Hall's Harbour Observatory,   Hall's Harbour, NS

Denman Diary: 2006

22-Nov-2017, 10:23 AST 22-Nov-2017, 14:23 UTC


30-Dec-2006

My project this week has been to build a shed for the generator. There was a convenient spot right next to the power shack. It is away from the house to lessen the impact of noise and exhaust fumes, and right next to both the main electrical panel and the main load: the well pump. The location will also minimize the effect of the noise on the neighbours.

The shed is basically a lean-to integrated with a small deck. It provides shelter from the elements while allowing enough air circulation for cooling, intake and exhaust. It also gave me some experience in deck-building, a skill I will need when we get around to replacing the main deck around the house in a year or two.

Once I had the shed built, I was able to install the generator and give it a trial run. It will be left permanently plugged in, so all I had to do is flip a some circuit breakers to disconnect the power line and connect the generator, start it, and violà: lights and appliances worked in the house!

That should be enough to ensure that we never have another major power outage, based on the umbrella principle. Still, if we do, at least now we are better prepared.


My next major project will be to limb the half-dozen or so large trees that came down around the property in the storm, buck them up into stove lengths and split them. There is probably enough firewood there to see us through the next couple of winters.

With a couple of long weekends in a row, Wendy has been having fun baking. It is after all known as the "festive season", and we have been doing our share of feasting. Here for your viewing pleasure are: green tomato mincemeat tarts, roasted mixed veggies, and chocolate cupcakes with pink mint icing and crushed candy-cane decorations.


Naturally, I did my part by taste-testing her various creations. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it! I can hereby certify that they all passed the test. Try not to drool on your keyboard!


We had a quiet Christmas, and New Year looks to be the same. We are taking the time to relax a little, watch a few movies on video and go for walks. We might have some friends over for afternoon tea if they are not busy.

23-Dec-2006

In comparison to last week, this week has been quite uneventful.

Denman Island is invariably described in all the tourist literature as "bucolic". Well, here is a suitably bucolic view, taken today. Hard to believe it is December, isn't it? Those little white dots are sheep.

There are still pieces of trees lying along the sides of the roads, and some of BC Hydro's line repairs have a distinctly temporary look to them. We presume they will be back sometime soon to finish them. However, things are pretty much back to normal for most Denman residents.

I have been setting up a permanent electrical connection for the generator. I did some price-checking, and you'd be amazed at how expensive a generator transfer switch is! However, there turns out to be a much cheaper option that still ensures that the connection is safe. I will be installing a mechanical interlock on the system this week.

I have also been drawing up plans for a generator shed. Last week, I used a tarp draped over it and held in place by bungee cords and logs for weather protection, but that is not a suitable long-term solution. A shed will be a place to store the generator as well as providing shelter when it is operating.

What we are hoping is that the generator will supply the same level of protection against power outages that an umbrella does against rain, or sunglasses do against sunshine: if you have them, you won't need them!

A very merry Christmas to everyone, from Wendy, Keith, Liesl and Owen.

17-Dec-2006

Denman Island Hit by Hurricane!

Denman Island was hit on Monday night by a storm that, in all but name, was a category 2 hurricane. At the height of the storm, between 4:00 and 6:00 pm Monday, winds were measured at the Chrome Island lighthouse, just off the south tip of Denman, at 177 km/h, just 1 km/h short of being a category 3 hurricane. In addition, two separate observers on boats in the Lambert Channel reported seeing a waterspout, which is a tornado at sea.

There was considerable damage on Denman Island. Numerous trees were uprooted or broken off, many onto power lines. At least 70 spans of high-voltage power line were brought down, and one house had four trees crash down on it while the occupant was inside. Luckily, there were no reports of serious injuries.

Electrical power was knocked out for the entire island for 48 hours, and many houses did not get their power restored until late on Sunday. There are still isolated pockets without power which are expected to be reconnected to the grid some time on Monday.

Our house, luckily, was undamaged. Our power was out from about 1:45 pm on Monday until 6:00 pm on Sunday, over six days straight.

Monday's storm was the first of three that hit this week. The third storm, on Thursday night was as strong as Monday's storm, but hit farther south, around the Victoria-Vancouver-Seattle area. From our point of view, it was notable mostly because it caused half our emergency Hydro repair crews to leave and head south. We were not happy about that!

From that third storm, we only got a little bit of snow and no wind. It was enough to make the roads quite slippery. The Hornby Co-op delivery truck ended up in the ditch on the hairpin turn at the bottom of the big hill, and remained there until an all-day effort the next day by a towtruck and a backhoe dragged it out.

Electricity

By Wednesday, we were totally fed up with no power and I spent the afternoon phoning around all the stores in Courtenay to inquire about generators. There was not a single one to be had, so I placed my name on a waiting list. Later that evening, we got a call that a truckload of generators was arriving overnight and would be at Home Depot first thing in the morning. I went in on the first ferry Thursday morning, not trusting them to hold it for me for more than an hour, demand being what it was. By noon Thursday, I had it hooked up, re-freezing the deep-freeze. I spent the rest of Thursday rewiring the well pump so I could run it on generator power.

Water

Thanks to our experience in the last month, we had drinking water on hand. However, we quickly realized that we did not have nearly enough to last through an extended outage and bought three more cases of bottled water. Luckily, though, we had the generator running before we had to open those, so they are now our emergency supply.

With generator power available, I could trundle the generator over to the pumphouse once a day and hook it up to the pump. That gave us an opportinity to fill up water jugs, flush toilets and re-pressurize the pressure tank. The pressure tank allowed us enough running water for washing hands and brushing teeth.

Needless to say, we are talking cold running water. Hot water was only available by boiling a pan of it on the wood stove.

For flushing toilets in between pump runs, we used buckets of rainwater.

Fortunately, our septic system is operated by gravity. Many residences on Denman require an electric pump because their septic tank is uphill from the house. Those folks would have had to use the outhouse.

We kept reasonably clean by taking sponge baths with water heated on the stove. Once the firehall had power, we were able to shower there. One of the benefits of being on the department.

Heat

We kept the wood stove going throughout the power outage. I have not mastered the art of getting an all-night burn from the stove, though, so the house would get quite cool in the morning. The stove is good at pumping out heat, though, so it was not hard to warm it up again.

Food

We did all our cooking on the wood stove. It is great for boiling water, heating soup, and similar types of cooking. With lots of pre-made soups thawing in the freezer, we had no trouble finding suitable food to cook.

We were able to make porridge for breakfast, and we toasted bread by holding it in tongs in the open door of the firebox.

Prior to getting the generator, we loaded up some of our recycling boxes with snow left over from the last snowfall and put our perishables from the fridge into them, out on the back deck.

We had one food casualty: a bag of raspberries that thawed in the freezer and leaked red juice all over the bottom.

Phone and Communications

The phone line, surprisingly, was not damaged, in spite of the wires being pinned down on the ground by the same tree that snapped our power line. Our cordless phones require electricity, so they were useless, but we do have one phone in the basement that does not need to be plugged in. Most of our calls were to BC Hydro, trying to get updates on the power situation.

At the height of the storm, on Monday, I got a phone call from a neighbour who was trapped away from home by a fallen tree. She wanted to tell her husband where she was, but couldn't call home because their only phone runs on electricity. I went down the street to deliver the message the old-fashioned way. Thougn I would normally have walked, this time I drove, because I could hear trees crashing down all around. I figured that I would be safer inside the truck than outside on foot.

There was no chance to use the computer. It is dangerous to the computer to run it on generator power without a UPS, so I didn't even try. I was able to go to the firehall and get online once they had power there. However, without my password file, there was no way to upload anything or check my email. My passwords are stored on floppy disk, but so well encrypted that I could not read the disk on another computer! I may have to re-think my level of protection.

Other Events

Prior to the storm, on Sunday afternoon, we attended a reading by our neighbour Des Kennedy from his new book, The Passionate Gardener. In addition to reading a chapter of the book, which was very entertaining, he also read a brief comparison of life on Denman today with life here 30 years ago. It was very revealing to find out how much has changed and how much has not.

On Friday night, we walked downtown to participate in "Midnight Madness", the one evening of the year on which all the Denman Island businesses stay open for late shopping. They had all the sidewalks downtown lit with hundreds of tea-light candles in paper bags, which made a nice decorative effect. There didn't seem to be much Christmas shopping going on. Mostly, people were exchanging storm stories. The standard greeting on Denman Island this week was "Do you have power yet?"

On Tuesday, the day after the big storm, and before the next one hit, we drove down to Victoria for Wendy's post-surgery checkup on her eye. The surgeon was very pleased with her recovery. Wendy can already notice an improvement in her vision.

The drive was fine, though there were many trees down along the sides of the road. On the return trip, we were held up for half an hour due to tree-removal on the Malahat section of the highway. Our timing was perfect, because only 12 hours later, the second of the three storms closed the Malahat highway entirely for a while due to accidents and downed power lines.

Tonight (Sunday night), just as our power was being restored, we attended the community Christmas dinner at the Community Hall. It was a well-attended event, with over four hundred people being fed in two hours. They even had Tofurkey for us veggie types. We did our part by helping in the cleanup. It is a good way to bring the community together.

9-Dec-2006

What a difference a week makes! We have had above-zero temperatures and a moderate amount of rain this week, and as a result the two feet of snow have mostly melted. Earlier in the week, I cleared one side of our loop driveway, so on Thursday, we were able to park the car near the house for the first time in nearly two weeks. The other half of the driveway looks like it should be passable tomorrow.

With not much else happening on the Island, I have been refinishing an old Ikea chesterfield. I took the frame apart and, over a few days, sanded it and put several coats of Varathane on it. While it was drying, I sewed new zippered slip-covers for the cushions. I think it turned out quite well, if I do say so myself. The colours are more in keeping with the rest of our colour scheme.

We are getting into the season of Christmas dinners. Last night, we attended a potluck dinner for my men's group and spouses. They are an interesting bunch of people, and we had a great time.

Tonight is the annual Fire Department dinner, the department's main social event of the year. With about 25 members and their spouses, the hall should be quite full. The department supplies the customary deceased fowl, but the rest of the dinner is pot-luck, so there should be enough for us to eat. We are bringing a chili and a lemon tart, same as last night. (It makes ingredient shopping easier!) The dinner includes awards presentations, some serious, some not, as well as being "payday", the day we receive our honouraria for attending weekly practices and callouts.

1-Dec-2006

In last week's diary, I signed off with snow falling and Wendy and I about to go out to a bluegrass concert. The good news is that the concert was excellent. The band, The Jaybirds, played together very tightly, and we had a toe-tappin' good time. The bad news is that my precaution of parking the car at the top of the driveway after the concert was all too prudent. We woke up on Sunday morning with no power (yet again!), and with 30cm of fresh, heavy, wet snow on the ground. Compare the first photo with the same view taken less than 24 hours earlier, in last week's diary entry.

We spent the day on Sunday doing snow-related activities. My first duty was to go to the fire hall and help the crew put chains on all the trucks. I had to hike out Pickles Road to the main road, where another firefighter gave me a ride to the hall in his 4x4 truck. With the fire trucks prepared for the bad roads, I came home to start shovelling. Even with the car at the top of the driveway, a considerable amount of snow had to be moved to dig it out. Around 2:30 pm, the snowplow finally cleared our street, leaving a huge pile of hard-packed snow across the end of our freshly-cleared driveway. Fortunately, the fire chief, who is also a heavy-equipment operator, came by shortly after with a front-end loader, and cleared it away for us. There are advantages to being on the fire department!

The other big shovelling chore was the deck, where, by my calculations, about 3 tonnes of snow were loading the somewhat rickety structure. All of it had to be thrown over the 30" railing! We also cleared out walkways to the garage, cottage and the end of the driveway.

In between shovelling, Wendy and I went out showshoeing down Pickles Road and into the forest. In the late afternoon, we sat on the chesterfield wearing our headlamps and reading. The power finally came back on about 6:00 pm.

Wendy's eye is recovering nicely from her surgery. Although she could have been back to work as soon as she wanted, the combination of the surgery and the weather and bad roads made it prudent for her to take a couple of sick days on Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday, she returned to work. At least for the morning... By mid-day, the weather system that had brought the arctic airmass to us on Sunday was starting to head back to where it belonged, bringing the front back over us one more time. The support staff in Wendy's office were sent home early, a smart move, since we ended up with another 25 cm of snow on top of the 34 cm from Sunday. The power, naturally, went off again.

By Thursday morning, the snow had stopped, but we were snowed in again, a repeat of Sunday. We spent the morning shovelling, and in the afternoon snowshoed down through our woods and across a big clearcut lot adjacent to ours. By mid-afternoon, the snowplow had made a pass down Pickles Road, so I shovelled away the big pile of snow thrown up by the plow. I had just finished and was leaning on my shovel, admiring my handiwork, when the snowplow came back the other way, throwing up another big mound! The driver took pity on me and cleared away some of it with his blade, but I still had a lot more work to do.

We have set a new record for precipitation (476 mm, including the snow which melted down to 58 mm of water), as well as a new record for low temperature (-9.7°C) in November. We may also have set a new record for power outages, with an accumulated total of over 92 hours without power since November 12th.

In honour of the first Sunday in Advent, this coming Sunday, here is a photo (or three) of our Christmas lights in the recent snow, taken during a rare moment of electricity.

This weekend, we are looking forward to attending the annual Christmas Craft Fair here on Denman. It is an island tradition, and one of the major events of the season. All the local artists and artisans display their wares for sale.

27-Nov-2006

This week, the sound of tree frogs has been replaced by the sounds of generators and -eek!- snow shovels.

Last Sunday, we had yet another storm that knocked out our power for several hours. We are getting rather good at cooking on the wood stove.

Later Sunday evening, the power restored, we attended a movie night at the Arts Centre. The movie was supposed to be Charlie Chaplin's "Limelight", but, due to technical difficulties, we saw "To Be or Not To Be", with Jack Benny, Carole Lombard and Robert Stack. The Arts Centre now has a video projector and screen permanently installed in the main meeting room, so it looks like movies might become a regular feature.

We have had a lot more rain this week, and we are now within three millimetres of breaking a record for the month of November. The record currently stands at 420.2 mm. However, it looks like we will break the record with snow rather than rain. This afternoon, it began snowing, and there is more in the forecast. It is a major arctic outbreak, and we are expecting overnight lows around -10°C for a couple of nights. As soon as the snow started falling, I moved the car and truck up to the entrance of the driveway, since the hill on the driveway becomes impassible in heavy snow. There is a heavy snowfall warning out for our area.

This week, we went to Victoria for a couple of days. Wendy needed surgery on one eye for a condition called macular pucker. She was on a waiting list for the surgery, and on Tuesday we got a phone call from the surgeon's office that they had a cancellation on Thursday morning. We drove down Wednesday night, Wendy had the surgery Thursday morning and a followup appointment Friday morning, and we returned on Friday afternoon. The doctor was pleased with the results of the surgery, although it could be a couple of months before Wendy knows how much her vision will improve as a result.

For now, she has to put drops in her eyes every few hours, and complains that it feels like the surgeon left a hairbrush in her eye.

We took advantage of the trip to do some window shopping and to eat at our favourite restaurant there, the Lotus Pond. On our return drive, in daylight, we noticed that the snow level was down to the highway level at the summit of the Malahat Pass.

Back here on Denman Island, we are still having "planned" power outages due to the damaged marine cables' being replaced. There are two more outages planned, for Sunday and Tuesday, although the plan keeps changing. Hopefully they will get it finished soon! Between storms and the marine cables, all us islanders are heartily sick of power failures.

Tonight, we are gong to the second Arts Denman concert of the season: a bluegrass band. It should be fun.

The photo at right is of trumpeter swans on Pickles Marsh earlier this week.

18-Nov-2006

It's a lucky thing that I declared the rainy season "officially begun" a couple of weeks ago. Had I missed that declaration, this week's deluge would have been an embarrassment. On Wednesday, we had a doozy of a storm that dumped 97.6 mm of rain on us in one day, along with strong winds that brought numerous trees down on power lines. The storm included thunder and lightning, something that is almost unknown here. Long time residents say it was only the second time they had heard thunder in ten or more years.

The photos show our neighbour's power line down on the ground after a big tree fell on it. The entire island was without power for most of Wednesday. Here on Pickles Road, our power stayed out until Thursday at lunchtime, about 30 hours.

People here were quite unimpressed with BC Hydro's response. Not that we expect instant repair during a severe storm: it takes just as much effort to get our 1,000 residents back online as it does to get 100,000 city folk back online, so no prizes for guessing where they will devote their first efforts. However, the storm came right on the heels of three days of power failures caused by a "routine test" that went wrong. Most people here figured that that should have given us a little priority in the system.

Last week, Hydro announced a planned power outage for Sunday for the purpose of testing the undersea cable to Denman and Hornby Islands. Clearly something went wrong on the test, because the power, which had been reliable until then, failed numerous times on Monday and Tuesday. Over the three days, Sunday to Tuesday, the power was out for a total of about 23 hours. According to BC Hydro, two of the four undersea cables that supply Denman and Hornby failed. They don't admit that it was Sunday's test that damaged them, but the coincidence is just a bit too obvious, and the majority opinion of the island's rumour mill is firmly in the cause-and-effect camp. Some time next week, they will replace the damaged cables, meaning, of course, more power outages.

On Monday, Wendy was trying to do laundry and baking, and I was trying to work on the truck. Both were difficult to do with very intermittent power! Wendy somehow managed to make a delicious pineapple upside down cake for supper. It turned out perfectly, so she is going to amend the recipe to include turning off the oven three times during the baking. The truck, by the way, is now fully serviceable.

Fortunately, the wood stove is quite effective at heating the whole house. It has a removable insert that gives access to the cast iron surface for emergency cooking. Wendy had made a big vat of soup before the storm, so we warmed that up on the stove for supper. For breakfast, we had porridge made with boiling water instead of zapping it in the microwave. With no tap water (the pump is electric), we used up the remainder of the bottled water I had bought to get us through the well cleaning that I wrote about last week. Once that ran out, we used rainwater boiled on the stove for drinking and cooking until the store re-opened and I could get some more bottled water.

The ferry continued to run throughoug the storm. According to long-time residents, it is almost never shut down due to weather. It may well have been the only ferry in BC Ferries' fleet that was running. Hydro tried to use the ferry as an excuse for not getting to work on repairs sooner, claiming that no ferries were running. They had no explanation as to how Wendy managed to cross two kilometres of water without getting her feet wet!

Although the ferry dock ramps are electrically operated, the ferry can continue to operate during power outages by plugging the ramp mechanism into the ship's generators with a great big extension cord. It slows down service, since wrestling with the cord takes an extra couple of minutes at each end of the crossing, but it beats having the ferry shut down.

On Friday evening, we attended the annual newcomers' welcome event at the seniors' hall. It is a great way to find out who the new faces are in the community. This year, there weren't many new faces. Last year, we were newcomers; this year, we are established residents. We have made an effort to be active in the community, and people often express surprise that we have only been here a year and a half, because they are so used to seeing us.

One thing they are used to seeing is the two of us walking up or down the big hill between our house and downtown Denman. We are reknowned as the couple that walks everywhere. One of our neighbours, Sandy, comments on it whenever we see her. She mentioned it again last week at the Remembrance Day ceremony. After the ceremony, Wendy and I were walking up the hill when Sandy passed us in her van. She rolled down her window and said that we were her "guilt-meter". Then, to top it off, later the same day, we were out for a walk around the block. By pure chance, at the exact same spot on the hill, Sandy passed us again. She rolled down her window and said, "I don't believe it!" We doubled up laughing!

11-Nov-2006

This morning, we attended a Remembrance Day ceremony at the seniors' hall here on Denman Island. With both sets of our parents being survivors of World War 2, we think it is important to set aside some time to think about what that means.

The ceremony was well attended, with standing room only. There were quite a few veterans, a lot of non-veterans and several teenagers and children. It was good to see. A retired United Church minister led the ceremony and said a few thoughtful words for the occasion. Afterwards, we stacked the chairs (that's a Denman thing) and had tea and brownies.

The snow line has been creeping down the mountains opposite us on Vancouver Island. During the summer, we had been keeping an eye on the last remaining snow patch at the top of the mountain as it got smaller and smaller. It was a little hard to tell if it actually disappeared or not by the end of the summer, but there is no doubt that the snow is back at higher elevations now. We get it all as rain, of course.

With the rainy season well under way now, it is time for the annual cleaning of the well. It is a big performance involving a couple of gallons of bleach and about 24 hours. You can't use any tap water for any purpose during the cleaning, since (a) you don't want to drink or wash with bleach and (b) you don't want any bleach to end up in the septic tank, where it would shut down the essential bacterial action. It has to be planned for a weekend, since bathing, other then a quick sponge bath using rainwater, is not possible.

This weekend, B.C. Hydro threw us a curve by suddenly announcing that the power is going to be off on Sunday for several hours for testing the undersea cable that supplies electricity to Denman and Hornby Islands. Since the well pump is electric, and since the most time-consuming part of the well-cleaning is flushing the system of bleach, which requires a working pump, I had to start on Friday night, to be sure of being finished before the power goes off.

Something that surprised me about fall on the coast is that everything turns green again. As a prairie boy, I am used to vegetation being green in the spring, gradually turning brown over the summer, browner still in the fall, and then being white for the remaining half of the year. Here on the coast, it is green in spring and brown in the summer, but when fall starts, all the vegetation turns green again (except for the maples) and stays green right through to spring.

Working outdoors, the forest is alive with the croaking of tree frogs. From the three little green residents we had on the deck this summer, we know that they are quite small, but they have very loud voices! There are also flocks of Canada geese, here for the winter, that honk their way overhead in the mornings on their way to feed, and the trumpeter swans have returned. There are some on our local wetlands here on Denman that we see flying overhead occasionally, but the biggest concentration is in the estuary of the Puntledge River in Courtenay, where thousands of swans spend the winter. Wendy has noticed some there already on her morning commute.

This weekend, in addition to cleaning the well, I am doing some work on the truck to get it a bit more shipshape. The automatic choke doesn't, so I am installing a manual choke, and I need to do a few other odds and ends.

5-Nov-2006

This has been a busy week for me: I started work as a carpenter's helper. I am a fairly good home handyman, but I don't necessarily know the "right" way to do everything. There's lots of new stuff to learn. We are working on a carport-to-garage conversion that has blown up into a rotten deck replacement. It is good work that promises to keep me physically fit.

This week, I have been bumming a ride to the work site with my boss, since Wendy has the car in town during the day, but obviously that is not an acceptable arrangement in the long term, so I have bought a truck. It is nothing fancy, just a beater really, an '86 Mazda, but it runs well and is small enough to be reasonable on gas. It does mean that we won't have to pay to have junk hauled away or to get plywood and building supplies delivered any more.

We had some frosty nights this week, with overnight temperatures going down to -3°C at our house. Other parts of the island, especially lower-lying areas, have been colder. I had to scrape frost off the windshield for Wendy several mornings this week.

The big news in weather is that the rainy season has officially begun. I can say "officially" because I am the offical weather person, and I hereby declare it begun. We have had nearly twice as much rain in the first few days of November as we had in all of October. Luckily, the frosty mornings did not coincide with the rain: the temperature is much milder since the rain began.

At the ferry dock at Buckley Bay (the Vancouver Island side of our ferry run), there is a second ferry tied up. It is the Kahloke, which normally serves Hornby Island in the summertime. (Hornby regularly gets a different ferry in the winter, one that can better handle the stormier seas on that side of Denman.)

Starting later this month, the Kahloke is going to be taking over from the Quinitsa, our regular ferry, which is going in for its mid-life major refit. What it means for us is that, for the mext four months (they said, hopefully - we'll see how accurately) we will have a 28-car ferry instead of a 50-car ferry. Some rush-hour ferry runs will undoubtedly be full, even over the winter. Not fun!

This afternoon we attended a workshop on non-violent communication. It ties in very well with both my mediation training and a communication course that Wendy and I took several years ago. It is a measure of the kind of community that Denman Island is that the workshop was about as well-attended as it would have been in a big city.

28-Oct-2006

No, we haven't bought a new house, nor is this the latest Denman Island mansion. This is the hospital annex in Truro, NS, where Wendy was born. She just got back from two weeks of visiting her parents, who live in Truro. She also had fun visiting with her sister, who lives in Halifax, and a lot of her relatives and friends. It was a good visit, but I am glad she is back, and not just because she brought the camera back! I missed her!

In Wendy's absence, the cats had to make do with yours truly for all their affection needs. Normally, they won't have anything to do with me unless I have food for them. However, with no one else to turn to, Owen reluctantly got up on my lap in the evenings. Liesl even let me pet her this morning, something she never does. She may have been more interested in the breakfast she hoped I would provide, but perhaps not.

As I reported last week, my automatic rain gauge arrived in the mail, so I spent some time this week reprogramming my weather software to talk to it, as well as doing the physical installation of the cabling. It uses a network design that is physically very simple, so I was able to employ some unused wires in the house phone wiring to connect the computer to the gauge without making any new holes in the walls.

I eagerly awaited the first rainfall all week. The weather office in Comox kept predicting steady rain all week, but it never materialized. The wind stayed out of the west, which gives us a downslope flow and pretty much guarantees no rain. All we got was a measly 2.8 mm. However, it was duly recorded automatically by the computer. Yay!

The picture shows the new gauge on the right, with the soon-to-be-dismantled homemade gauge on the left. Personally, I think the homemade one is more in keeping with the Denman tradition of funky resourcefulness, but I do like the fact that I don't have to go out in the rain every 20 minutes any more.

In other news, I start work next week as a carpenter's helper. It may not be glamourous work, but it seems to be in considerable demand in this area. The pay, even for an entry level position, is as good as what an experienced computer techie can make at a desk job in town! The nice thing is that this job is right here on Denman Island, which, taking into account the ferry fares, is equivalent to $2 per hour more than I would make in town.

Our fall colours are not as spectacular as those down east, but they are pretty fair. This is a panoramic view into our property from the top of the driveway. The building at the left is the cottage. The main house is behind the trees and the car at the centre, down the hill. The garage / workshop is out of the frame to the right, also down the hill. It may not be apparent from the picture, but the lot slopes down considerably from the road, where the picture was taken, to the back property line. The farthest trees you can see in the picture are at least twice the height of the foreground trees in the centre of the picture. They appear smaller because of the slope of the land.

The "keep left" sign where the driveway splits is there to encourage visitors to take the side that brings them closer to our "new" front door - the one we had built last year - in the hopes of making the correct aproach more obvious. Do you think it works? Most visitors take the right fork in spite of the sign, and anyone who ever visited the house when it was occupied by the former owner still goes to where the old door used to be.

22-Oct-2006

* THIS SPACE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK *

There is not a lot to report this week. Wendy is off in Nova Scotia for a couple of weeks to visit her parents. I spent the majority of the week in a classroom in Courtenay attending a career seminar. So, not much has happened here.

Not only that, but my good camera is in the shop for repairs (wonky cable connector) and Wendy has the backup camera, which usually serves as my high-resolution webcam, with her in Nova Scotia. So, no interesting pictures this week either. Instead, I have a "file photo" of a generic view from Denman Island across Baynes Sound to Vancouver Island.

My construction project this week was to build a bike rack in the workshop. Finally, the bikes are not leaning against each other. I will finish it off with a storage self above, and a tarp to keep sawdust off the bikes.

My rain gauge arrived in the mail this week. Since I became the official island weatherman, I have been measuring the rain with a home-made gauge made from a turkey baster and a funnel. It works surprisingly well, but in heavy rain, I have to go outside to take readings and empty the gauge. I have measured rainfall rates of 24 mm per hour. Since my homemade gauge only holds less than 7 mm, it means frequent urgent trips outdoors just when you least want to go out.

The new gauge is a properly calibrated tipping bucket design, which means it is self-emptying. This particular one has been modified with a computer interface. I am now in the process of modifying my temperature-recording software to record rainfall as well. The forecast for next week sounds wet, so the sooner I get that done, the better!

14-Oct-2006

Here it is, the middle of October, and we are still picking raspberries every couple of days. This week I rode my bike to a good blackberry patch that hadn't been picked-over for a few days and picked enough for our cereal in the mornings. Very tasty!

Although we have a few showers right now, we are back in another dry spell. The water level in the well must be down again, because the sulphur smell is back. It will be nice to get some real rain. We keep thinking that the rainy season is going to start any day now. Hopefully, one of these days we will be right.

The picture at right shows Central Park, the Conservancy's latest acquisition on Denman. It is a quarter-section (i.e. half a mile by half a mile) of recently-logged land right in the middle of Denman, across from the Old School. They are holding lots of interest-building and fundraising events to pay off the mortgage on it. Today, they held a nature walk to show people the land and its recovering forest. They plan to develop a few more hiking trails, in addition to the old logging roads that already access the land, to provide several loop hikes on the parcel itself, as well as to connect it with trails on other land nearby. There are now several contiguous parcels of land that are owned either by the Conservancy or the Crown, and their dream is to have several miles of hiking trails connecting them all.

Last night, Arts Denman had its first concert of the new season. This year, so many of the concerts on the program looked good that we bought season tickets. Last night's concert was the Fouquet-Dolin cello duo, playing a variety of pieces, including some Mozart opera arias arranged for two cellos. The music, as always, was excellent!

The weather was nice, so we walked to and from the concert. We have a reputation for walking everywhere; it is so easy to walk places from where we live that it seems a crime not to. For evening events at this time of year, of course, we carry flashlights and wear a reflective armband with a red flashing light. We had to fight off several offers of rides! People think we are a little odd that way!

The main sound in our forests these days is the croaking of tree frogs. The little green guys are only an inch or two long, but they sure are loud! It is odd, hearing frogs croaking in the trees instead of in a wetland. The other sound is the barking of sea lions. They are back from their summer vacation in Alaska (I presume). There seems to be a large colony of them at Fanny Bay, across the water from us on Vancouver Island. Any time we are down on the water on the west side of Denman, or even in "downtown" Denman, we can hear them.

Speaking of odd creatures, here's a puzzle for you. Any idea what the odd looking thing is on the lawn in the photo at left? The photo is totally un-edited. The time of day (6:55 pm) and the low lighting level are clues, though obscure ones.

Wendy leaves for Nova Scotia on Monday to visit her parents for two weeks.

8-Oct-2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Not a lot to report this week.

I've got all of next year's wood split and stacked, so we are in good shape for heating. The electric heat has been on most mornings, recently, so we made a fire the last couple of mornings. It doesn't take much to take the chill off the house in the morning. I get it going with a few logs, throw on a couple more an hour or so later, then let it go out. The house is nice and toasty for the rest of the day, especially if it is sunny.

Last year at this time, the rainy season had already started. This year, it looks like summery skies are continuing well into fall. It is cooler, of course, but with the exception of the odd day of showers, we have had nothing but sunshine, with more in the forecast.

We had our Thanksgiving dinner today. We had three couples over: Bob & Velda, Herb & Barb and Andrew & Sharon. It took us most of Saturday to prepare the food: millet loaf with gravy, dressing, candied yams, baked veggies in balsamic vinegar (left), and a pumpkin (un)cheesecake (above), with locally-grown organic apple cider to wash it down. It was worth the effort! We all enjoyed stuffing ourselves, and a few hours of conversation afterwards.

Thanksgiving is our favourite holiday. It is one that has meaning no matter what one's religion or lack thereof. We are incredibly lucky to be able to live in this island paradise, in a close-knit community. Today we were thankful for the company of good friends. We have a lot to be thankful for!

Owen thought he would have something extra to be thankful for today, but we got him away from the cheesecake before he had a sample!

1-Oct-2006

The fall colours are just beginning to start. The virginia creeper is a very showy scarlet. It has done well this year, climbing up to the top of the pergola. Next year, we expect it to fill out a bit and to start covering the top. The maples started to lose their green back in August already, but that was heat and drought stress. Now, however, they are just beginning to turn a legitimate fall yellow.

The weather for this first full week of fall has been gorgeous, with clear haze-free sunny days and pleasantly not-too-warm, not-too-cool days.

The cedars are changing colour too, this year, and that is not good. Cedars are rainforest trees, so the summers here are stressful for them. This has been a particularly dry summer, and just about all the cedars on the island are losing the tips of their branches.

The last farmers' market of the season was this morning. It is held next to the recycling centre, and has the same hours: Saturday mornings. Since the recycling centre is one of the social hot-spots of Denman Island, the market gets quite a bit of traffic. We have been getting quite a bit of produce there: organic fruit, nuts and veggies. It is finished now until next summer.

Today, I was splitting and stacking some more firewood. We had enough for this winter, we figured, but it is always a good idea to have a reserve supply. We'd hate to run out in early spring after a cold winter and have to get an emergency supply delivered at premium prices. Plus, we want to start stocking up for next winter. The longer the wood can sit and dry out, the better it will burn. This is important not only to get the most heat out of it, but to minimize the chance of chimney fires.

Speaking of which, we had the local chimney cleaner come and give ours its annual cleaning. He told us that it is in good condition: it is a safe installation, and it did not have much creosote buildup. That is good news! Now the stove is ready for the coming winter.

Here is a cute picture of Liesl playing in one of her favourite toys, a cardboard box.

23-Sep-2006

Last weekend's piano concerts with Robert Silverman were absolutely excellent! Both concerts were very well attended, with about 150 people at each one. It was the best turnout I have seen for a concert here. He will be back in April for the second half of the Mozart series. Already, they are talking about bringing him back next season for a Beethoven series.

The big story this week is rain, and lots of it! It started on Sunday with heavy rain all day, and continued until Wednesday. At one point on Sunday, it was coming down at a rate of 24 mm per hour. Over the four days, we received 83 mm, more than we got in the four months May through August combined. Our rainwater cistern, which we had been carefully rationing on the garden all summer refilled to overflowing in hours. And the fire danger, which had been rated at High to Extreme all summer has finally dropped to Low.

Our well water, which had been getting quite sulphurous as the level dropped, has suddenly become odour-free once more.

There really isn't a water shortage here. It is more like a distribution problem: plenty in the winter and not enough in the summer. We are looking at putting in more cisterns to store more of the surplus.

We are still harvesting fruit in the garden. Our raspberries have produced a great second crop, much better than the first. We are still picking plenty of berries, and it looks like we will continue to do so until the first frost.

I finally picked the plums that we had left on the tree to ripen naturally. A few of them had split from the sudden water surplus, but most of them were plump, sweet, juicy and fully ripe. My, my, they are good!

We have started preparing our cottage for its eventual move to its new location facing down the hill. This week's work consisted of dismantling the structure that connected it to the sauna. The interior of the sauna is being bought by a neighbour to use in a new sauna. The shell of the building will eventually become our garden toolshed.

The cottage will become a "studio" (in case anyone asks in an official capacity), and will be where we will put up any visitors. We are saving the pieces of the connecting structure, which had quite a nice curved facia detail, to be made into a porch once the building is moved.

The photos show the before (below) and after (right) views of the buildings.

16-Sep-2006

My task this week has been to build a roof over the cats' outdoor enclosure. They spend a lot of time outdoors, and of course they have blankets to make them comfortable. We wouldn't want their blankets getting wet, now, would we? We expect that, even in the cooler weather, they will want to be outdoors quite a bit. The roof should make it a lot more comfortable, keeping the rain off in winter and providing shade in summer.

They'd better appreciate it!

Speaking of cooler weather, our virginia creeper has a couple of red leaves. It's hard to tell if that is a result of fall colours starting, or if it is drought stress. There's a virginia creeper down the hill from us that has been totally red for weeks - that can't be fall, so I presume they turn red in response to lack of moisture too. The maples have all had brown leaves for the last month or more in response to the drought.

Our maples are not the sugar maples (Acer saccharum) that turn red in the fall, like they have down east. Ours are the big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), which is not nearly so spectacular. I have heard of Islanders making maple syrup from them. The sap is not as sweet, so it takes much more sap, which has to be boiled down more, to make syrup.

Today, we drove up to Mt. Washington, our local ski area, just to see what it is like. There is no snow yet, of course, so it looks kind of grundgy, like ski areas do in summer. This photo was taken from the parking lot, looking down onto the Straight of Georgia. I'm not sure if that is Denman Island visible on the water - I haven't checked a map yet.

The area is 4200 feet above sea level, and the access road is correspondingly steep. It is a 12% grade for several kilometres. That altitude puts it up on the edge of the alpine region, perfect country for hiking and skiing, both downhill and cross-country. We are planning to join a hiking club for next year's season. We also plan to do some cross-country skiing and snowshoeing this winter, hence the exploratory trip.

This weekend, we are looking forward to a pair of Mozart concerts by pianist Robert Silverman. They are part of a four-concert series, in which he will play the complete Mozart sonatas. The final pair of concerts will be in April. As I have said before, we get some excellent artistic events here on Denman. I'll include a review in next week's diary.

9-Sep-2006

We were out on the deck earlier this week having supper and realized that the place was totally silent with one exception: crickets. With the dry weather, we have lots and lots of grasshoppers and crickets, and they make quite a racket. Click here for a sample.

I discovered a mouse hole in the workshop this week. I was up in the wood loft selecting pieces for a small project and noticed a pair of beady little eyes peering out from a hole in the drywall that wasn't there before. I have been trapping mice all week and releasing them in the woods. Possibly, some of them were the same mice returning.

At the same time, I have been searching for entry holes and blocking them up. I discovered one section of soffit that needed to be screened, and some gaps under the roofing that I filled up with spray foam. I think that I have found all the openings. The numbers seem to have tapered off since I started plugging the holes. Once there are no more to catch, I will seal up the interior hole.

Last weekend, I sampled one of our grapes and noticed that it was almost sweet enough to be edible. Unfortunately, the local bird population has also been waiting for the grapes to ripen. Today, I noticed that almost all of our grapes were gone! They left us only two small bunches, perhaps ten percent of the crop. It's hard to beliueve that the birds left any at all. Perhaps they are sour. I picked them anyway - it's the only chance we'll get to taste them this year.

The big event on Denman this week was the Blackberry Faire (with an olde-fashioned "e"), our local fall fair. I don't have pictures of it because I was busy helping the Fire Department with their participation in it. In the morning, I did traffic control for the road race, followed by setting up the department's hamburger stand.

Yes, this vegan was forced to participate in the meat industry for a day. I wore a baseball cap from a vegetarian website in protest. Luckily, there were all kinds of jobs that didn't involve the burgers themselves. There were grills to set up, tomatoes to slice, lettuce to shred, cans of pop to be put on ice. The hamburger stand made a $500 profit, so it was for a good cause.

Once the preparations were done, I rode on top of one of the fire trucks in the parade. It does not quite compare to the Calgary Stampede Parade. This one's route is all of two blocks long, and it takes about four minutes to pass any point, only because it moves really, really slowly. However, it had two fire trucks. Those of us on top of the trucks got to spray the spectators with water, which was for the most part enjoyed by all.

The day culminated in the classic baseball game: the firemen against the women's team. Both sides were short of players, so we ended up with quite a few "ringers" on each team. The fire department got trounced, though no one was really sure what the final score was.


The other big event this week was the inauguration of the new ferry dock at Buckley Bay, the Vancouver Island side of our local ferry run. The dock has been (slowly) under construction all summer, and has looked essentially complete for a couple of weeks. We surmised that they were waiting for all the tourists to leave, and that they would start using it after Labour Day. That assumption turned out to be correct. A couple of runs were late as minor glitches were worked out and the ferry crew learned how to dock at the new facility; presumably they didn't want to have that inconvenience while there was a steady stream of trailers and Winnebagoes.

The photo shows the Quinitsa docked at the new floating dock, with the superstructure of the old dock behind it.

The rain last week was barely enough to damp the dust down. It sounded like a lot only in comparison to what we have had so far this summer. However, that really only goes to show how little we have had: essentially no precipitation for two months. We have a few more showers in the forecast this weekend, but they don't look like they will amount to much, and the fire hazard is staying high.

During the fair, we got a report of smoke spotted at the south end of the island. On calls like that, it is more efficient to send a small crew searching for the source rather than to do a full callout, so they asked for volunteers. Yours truly, looking for ways to get out of doing hamburgers, volunteered. However, it was quickly determined to be a false alarm. Because of the continuing extreme dryness, all such reports are taken seriously.

2-Sep-2006

The big news this week is RAIN! It was only a 24-hour rain event, but we got more rain in those 24 hours (14.6 mm) than we did in the preceding two months (10.3 mm). Our rainwater cistern had been down to a three-week supply remaining, even at the severely rationed rate we were using it, and this rainfall more than doubled our supply. The fire hazard took a break from "Extreme" down to merely "High", though it will likely creep back up before too long.

I should point out that the rainwater cistern is for irrigation only. Our well for household water has been keeping up with demand so far (knock on wood) without going dry on us.

The photo at right shows a rain-soaked tree glistening in the early morning light.

I have finished splitting and stacking our firewood in the woodshed. Between the wood we had delivered and what I salavaged from our own property, it looks like we have enough for this winter. Over the winter, we are going to get some more, to get started on a supply for next winter.

I also did some firewood splitting for a friend of ours. Clearly, I was lulled into a false sense of confidence in my abilities by our good quality straight-grained wood that split quite easily. Her wood, on the other hand, was nasty, knotty, twisty-grained stuff that had to be beaten into submission with wedges and much whacking. Much sweat and several blisters later, I will be much less ready to offer to split wood other than our own from now on!

Our plums are doing much better now - they seem to have liked the warm weather. The fruit are now ripening on the tree instead of turning to prunes or dropping off. We had been starting to pick them before they were fully ripe, but after sampling a fully tree-ripened plum (WOW!!), we are going to let the rest ripen fully. There is no comparison between a tree-ripened plum and those fake look-alikes that you get in grocery stores. The flavour was out of this world!

Something I forgot to mention in last week's diary entry was an excellent concert we attended last week by cellist Phoebe Carrai. We get some top-notch musicians coming through this area! The concert, featuring three suites by J.S. Bach, was held in our Denman Island Community Hall, and was well attended and greatly enjoyed.

This weekend's big event will be the annual Blackberry Faire, a typical rural fall fair of crafts, baking and vegetable-growing contests. The fire department's contribution is to cook hamburgers. They don't have veggie burgers, so I might have to volunteer for other chores in order to get out of cooking the burgers.

This week, I upgraded my webcam and its software to provide high-resolution images. The view is from the house towards the workshop. The camera is triggered by motion as well as by a timer, so it will occasionally show deer nibbling their way through the yard. Click on the picture at left for the full-sized image. You can see this and several other west-coast webcams at my webcam page.

25-Aug-2006

This week, we started harvesting our apples. We have our first Gravenstein apples, and have already had some home-grown, home-made apple crumble. There is nothing better than Gravensteins for pies and crumbles!

After the pruning they got in the winter, the apple and plum trees are looking much healthier. However, they are stressed by the drought, and not producing very well. We have been rationing our water for the berries and grapes, and the trees have had to fend for themselves. A lot of the apples are dropping on the ground where the bugs get into them, so we are picking anything that looks like it is almost ripe.

The plums turn to prunes on the tree before they are fully ripe. We did an experiment and found that they will ripen after they are picked, so we have started picking them before they are ripe, too.

The grapes, being watered, are growing nicely, and it looks like we should get a good harvest from them. We still don't know if they will be green or red grapes; it's too early for them to be showing colour.

There is a bumper crop of wild blackberries along the roadsides. It is a challenge to pick them because of their long thorns, but it is not uncommon to see someone leaning into the brambles picking a sackfull. I picked some to put on my porridge in the morning. Yum! They are worth a few scratches!

Speaking of drought, it is extremely dry. The grass is crunchy underfoot, and the only green vegetation in the meadow is thistles. The fire hazard went back up to "extreme" on Monday, and it looks set to stay there for a long time. Normally by this time in the summer (starting July 1st), we should have had 60 mm of rain. This summer, we have had only 10 mm, barely enough to keep the dust down for a couple of days. It is by far the driest summer on record, the "official" records going back to 1993.

The fire department is jumpy, expecting a brush fire any time. Believe it or not, there are still people (mostly tourists) making beach fires, in spite of the "no fires" signs everywhere.

At this week's fire department practice, we debriefed the house fire we attended last week. One thing that impressed me (and everyone else in the department) was our response time. From the time the 911 operator was given the address of the fire until the first firefighter arrived on scene was just 12 minutes! In that time, the operator had to record the information from the 911 call and transmit it to our pagers; we had to drop whatever we were doing at home, put on shoes, sprint for our cars, drive to the firehall, change into firefighting clothes, climb aboard our trucks, and drive 9 km to the fire scene. All in 12 minutes! I would say that that is pretty good performance for a rural volunteer fire department, especially considering that big city departments have a hard time maintaining a six minute response time. Did I mention that I am proud to be part of such a professional organization?

Speaking of fires, though this time the controlled kind, we have started laying in our firewood supply for the winter. As I mentioned last week, we had a load of wood delivered. So, this week, I have been splitting it.

I bought a small maul and some wedges, and have been using them to split the wood. A maul is like an axe, but it has a much fatter blade, and is considerably heavier for the same size. In the photo at right, the maul is on the right, compared to a normal axe / hatchet on the left. The fatter blade provides more splitting force, with less chance of the blade getting stuck in the wood, and the extra weight means it keeps going once it penetrates the wood. It surprised me how much of a difference it makes over using an axe or a hatchet. I was able to split most of the logs with a single blow from the maul. The ones that didn't split right away usually had a crack started, which I was able to finish off with the wedges. The bottom line is that I was able to make fairly short work of the splitting without getting myself sore or worn out.

18-Aug-2006

It has been a mostly quiet week.

I have been up on the roof, repairing the flashing around one of the skylights. Flashing would be fairly straightforward on a shingle roof, since you have an overlap every few inches to drain the water out. However, with a steel roof, there is no overlap for many feet, so designing the flashing to drain properly is a bit more complicated. Luckily, the contractor who did our renovations last year did a good job on the skylight he installed, so I had a good model to follow.

It was slow, hot work. I rigged up a safety line and harness using climbing rope and carabiners. While a prudent thing to do, it slowed down the work because I was constantly clipping in and out of the line as I moved around the roof.

This is the time of year to do roof work, though, when there is no chance of showers. I still have one more skylight to do. I will probably do it this weekend, since we have a forecast of dry weather continuously into the middle of next week.

Our potted fig trees have a permanent resident. Several times over the last few months, we have noticed a little green tree frog sitting in the pot. Tree frogs are about 2 or 3 centimetres long, and are something of a mascot for Denman Islanders. (Our local pirate radio station is called Tree Frog Radio.) We finally realized that the frog lives there! Every day, he is somewhere around those figs. Typically, he sits in the shade of their broad leaves. If the plants have been recently watered, he will sit up on the edge of the pot. Sometimes, he explores the deck or visits the neighbouring nasturtium pots.

In other wildlife news, our cougar has competition in the predator department. A black bear mother and cub have been seen on the island. The good news is that the cougar may soon be history. There was a good sighting of the cougar this morning, and the wildlife authorities came over today to tranquilize and remove it. No word yet on whether they were successful.

We got a load of firewood delivered this week in anticipation of cooler weather coming not too many weeks away. Now I can entertain myself splitting and stacking it. I also want to salvage some deadfall logs that are lying around the property. Because of the high fire hazard, chainsaw work can only be done in the morning.

Last night (Thursday), I was just getting ready for bed when my pager went off calling the fire department out to a house fire. Unfortunately, we were unable to save the house, but we did keep the fire from spreading into the forest, and to save some nearby structures and vehicles. Between getting to bed at 3:00 am and the alarm going off at 5:30 am for Wendy to go to work, I ended up with two hours' sleep. Needless to say, I didn't do any roof work today!

12-Aug-2006

On the long weekend, we went to Sechelt to attend a writers' festival. Sechelt is located on the Sunshine Coast, which technically is a part of the mainland, but for all practical purposes is a pseudo-island. It can be reached only by ferry, just like any real Gulf Island.

In fact, from here, it took three ferries in each direction to get there. Although only 75km in a straight line from Denman Island, and 120km in road distance, it took us eight and a half hours to get there and seven hours to return. Most of that time was spent waiting for ferries or riding on them.

We started, of course, with our own Denman Island ferry, then drove up to Comox, where we took a larger ferry over to Powell River on the upper Sunshine Coast. From there, it was a short drive to Jervis Inlet, where another ferry took us to the lower Sunshine Coast. The critical link is the Comox-Powell River ferry, which only runs four times a day. If you miss that one, it is a long wait and your whole schedule is ruined. You make sure you get there early, and take a book to read in the lineup.

The festival itself is a three-day event featuring Canada's best authors reading from their latest or forthcoming works or talking about their creative process. It is held in beautiful Rockwood Gardens (left) in Sechelt.

The town of Sechelt itself is located on a narrow ithsmus between Georgia Strait and Sechelt Inlet. It has two shorelines, and nowhere in town is more than a ten minute walk from a beach. We ate most of our lunches on the beach (above), watching the cruise ships heading up the Strait to Alaska.

Back at home, the ferry dock on the Vancouver Island side of Baynes Sound is being upgraded. They are retiring the old wooden dock superstructure, with its winches and massive concrete counterweights in favour of a modern floating concrete dock. As well as just modernizing the facility, this will also speed up the unloading process slightly, since the ferry crew will no longer have to adjust the ramp height for the tide on every crossing.

The new dock is nearing completion. On Wednesday, the work crew were installing a steel bumper (below), the last major component of the dock. I expect that we will be using it within a few days.

Luckily, the new dock was installed beside the old one, so we have not experienced any delays due to the construction.

The same cannot be said for the tourist traffic. Ferry lineups are huge, especially on the weekends, and the ferry has to shuttle (run continuously, regardless of the schedule) to catch up. The afternoon commute from town can take two hours if you have a two sailing wait.

Most of the traffic is headed to Hornby Island. It would be so nice if they had their own ferry instead of having to cross Denman!

The latest news on the cougar is that the wildlife authorities have finally been persuaded to remove it. They will wait until someone makes a sighting of it and marks the spot, so that the tracking dogs have a scent trail to follow, then they will come over to tranquilize it. Hooray for our Wildlife Committee!


4-Aug-2006

The Anglican church in downtown Denman (right) is getting a new foundation. The building was built in 1917 and has been in need or repairs for a while. The congregation has been fundraising for several months, and this week some noticeable changes have started happening. The church has been raised up several feet on blocks in preparation for the new foundation.

Many of the old historical buildings on the island such as the church and the community hall were originally built on wood foundations. Cedar is quite rot-resistant, lasting longer than modern pressure-treated lumber, but even cedar is only good for 60 or 70 years when it is in contact with the ground. The old buildings gradually start to sag as the wood supporting them rots away. The community hall had its foundation rebuilt last year, and now it is the church's turn.

The other church on Denman, the United Church (left), is an even older building, built in 1889. It looks like its foundation was replaced a few years ago.

The dry weather continues unabated. Fortunately it is not as stiflingly hot as it was, but the cooler weather didn't bring much rain. A mere 2.4 millimetres, in fact. At this rate, our rainwater cistern will be dry in two or three weeks. We are watering the raspberries, grapes and other vines, but everything else has to fend for itself.

We are looking forward to being able to install a second cistern. All that rain over the winter just goes to waste, and we'll need it if we ever get the garden under control.

We expect to be harvesting grapes in a couple of weeks, and we have already picked one ripe gravenstein apple.

29-Jul-2006

It has been a slow week.

The cougar is still prowling the island, showing up every few days in a different location. It doesn't seem likely to leave any time soon: there's lots of food and no competing cougars or other predators. It is only likely to leave if it gets lonely at mating season.

This week, I cleared a hiking trail through our woods to the back of the property, and Wendy suggested that we ought to post it with a "no cougars" sign. Her wish is my command. That should take care of it!

Our forest fire hazard has now been at "extreme" for a week, which means that not only are no fires allowed, but chainsaw use is automatically prohibited. Not good news for people who had scheduled an arborist to prune their trees, but an essential precaution given how dry it is. I read in a news story last week that the Vancouver fire chief said a cigarette butt, dropped carelessly in the wrong place, had a 100% chance of starting a grass fire. It's that dry here too, and the place is crawling with tourists. The extreme fire hazard is not uncommon in late summer, but this is the earliest anyone on the fire department can remember it being declared.

The fire department is nervous, expecting a brush fire any day. Just today, we put out a small grass fire. Our forestry officer, who is also our deputy fire chief, is constantly patrolling, looking for smoke. We get outside help too. Today's fire was called in by the Hornby Island ferry crew.

Speaking of dryness, I am now the official Denman Island weather observer. Well, I use the term "official" loosely. We don't have an Environment Canada weather observer, but I will be the new weather columnist in the monthly newspaper. The previous columnist has kept records for 14 years, and kindly send me a copy of his records. Unless we get a sudden deluge (not in the forecast), it looks like this month is set to be the second driest in those 14 years.

I have been keeping temperature records for over a year, and as the photo shows, I am now set up to collect rainfall data. It's amazing what one can do with a funnel and a turkey baster from the dollar store. Now, all we need is some rain to measure...

22-Jul-2006

This week, we continued our exploration of Vancouver Island by taking a trip to Tofino and Ucluelet on the west coast of the island. The highway goes from Parksville, not too far south of Denman Island, across to Port Alberni, which is closer to the Straight of Georgia than to the Pacific Ocean, yet which is a Pacific Ocean port thanks to the long fjord connecting it to the ocean.

Between Parksville and Port Alberni is Cathedral Grove, a small provincial Park which protects one of the few remaining stands of old-growth forest. The trees in the park, mostly douglas fir and red cedar, are 300 to 800 years old. It is remarkable to think that 100 years ago, this is what our backyard looked like - we have old growth stumps that are the same size as most of these trees.

Tofino and Ucluelet are small towns on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island. They are former fishing villages, now popular towns now for kayaking and surfing. Tofino is now all yuppified and touristy, with craft shops and clothing stores selling gnarly surfing gear (dude!).

We stopped in the art gallery of Roy Vickers, a Native painter with a striking and unique style. I'd love to have a bunch of his paintings, but I resisted the urge, already having more pictures than wall space in our house.

Ucluelet is less touristy; it is still more of a real fishing village, though we could see that development was happening fast. It has a nice 2.5 km hiking trail around the headland, called the Wild Pacific Trail. Every hundred metres or so along the trail, there is a viewpoint, each with a slightly different view out over the rocks and the Pacific Ocean.

Between Tofino and Ucluelet is the Long Beach section of Pacific Rim National Park. Long Beach, appropriately named, is a long, wide expanse of sandy beach. The Long Beach section itself is about 4 or 5 kilometres long, but with all the other adjoining beaches, it makes up an essentially uninterrupted 15 kilometre stretch of beach. It is so flat that at low tide, the beach is about 300 metres wide.

There were a few hardy swimmers and surfers out in the water, but it was a bit cool for us. The temperature was only 18°C, and a chilly north-west wind was howling across the sand.

Back at home, the cool weather of last week is now just a pleasant memory. Comox set a record high yesterday of 34.8°C, and today is going to be just as hot. The fire department is on alert as these conditions mean that a brush fire is almost inevitable.

We stayed cool yesterday by getting out on the water in kayaks. We did a four-hour paddle up the east side of Denman Island and back.

The last couple of evenings, we have attended events from our local writers' festival, and today we visited some artists' studios as part of the annual studio tour. We had to pick only a handful of studios to visit from the list of 24, since it was going to be too hot to be out in the afternoon.

Recently, we have seen some of this year's new fawns out and about. These twins and their mother were strolling through our yard earlier this week.

15-Jul-2006

On Monday and Tuesday this week, Wendy and I drove down to Victoria. We had though that it would be a four-hour drive, but were pleasantly surprised to discover that it takes only two and a half hours from Buckley Bay to the outskirts of Victoria, obeying the speed limits.

We were also pleasantly surprised to find out how many eating establishments there are in the downtown area, and how many of them have vegan food. We had dinner at the Lotus Pond, which is a Chinese Buddhist restaurant with an all-vegan menu. We had a couple of dishes that were among our perennial favourites at Buddha's Veggies in Calgary: mixed veggies with black bean sauce and lemon "chicken". They both compared favourably, and if anything the lemon "chicken" was even better. We are likely to be back there!

We mostly wandered around the downtown area, familiarizing ourselves with the layout of the city, since it has been many years since either of us were there. We took advantage of the better selection of stores there to do some shopping. Naturally, we had to take a look inside the Empress Hotel. We didn't actually have afternoon tea there, but we did check out the tea room. Frightfully elegant!


The weather has been cool and rainy this week. That is not much fun in July, though I noticed in my records that we did have a very similar week last July - maybe it is normal. We desperately needed the moisture. Our rainwater cistern was already half-empty. This week's rain, however, amounted to less than an inch, and hasn't even brought the level up to two-thirds. Still, it is very welcome in the garden and on our forests.

The cool wet spell looks like it is ending now. This picture was taken on Friday evening, showing Denman Island and the ferry in sunlight, while Vancouver Island is still getting rained on.


In the garden, our raspberries are a little dehydrated, but are producing fruit. Our main grapevine is starting to grow grapes rather prolifically. If the birds and deer don't get them first, we should have a good harvest. We don't yet know what type of grapes they are, or even whether they are red or green. The photo shows one bunch of grapes just getting going.


In my continuing effort to document the interesting signs on Denman Island, this week's entry shows an interesting juxtaposition of two signs. I sure hope that John is very careful with that dynamite around the eggs.

8-Jul-2006

The weather has been hot and dry for quite a while now. The forest fire danger has been "high" for several weeks, and actually hit "extreme" for a day before cooler temperatures and higher humidity late this week brought it back down to "high".

Our two baby fig trees love the heat, although they get a bit stressed if we forget to water them. By next year, we'll have transplanted them into the garden, where they will be free to grow. We have heard of fig trees producing fruit in their first year, and though we are not surprised to have no fruit yet, we could have some next year.

The grapevine in the garden has been flowering this week, so we are hoping for a grape harvest this fall. We have a second grapevine, out in the meadow. It was severely deer-nibbled when we bought the house and looked very unhappy last summer. However, this year, with deer fencing around it, it has taken off and looks very healthy. It is not flowering, but we expect it to next year.

I enjoy finding interesting signs around the island and posting them here. The Conservancy Association has a land stewardship program (or did a few years ago), where people could register the unique features of their property with an agreement to preserve them. Land owners participating in the program got a sign indicating their participation, which included the name of the property, if any. This sign belongs to famed local gardener Des Kennedy.

The fire department was busy this week. On Monday evening, we were called out to give assistance to the ambulance crew, who needed to move a patient with a broken leg up a steep trail to the waiting ambulance. It took a lot of manpower to carry her up on a clamshell stretcher while trying not to cause any further pain or injury.

Then, literally the moment we had set her down on the ambulance stretcher, our pagers went off again on a second call, a collapse. That shows the importance of the fire department's First Responder program of trained, licensed first-aid personnel. With the island's only ambulance tied up on the broken leg call, it was up to the fire department alone to handle the second call, one that had the potential to be life-threatening. Being already on duty, dressed and by our trucks, we responded in record time. The ambulance went across on the ferry, transferred the first patient to a Courtenay ambulance, then came back for the second patient. Both patients are recovering well.

On Wednesday, Wendy and I were coming back from town on the ferry when a call came in for a structure fire. I don't normally carry my pager when we go into town (though I may start doing so), but several of the ferry deck crew were fire department members, and one of them came over to our car and told us of the callout. We went straight to the firehall, where I was in time to climb on board one of the tanker trucks. Unfortunately, though, we were unable to save more than the foundation. There was nobody at the house at the time - the call was made by a passing aircraft - so the building was fully involved by the time we got there. The first crew on the scene did an amazing job of knocking down most of the fire and putting out a grass fire before it reached the trees.

And what would Denman Diary be without a renovation picture? This is my music room. It is next to the workshop, and up until now has been a storage room. With the addition of paint, a laminate floor, and drapes for sound absorption, it is now a fine music room.

1-Jul-2006

Happy birthday, Canada!

I hope everyone is enjoying the long weekend. With the nice weather and the impending long weekend, there has been a marked increase in ferry traffic. On Thursday, Wendy missed her regular 5:00 ferry coming home from work because the lineup was longer than normal. When that happens, the ferry makes extra runs, so she didn't have to wait a full hour for the next one. On the other hand, it means that the schedule is thrown overboard. For the next couple of months, now, there will be heavier traffic and litter along the roads.

We are well into the dry season now. The temperature on Sunday hit 30°C here on Denman Island, which is just too hot. Good hammock weather, though. Since then, it has been in the low to high 20s. Within the space of a few days, our grass ("lawn" would be too grandiose a term) has turned brown and crunchy. We don't water it, of course - water is too valuable here to waste on grass.

I have been mowing the grass closest to the house, a 20- or 30-foot wide band, about once a week. It makes the house easier to defend in the event of a wildfire, and makes it easier to spot snakes. (Some people don't think snakes are cute. Go figure.) I think it will need one more cutting, but then I will be able to put the lawn mower away for the season.

One of the best ways to beat the heat is with a big bowl of strawberries. With the electric fence operational, our berries are once again all our own, and we have been harvesting them every couple of days. We bought the last of the season's rhubarb at the Saturday market last weekend, and Wendy made a big stawberry-rhubarb pie. Mmmmmm-hmmmmm, it was good!! We also like to eat our strawberries uncooked, mashed and spread on toast. At least one meal this week consisted of strawberries and toast for the main course, followed by strawberry-rhubarb pie for dessert!

Did I mention that we like strawberries? The strawberry season is short, and they say that one should eat locally and seasonally to be environmentally responsible. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

This weekend's big event is the fire department's annual pancake breakfast, on Sunday. Last year we went as guests. This year, I will be there as staff. At this week's fire department practice, we had to clean the grills and set up the picnic tables for it. The cleaning was not exactly fun, but it had to be done! The pancake breakfast is one of the biggest events on Denman all year, and just about everyone on the island attends.

The picture at left is totally unrelated to anything. It is just a rather nice spider web that was catching the morning light. Most of the spiders here are the cobweb-making type, so it was actually unusual to see a nice symmetrical orb web.

23-Jun-2006

Since last week's Denman Diary, we completed the House and Garden Tour. Since the gardens were so photogenic, I had to include one more photo from the tour. The photo at right is from a magnificent rose garden. The owner has a preference for simple roses, which tend to have more scent than the double flowers. It is a great place to photograph bees.

Speaking of photogenic, we have been getting a lot of deer in our garden lately. Typically, they keep moving as they munch their way through the yard, so getting a good photo is a hit-and-miss proposition. However, on Tuesday evening, this deer decided he liked the place enough that he sat down for twenty minutes to chew his cud. That gave me time to grab the tripod and the 1000mm lens for this shot.

We wonder to what extent the deer's movements are determined by the presence of the cougar. We had a report that it was seen earlier this week at a house only 500m from ours. Clearly it gets around.

Speaking of critters in the yard, my project this week was to install an electric fence around the garden in order to keep out the racoons. We suspect them of pilfering strawberries. The fence is now operational. We haven't heard any yelps yet at night. The fence is quite harmless - we don't expect to find any fried raccoons in the morning. It delivers a painful high-voltage, low-current shock that is more intense (but not a great deal more) than the arc you get when you touch a light switch in a prairie winter. It only shocks once per second, giving those little racoon hands time to let go of the wire between zaps. It is more a psychological deterrent than a physical barrier. So, instead of injured raccoons, we'll have paranoid raccoons. But at least we'll have fruit.

Last week, I promised renovation pictures, and here they are. My new workshop is complete and looking quite spiffy.


17-Jun-2006

Last weekend, we took advantage of good weather and spent most of our time outdoors. On Saturday, we participated in two hikes. One of them was a nature walk led by a local herbalist, pointing out various medicinal plants that grow in this area. It was particularly interesting in that it was on a parcel of land that is being purchased by the Denman Island Conservancy Association for preservation. For most people, it was their first opportunity to see the land.

The second hike consisted of some outdoor information sessions on a large block of clearcut land at the north end of Denman Island that may or may not get developed in the near future. The information sessions were led by biologists and agronomists to explain the various features of the land. Again, it was an opportunity to see and learn about a parcel of land that we do not normally get to see.

On Sunday, we rented a double kayak and paddled over to Hornby Island. It only takes 25 minutes to make the crossing, so a half-day trip allows for plenty of sightseeing. There are some offshore rocks near Hornby that are inhabited by seals. The seals were mostly in the water when we paddled by, which didn't make for good photos. All you would have seen would have been a pair of eyes and a pair of nostrils. So, instead, I can show you photos of rocks and the back of Wendy's head. The rocks are the Heron Rocks, our destination at the south end of Hornby Island.

On Monday evening we attended an interesting meeting of the Denman Island Residents' Association. At issue was the future of a committee looking into the options for the clearcut lands that we had hiked on - an opposition group wanted the committee disbanded. It is a volatile issue here, and emotions were high, but what was remarkable was that the entire debate was carried out with a level of civility that one would never find in the House of Commons or a provincial legislature. No heckling; no filibustering; no yelling; just people saying what they had to say. The meeting even ended on time! Island democracy at work.

This weekend's big activity is the annual Home and Garden Tour, which is a fundraiser for the Conservancy Association (the same one that is purchasing the first property we hiked on). It is the biggest event on Denman all year, and has been rated by the Globe and Mail as one of the top six horticultural events in the country.

We spent this morning taking tickets at the house of one our neighbours. Their house is built using cob construction - essentially straw and mud - that allows all sorts of free-form curves and is naturally insulating.

This afternoon, after our ticket-taking shift, we went on the tour ourselves. We were able to see half the places today, and will visit the remainder tomorrow.

There are ten stops on the tour, some of which are homes, some of which are gardens, and some of which are both. The photos show part of a spectacular rose garden and the house and garden of local celebrity Des Kennedy, who is also one of our neighbours. His garden is the stuff of horticultural legend, and the photo only shows a very tiny part of it.


In the next week, our horticultural efforts will be spent on trying to keep the @#$% raccoons out of our garden. After discovering that they were eating our strawberries, we have decided to put up electric fencing, as it is about the only thing that will stop them.

For those of you who insist on seeing a renovation photo in every diary entry, I'm afraid you will just have to wait until next week to see one of the completed workshop.

9-Jun-2006

Living next to the Gulf of Georgia, we figure that we have a lifetime of possible vacation spots within easy driving distance. We are determined to explore as many of those destinations as possible when we get the chance.

Last weekend, for our first exploration, we drove up to Quadra Island, located at the north end of the Gulf, next to Campbell River. It is larger than Denman Island, but quite a similar community, having lots of artistic types. By pure luck, their annual studio tour was on that weekend. We had not realized this until we arrived at the tourist information booth. It gave us a perfect excuse to drive around the island. We visited sculptors, potters, glass-blowers, photographers, weavers, and there were many more studios that we simply did not have time to visit. It was an enjoyable day.

The flowers in the garden are going crazy. Everything is in bloom! The foxgloves are weeds, but very showy ones. Wendy has a planter full of nasturtiums on the deck, which, after much anticipation, suddenly burst into bloom this week.

We are seeing a lot of deer in the yard. It may be a cyclic thing, or perhaps the deer are moving around more because of the cougar. The Wildlife Advisory Committee has received photographic confirmation of the cougar, and circulates email to a large distribution list whenever there is an update on its whereabouts. It hasn't been reported in our neighbourhood, but it certainly is moving around the island, so it could be anywhere. When I go for my morning run, I definitely keep a better lookout in the surrounding forest than I used to!

It just wouldn't be a proper Denman Diary without a renovation update. The workshop project is coming along well. I have the drywall completed on the end wall and ready for paint. The two work benches are complete. Compare this picture to the one from two weeks ago, showing essentially the same view, though from a slightly different angle. With the window uncovered, the old rickety bench demolished, and the walls fixed up, it is quite a different space.

2-Jun-2006

My project, all this week, has been to work on the garage/workshop. With the new concrete floor poured last week and gradually drying out, it was time to work on the walls. The walls were partly insulated when we bought the place, but the insulation that was there wasn't in very good shape. I ripped out quite a bit of it and re-insulated the long wall, then hung vapour barrier and drywall. The seams still need one more sanding and then I'll paint it white.

If you're wondering why one section of drywall is hung horizontally and the rest vertically, I started out hanging it horizontally, which is the "normal" way to do it. However, I was working solo: imagine climbing a ladder balancing a sheet of drywall for the upper half, holding it on top of the lower sheet and trying to drive a screw into it to hold it in place. I managed to get the first one up, but I realized that there was no way I could do the whole wall that way and survive. So the rest of the wall went up vertically and I lived to tell the tale. Once it's painted, who will know?

Today, my project was to build the first workbench. I'm quite pleased with the way it turned out. It is good and sturdy, and will be even more so once it is bolted to the wall. Next week, I'll build a second one, giving me 16 feet of workspace.

Once I have the long wall and work benches finished, I can unload the existing work bench on the end wall (visible in last week's photo) and store my tools properly. Then I'll demolish the old work bench and finish the end wall. It will eventually get a bank of shelves.

Last Saturday, we went on a nature walk to Tree Island. It is a small islet off the north tip of Denman Island. The water between Tree Island and Denman is very shallow, and at low tide one can walk across the mud flats. This time of year, low tide occurs during the daytime, coinciding with wildflowers blooming on the island, so it is a worthwhile trip. We carpooled to the north end of Denman, then hiked along the beach and across the mud flats. The photo at left shows the view back across the mud flats from Tree Island to the north tip of Denman (at right), with Hornby Island in the background.

Tree Island is basically a sand dune, formed from sand eroded off the east shore of Denman and carried north by currents. It has an interesting dune ecology, with some unusual plants, some grassland, and a sizeable stand of forest (photo at right).

In the Gulf of Georgia, the tides are dominated by a 24-hour cycle, rather than the 12-hour cycle that predominates on other coasts. The result is that low tide lasts all day, so we had plenty of time to eat our lunch on the beach and explore the island before heading back in the afternoon.

Wendy likes to beachcomb for shells. Here she is taking a stroll, with Comox harbour in the background.

Luckily, she wasn't really out on the beach on her own, because there is a cougar on Denman Island. It was first reported two weeks ago during the pottery tour. Everyone was a bit skeptical, though there were two sightings that day. Today, we received news that it has been seen again by a reliable witness who got a really good look at it. Luckily, it is down at the south end of Denman, well away from our place. For now... (Cue threatening music.)

26-May-2006

With the long weekend and the beginning of summer, this has been an interesting week: lots happening on Denman Island.

The Victoria Day weekend started with the grand opening of the Denman Island Arts Centre. A group of local people purchased the historic building, which was in rather run-down condition, and over the winter restored it. It is now the home of Arts Denman, and includes exhibition space as well as studios for local artists. The grand opening was THE place to be on Saturday evening. With all the visible progress on the exterior, everyone was curious to see what the interior looked like, so there was a big turnout.

Shortly after the Arts Centre opening, the crowd moseyed over to the Community Hall for a concert by a Celtic ensemble called, reasonably enough, The Celtic Ensemble. The group consisted of 18 musicians, mostly teenagers, including 11 fiddle players, some whistle and flute players, percussion and piano. It was a good concert, with lots of toe-tapping fiddle tunes and some nice solos.

Fortunately, there was a good turnout, because the concert was put on as a benefit for the restoration of the Anglican church (photo). It was built in 1917 and is in need of a new foundation and other work.

The other church on the Island is the United church, which is considerably older. It was built in 1889. Apparently it must have been restored relatively recently, because it appears to be in fine shape.

Also on the long weekend was the annual pottery tour. Several potters on the island open their studios to the public, and you can spend the day cruising from one to another. There are some really talented artisans here, and some of the work would have to be classed as fine art. Naturally, we would like to take home one of everything, but we exercised admirable self-control and limited ourselves to this sculpted raven, who now guards our front entrance.

It has been so warm and dry the past few weeks that I was afraid that the dry season had already started. No fear: on Monday, we had some major rainfall, filling up the rainwater cistern to the brim, and reducing the fire hazard back to low. The garden now needs some serious weeding!

The big excitement here this week occurred today when we got our new concrete garage floor poured. I spent the week getting the garage prepared: moving stuff out (and covering it with a tarp just in time before the rain started, fortunately), levelling the gravel floor, and laying vapour barrier plastic and rebar mesh.

This morning the concrete truck arrived and in a couple of hours, between Kenny, the concrete guy, Peter, our building contractor from last year, and me, we managed to get a nice smooth floor poured. I had some anxious moments as we neared the end of the pour, wondering if I had calculated the quantity correctly. It would have been terrible to run out two feet from the door. Luckily, I had calculated correctly, and we had enough left over for a small apron in front of the door.

It is still setting up as I write this, but by tomorrow, I will be able to start moving stuff back in. We have already carved our initials in the concrete.

The garage will become my workshop, where I can work on the various projects that need doing on any property. We have some furniture that will need refinishing, and when we fix up the cottage, it will need new cabinets, so now I will have a place to work on them.

Once the concrete pour was done, rather than sitting and watching it dry (tempting though it was), we headed out to the beach to participate in the second annual beach cleanup. Last year's cleanup was a big success, removing several tons of refuse from the various beaches around the island. Most of the garbage last year was washed up from the oyster farming operations in Baynes Sound. This year, apparently, in a public relations effort, the oyster growers' association tried to get their members to do their own cleanup before the public cleanup. It remains to be seen how successful they were. We had no trouble filling a couple of garbage bags with trash.

We had a nice day for it, too. Although there were showers in the forecast, they stayed over Vancouver Island. We sat on driftwood logs and ate our lunch while watching the towering cumulus clouds build up and the showers falling just a couple of kilometres away across the water, all the while enjoying sunny skies where we were.

Wendy has just put the first rhubarb pie of the season in the oven. Yum-yum!!

19-May-2006

The garden is starting to look really good. Although we can't take any credit for it, it is a well-planned garden, with flowers of all shapes and colours blooming in succession throughout the spring and summer months. Right now, it is in full late-spring mode. The photo is a collage of what is in bloom today. Going clockwise from top-left, there are: lupins, daisies of some sort, clematis, columbine, some exotic-looking purple flower that we have not yet identified, lily, alium, more columbine, and bleeding hearts.

We really have no intention of doing a lot of work on the flowers. Our focus, once we have the time for it, will be on growing fruits and vegetables. If the flowers can thrive on neglect, they are welcome to do so, and we will enjoy them.

We have a couple of plantings of lettuce growing, and we plan to keep planting every couple of weeks so that we have a constant supply through the summer. The apples, plums and pears are looking healthy, as they should after having been pruned earlier this year. They all flowered well, and we are hoping for a good crop later in the year.

We are especially pleased with the strawberries. We had a good crop last year, and we are looking forward to more of the same this year. The photo shows the main strawberry bed, the plants that overwintered from last year. As you can see, they are loaded with blossoms. We have also planted two new beds with some everbearing strawberries, to extend the harvest throughout the summer. They will be light producers this year, but we expect them to fill in their beds and produce more next year.

Last year, we harvested our first berries on June 10th.

Of course, all that gardening requires water. The dry season started about three weeks ago, so we are starting to think about conserving our well water for the summer. Last year, we ran the well dry once; we are hoping to avoid a repeat. So, improving our rainwater irrigation system is quite important. It will be interesting to see how long our 1000 gallons will last, and how well it can be replenished by summer showers.

In order to better manage the rainwater system, I have just installed this Rube Goldberg contraption. It is a water distribution manifold. Water comes in from the cistern (top valve), and can be sent to the garden (bottom left valve), a 25 gallon barrel (bottom middle) or a hosepipe (bottom right). The barrel allows me to ration water. I can fill it from the cistern, then shut off the cistern valve and direct the water in the barrel to the garden. That way, I do not have to worry about leaving a sprinkler on and accidentally running the cistern dry.

The design of the manifold allows me to make additions easily, for example when we add a second cistern in a year or two.

The Victoria Day weekend marks the official beginning of summer, at least from a horticultural and tourism point of view. From now on, we will have to be more careful about being early for the ferry, since often during the summer it is full, and latecomers have to wait for the next sailing.

There are lots of activities happening this weekend. We are planning to attend the annual pottery tour and a celtic concert that is a benefit to fund the restoration of Denman's Anglican church. The new Denman Arts Centre is opening this weekend as well. Over the winter, volunteers have been hard at work restoring the historic house to turn it into studio and exhibit space for local artists. They have done a fine job on the exterior, and we are looking forward to seeing the interior. Photos next week.

12-May-2006

The window/cat door/cat pen project is complete. The play pen is quite roomy, giving the kitties room to run around, chase bugs, watch hummingbirds, sunbathe, and generally enjoy the outdoor life.

Owen in particular really likes it, and spends as much time as possible outdoors. He hasn't quite figured out the best way to operate the door: he tries to paw it first before pushing through. Liesl enjoys being outdoors too, but she is much more of a scaredy-cat and doesn't like the door. She will go through it, but only reluctantly. She doesn't understand the concept of pushing: she tries to claw the door towards her to open it instead of bunting it with her head. Still, she wants to go outside, so she will figure it out in time.

While Owen is more comfortable going in and out, he is still nervous about things beyond the safety of the wire. I went outside to take the third of today's photos, and, though I approached the pen slowly, talking to him, he hissed at me! Obviously, he didn't understand that I am the same Dad indoors and out.

The indoor photo shows the inside of the renovated area. This used to be the main door of the house, opening directly into the kitchen. The window, cat door, electrical outlet and baseboard heater are all new. The kitchen should be a lot more comfortable with the addition of a heater and without the drafty old door. The door itself was fine, but the installation was not exactly precision joinery, if you know what I mean, so a tightly-sealing window will be a big improvement, even with cats running in and out!

Other than renovations, my big excitement this past week was my first brush fire with the fire department. Someone had been doing a "controlled" burn in their back yard and it got away from them. By the time we arrived on the scene, the fire was climbing the hill into heavy forest with a following wind. Another five minutes and we'd have lost it! The incident commander actually called for helicopter support, though we got it under control before the chopper arrived.

The key to the effort was getting the hose up the hill ahead of the fire to slow its advance. You wouldn't believe how heavy an inch-and-a-half fire hose full of water is when you are hauling 150 feet of it up a steep hill! Luckily, we had a good turnout, so there were plenty of people to help.

Once we stopped the advance of the flames, we had to put out all hot spots. Because brush fires are notorious for rekindling, the technique is: if it's standing still, turn it over; if it's white (ash) soak it until it's muddy; if it's smoking or steaming, soak it; if it's dry, soak it. The entire area had to be saturated to a depth of six inches.

Obviously that takes a lot of water, and a key element in the department's operation is the use of tanker trucks. We have two tankers, and between them, they must have made a dozen runs to a pond, fetching a thousand gallons at a time.

When we finished, there were rivulets of mud flowing down the hill, and a sizeable area was blackened, including 10 or 12 feet up the trunks of trees. But we saved the forest. Had it gone up, several homes at the top of the hill would likely have been lost, so it was a very good save!

6-May-2006

Spring is well under way now; we have had several days with temperatures in the twenties. The daffodils are just about gone, but there are more flowers blooming every day.

In the garden, three of our four types of lettuce are up. Our new strawberries have already started flowering, and the old ones are looking very healthy. Similarly, the rhubarb that we transplanted from an unacceptably shady spot to a sunnier, larger bed looks like it might survive the transplantation, and our store-bought rhubarb is also looking healthy.

We have discovered that tree that we had labelled a "mystery tree" last year is another pear tree. Both pear trees have lots of flower buds. With luck, perhaps this year we can have more than the one pear we shared last year. It will help, of course, if the deer don't get them.

As you can see from the background of the second photo, there is still snow on the Beaufort Range across Baynes Sound on Vancouver Island, but it is receding fast. For all that we curse BC Ferries for their never-ending fare increases and fuel surcharges, they do provide nice flower displays at our ferry docks.

With several consecutive days of good weather this week, I have been working on enclosing the old kitchen door. Ever since last summer, we have practised not using it just to see if we'd miss it. Having achieved 100% compliance, we knew that we could safely board it up and not miss it.

This project is nearing completion. As of yesterday, the exterior is complete. There is rain in the forecast for the weekend, so that was a priority. On the inside, I have done the insulation and hung the drywall. Over the weekend, I will finish trimming the drywall and start on the slow process of plastering the joints. Even for such a small area as this, the process takes three days, since you have to let each coat of plaster dry before sanding it and applying the next.

As you can see from the photo, there is a cat door under the window. I will eventually make a winter weather door for it that will seal it against cold and drafts during bad weather. (The cats won't be able to use the door when it is sealed for the winter.) However, even in its present form, it will be pretty weather resistant. The actual door part is a plastic store-bought contraption that has an ingenious lock that can be set to allow the cats in-only, out-only, in-and-out or locked.

The next project, required before we can allow the cats to use the door, is to construct an outdoor pen for them on the deck. That is next week's work.

28-Apr-2006

Remember last week, I was complaining that it was hard to take pictures of hummingbirds? Well, thanks to a new camera that allows me to use my old zoom lens from film camera days, I can now take very nice hummingbird pictures. This one is a female. Unfortunately, the weather the last few days has been somewhat dreary, so the lighting leaves something to be desired. The next sunny day, I will try to get a good picture of one of the males. If the light catches their feathers at just the right angle, they glow an iridescent red.

And speaking of iridescent red, the garden is coming along nicely. There are a few tulips scattered under the apple trees, and they are in bloom right now. We had some warm sunny weather last weekend and in the early part of this week, and a lot of flowers have made progress. Our plum trees are starting to flower, and the flower buds on the apple trees are starting to show colour.

The virginia creeper by the front door has buds growing on it. That makes four out of four for the vines by the front walkway having survived both the winter and last fall's deer-nibbling. They are all protected by wire cages now to avoid repeats of the latter. (The other three are a clematis and a pair of hydrangeas.) Even the grapevine, one of the last plants to wake up, has buds growing on it now.

Spring also means time for home renovations. The old main door of the house opened from the south deck directly into the kitchen. Since we now exclusively use the mudroom, and the deck is still accessible from the dining room doors, the kitchen door serves no purpose. So, probably next week, weather permitting, I will be removing it and replacing it with a window. Under the window, we are going to put a cat door. I was out in the workshop this afternoon making up the components for it.

No, we haven't changed our minds about not letting Liesl and Owen run loose! Before they are granted use of the cat door, I will be building an enclosed outdoor run on the deck. The cat door will open into it. That way, they will be able to enjoy the outdoors, while staying safe from eagles and not endangering the local bird populations.

I have all the exams marked for my college courses, so I am just about finished with my teaching, aside from some final paperwork.

In other local news, one of the Hornby Island eagles has hatched. Our neighbouring island has been making headlines since a naturalist set up a live webcam on an eagles' nest. Apparently, millions of people watched the hatching live.

22-Apr-2006

Last Saturday marked our first anniversary of being in this house. A lot has changed in the last year, but one thing that stayed the same was the April 15th weather: it poured rain!

This week has been a cold and rainy one. We had been getting used to the nice spring weather, and suddenly it took a nosedive. However, this weekend, it is suposed to get warm and sunny again. Unfortunately, I have to spend today indoors supervising my students' final exam. Tomorrow, however, we'll do outdoor stuff. Yesterday, was already quite a nice day - sunny, if a bit cool - and I took advantage of it to salvage some logs for firewood. I wanted to get them bucked and stored in the woodshed before our load of seasoned firewood for next winter is delivered, probably sometime next week.

The female hummingbirds have arrived to join the males which arrived a couple of weeks ago. We have a large complement of them in our yard. We have two feeders set up, on opposite sides of the house to minimize fighting. Even so, we regularly see scenes outside our kitchen window that are reminiscent of a Battle of Britain movie: birds everywhere, zooming, diving, chasing and evading each other, and all the time squeaking angrily (and surprisingly loudly) at each other.

Needless to say, the cats love to watch them. It's like kitty television. The picture above is of Liesl and Owen on the dining room window ledge, staring intently at the feeder. They are turning into window-ledge potatoes! It's a bit harder to get pictures of the birds themselves.

We have been doing quite a bit of garden cleanup, and today I planted our first lettuce. We are growing four kinds, but that is the only vegetable we are going to grow this year. Aside from the grapevines, which are late starters, everything is starting to leaf out. Even our potted fig trees have survived the winter and have nice healthy green buds on them. We'll be transplanting them into the garden as soon as they are big enough.

Since I was rummaging through my collection of cat pictures anyway, here's a recent picture of the two of them being cute. Hard to believe that these are the same two terrors that gallop through the living room sounding like an entire cavalry regiment, or that wake us up at 5:00am for no particular reason.

14-Apr-2006

The fire department's auction was a great success, raising over $11,000. The proceeds are split with the sports association, but even after the split, it will give us a healthy budget for discretionary spending.

This year, the money will be used to place hydrants at the main water sources around the island, such as ponds and marshes. Right now, each time a tanker truck has to fill up, they have to drop a hose with a filter into the pond. A permanently installed hydrant will simplify and speed up the process. Tanker trucks are crucial to firefighting operations here, so anything that speeds up their shuttle runs is a good thing.

The auction was fun, though it was a lot of work. We spend all day Saturday getting all the stuff set up in the community hall. My assignment was on the crew that brought a load of lumber to the hall. We had to sort and stack it on a trailer at the barn where it had been stored, then drive it down to the hall. Luckily, we didn't have to unload the trailer for the sale.

On Sunday, after spending several hours hauling items up to the stage as they were auctioned off, I got assigned to the lumber crew again, delivering it to the lucky buyers. There was a very nice mitre saw in the auction that I had my eye on, but one guy who just had to have every tool in the sale outbid me for it. Darn!

Today being a holiday, we were all prepared for non-stop rain. However, after a few sprinkles in the morning, the afternoon turned out quite nice and sunny. We spent most of the day outdoors. Wendy was digging one of the beds in the garden, while I chopped firewood and split kindling. Afterwards, I got out the lawn mower and gave some of the grass its first trim of the season. I think it is accurate to say that I have never mowed grass in April before in my life. We love this climate! We have way too much meadow to try to keep it all mowed, but we do want to keep a strip around the house under control as well as the grass within the fenced garden.

We aren't going to plant vegetables this year (well, not too many, anyway), but we did put strawberries in a couple more beds. That will make three beds of strawberries, and two of raspberries. We have several rhubarb plants, so I am seeing a fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie in my future. Yum! We will put in a few rows of various types of lettuce, since we enjoy fresh salads.

8-Apr-2006

Signs of spring are everywhere. Already, the first farmers' markets have started up, with signs along the highway advertising their agricultural produce for sale.

The first hummingbirds have arrived back from Mexico. Prompted by a report by fellow Denman Island blogger and birdwatcher Harold Birkeland of their arrival, Wendy filled and set up the feeder on Monday. For a couple of days, there was no sign of activity. On Wednesday, however, when we arrived home from work, Liesl the cat was showing an unusual interest in looking out the dining room window, especially in the direction of the feeder. We waited a while, and, sure enough, we soon saw a shape darting about the garden like a big bug. The little fellow must be hungry and thirsty after such a long flight!

This weekend is the fire department's auction, so I don't have time to write a long diary entry. We basically collect everyone's junk, and then sell it back to them. Next year, when they realize that they still don't want it, they'll donate it again and we'll sell it again. It's a pretty good scam, really! I have to go to the community hall to help them get everything set up today, then the auction itself is tomorrow.

In between times, I have been getting exams ready for my students at the college, and we have been getting the garden ready. We don't have ambitious plans for the garder this year. We aren't going to put in vegetables until we have a bit more free time. However, we are planting more strawberries and raspberries, as well as some rhubarb.

1-Apr-2006

One year ago today, we left Calgary and hit the road for the coast. A year later finds us comfortably settled into our house and island life.

Once again, it is daffodil season. We have tons of daffodils! Last year, we didn't notice them because most were buried under piles of unraked leaves. This year, with the garden considerably tidier, they are up in large numbers, and getting set to bloom. Some of them are already open. All over Denman Island, at road intersections, at mailboxes and at the ends of people's driveways, there are carpets of daffodils blooming.

We have been working in the garden whenever weather and time permit. Now that the apple and plum trees have been pruned, I have been tying the branches to fence posts to ensure that they get proper exposure to light and air. I set up some 8-foot high posts in locations where there were no fence posts to accomplish the same purpose. We got an orchard ladder for maintaining the trees, and what a difference that makes! It has three feet instead of the more common four, making it more stable on rough ground.

Our various vines are starting to wake up. There is a honeysuckle that has its leaves already. The grapevines and the virginia creeper are still asleep, but two hydrangeas and a clematis have swelling buds. The latter four got severely nibbled by deer before we could get deer fencing set up around them, so we were a bit worried about whether they were still alive.

Last night, we went out to a blues concert over on Hornby Island. Normally, the last ferry comes back from Hornby to Denman at 6:00 pm, which makes evening events there inaccessible. Friday night is the one night when the ferry runs until 10:00 pm. The promoters decided to hold the concert a bit earlier than normal in order to allow Denman Islanders to attend and still make it home on the last ferry. They even laid on vans to take us from the ferry to the concert hall and back, meaning we could leave our vehicles on Denman and walk onto the ferry, which is considerably cheaper. The result was a big success: about two dozen Denman Islanders attended the concert, which featured blues musician Guy Davis. It was excellent!

The highlight of the past week was a visit to Vancouver last weekend to meet my new-found cousin Roger and his wife Maureen from Australia. Not only had we never met before, but until two months ago, I didn't even know he existed. So, it was quite a thrill to meet them. They are delightful people, and we had a great weekend. Of course, the visit was too short, and when they left, it was with promises to get together again, either here or in Australia. The photo at right shows (left to right) my brother Adrian, cousin Roger and me. The family resemblance is pretty obvious, or at least it was to us.

24-Mar-2006

Just a short note this week. It was a quiet week: lots of rain and not much happening.

It is too soon for apple blossoms or grapvine leaves, but there are leaf buds starting to open on some poplar trees behind the house. The first of our daffodils have opened. There are a lot more where they came from, just waiting for a couple of sunny days to pop open.

The fire department was called out to a chimney fire this week. Not terribly exciting compared to a house fire, but worrying enough for the residents who decided to call 911 when they saw the top of their chimney glowing red. Good call! I used my Interactive Map to locate the address just before I dashed out the door, and a good thing too, since I was the second person to respond to the hall and got to drive one of the trucks. Knowing where I was going was a good thing.

That and a radio call asking what the residents' names were prompted me to develop a version of the phonebook database I mentioned last week for the department. It combines the phonebook lookup with the interactive map to show name, address, phone number and a map highlighting the location on a screen that can be quickly printed and handed to the driver. I showed it to the Chief toay and he liked it. Every piece of software needs a cute acronym, and this one is called "FIRE": Find Island Residents Easily. The name was Wendy's idea.

This weekend, we are off to Vancouver to visit my mother and my brother Adrian. The highlight of the brief visit will be meeting my newly-discovered cousin Roger and his wife Maureen from Australia.

17-Mar-2006

The top of the evenin' to ye! Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I finished installing the roof on the woodshed this week. The colour turned out to be an exact match for the doors on the house and garage. The roof is flatter than recommended for metal roofing, though it still does have a pitch to it, but it looks good and was easy to install. If it doesn't drain quite as well as it is supposed to, well, it is a woodshed, not a house. It will keep our wood supply considerably drier than what we have had up until now, which is the space under the deck.

I still have some trim details to finish off. It has been too wet this week to do much outdoor work, but the weekend forecast is good, so I should be able to get it all finished soon.

This week, the Denman Phone Directory came out. This is a local publication by the local United Church Women, and is incredibly handy. Unlike the phone company's directory, which includes the whole Comox Valley area, this book is just for our island. It is small enough that I was able to scan it into a database, and now I can search it by address or phone number, as well as by name. Just the thing if we want to know who placed a particular classified ad in the weekly paper.

We had a local fellow come in to prune our fruit trees. They had been neglected since before we bought the property, and we were concerned that their health, as well as the fruit yields, would begin to suffer. Claude started to work with his shears with frightening speed and little deliberation (or so it seemed), and soon there was a huge pile of branches on the ground. However, as it turned out, he knew exactly what he was doing, and within a short time, our apple, plum and pear trees looked like something from a manicured orchard instead of the Amazon jungle. Not only did he do an expert job on the trees, he gave me a lesson in pruning, explaining what he was doing and why, so that in future I can do the job myself.

We have modest expectations for the garden this year. Rather than get carried away planting rows and rows of vegetables, we are going to concentrate on the fruit. In addition to the fruit trees, we want to grow lots of raspberries and strawberries. Wendy removed a row of blackberries which last year produced very seedy (though tasty) fruit in extremely modest quantities, yet the vines of which threatened to take over the entire garden. We will replace them with a second row of raspberries.

Last fall, we started training our strawberries into the beds adjacent to the one that we had last year. So, this year, we should have three beds of them. We will have to protect them against birds and now raccoons, but the fruit are worth it!

We are thinking of using electric fencing to keep the raccoons out of the garden. Because the little ... darlings have hands, rather than plain paws, ordinary animal fences mean nothing to them. They just climb over or dig under. Modern electric fences are safe and economical, and there are types specifically designed for raccoons.

We do have some flowers in the garden, but we don't really plan on spending a lot of effort on them. Here are some rather pretty croci that popped up under the plum trees this week.

10-Mar-2006

This week, the annual herring spawn took place. It is a major event for the local fisherpeople, and a huge fleet of trawlers has been plying the waters of Baynes Sound trying to catch as many fish as possible during the limited run. The boats follow the fish, so every day they are in a different part of the Sound. Unfortunately, on Monday, when we had the best view from the ferry, I didn't have the camera with me. Trust me, it would have been a spectacular photo, with dozens of boats in a small area.

So, you'll just have to settle for a merely scenic photo with a single herring boat in it. This photo demonstrates the rain shadow effect: there are snow showers over the mountains on Vancouver Island, but Denman Island is in clear sunny weather.

Speaking of weather, we have had a bit of everything this week. On Wednesday, it was stormy with heavy rain most of the day. On Thursday, it was sunny (the photo above was taken on Thursday), and I was able to get some outdoor work done. Today, I had plans to do more outdoor work, but we ended up with heavy snow showers.

My plan for today was to finish the roof on the woodshed. I got everything ready yesterday: posts cut to length, plywood, tarpaper, metal roofing, nails and screws all ready to go. I was expecting a dry day suitable for outdoor work. Instead, the snow showers soaked everything. I don't want to put roofing over wet surfaces, so it will have to wait a few more days. The roofing metal will be bright blue to match our exterior doors.

On the various good-weather days we have had this week, I have spread gravel over all of the parking area of the driveway, as well as on some soft, muddy spots at the top of the driveway. When we got the invoice for the gravel, I discovered that a "truckload" is about 14 tonnes! I have moved about 12 tonnes of it so far by shovel and wheelbarrow. The driveway and front entrance path are looking "right some fine" now. They'd better be, because I ain't moving any more gravel!

There are catkins on some of the deciduous trees - some kind of poplar, I think. I was going to show you a photo of them as a sign of spring, but instead it is a sign of our continuing unsettled weather: there's snow on the twig, and more snowflakes falling. Oh well, it could be worse. At least it is above zero, and most of the morning's snow has melted already.

3-Mar-2006

Last Saturday, as I was spreading gravel onto the driveway, a few flakes of white stuff began dropping from the sky. Within a few minutes, it was too heavy to continue working outdoors, and within hours, everything was covered. It may not be impressive compared to Newfoundland's 48 cm the same day, but it is a reminder that Denman Island is still affected by Canadian winter weather, in spite of the crocuses and daffodils that are either blooming or well on their way. The crocuses at the right were actually photographed more than a week ago outside the library.

Wendy took advantage of the stoppage of outdoor projects to draft me into replacing some drawer slides in the kitchen. It is amazing what a difference it makes to have drawers that open without tipping!

Incidentally, the snow picture at the left is taken from exactly the opposite angle to the photo of the gravel pile in last week's diary.

It took a couple of days, but the snow all melted. The daffodils are coming along nicely and we look forward to their blooming before too long. Those of you in cooler climates will undoubtedly be green with envy to know that the stores have had bedding-out plants for sale outdoors for the last month.

I was back shovelling gravel again on Thursday. It looks like we have enough to do the entire parking area of the driveway, which, after the walkway, was our main priority. Another day or two of work should take care of it. I have the siding up on the woodshed, and some roofing ordered for it. It will have a blue roof to match our blue doors, and will look quite spiffy. Only the fact that it has no square corners will reveal that it is "Denman architecture".

We have more new neighbours. We suspected in the fall that we had racoons - someone had been digging in the garden - but finally we got the definitive evidence. The culprit's identity is unmistakable. This was taken by the light of a 15-watt porch light, because I couldn't use a flash through the glass. We had been leaving apples out for the deer, and we did see the deer eating them, but apparently they were not the only ones doing so.

24-Feb-2006

Jumping headfirst out of second-floor windows. Crashing through gyproc walls. Tossing a 300-lb guy over a four-foot window ledge. That's what I was up to on my fire department training this week. It was a course on self-rescue techniques put on by the Comox Fire Department. We didn't quite get around to leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but we did everything else!

Jumping headfirst out a window requires that someone has set up a ladder outside at the window ledge. You dive onto the ladder and go down it headfirst using your hands. Once you are out of danger, you turn around on the ladder and come down the rest of the way the normal way.

Crashing through walls is another technique for getting out of a really bad room quickly. You kick through the drywall and squeeze between the studs to get into the next room. Yes, even the 300-lb guy was able to get through!

Tossing someone out a window is a technique for rescuing another firefighter. You have three guys outside on ladders pulling and one guy inside lifting. They deliberately pick the largest "victim" and the smallest lifter (me) just to show that it can be done.

The course ended with a rescue scenario where we had to put many of the techniques together to drag a disabled firefighter out of a smoke-filled building. It was an excellent course, and I learned a lot of useful information and techniques. After all what could be more useful than saving one's own rear end?

We have a new neighbour. A bald eagle has been hanging around our place a lot in recent days. I was busy chopping wood when I heart this really weird bird call. It was a while before Wendy was able to spot the source: an eagle sitting on top of one of the trees. Eagles are quite common here, but it is still an impressive sight.

We got a truckload of gravel delivered this week, so I could finally finish our front walkway. At about 300 lbs per wheelbarrow load, I figure I've moved about two tons of it so far. Whew!! However, the results are worth it.

In just a few minutes, a load of cedar siding should arrive, and I will be able to finish our woodshed. It is not too soon to start storing next winter's supply of firewood. Having it under cover will ensure that it is good and dry by winter.

17-Feb-2006

This week, it seems like I've been doing nothing but putting out fires. Sunday night, there was a chimney fire. As one of the first on the scene, I was tasked, along with another firefighter, to put on breathing apparatus and go up on the roof with the hose. We got the fire out quite quickly, but they discovered some charred, smoldering wood around the stovepipe. So, we did save the house from burning down.

Then, this morning at 3:something AM, the pager went off for a structure fire with an occupant inside. Boy, that sure gets you awake pretty quickly! Luckily, the neighbours had got the person out by the time we arrived, but there followed six hours of firefighting to save the building. We ended up having to take the metal roof off screw by screw to get at the fire. We did it, though, and although it will need a new roof and some other repairs, we saved the house.

One reason for the sudden rash of fires this week is our cold snap. People overstoke their stoves, which can cause chimney fires or structure fires. Okay, okay, my father in Edmonton and my brother in Saskatoon won't be impressed (they've had -40 windchills in the last couple of days), but it's the coldest it's been here this winter. In fact, the coldest temperature (-4°C) occurred right as we were fighting the fire.

My temperature sensor is a little too close to the front door, and records a blip of warmth when the door is opened. You can see the blip from my going out the door at 3:25 this morning. The coldest temperature was -4.5°C at 8:00.

In other news ... um, my brain isn't firing on all cylinders today ... not much. The weather, while cold, has been sunny. I've been able to some outdoor chores, like continuing to clear the alders from our back yard.

The land use committee I was on presented its final report to the Residents' Association this week and was disbanded. The report was well-received, which was satisfying, since I did much of the editing on it.

10-Feb-2006

Spring is here!! Well, perhaps not quite, but our daffodils are up! I noticed some daffodil shoots out on the main road by our mailbox yesterday, so today I grabbed the camera to go and take pictures of them. On my way out the driveway, I stopped to look for our own daffodils, and sure enough, there they were.

The weather pattern has changed, too. Instead of the pattern of the last couple of months of two days of storm followed by a couple of days of calm, cloudy weather, we have had several days in a row of nice weather with clear blue skies. It's not particularly warm - only 7 degrees today - and it gets frosty at night with the clear skies, but is is a pleasant change. The sun isn't high enough yet to clear the trees for more than half an hour or so. That is enough to melt the frost on the part of the yard that gets the sun, but the frost on the remainder stays all day.

I have been taking advantage of the nice weather to get a good starting on clearing out the large stand of alders that is gradually invading our clearing. The largest of them were only nine years old (a science nerd can't help counting tree rings), but over twenty feet tall. They were starting to shade the garden and they blocked the view from the house into the forest. Eventually, they would have spread to fill in the entire clearing.

I'll cut the larger trunks into logs for the fire. The smaller ones will get woven into a rustic fence for our driveway. It feels very rural to get out the chainsaw and start cutting trees. The previous owner of the house had, for reasons known only to herself, tied adjacent alder saplings together in weird arches. It was a bit bizarre to cut through the trunk of a tree only to have it "fall" upwards as its neighbour, to which it was tied, sprung upwards.

All the rain that we have had in the last couple of months has meant lots of snow for the mountains across the sound on Vancouver Island. With these sunny mornings, the snow cover has been lit up pink at sunrise. One of these days, I'll have to take the camera with me on the way to work to get a photo of them. What a commute: sitting on the ferry watching the sun rise on the snowy mountains!

4-Feb-2006

It was a dark and stormy night.

It isn't quite as dark this morning, but it still is stormy. The rain started yesterday about mid-day and the wind picked up in the evening. By the time Wendy got home from work, the rain was coming down in buckets and the wind was starting to howl. Several times in the evening, the power went off for a few seconds. (No matter how often you save your work on the computer, it isn't often enough!)

A few minutes after one of the momentary blackouts, my fire department pager went off - a report of a tree down on a power line and on fire. My first callout! There's not much the fire department can do with a live wire until BC Hydro gets the power turned off, but you still have to respond in case other structures or trees need protection from fire.

As I drove to the firehall, twigs were raining down from the trees. There were four of us who responded to the firehall, and one, fortunately an officer with a radio, who was on the far side of the downed tree and remained there to handle traffic on that side. The drive to the scene in the fire truck was wild, with the wind howling in off the Lambert Channel and sheets of water with raindrops the size of golf balls slamming into the windshield.

The tree was down on the section of road between the last intersection and the Hornby Island ferry. As a result, it was blocking Hornby residents from getting home on the one night of the week that their ferry runs after 6:00 pm and they can stay late in town. It had cleanly snapped all three wires of the high-tension power line, the ends of which were draped on the ground at the respective poles. While the officers cautiously inspected the scene on foot, we junior members had the job of telling the Hornby-bound traffic that the road was closed. Eventually, they determined that the downed tree wasn't low enough to impede traffic and that it wasn't likely to fall further. More importantly, they discovered that the power pole on the "up-island" side just happened to be one with circuit breakers on it. With a searchlight, we were able to see that all three breakers were tripped open, so the lines on the ground were safe. Eventually, realizing that BC Hydro wasn't going to come out at night and that keeping personnel out all night to direct traffic wasn't a good idea, the deputy chief decided to close one lane with traffic cones and call it a night.

So, that was my first fire callout: no fire, not even any sparks! Just lots of water and wind.

My apologies for not getting a Denman Diary out last week. I was in Alberta visiting my father for his 83rd birthday. It was a good visit, though with far too much time spent waiting in the Calgary airport. On return here, it was storming again, so much so that they parked the aircraft backwards. There are no covered walkways at Comox - you walk down the stairs and across the tarmac - and they normally park the aircraft with the nose facing the terminal building. However, since that would have had the wind blowing straight in the open doors of the aircraft, they turned around and parked tail to the building.

This weekend, I'm busy working on maps for the final report of the land-use committee I'm on. We report to the Residents' Association on Monday, and we don't want to blow the deadline. However, there's still a bit of work to do. Some day I'll have to tell you about the dynamics of volunteer committees!

21-Jan-2006

My firefighting course last weekend was a lot of fun!

Aside from a couple of hours in the classroom, the entire course was held out in and around the "burn house" behind the Comox firehall. They have a two-story concrete building designed specifically to have fires lit in it. Although a bit unrealistic in that the structure will not burn, they can do some pretty real contents fires. They also have some outdoor props equipped with gas burners for training with specific types of fires: a car, a dumpster, a propane tank, and a gas-fueled pit that can be piled up with wood and other flammable material.

There were about a dozen people on the course, from various communities around the area, including three of us from Denman Island. We practised on simple pile-of-wood fires, then dumpster fires, car fires, and finally propane tank fires. In some of the exercises, we had to get quite close in to the fire to do the work: opening the hood of the car, or shutting off the propane tank valve. One of the techniques we practised was using a fog nozzle on the hose to create a protective barrier of water for such close-in work. It was quite effective: working only a couple of feet from a roaring gas fire under the hood, I didn't feel any heat.

After the outdoor work, we practised on interior fires, in the burn house. They had main floor fires, upstairs fires and basment fires, and everyone got a chance to work on both search and fire attack, both as the nozzle person and the backup person. The hardest things to do were to see where you were going, and to hear your teammates speaking. Of course, everyone was wearing respirators, so all the voices were muffled, in addition to being drowned out by the sound of your own breathing, other crews shouting, radio chatter and the sound of the fire itself. Visibility was effectively zero in smoke and fogged-up visors, so everything had to be done by feel.

One of the most interesting parts of the course was the "cold start" demonstration. The entire group crowded into one room where we watched as a fire started. It was quite spectacular to see how quickly a fire could get going, and especially how quickly a thermal layer formed and started descending. We had a chance to stick our hands up into the smoke layer to feel just how much hotter it was. They let the fire go to the stage of "rollover", where long tongues of flame were spiralling horizontally through the smoke at the ceiling before cooling it down, just so that we would understand and recognize the progression of a fire.

Needless to say, it was a hot, wet, stinky weekend, but excellent training! Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to take pictures. The photo is from a Pennsylvania fire department's website, but this is pretty much exactly what we were doing and looking at. In other fire department news, I finally found out that I passed my First Responder's course back in December.

We had another big storm on Monday night. The rain was the average torrential downpour, but the wind was the strongest we have had. Luckily, we are pretty sheletered at our house. Even though we are at one of the highest locations on the island (all of 100 metres above sea level), near the top of the ridge, the 150 ft tall trees all around us mean that the wind whistles right over us. Still, it was pretty noisy!

Today, I was working on the woodshed (née playhouse), getting the structure reinforced and nailing salvaged boards up on the weather (hidden) side, while Wendy entertained some women friends. We have some nice cedar siding left over from the house, which I'll use on the visible sides and front, so hopefully it will look half-decent.

13-Jan-2006

High technology has hit Denman Island! We were walking past the General Store this week and noticed a big banner in front of it, reading: "ATM". This is a truly amazing development, since Denman has always been famous for its lack of facilities. The dearth of banks and ATMs has been a point of importance in tourist guidebooks for years. We had to go in and check it out, and sure enough, there is a cute little ATM in the corner. Actually, it could turn out to be handy in an emeregency.

This weekend, I am off on a firefighting course in Comox. I had to bring all my gear home from the firehall for the course, so it was a good opportunity to get a few "hero shots". Here I am in classic hero shot pose. I wanted to get a picture with me holding one of the cats ("Fireman Rescues Cat From Tree"), but the cats wouldn't have anything to do with me in my fire outfit. It looks weird and smells funny! As you can see, they weren't impressed.

It's a two day course, so I'll be busy all weekend. Apparently, there will be a lot of hauling hoses up and down stairs in full gear, including breathing apparatus. Lovely! I also heard someone say there is some live fire training. I'll let you know next week.

The weather continues in the same pattern it has for a while: a storm every 36-48 hours, with high winds and heavy rain. In between the storms, we often get sunny breaks or, more often, a "chinook" arch, giving us a good view of showers on Vancouver Island while we enjoy drier weather. Next year, we are thinking of putting in a second rainwater cistern under the deck; there's so much of it, why not save some for the garden in the dry season?

6-Jan-2006

I was noticing the other day that Owen's face looked eerily familiar. It took me a while to place where I'd seen it before, but I think I've finally got it. Tell me that you notice the resemblance too. I think it explains a lot about his odd personality!

He is always getting into things; he has to investigate everything. He likes his own food well enough, but if Liesl is eating, he'd much rather eat her food than his. In fact, anything she has, he wants. If she is sitting in one of our laps, he wants to be in that lap. If she is getting patted, he will push her out of the way to get patted himself. Even though he knows he's not supposed to be up on the table when we are eating, he can't resist the urge to jump up and check out our dinners.

He will happily spend ten minutes jumping up to try and swat a hanging on our office door. He can leap up several times his body length, and will keep on doing so time after time, presumably in the hope that this time, he will be able to reach it.

For the entertainment of both the cats and ourselves, we have a laser pointer. (We're careful never to shine it in anyone's eyes, or to shine it at reflective surfaces, and we don't use it for more than a few seconds at a time.) Liesl pretty much ignores it - ho, hum, just a red dot - but Owen goes totally nuts about it. He gnashes his teeth, makes a funny chirpy meow, and tries to catch the dot of light. When it disappears, he will lie in his sphynx-like guard position for ten minutes, waiting for it to reappear, and, when he does finally leave the spot, he investigates every corner, expecting it to reappear at any moment.

Now, he recognizes the click sound that the switch makes. Actually, it makes a good distraction for when he is being bad. If he jumps up on the table, or if he tries to steal Liesl's food, all I have to do is click the switch on the laser pointer, and he gnashes his teeth and runs out to the living room, where the dreaded "red dot" most often appears.

One of his favourite things to do is to play in water. Cats from this planet aren't supposed to like water, but Owen doesn't know that. He'll stand in the sink, getting his feet all wet, trying to catch and play with a trickle of water from the tap. He doesn't mind if his head gets all wet or if the water runs down his back. Just a weird kitty!

The weather pattern is remaining quite steady: a day or two of heavy rain and stormy wind, followed by a day or two of calm, dry weather with the odd sunny break. The pattern is known as the "Pineapple Express", a jet steam feeding relatively warm, moist air from around Hawaii onto the coast anywhere between Oregon and the Queen Charlotte Islands. When it's nice here, Oregon is getting it, and vice versa. With all the rain, the ground is getting saturated. It doesn't take much wind to pull a tree out of the ground with its roots, and wind is in plentiful supply. After every big blow, you can hear the sound of chainsaws as people clear their driveways or the roads of downed trees. So far, we've been lucky.

All that moisture, of course, is what makes the forest here so lush. The moss, in particular, is turning a lurid shade of green, which is quite startling, especially when the sun shines on it. Here is a moss-covered old-growth stump not far from our place.

The rain is actually not too hard to take. We just wear our raincoats and gum boots, and enjoy the clean air and the lush rainforest vegetation.

This week, the high tides have been partcularly high. Because the river that flows through downtown Courtenay is a tidal estuary, a high tide means that the river is high, too. Add to that the large amount of runoff from all the recent rain, and there is some small-scale flooding in town. I walked past a baseball diamond the other day that was under two or three feet of water. Water was actually flowing onto the field through a culvert presumably intended to drain it, and at a considerable rate, too.

Here are a couple more pictures of the trumpeter swans out on Pickles Marsh. They are quite common here in the winter. The local birders would know better than I do how many of them live here on Denman, but in Courtenay, there are low-lying, flooded fields where, every morning, you can see large flocks of dozens or even hundreds of swans.