St. Bernard, Nova Scotia
The lack of weather continues, with no end in sight. The same stationary weather system that is giving the prairies all the thunderstorms is preventing any weather from moving in from the Pacific. So, it remains warm, sunny and dry. We set a record for the driest July since 1985. The Fire Department and Forestry are getting concerned about the extreme fire hazard.
This week, I completed the interior trim on the new kitchen window. It was fiddly work, because the dimensions were all determined in advance by the cabinets and their trim. Everything had to be an exact fit. I made it all from cedar, stained to match the existing pine finish. I am quite pleased with the results. The old window barely came down to the level of the cabinets, so this is a significant improvement.
This was the weekend of the Filberg Festival in Comox. It is an annual festival of arts and crafts, along with a music festival. Because we had a gift certificate for the Kingfisher Inn in Royston, we stayed there Friday night and spent two days, Friday and Saturday, at the festival.
It is a juried festival, so the crafts are all of top quality. Among the exhibitors were silversmith Corrine Hunt, co-designer of the 2010 Winter Olympic medals, and Denman Island's own Gordon Hutchens, who is an internationally reknowned potter.
We spent Friday admiring the crafts, including some stunning glass work. We spent most of Saturday listening to the music, which included Spirit of the West, Valdy and Jesse Winchester. We came home with a beautiful breadboard made of yew wood, and a whimsical copper birdbath.
Today, back on Denman, we visited several studios on the annual studio tour. We have seen most of the local artists' studios by now, so we concentrated on new studios and ones that we have not visited recently. It was not a good weekend for the studio tour, because of the competition from the Filberg Festival and several other events happening in the Comox Valley at the same time on the long weekend. The tourist traffic to Hornby was very heavy, but none of the tourists was likely to even slow down in their rush to catch the second ferry, let alone stop to tour a studio. Several artists said that attendance was down this year.
Well, my complaining about the lack of weather seems to have done some good. We had weather this week.
In the early part of the week, the temperature got up into the high 20s, warm enough to enjoy some hammock time. For most of the week, the sky was hazy with smoke from the forest fires in northern British Columbia. A couple of days, the visibility was down to only a mile or two. We could barely see across Baynes Sound to Buckley Bay, and the mountains on Vancouver Island were totally obscured. What sunlight made it through the smoke was a pale orange colour. The Fire Chief was innundated with calls from people smelling smoke, but fortunately, none of the smoke was local.
Then, on Saturday, we had rain. Yes, actual water falling out of the sky! The total rainfall was 15.5 mm, which doesn't sound like much, but it gave us an additional 450 gallons of water in the cisterns. That is an extra two weeks of watering the garden, in addition to the next couple of days that will not need watering.
Though the rainfall was welcome, it was not enough to make a significant difference to the ground moisture level. Today, I had to do some digging to expose the septic tank access for tomorrow's scheduled pump-out. As I was digging, the most noticeable thing was that the soil was as dry as dust from the surface down to 18 inches.
On Friday, we attended an event to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, organized by the local Peace Group. We learned how to make origami paper cranes, which are a symbol of the international Hiroshima commemorations. About a dozen of us filled a large bowl with them. They will be sent to the mayor of Hiroshima.
In the garden, it is time to collect the seeds from last year's parsnips and turnips. The beans are coming along nicely, as are the butternut squash. We have been eating lots of mixed greens from the garden and have harvested all the garlic. The raspberries have slowed down. We think that racoons got into them one night when the electric fence was shorted out. They are recovering now, and with more warm weather in the forecast, we are expecting lots more berries.
Our grapes will produce a bumper crop if they ripen, and if we can get them before the birds and raccoons do. They need heat, though, and except for those couple of days, it has been a cool summer.
The photo is not of our eating grapes, but of the wild Oregon grapes. This is the first year that they have been fenced off from the deer (in the cat enclosure), so it is the first time we have been able to see the fruit. Apparently, they are edible, though not tasty. They make a pleasant but bland jelly. I think we will just enjoy looking at them.
This has not been a very exciting week. For the most part, it has been too hot do do anything except relax in the hammock. Last weekend's rain is a distant memory. We are back to the hot, dry, dusty, smoky weather that we had before the rain. Once again, the Beaufort Range across the sound on Vancouver Island is barely visible because of the smoke from northern forest fires. The mountains in the other direction, across the Salish Sea on Texada Island and the Mainland, are totally obscured.
The Fire Department has been putting up "No Smoking" and "No Fires" signs all over the island, wherever there are trails, to remind people, especially visitors, of how dry things are.
Our big excitement this week was getting our septic tank pumped out. (I told you it was a slow week!) Like it or not, it has to be done every few years. We've put it off for five years, which is at the upper limit of what is recommended. Based on the recommendation of Harold Birkeland, I called Al's Septic Services, one of several such services in Courtenay. I was very pleased with their service: "Al" was very professional, explaining the condition of the system and what maintenance would need to be done next time.
The day before, I had to do some digging to locate and expose the cover(s) of the septic tank. Only one hatch had been marked by the previous owner, in the wrong place. Once I had dug down what I hoped was far enough at the marked spot, I had to gradually enlarge the hole sideways until I hit concrete. I quickly found an access hatch, exposed it and stopped digging. What I didn't realize until Al showed up was that there were two hatches. After opening and inspecting the hatch I had uncovered, he pointed to where the second hatch should be, and I started digging some more.
The job went smoothly, and we are booked for a reminder call in four years.
As I mentioned last week, it is time to collect seeds. I gathered all the dried parsnip seed heads and rubbed the seeds off into a big paper bag. Now I know that we don't need to grow a lot of plants to collect seeds! I have enough parsnip seeds to fill more than a dozen envelopes. We can't use them all ourselves, and they only keep about two years, but we now have plenty to trade at next winter's "Seedy Saturday". The accompanying photo shows only a small fraction of the parsnip seeds. The rest are spread out on a tray to dry before being packaged.
I also harvested turnip seeds, using the same technique, but the quantity was not quite so extravagant. We will have enough for our own needs and maybe a couple of envelopes to trade. Seed saving is something that is being encouraged as part of the local food sustainability initiative here on the island.
Keeping the garden watered in this heat is a challenge. Last week's rain did top up the tanks a little bit, and gave us a break from watering for a couple of days, but, in this heat, everything is now needing a lot more water. Depending on how we use the water that is left, it will likely run out some time in September.
Basic rule of diary-writing: when you have no other photos to show, include a cat picture. In this view, two mighty hunters glare at each other across a clearing in the jungle.
This week began with a continuation of the hot weather we had last week. It was hard to keep everything in the garden watered in the heat. Our normal irrigation consumption of 30 gallons a day was up to 60 gallons or more a day, and things were still showing signs of heat stress. At that rate, our stored water would run out some time in mid-September. With the return of cooler weather, our consumption should drop off again. Still, some rain would be nice.
One plant that did well in the heat is Wendy's portulaca, that she keeps in pots on the deck.
A cold front that came through the area on Wednesday cleared up the forest fire smoke that had been in the area for a couple of weeks, but apparently aggravated the fire situation in the Interior, due to the dry, strong winds.
My father gave us a scare when he was admitted to hospital with gall-bladder problems on Tuesday. I flew out to Fort Saskatchewan on Wednesday to visit him, along with my brothers from Vancouver and Saskatoon. Thankfully, he is recovering well, though he will remain in hospital a little longer. We were able to have a good visit with him, and it was good for my brothers and me to hang out together for a while.
The same cold front that cleared the air our here on the coast did the exact opposite in Fort Saskatchewan. The change in wind direction blew the smoke from northern British Columbia directly over the Edmonton area. Visibility in the smoke was at times as low as half a mile. On Thursday, Fort Saskatchewan recorded a particulate level of 1000 micrograms per cubic metre. Health officials consider 25 micrograms per cubic metre to be the maximum safe level. Luckily, we spent most of that day indoors.
Today, back on Denman Island, Wendy and I had a visit from one of our old friends from the Rocky Mountain Ramblers hiking club in Calgary, Ron Hunter. When we heard he was going to be on Vancouver Island, we invited him over to Denman for an afternoon. We gave him the 5-cent tour of Denman Island and enjoyed a pleasant afternoon catching up on old times.
This week, we decided to go on a cruise. We have heard so much about cruises, and we see the cruise ships sailing up the Gulf on summer evenings, so we thought, Why not?
On Wednesday, we drove up to Campbell River, then across the width of Vancouver Island to Gold River. Gold River is a somewhat shabby former mill town in a very pretty setting. Its two surviving industries are fishing and the M.V. Uchuck III, our "cruise" ship.
If you have been following this blog for a while, you will have heard me mention the Uchuck before: twice in the past, we have sailed on its day trip to Friendly Cove, on Nootka Island. The ship is a 136-foot converted WWII minesweeper, that operates as a freighter and passenger ferry serving fish farms, logging camps and isolated communities on the fjords and inlets of western Vancouver Island.
This time, we went on a two-day cruise to the village of Kyuquot. Unlike the Friendly Cove day trip we have taken in previous years, which is stricly a tourist trip, this was a working freight run. The route is mostly inshore, with a two-hour stretch out in the open sea. From the Gold River dock, it sails out Muchalat Inlet, across Nootka Sound and up Tahsis Inlet. It then squeezes through Tahsis Narrows, only about 100 yards wide, into Hecate Channel and Esperanza Inlet. From the mouth of Esperanza Inlet, it sails about a mile offshore to Kyuquot.
On Thursday, we began with an early start from our B&B in order to be down at the Gold River dock,a 15-minute drive out of town, at 6:40 for our 7:00 sailing. All 13 passengers showed up on time, and we sailed before the sun had cleared the mountaintops.
As we sailed down Muchalat Inlet, we were reminded that the Uchuck is primarily a working freighter, rather than a cruise ship. We stopped at one of the many fish farms to offload fish food - 15 tons of it, in big one-ton bags. We were amazed that so much cargo would fit in the small ship's hold. We were even more amazed when the skipper told us that that was only half the shipment. He was keeping half of it on board to serve as ballast for the later open-sea portion of the voyage.
We continued down the inlet to a logging camp, where we delivered groceries and hydraulic fluid, and to another fish farm, where we dropped off two large propane cylinders. We were quite impressed at the dexterity with which the ship's crew used the crane to handle the various types of cargo. No doubt they had done it before.
At the second fish farm, we got a good look at the ship that collects the fish from the farm to send them to market. It has what appears to be a huge vacuum cleaner on the back of it. As it turns out, that is exactly what it is. They vacuum the fish out of the pens right into the ship's hold.
From Muchalat Inlet, we sailed across Nootka Sound, up Tahsis Inlet, and out Esperanza Inlet. The weather, which had been partly cloudy, turned a bit showery, but there was plenty of room inside for everyone. We made a short side trip into Port Eliza, which is the name of another inlet, not an actual port, to offload more groceries. For this delivery, the dock was full, so the groceries were offloaded directly onto a small boat that had tied up alongside us as we bobbed in the middle of the inlet.
Heading out the mouth of Esperanza Inlet from Port Eliza, we started to notice the ocean swells. The entire coast from Esperanza Inlet to Kyuquot is lined with rocks and reefs. We started out by sailing on the seaward side of the rocks, where we "enjoyed" the full power of the ocean swells. The Uchuck is quite a seaworthy vessel, but it rocks and rolls a lot on the swells. It was built for coastal work, not the open ocean. It would probably be uncomfortable in a storm.
After half an hour or so, we entered a gap between the reefs and sailed the remainder of the route in the channel between the offshore rocks and the shore. The ride was considerably smoother inshore of the reefs. Along the way, we saw our first whale of the trip, a humpback.
We arrived at Kyuquot about 3:30 in the afternoon, ahead of schedule. The village is in two parts: the native section is on the Vancouver Island side of the harbour, while the non-native section is on the small island that encloses the harbour. There are no roads and no vehicles. All traffic is by boat or on foot, depending on the destination.
We had some free time to wander around the village before meeting back on the ship for dinner. The ship's cook very thoughtfully made bean-filled cabbage rolls, so that Wendy and I would have something vegan to eat. They were very good.
After dinner, the transportation arrived to take the passengers to their various bed-and-breakfast establishments. We clambered onto the small boat and were motored across the harbour to our accommodations. Wendy and I shared our B&B with a couple from New Zealand who spend the northern summer in Canada and the southern summer in NZ.
On Friday morning, after breakfast, we were motored back across the harbour to the Uchuck. The return trip followed the same route in reverse. On the open-sea leg, we saw the highlight of the trip: more whales, including a group of two adults and one calf. They are very difficult to photograph. When you see them spout, you hardly have time to point the camera and grab a quick shot before they dive again. I managed to get a couple of pictures using the "point it in the general direction on wide-angle and crop later" technique. The weather on the whale segment of the trip was ideal: sunny, with enough clouds to make the mountains look photogenic.
As we crossed Nootka Sound, we stopped to pick up two kayakers who had been dropped off earlier in the week. As you can see, the ship's crane has an attachment for every purpose. The kayakers simply paddle onto the hoist and are lifted up onto the deck, where they can step out in style.
On the way back up Muchalat Inlet, we stopped to drop off propane tanks at a fishing resort and returned to the first fish farm to deliver the remaining 15 tons of fish food, which the skipper had retained as ballast. We were quite glad to have had the temporary use of it.
It was an excellent trip, through outstanding scenery, and we are already planning our next voyage on the Uchuck.
Copyright © 2013 Keith Walker
Last modified: 6-May-2013