grapevine to the right.
Wendy got her hair cut this week, and decided to take a self-portrait in the mirror. It looks "right some fine", I would say.
The big story this week was the heat. For several days, Environment Canada had consistently been forecasting a temperature of 36°C for Wednesday. When the day arrived, the temperature topped out at 37.3°C, an all-time record for Denman Island that smashed the previous record of 33°C, set last year.
The big challenge, in weather like that, was to try to keep the house cool. We left all the windows open at night. In the morning, I watched the indoor and outdoor temperatures closely, and closed all the windows when the outside temperature rose above the indoor temperature. I also got a sheet of white corrugated plastic, lined it with aluminum foil, and used it to block the kitchen skylight. Sunlight shining in this south-facing skylight falls directly on our pantry and fridge as well as contributing to the general heat in the house. We managed to keep the indoor temperature from going much above 30°C.
With the heat and the lack of significant rain, the Fire Department has raised the forest fire danger to "High" and instituted a complete fire ban. We were briefed at our weekly practice on Thursday that, when asked by tourists whether campfires were permitted, we were to ask them, "What part of 'complete' do you not understand?" We live in fear of cigarette butts tossed into dry conifer needles from tourist cars on their way to Hornby Island.
Fortunately, the weather since Wednesday's peak has been humid and unsettled. We have had a few thunderstorms, very unusual for this area, but some showers have dampened things down a bit.
We had a bit of an adventure at the Fire Department practice. One of the training exercises was to run a tanker shuttle to fill the Department's big water tank. Normally, it is filled from the firehall's well, but the valve had been left closed and the tank was empty. At this time of year, there isn't enough water in the well to refill it, so it was decided that a tanker shuttle from the marsh would not only serve to fill the tank, but would give us some useful practice in tanker operations. While the shuttle was going on, the rest of us learned how to operate the new pump on our rapid-response vehicle.
While we were learning about the pump, a call came over the radio that our older tanker truck had broken down. Our Deputy Chief and Maintenance Officer headed out to the marsh to try to fix the problem. The next radio call was for someone to bring tow chains in the other tanker truck. By this time, we had rotated our tasks, and I was in the tanker with another firefighter, enroute to the marsh for water. We returned to the hall for the chains, then drove to Pickles Marsh, where the old tanker was in the middle of the bridge, blocking traffic.
Our normal turnaround spot is on the far side of the bridge, so we had to turn the truck around on the road, which is less than two lanes wide. Ever try that? We eventually got it turned around and hooked up the towchain. With two of our most experienced drivers at the wheels, the working tanker pulled the dead one up the hill to the top of Pickles Road. We then blocked traffic at the top of the "big hill", just as a load of ferry traffic was coming up, while the trucks pulled out onto Denman Road and up to the crest of the hill. At that point, they unhitched the tow chain, and freewheeled the tanker down the hill to the firehall, about a kilometre away.
The latest word is that a $60 part will fix the truck, but we are hoping that the bureaucrats in Courtenay will sit up and take notice. The old tanker is overdue for replacement, but the Regional District people are taking their time about authorizing the purchase of a new truck.
On Friday night, we attended a talk by famous wildlife artist and environmental activist Robert Bateman. He made the point that, while there was nothing inherently wrong with farming, forestry and fishing, the environment was being destroyed by doing these activities on an industrial scale. The wealth of today is acquired by being stolen from the generation of his grandchildren and their grandchildren. He illustrated the talk with slides that included samples of his artwork. The event was a fundraiser for the Denman Conservancy, and was well attended.
The talk was originally scheduled to include Merve Wilkinson, a forester from Vancouver Island. Merve is the classic example of how sustainable forestry should be practised. Since he bought his property in 1938 with 1.5 million board feet of timber on it, he has logged 2.1 million board feet from it, and today it has 10% more wood on it than it did back then. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend due to the heat. We had been looking forward to hearing what he had to say. We are now thinking about going down to his tree farm on a weekend for a visit.
The photos this week show examples of island ingenuity. In the first, some folks are beating the heat with a rubber raft towed behind a motorboat. The second is an antenna that an enterprising island techie is using to provide a Wi-fi (wireless Internet) hotspot at the ferry terminal. The third looks like an ordinary bike rack. However, on closer inspection, it turns out to be built entirely from old bicycles.
Last Sunday, Wendy and I attended the annual picnic at the Hermitage, our local Buddhist meditation centre. It is situated on 60 acres of farmland and forest, and consists of several geodesic domes, and a canvas yurt. There was a good turnout, as the weather was ideal: dry and not too hot.
Later that evening, we attended a sitar concert, featuring Pandit Shivanth Mishra, Head of the Music Department at the Sanskrit University of Benares, India, and his son Deobrat Mishra, both on sitar. The music, consisting of traditional Indian ragas, was excellent, and the concert was well-attended.
The pump for my solar-powered irrigation system finally arrived this week, and it is now hooked up and operational. Here are a couple of pictures of the completed pump/battery box. The solar panel is mounted on a mast on a fencepost, and the rest of the system is in the wooden box. It produces enough pressure to operate a soaker hose or a spray nozzle. The pump includes a pressure switch, so it switches on and off automatically when the nozzle is opened or closed. This means that I can operate it with a standard clockwork water timer to prevent over-watering.
The shelf inside the box holds a portable auxilliary pump that produces no significant pressure, but can move a lot of water really quickly. I can use it to pump water to and from rain barrels, fill buckets, etc. I have it on a long cord, with a cigarette-lighter-type plug on the end for portability.
Now that the irrigation system is fully operational, of course, it has started raining. A low pressure weather system stalled off the coast of Oregon has been giving us south-east winds and wet weather all week. The same thing happened when I installed the cistern (which, incidentally, is now full once again). Obviously, in the event of a severe drought, all I have to do is to install some water-related infrastructure, and rain will follow!
This weekend is the Denman Readers and Writers festival. It is much bigger than last year, and includes more well-known writers than in previous years. They have several venues in use, including the Community Hall (front and back rooms), the Arts Centre, and the Seniors' Hall. Tomorrow morning, the CBC is going to be covering the festival, broadcasting their B.C. morning show from the Arts Centre.
Last night, the festival included an "Authors' Cabaret", with several of the authors reading from their works or taking questions. As an interlude during the evening, the Robert Minden Duo played some rather interesting, if unconventional, music on musical saws, water bottles, and an unidentifiable spiky metal device played with a violin bow. It was quite entertaining, and not bad to listen to.
We regularly have deer come through our yard, including some "regulars". However, today, for the first time this year, a mother deer brought her two spotted fawns for a visit. They still have the "freeze" response to danger, so Wendy was able to keep this one from moving just by waving at it from the window, while I grabbed the camera.
Some people just do not respect our community. A concrete truck, returning from a jobsite somewhere on east Denman or Hornby Island, dumped about a cubic yard of surplus concrete in big blob in a ditch along the side of Denman Road. Obviously, the owner or contractor on the work site did not plan a location to receive the excess concrete from their pour, something that should be a part of any concrete job, and the truck driver decided to just dump it in a ditch. If anyone saw a concrete truck stopped along Denman Road in the last week or two, get in touch with me.
Wendy and I just got back from a short trip to Gold River on Vancouver Island and Yuquot (Friendly Cove) on Nootka Island.
The trip to Gold River involves a drive up Vancouver Island to Campbell River, followed by a drive through Strathcona Provincial Park to Gold River, which is in the middle of nowhere. It was built in the mid 1960s to house workers for the pulp mill on Muchalat Inlet, but the town itself is about 12km inland from its harbour on the inlet. The trip from Gold River to Yuquot is a cruise on the M.V. Uchuck III, a converted World War 2 minesweeper.
The bed and breakfast where we stayed in Gold River had some other guests, a father and son pair from New York, Tom and his son Jeremy. Since they and we were all going on the same cruise on Saturday, Tom offered us a ride down to the harbour in the morning. The first photo shows Jeremy, Tom and Wendy on board the Uchuck.
Saturday morning, we all boarded the Uchuck, which carries about 100 passengers, and also delivers freight to coastal communities. The cruise began at the head of Muchalat Inlet, and took us the length of the inlet to Nootka Sound. The inlet is a very scenic fjord, with steep mountainsides coming right down to the water. The weather was cloudy enough to give my photos that classic West Coast look, but not cold. We had a few showers and a bit of drizzle, but generally it was quite pleasant.
Back at the dock, we had noticed a great number of parked boat trailers, and eventually we found out why. Nootka Sound is a big salmon fishing area. When the Uchuck got to the end of Muchalat Inlet, where it enters Nootka Sound, we saw hundreds of fishing boats, all clustered together around Bligh Island (named for Wiliam Bligh, of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame, while he was still a young navigator on Capt. James Cook's voyage).
A more thrilling sight, though, was yet to come. When we had passed through the fishing fleet and were well out in Nootka Sound, the captain came on the P.A. system to announce that there was a grey whale straight ahead, a couple of miles away. There was a big rush to the front of the boat, and everyone was craning their necks to get a glimpse of it through the rigging. It would take three breaths and then dive for a few minutes, then repeat the cycle.
The captain must have been quite experienced with whales, because he slowed the boat, and was able to position it exactly where the whale was due to surface next. Suddenly, there were "oohs" and "ahs", and the whale surfaced right beside the boat, no more than 100 feet away. It definitely was a highlight of our trip.
After that adventure, the boat continued down Nootka Sound to Yuquot, named "Friendly Cove" by Capt. Cook in 1778. Yuquot is also the location where Captains Vancouver and Quadra met in 1792 to sign the Nootka Convention between Britain and Spain. Commemorative cairns memorialize both events, but they are quite inaccessible to tourists.
The Native community there was abandoned in 1967 for economic reasons, but a lighthouse and a 1957 Catholic church still stand. The Muchalat people still administer the site, and have plans for an interpretive centre there. The fourth photo shows some native totems in the church.
The lighthouse is one of the few remaining manned lighthouses on the coast. It is up on top of a small islet and is very exposed, having nothing between it and Japan except miles and miles of miles and miles. The fifth photo shows the harbour at Yuquot, with the Uchuck tied up at the dock, the lighthouse and a classic coastal sky.
The return voyage crossed the entrance of Nootka Sound, and took a different route back to Gold River, giving us a full circumnavigation of Bligh Island. The final photo shows me on the deck of the Uchuck, looking like my hair could use a de-humidifier!
On Saturday evening, we had dinner at an African restaurant in Gold River. We had a very nice vegetable curry, beautifully presented, and apple strudel for dessert. We got there early, which was a good thing, since it filled up quickly. Who would have thought to find such a place in Gold River, of all places?
Today, on the way back from Gold River, we stopped at Strathcona Park Lodge, a wilderness education centre. Groups of teenagers, such as Scouts or school groups, go there to learn wildernes skills. We had fun watching some novice kayakers and canoeists playing in the water. We also had a good buffet-style lunch there, amid a room full of youthful energy.
On other events this week, last Tuesday, we went for a nature walk in Denman Island's new Central Park, a 147-acre parcel of clearcut land acquired by the Conservancy Association. It is part of a contiguous chain of land parcels up the centre of the island that the Conservancy aims to protect. The nature walks are part of their effort to familiarize residents with the land. It is beautiful land, and the vegetation is starting to regenerate rapidly.
This coming week, I will be facilitating a public meeting of the Local Trust Committee (LTC) on the marine environment. It is part of a series of public meetings to prepare the community and the trustees for an upcoming review of our Official Community Plan, the legal document that guides the LTC in its land use decisions. It should be interesting, but not too interesting, I hope.
Copyright © 2013 Keith Walker
Last modified: 6-May-2013