St. Bernard, Nova Scotia
This week, we had the footings for the cottage relocation poured. The redy-mix truck arrived on Monday's 1:00 ferry. The day was warm and the concrete was quite stiff, so it was a race to get it all poured before it set. I won't get any prizes for form construction, but the forms held well enough to do the job. We poured the footings and also filled the utility trench. When we had the trench dug, the backhoe hit bedrock only a foot down. Since the minimum depth for an electrical trench is two feet, we had to put concrete over it to protect future excavators from a wire strike.
Because the concrete was so stiff, there were quite a few voids in it when I stripped the forms off, so I had to do some parging today to fill them. It was a major nuisance, but it is done now. Once the parging has set, I can waterproof it and backfill the footings. And that will be it for the foundation! Whew!
My other big event this week was facilitating a public meeting of the Local Trust Committee (one of our two local governments) on Thursday evening. The meeting was one of five they are holding this summer prior to starting the formal review of our Official Community Plan. The Trustees want to be able to pay attention to what the members of the public are saying, so they are having guest facilitators run the meetings so that they can concentrate on listening. I was "it" for this week's meeting.
Thursday's meeting was on the subject of the Marine Environment. It is a topic that raises emotions because the community is at odds with the provincial government on the issue of shellfish harvesting and farming. It is a huge industry here, and Baynes Sound, the waterway between Denman and Vancouver Islands, produces half of all the shellfish grown in B.C.. They are picked from the beaches on leases that restrict public use of the beach, or are grown below floating rafts in deeper water offshore. The provincial government is pushing for more, more, more shellfish farming and expanded harvesting leases on the beaches. The community wants its beaches to be left in their natural state and for harvesting to be done on a non-industrial scale.
Luckily for my facilitating debut, community sentiment was pretty much unanimous, and there were no off-island shellfish harvesters or farmers present, so I didn't have to do any conflict resolution. There was one representative of the provincial Fisheries Department, but he was a good sport about being picked on. Everyone was well-behaved, the Trustees got some useful ideas from the members of the public, and the meeting ended on time. I was quite pleased with the way it went.
Yesterday, after we did our weekly recycling at the Recycling Depot, we went to an art show featuring the works of three Denman artists. One does watercolour and mixed-media paintings, one does basket scuplture, and one does amazing folk-art paintings on canvas as well as on salvaged household objects. It was an excellent show.
Okanagan peaches are now in season, and we had our first peach pie this week. We can't grow peaches here, but our other fruit trees are doing well. Some of our transparent (August) apples are just about ripe, and the other trees are covered with fruit. It looks like a good year for plums and we should have some pears too. Both grapevines have little bunches of grapes growing.
The first two photos this week show the concrete work: the webcam snapped the view of the ready-mix truck, and Wendy took the photo of me working on the foundation. The other photos show a summery view from the shady side of the deck, towards where the cottage will go, and a view along Pickles Road.
The highlight of this week was a trip that Wendy and I took to Victoria to play tourist, to do a little shopping and to eat at one of our favourite restaurants. We decided to be environmentally sensitive travellers and to try a new experience, so we took the train there and back.
The Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway had the "disappearing railroad blues" until the line's right-of-way was donated to the Island Corridor Foundation in 2006. Now that group contracts with Via Rail and the Southern B.C. Railway to keep the passenger rail service in operation between Courtenay and Victoria. There is one train daily in each direction, coming up to Courtenay in the morning, and returning to Victoria in the afrernoon. Eventually, we hope that they will add a run in the opposite direction, allowing trips to Victoria with only one night in a hotel there.
Anyway, on Thursday morning, we walked down the hill to the ferry, boarded as foot passengers, then walked up the hill at Buckley Bay to the rail line. The railway is just across the highway from the ferry terminal, up a small hill, an easy walk from the ferry. There is no station there, just an abandoned level crossing, which serves as a "whistle stop". After a twenty minute wait, we heard the train's horn and saw its lights coming down the track. The train, consisting of two dayliner cars, stopped just long enough for us to climb aboard, then carried on.
As one might expect of a railway that was almost abandoned, especially one in this rain-forest climate, the vegetation crowds in on the track. For most of the journey, the trees form a virtual tunnel along the track. Leaves slap the car's windows, and branches go whipping by only six inches from the glass, giving the illusion of immense speed.
An illusion is all it is, however, since the train's average speed on the ancient railbed is around 50 km/h. Dogs run out of farmyards to chase the train, which is barely able to escape! In rare bursts of speed on smooth, straight track, it occasionally hits the breathtaking speed of 70 km/h.
All passenger trains are named, and this one is no exception. It is known as the "Malahat", after the scenic section of track that clings to the steep sides of Malahat Mountain above Saanich Inlet on the way into the greater Victoria area. The equivalent section of highway, which parallels the track, is white-knuckle driving in the best of conditions, and downright dangerous in bad weather. Leaving the driving to the rail crew is a much pleasanter way to do the trip. It also allowed me to take some photos of the scenery.
At one point, there is a high steel trestle bridge across a side canyon, and the train slows down to a walking pace as it crosses the bridge. We had several theories as to why it did so, the most benign being that they were giving the passengers the opportunity to take pictures. More alarming possibilities were that they were trying to minimize swaying because they were concerned that the weight of all the passengers rushing to one side to look out would tip the cars off the track, or that the bridge was just in too rough shape to accommodate any speed above a slow walk. Anyway, here are photos of the bridge and the view therefrom.
The train arrived in Victoria at 5:30, after a four-hour trip. The station is right downtown, a one-block walk from stores and restaurants. We went straight to a vegan restaurant (Green Cuisine) that Wendy had discovered via the Internet, where we had a fine meal, then walked to our hotel.
We spent Friday shopping and window-shopping. Victoria's downtown is very pedestrian-friendly, and there are quite a few unlikely-looking alleys that are worth exploring for interesting shops. This one is in Chinatown. We had supper at our other favourite vegan restaurant, the Lotus Pond, where we not only ate a fine meal, but also got some take-out finger-food to take with us on the train the next morning for breakfast.
On Saturday morning, we had to get up early in order to walk to the station and board the train for its 8:00 departure. The two-car train was quite full, with a large section of our car being taken up with a Chinese tour group heading up to Duncan for the day. We arrived at our Buckley Bay whistle stop at 12:30, in time to catch the 1:00 ferry home.
An interesting adventure, without using a private automobile at any point in the journey.
We have been continuing to harvest our August ("transparent") apples. They are the pale yellow ones. They actually get paler as they get ripe, until they are almost white when they are ready to pick. The deer get the ones that aren't suitable for human consumption, but most of them are in perfect condition. Wendy has just made a big batch of apple sauce out of the first batch. The tree is loaded, so I can see a lot of apple sauce in our future!
Our other apple trees are also loaded, though they are not yet ready to pick, and we have quite a few bartlett pears that are showing some colour. With all this bounty, it is clear that we will have to learn about root cellars and other food storage systems in coming years.
In addition to making apple sauce, Wendy has also been preparing peaches for freezing. We got a big box of organic Okanagan peaches, imported by one of our local orchards. We love peach pie, peach cobbler, peaces on oatmeal porridge, peaches in any form. Having some frozen peaches on hand will be a nice treat.
I am continuing to work on the cottage foundation. This week, I waterproofed the concrete and started backfilling the trenches. I am also continuing to chop firewood from our winter blowdowns.
We have a grapevine on a pergola out in our meadow, about 10 metres from the fenced garden. Watering it was always a nuisance, involving either wheelbarrowing a bucket of water out into the meadow or, more recently, running a hose out through the fence. This week, I dug a small trench and buried a pipe from the irrigation pump, under the fence, up to the pergola. Now, it is a simple job to connect a hose right there and water the grapes. The photo shows the hose outlet, the solar panel that keeps the irrigation system's batteries charged, and, between and behind them, the wooden box that contains the battery and pump.
This has been a week of apples. We have hervested most of our transparent (August) apples, and Wendy has made and frozen lots of apple sauce from them. We are starting to pick some of our gravenstein apples as well, though the bulk of them are not ready yet.
We have also been out picking wild blackberries. We filled a couple of big bowls with them yesterday afternoon. Wendy made a delicious apple and blackberry crumble from them and our own apples. This evening, she made an applesauce and date cake. We can't take credit for the dates, much as we would like to be able to have those bragging rights.
There are two kinds of blackberries that grow wild here. The native blackberry is small and grows as a vine. I call it the "anklebiter" blackberry, since the vines often trail right at ankle height and trip you as you walk through the woods. Although its thorns are not huge, your ankle gets slashed by many of them as you try to disentangle it. The other blackberry is the Himalayan blackberry, an imported invasive species. It grows in big bushy bramble patches along the sides of roads, and produces large, tasty berries. Its thorns are massive, and body armour is appropriate attire when picking, but few islanders other than biologists complain about its invasive habits.
I have finished splitting and stacking our blown-down firewood from last winter's storms. There are still a couple of nice logs in the forest that I might go after if I have the time.
Some of the best entertainment on Denman Island comes in the form of community meetings. This week, we attended a meeting to discuss the future of "Central Park", a quarter-section of land recently acquired by the Denman Conservancy Association. Most of the land will be preserved as a park, but there is a proposal to make a small corner of it available to the community as a new cemetery, the existing one across the road being completely full. There was much discussion about the type of cemetery that would be permitted. Most people were in favour of an "eco-cemetery", in which people were not to be pickled in formaldehyde, and were to be buried in cardboard boxes. Several people expressed a preference, when their time comes, of being composted. There was discussion about the disposal of cremation remains, and whether it was ecologically more sound to bury the ashes or to scatter them across the park. There is a tradition here that, if you make a suggestion at a public meeting, you are automatically volunteered to coordinate the effort to bring it about. That raised an interesting issue when someone suggested what the most appropriate method for disposing of human remains should be, and he was immediately asked if he was volunteering to try out his suggestion. Much more entertaining than television!
I forgot to mention in last week's diary about Drac, our little visitor. There are a couple of empty flower pots sitting on our front steps, and one morning, we noticed something in one of them. At first we thought it was just a dried leaf, but then I realized that it was a little bat. It was tiny, about the size of a hummingbird. Well, bats don't normally sleep in flower pots, and the first thing you think of when bats behave strangely is rabies, so I wasn't about to move it. I could tell it was alive, because every time I chirped, it twitched.
We called around and found out which of our local biologists was the bat expert. Unfortunately, she was not able to come to check out Drac (short for Dracula, of course) for a couple of days. He survived, though, and was still quite alive when she came to see him. The verdict was that he appeared healthy, and was probably a juvenile who had followed a moth into the flower pot. What I didn't know was that bats cannot take off like birds do. Instead, they have to drop from a height, making a takeoff from the flower pot impossible. If I had just tipped the pot over, he would have been able to crawl out. She released him into the woods and reported that he seemed fine.
Copyright © 2013 Keith Walker
Last modified: 6-May-2013