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

Denman Diary: 2007

21-Nov-2017, 19:07 AST 21-Nov-2017, 23:07 UTC


30-Dec-2007

Happy New Year!

Last week, I mentioned an espresso-gingerbread cake that we didn't get enough of at a pot-luck dinner. Well, we liked it so much that Wendy made another one! And this time, it was all ours! [*evil cackle here*] The cake has shredded ginger root in the batter. The icing is a coffee icing, with chunks of candied ginger on top. It was very spicy and very, very good!

Christmas was uneventful, which is the way we like it. We talked to family on the phone, read, and basically took it easy.

In my ongoing building project, the studio building is now ready for the deck construction to begin. It will be a wraparound deck, with a large area at the front for chairs, facing the forest, a covered walkway along one side, and another sitting area at the back. The deck takes precedence over the interior renovations because we will need to use it to access the door, which, at the moment, is quite a clamber up from ground level.

My main project this week has been to update my weather station. I planned to have it ready for the new year, a logical time to change data record formats, etc.. In order to access the wind instrument and a remote temperature sensor, both of which are located away from the house, I spliced my network into an unused pair of wires in the phone cable. That extended the network out to the electric shack, where the sensors are (or will be) located. I have a mounting bracket made up for the wind sensors, but I need a dry roof before I can go up to install it.

I still have some technical hassles to sort out. I discovered that the voltage regulator on the temperature module throws off enough heat to raise the module's temperature about one degree! I think I can perform some electronic surgery to fix that. It is also picking up some additional heat, probably from the heated building. I may eventually have to build an official Stevenson screen to hold it. In the meantime, I will use the software to compensate for the instrument errors.

I am gradually getting all the weather software components to work with Windows Vista. (Have I ever mentioned how much I hate Vista?) If you monitor my weather page regularly, you may notice some oddities over the next couple of days. Please be patient!

As a consequence of upgrading the weather software, my old computer will shortly be retired from active weather duty. It is still a good machine, and Wendy is looking forward to getting it as a replacement for her old Windows 98 clunker.

All the best in the new year!

23-Dec-2007

Merry Christmas!

This week's photos may be lacking in white stuff, but that is just fine with us. However, in keeping with the spirit of the season, here's a bit of holly to give Christmas cheer. We have some holly in the back of our property, but it all seems to be of one gender. You need boys and girls to get berries. Out along Northwest Road, there is a fine pair of holly bushes, with the female just covered in berries.

We have noticed this week that the mother deer have now left their youngsters. Up until last week, the mothers and young came around the house begging for apples together. Now, the mothers are nowhere to be seen, but the youngsters are still hanging around. They look particularly healthy this year. This picture was taken from our front door.

The snow comes and goes fairly quickly here. We will often wake up to snow on the ground, but it will have melted by late afternoon. At the first hint of snow, we move the car up to the top of the driveway, since the hill on it becomes impassible with only a couple of centimetres.

Across Baynes Sound on the big island, the snow line comes almost down to the water. With the ever-expanding clearcuts, the mountains of the Beaufort Range look whiter all the time.

My projects this week have included repairing the front of the studio building. The building mover had to cut openings in the pony wall for his big beams to go through to support the building during the move. Those are now patched and closed up, ready for siding.

I have also been continuing to salvage firewood from the various blowdowns. There is enough wood lying on the property to keep us in firewood for a long time without having to cut down any live trees. Finally, we are getting ahead of the seasons: getting next year's wood ready before the summer, so it has time to dry thoroughly. My goal is to have at least two cords stacked before spring.

On Saturday morning, we spent a couple of hours at the Community School helping a group of volunteers pack Christmas hampers for some of the less fortunate on our island. Even in paradise, there is a need for a food bank. With some people wrapping presents and others packing groceries, we soon had 32 hampers full to overflowing. Each hamper was designated for a specific family or individual, with groceries and presents packed with their needs in mind. Later, other volunteers drove the hampers to their intended recipients.

Last night, we attended a Christmas party at a friend's house. There were about fifteen people there, with enough of them being vegan or vegetarian that all the food was vegan. Yay! Wendy's contribution to the pot-luck was an espresso-gingerbread cake, which was the hit of the meal. Unfortunately, we had to share it with all the other people, so the pieces were pretty small. She is going to make another one just for us soon. Bwah-ha-ha!!

The final picture this week was taken today, I swear! Wendy is a witness. This rose, down by the Arts Centre, clearly decided it was in a festive mood and decided to bloom regardless of (or becasue of) the season.

16-Dec-2007

The rain held off for most of this week, which allowed me to get a bit of outdoor work done. With a forecast for several nights in a row to remain above freezing, I was able to complete the masonry work on the studio foundation. Because I was building the wall under the already-positioned building, the only feasible way to do the work was from inside the crawlspace. A good set of kneepads is indispensible for such work!

With the foundation wall complete, I have started digging the footings for the deck posts.

My other outdoor project has been collecting firewood from some of our blown-down trees. There were quite a few in a thick section of forest near the road, from several storms ago, so I spent a few hours harvesting those. I also noticed a few new blowdowns after the most recent storm, so I'll be going after those next. We have nearly a cord of wood piled behind the woodsheed now, the start of next season's firewood. Our objective is to have next winter's supply ready by the spring, so it can season well over the summer.

Yesterday, as we were going about our chores, Wendy spotted a large husky dog wandering through our property. We knew it didn't belong to any of our neighbours, and that it had no business being here. Dogs running loose often chase deer, usually not for food, but for sport. It is a major problem on Denman. Typically, dogs will inflict serious injuries on the deer, which then wander off die a slow, painful death. Though we didn't see this dog chasing deer, we had our suspicions. We couldn't allow him to carry on on his own, so we locked him in the garage until we could figure out what to do with him.

We called a member of our local wildlife committee who told us that - surprise - a dog matching his description had been seen chasing deer. The wildlife committe has facilities for holding stray dogs in jail, so the committee member came over and collected the dog, who will be held until the owner comes to pick him up. No doubt, the owner will also receive an earful about letting his dog run loose.

On Friday evening, we walked downtown for Denman Island's one and only late night shopping event of the year: "Midnight Madness". All the downtown stores and businesses stay open until 9:00. It is primarily a social event, and very little actual shopping gets done. However, we did contribute to the local economy by buying two chocolate mini-cupcakes, two Denman Island Chocolates, and a magazine.

Today, we had a major deluge of rain: 36mm so far, and it is still raining.

Today was also the day the Fire Department put the lights on the Denman Island Christmas tree. Why they don't just plant a real, growing, permanent tree, I don't know, but every year they set up a 25-foot cut tree on the lawn of the Anglican church, right downtown. Someone with a backhoe does the work of setting up the tree, and the Fire Department strings the lights (because we have ladders, I guess).

So, a group of firefighters spent an hour in the pouring rain, in ankle-deep water (the lawn of the church was flooded), putting together a couple of hundred feet of Christmas lights and passing them up to one lucky guy up at the top of the tree on a ladder. Did you know that Christmas lights will work underwater? (Kids, don't try this at home!) We got wet and cold, but the tree looks fine. It would have been very photogenic, had I felt like getting my camera soaked. Luckily, another firefighter who has a blog didn't mind getting his camera lens wet. His picture of the light-stringing features me (back to the camera) supervising. [Dave Tweedie's blog]

This evening was the big Denman Island Christmas Dinner. This is a huge event that fills both the main hall and the back hall of the Community Centre. Everyone on the island is invited, and most attend during two sittings. Incredibly, it is put on for free, with a huge amount of volunteer effort, and the pot-luck contributions of many of the attendees. They even had a special table of vegan/vegetarian food, complete with "vegan police" to make sure that no meat-eaters sampled the tofurkey.

We were nervous all day that the power would go off, as the heavy rain was accompanied this morning by high winds. With so many people cooking and baking for the big meal, a power failure would have been a disaster. Luckily, it didn't happen.

Once again I didn't need my camera, because another Denman blogger had the meal covered. [Harold Birkeland's blog]. That's Wendy and me with our backs to the camera in his second picture.

Can you tell I didn't take any interesting photos this week? My contribution is Pickles Marsh.

9-Dec-2007

Last week, when I wrote, the snow was falling on the Denman Island Craft Fair. Well, it continued to snow right into Monday, when we got hit by a "Pineapple Express". That is a weather system that comes straight from Hawaii, with heat and tropical rainfall. My rainfall gauge got flooded out again, but according to my backup bucket, we received 100mm of rain, the wettest day so far since I began recording rainfall. The temperature zoomed up to 10 degrees, and most of the weekend's snow disappeared overnight. The first photo shows melting snow pouring off our roof.

Naturally, with weather like that, the power went off again. Luckily this time, the fault occurred on Vancouver Island. Luckily, I say, because power outages that happen over there get fixed faster. The power came back on on Monday afternoon, but went off again on Tuesday for a few more hours.

Shortly after the power came back on on Monday, the fire department was called out to attend to a tree down on a power line with flames visible. There is not a lot we can do for power line problems, but we went to the scene to find a bit of insulation on a wire burning and dripping molten fire into the tree that had caused the problem. Fortunately, everything (except the insulation) was too wet to burn. The burning section was only a few inches long, and the flames were less than six inches high. Not exactly a major conflagration.

We confirmed that the breaker on the circuit was off, but we do not use a hose stream on electrical wires, even ones that are believed to be off, in case a wire is still live. With so many more people having generators this year, that is a definite risk. We were faced with the prospect of being stuck at the scene until BC Hydro arrived, an event we do not hold our breaths waiting for around here. One of our firefighters came up with the brilliant idea of delivering water to the fire in a form that ensured no risk to ourselves: snowballs! Several firefighters with good pitching arms proceeded to bombard the flames and scored several direct hits. With a final sizzle, the flames went out, and we were able to stand down. Believe it or not, that was the only fire the department has put out all year (touch wood).

It was a busy week at work, with another major system implemtation to do. I had to work part of Tuesday on generator power, but fortunately, the power came back on and has stayed on since. (Touching wood again!)

My rain gauge has been dried out again and is back online, and I have plans for some major waterproofing of it this coming week.

The weather has stayed cool and we had a little bit more snow this weekend. My outdoor work has been cutting firewood. I noticed a small tree down near the driveway after last weekend's weather, so I went out with the chainsaw to cut it up. Upon investigation, however, it turned out to be merely the final domino in the line. It and another medium sized tree had been taken out by a full-sized douglas fir. We now have a growing pile of firewood waiting to be split for next year's fuel supply.

On Saturday, evening, we attended the annual Fire Department Christmas Dinner. It is an occasion to socialize with the other members and their spouses, to review the year's activities, and to recognize the serious and lighter highlights of the year. Although we didn't partake of the ham and turkey, there were plenty of veggie dishes, and we had a great time. I was surprised to find out that I was awarded the Firefighter of the Year award! I think it was mostly for good attendance at practices, but hey, a plaque is a plaque.

1-Dec-2007

Weather is a big story this week. Those of you who follow my weather page regularly may have noticed some irregularities in my rainfall readings this week. I can assure you that we did not really have 400 metres of rain on Tuesday! Monday's heavy rain that turned to snow caused my rain gauge to malfunction. The outlet ports froze, and the rain or melted snow that continued to flow through the gauge backed up and flooded the interior of the instrument, including the electronics. Drying it out restored normal operation, fortunately, and I have drilled drainage holes in the base of it to prevent a recurrance. I have also corrected the recorded rainfall amounts using my backup rain gauge (a.k.a. a bucket).

Today was the first day of the two-day Denman Island Craft Fair. The fair uses all the space in both the Community Hall and the Seniors' Hall, and showcases arts and crafts from many of the talented people on the island. It is one of the island's major events of the year, and there are typically a lot of off-island visitors, come to do some Christmas shopping. We go every year just because it is fun. We couldn't resist making a couple of purchases: a hand-woven cloth, and a crystal-glazed dish made by ceramic artist (he's not just a potter) Gordon Hutchens (third photo).

The weather was also a part of the craft fair story: another major snowfall has dumped 10cm or so of snow on Denman Island. It started snowing in the morning and just got heavier as the day went on. Attendance at the fair was down noticeably. Where normally there wouldn't be room to move around the craft booths, today you could see open floor and could cross the hall in less than twenty minutes. People either didn't come at all, or left early in order to avoid bad roads on the way home.

Wendy and I drove down to the fair in the morning, because she had to drop off a lemon tart she had baked for the dessert table. We looked around one of the two halls, and then decided that the snow was getting heavy enough that we should take the car home and walk back downtown for the second half. This turned out to be a good move, because, when we were walking home in the early afternoon, vehicles were having trouble getting up the big hill.

The car is parked up at the top of the driveway, and, for the first time, I put chains on it. I am not intending to drive anywhere, but if there is a fire department callout, I am still expected to respond, bad roads or not. Bad weather increases the chances of a callout: for fire as people stoke their stoves up and crank up their heaters, or for a motor vehicle accident with the bad roads. The fire trucks also wear chains in this weather.

In other events this week, we attended a lively meeting of the Denman Island Residents' Association, complete with an imploding Economic Enhancement Committee and a Dock Committee valiantly struggling to overcome our status as the only inhabited island in the known universe without a public dock.

I attended a Photography Club meeting on Tuesday. The fourth photo on this page is one of my entries for this month's meeting. The orange things are chinese lantern plants, a relative of gooseberries. The seed pods dry and turn orange, and remain on the stalk all winter.

This morning, before going to the Craft Fair, we attended a meeting with a couple of opposition MLAs about the ferry situation. The rate of fare increases on the "small" routes such as ours is astronomical, the result of the insane ideologically-driven policies of the Campbell government, and its desire for privatization at any cost. It is particularly hard on low-income residents, which has a negative effect on the demographics of the community. With the help of the MLAs, we plotted some action to raise public awareness. Expect to hear more about this in the spring.

26-Nov-2007

Alas, my red truck has gone to the happy parking lot in the sky. Or, at least to the happy junkyard on Denman. It started last week, when I booked it in to get a new pair of rear tires. The old tires both had slow leaks and needed replacing. Last Friday, I took it into town on our regular shopping day, and dropped it off at Canadian Tire.

While killing time in the store, I heard my name being paged on the P.A. system. I returned to the service desk and was told that they had tried to hoist it, but had had to cancel the attempt as the frame had started to bend. They took me back into the service bay and showed me: the truck had a noticeable hunch-backed look, and there was a pile of rust and scale on the floor under it.

Apparently, the frame had rusted out right in the middle of the chassis. Although the rust had obviously been there for a while, the attempt to hoist the truck had clearly done some new damage. We completed our errands in town with the minumum of driving and returned home at a prudent speed. The diciest part of the trip was driving over the speed bumps in the ferry apron and the hinge joints on the ramp. Watching the frame flex in the side mirror as I drove over them, I knew that this was the truck's last trip off the island.

I called up our local old car "collector" and arranged to drop it off the next day. If the new owner feels like doing some welding, I may yet see the truck with its funky wooden box driving around the island. Otherwise, it will be a source of parts for the numerous Mazda owners on the island.

We have had some frosty weather this week, but also a few nice days, good for working outdoors. Today, however, it looks like winter is here.

I would have posted this diary entry on Sunday night, but I was having trouble getting Photoshop to open to process the truck picture. (It was a Windows thing.) It was getting late, so I decided to post it Monday morning. However, when we saw the forecast for nasty weather today, and nice weather later in the week, we decided to make today a town day, saving the sunny weather for outdoor work. It rained in Courtenay, and, on the way back to Buckley Bay, the raindrops on the windshield were starting to get icy cores. As we got off the 2:00 ferry and drove up the hill, the rain turned to snow. It is coming down heavily, and is starting to stick.

I have parked the car at the end of the driveway as a precaution, and we have lots of gas for the generator.

18-Nov-2007

We finally got our power back from last week's storm on Wednesday at lunchtime. The total length of the power failure was 60 hours 45 minutes.

After last year's eight-day power outage, generators have proliferated on Denman Island. Whereas last year, all you could hear after a storm was the snarl of chainsaws, this year we could hear the whine of generators from all directions. I did some of my computer work on generator power, although, to conserve gas, I spread it out over three days instead of my normal two. (By the way, the only computer that one can safely operate on generator power is a laptop; you are likely to fry any other computer.)

If we run out of other projects on the house, we would like to add a solar backup lighting system. We have the generator for the big loads: the fridge, freezer and water pump, but it seems silly to burn gasoline just for reading lights in the evening, especially since the day or two after a big storm is typically bright and sunny, perfect for solar energy.

Since my last entry, I surveyed the property and found a few new trees down. There should be enough for next winter's firewood. One tree way in the back by the marsh pulled out its entire root ball. I use the word "ball" lightly, because it was more of a root pancake: twelve feet high and sixteen feet wide, but only one foot thick!

This week, our big event was a meeting called by the Islands Trust to hear the community's views on the proposed development of the north third of the island. The community has been quite divided over the issue of what kind of development to permit. Many people still harbour bitter resentment over the rape and pillage of the land by loggers a few years ago. The objective of Saturday's meeting was for the Local Trust Committee (our local land-use governing body) to hear the entire spectrum of views on the matter in order to make their decision on the development proposal, and to begin the process of healing the community divisions.

The meeting was a brilliant piece of conflict resolution work, being facilitated by an imported conflict resolution specialist. It began with some creative presentations, from a five-member panel, of potential solutions other than the obvious ones of "yea or nay" to the proposal. Then, the rest of the meeting was an open mike session. The hall was packed beyond its legal capacity, and an eventual total of 74 speakers got up to say their piece. The facilitator gave each speaker exactly two minutes to make his or her point, and enforced the time limit ruthlessly.

The result was that we got to hear from everyone who wanted to speak. There was no time for grandstanding or propagandizing, so people were concise and to the point. Some notoriously rambling speakers even completed their presentations with seconds to spare. More to the point, everyone in the community respected the process and each other. I got the sense that there was something of a consensus developing around one or two of the panel's proposals.

Towards the end of the meeting (it lasted five hours), we had a bit of drama when the financial backer of the developers' group got up to speak and demanded more than his fair share of time. After having spent several hours restricting ourselves to two minutes each, there was no tolerance in the room for his request, and the facilitator did not grant him any extra time. Whereas other speakers had accepted the facilitator's cutoff more or less graciously, he ended up stalking off in a huff, threatening to take his ball and go home. Instead of using the opportunity to win people over, he alienated everyone.

After the meeting had adjourned, he came back and started to harangue our Trustees, raising his voice and waving his finger in front of their faces. A scrum developed around the scene as people stopped to watch. I suspect that, had he laid a finger on any of our Trustees, he would have been torn limb from limb. We may disagree with each other on this island, but when an outsider comes in and disrespects our community processs and our community leaders, we unite pretty easily!

Our free entertainment is much better than anything you would pay for elsewhere!

I came away with a sense of pride that we as a community were able to come together over the most contentious issue that has occurred here in quite a few years, and have a calm, respectful and informative discussion over it. Between the meeting process itself and the incident with the rich guy, I got the sense that we are a cohesive community that respects its diversity. Two and a half years ago, I wrote, "We look forward to living ... where the guy you disagree with about politics at the community hall might be the same guy who will pull your car out of a ditch with his tractor." This is indeed that kind of community.

One hopeful note that came out of the meeting: it appears that discussions are under way with Parks Canada aimed at including Chickadee Lake, one of the prime locations under consideration for development, into the Gulf Islands National Park. It sounds like the federal officials are favourable to the idea. It would be an excellent outcome. Keeping the lake undeveloped and publicly accessible has been one of the main objectives of a large portion of the community.

12-Nov-2007

I held off posting this week's Denman Diary until Monday morning, because I wanted to be able to include a review of last night's concert. However, I ended up with a bit more news than I bargained for, and this is being written on generator power on Monday afternoon.

First things first. The concert, by the Gryphon Trio, was excellent. They played trios by Beethoven and Ravel, and an interesting and beautiful piece written specifically for them by a Ukrainian composer named Silvestrov. An excellent concert, and, as always, it was well attended.

The music, however, was accompanied by the pounding of rain on the roof and a few choice thunderclaps. We had a doozy of a storm, which started in the afternoon and intensified all night. When I last checked the rainfall for the day, just before we left for the concert, it was reading 50mm. It undoubtedly reached 80mm or thereabouts before the power went out at 11:30 pm. (Luckily, the concert was long over by that time!) I won't be able to check the final rainfall numbers until I can turn on my other computer, which I can't run on generator power.

Overnight, the rain lashed down and the wind got up to the freight-train roar that indicates it is over 80km/h. This morning, when we woke up, the tops of the trees were swaying back and forth in a 30 or 40 foot arc.

While it was not as bad as last year's hurricane, it was a pretty good blow. They say that, with climate change, we had better get used to it.

We are indeed fairly well prepared for an extended power outage. In addition to the generator, we have a drawer stocked with flashlights and spare batteries, a battery-powered radio, flashlights beside the bed, headlamps to read or work by, and a wood stove that we can cook on. With the generator running, we can run lights, a laptop computer, and most importantly, the fridge, freezer and water pump. We have running water, but not hot water.

With about 190,000 hydro customers without power in this storm, no one here expects power to be restored for a few days. BC Hydro is not answering their phone, and their website doesn't even acknowledge that Denman Island is without power. If we run out of gasoline for the generator, it will mean a trip across to Buckley Bay on the ferry, to fill up our jerry cans there. There is a gas pump at the general store here on Denman, but, without power, it doesn't work!

Today, Wendy and I went out for a walk to survey the damage. There were quite a few trees down across roads, and a few down on power and phone lines. Road crews were chainsawing most of the trees that are blocking roads, but they won't touch trees that are on power lines. As I mentioned, the storm also produced heavy rain, and there were some flooded roads. The third photo shows one flooded section that we faced on our walk. We were debating whether to take off our shoes and wade across or turn back when we heard a vehicle approaching from behind us. I stuck out my thumb, and the driver gave us a lift across the flood.

Further along on our walk, as we passed by the Community Hall, we saw some people were taking full advantage of the conditions. Two teenagers were actually surfing on a flooded section of lawn beside the hall! It took a good running jump to get going, but they were able to surf across almost the entire width of the puddle.

In other news, earlier this week, I had a busy day on Thursday. In the morning, just as I was about to get started on the day's construction chores, my fire department pager went off. It has been an exceptionally quiet year for callouts, with no fires and very few medical incidents. In this case, there was no actual fire, but a bit of smoke from a burned out washing machine motor. Still, it made for a bit of excitement. Then, later in the day, there was a second callout, this time for a medical incident. Considering that we also had Fire Department practice that evening, and that we get paid per callout or practice, it was a busy day of Department work.

The same day, I had two house calls and a phone consultation in my professional capacity as a computer guy. So, not a bad day's work for a non-work day!

Yesterday morning, before the storm hit, we attended Denman Island's Remembrance Day service at the Seniors' Hall. Last year's one was so well attended that they had to move it to a larger venue this year - the gymnasium. This year, again, there were a lot of people there. With Nov. 11th being on a Sunday, the two churches (Unnited and Anglican) cancelled their services so that people could attend the Remembrance Day ceremony. About 10% of the community showed up, which would be unheard-of in most communities.

4-Nov-2007

When you tuned in last week, I left you with a cliff-hanger. Would the house movers come back? Would the building fit the foundation? Would the building end up as a pile of kindling?

Well, they came back with a new tire, changed it (under the building!), got the building aligned, and set it down on the foundation in one piece. The foundation almost fit. My measurements were accurate, but, silly me, I had assumed the building was square (not square as in having four equal sides, but square as in having four 90° corners). It turned out that it was out of square by more than three inches. So, a couple of the corners will look a little odd on close examination, but a wraparound deck can cover a multitude of sins.

The official name for the building is now the "studio". I have been working underneath it this week, getting it bolted down to the new sills, and starting to get the utilities connected. I should have electricity in the studio by later in the week.

With the studio building no longer in its old location, our house is much more visible from the road than it used to be. We like having a privacy and sound screen between us and the road, so we have planted a cedar hedge. It may seem odd planting trees in a forest, but very few Denman houses are visible from the roads, and that's the way we like ours to be.

It has been a quiet week for community events. No concerts or meetings to go to. There is a good concert coming up next week, though, the Gryphon Trio, which should be really good.

Usually, when we have deer visit us, we just see the does and fawns. Yesterday, we had a big buck come for a visit, with nice shiny fresh antlers. He even stopped eating long enough to pose for his picture.

And, speaking of wildlife, Owen can't resist sniffing at Wendy's flowers.

28-Oct-2007

Well, there has been major stuff happening this week. The house movers showed up on Friday. The process took a bit longer than expected; in fact, it is not yet completed.

On Friday, they got the cottage jacked up off the old foundation and built an undercarriage for it, consisting of some great big beams and a pair of wheel assemblies. On Saturday, they towed it off the old foundation and across the yard to the new location. They had planned to finish the job on Saturday, but one of the wheel assemblies got a flat tire. The building is three-quarters of the way onto the new foundation, where it is resting for now.

Two trees had to be converted to firewood in order to give the truck room to move, but they were just alders, so new ones will grow back in a couple of years.

Today, the crew didn't work, but I got a phone call this evening that they will be here bright and early (well, they run on Denman Time, so bright, anyway) with a new wheel and will align and deposit the building on the new foundation.

While all that was happening, I kept busy. Recently, I had noticed the water pressure fluctuating every few seconds, meaning that the pump was cycling on and off too quickly. The pressure tank is supposed to provide several gallons of water per pump cycle, but we were only getting a few cups worth. Thinking about how a pressure tank works, I diagnosed not enough air in the tank. Not a problem: I'll just hook up a tire pump and pump some more air into it.

However, when I attached the air hose to the fill valve, I got a jet of water out of it. Now you have to picture that the fill valve is on top of the tank. For water to shoot out of it, there has to be almost no air at all in the tank. No wonder it was short-cycling! The worst part, though, is that, even with no air, the water is supposed to be separated from the air by a rubber membrane. For water to come out the air valve, the membrane had to be leaking. I was able to pump enough air into the tank for it to work reasonably well for a few days, but obviously I needed to install a new tank.

None of the work is rocket science, but getting the old tank out turned out to be a bit trickier than I though. Since you can't spin the tank around to unscrew it from the pipe it is attached to, I had to cut the pipe. I figured I would replace it with a pipe containing a "union joint", which would allow me to get the new tank back in place without spinning it around. The only problem was that the remains of the cut pipe would not unscrew from the manifold it was attached to. And, with the pipe cut, I was committed and had to get everything back together by supper time.

I ended up having to cut out the entire manifold and rebuild it from scratch. Thank goodness we have a well-stocked hardware store on the island, as it took several trips there to get all the various bits and pieces. I still have some non-essential connections to make, but the main house line is back together, and the new pressure tank works perfectly.

My next project will be to attach the cottage (a.k.a. studio) to its foundation and to brick up the end walls of the foundation, which were left open for the truck to drive through.

In other news, the Wildlife Committee has just received a report that there is another cougar on Denman Island.

And, in more important news, Wendy is enjoying her retirement. The folks in her office took her out for breakfast on both Thursday and Friday, and presented her with an official retirement certificate signed by the Prime Minister. She says she might cover up that part. They also presented her with a card indicating that a donation had been made to the S.P.C.A. in her name by her co-workers. I presented her with the flowers.

21-Oct-2007

On Friday, Wendy and I attended an interesting all-day seminar, arranged through her work. It was aimed at police officers, suppport staff and their spouses, and dealt with the unique emotional challenges faced by those who work in the field of law enforcement. It was a fascinating insight into that world, and though Wendy will only be part of it for another week, was quite valuable.

Although it may not sound that interesting, I cannot recall attending a more entertaining seminar. I almost invariably fall asleep in seminars after lunch. This time, I was wide awake, and I cannot attribute all of that to Tim Horton's. The speaker, Kevin Gilmartin, was a former police officer turned psychologist, and was a superb speaker. He had a thousand hilarious stories and anecdotes to illustrate his talk, and was able to mimic police officer jargon in several different accents.

Today, we attended an interesting talk and video presentation here on Denman about Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma. This talk was given by James Cowan, the Anglican bishop of British Columbia, who visits Burma frequently and was there during and shortly after the recent protests. He explained about the modern history of the country, its ethnic divisions, and how the people he met felt about the current situation.

My other excitement today was installing Windows XP on my computer. I'll spare you the details, but I am so fed up with Vista (the latest incarnation of Windows) that, while XP is technically a downgrade, being an older version, I considering it a major improvement. I sill have to reinstall and configure all the software, but the tricky part is done with no casualties.

The weather has been wet and stormy. One of the storms was the remnant of a tropical storm from the western Pacific. I see that there is a typhoon following the same track this week, so we can expect more rain in a few days. Yesterday morning, I noticed snow on the Beaufort mountains across on Vancouver Island. Alas, I did not have my camera with me, and the mountains got socked in by clouds later, so I didn't get a picture. The rainwater cistern, which I had drained last week to install the new plumbing I talked about in last week's Diary, is now full again. That is 1500 gallons in a week! The power has blinked a couple of times, but has not gone out yet (touch wood).

We now have a date for the move of our cottage / studio building: Friday. Weather permitting, of course. It will be nice to wrap up that project.

One other project that will wrap up on Friday is Wendy's work. Yes, this is the last week before she retires! Hooray!

I would show you pictures of the fall colours, but most of the leaves have blown off in the last week. Instead here is a "file photo" of Owen and Liesl.

14-Oct-2007

For a while, I had been meaning to repair a bit of the plumbing on the rainwater cistern. Some of the connections were dripping. As long as I had to disassemble the connections and rebuild them anyway, I thought, why not add the necessary hardware so that the fire department can make use of the water in an emergency? The fittings were not expensive, and were available at an industrial hardware store in Courtenay. The picture shows the result. (And it doesn't drip!) It is rather cheap insurance to have the equivalent of two extra truckloads of water on site and available for firefighting.

Our cultural event of the week was a concert on Friday night by Valdy and Gary Fjellgaard. They have both been around forever, but they put on a great perfomance, with lots of energy. They are both Gulf Islanders themselves (though from those other Gulf Islands down south), so it was like they were playing for their home audience. The hall was packed, and the audience had a toe-tapping good time.

We get quite a few people from off-island attending these concerts, especially when we have a big-name act like Valdy, so they are quite strict about timing. The performance has to be over by 10:30 so that the mainlanders can get the last ferry home. Unfortunately, that means no encores! This week's perfomers, being ferry-dependent themselves, understood perfectly.

Speaking of ferries, we have heard, unofficially, that the Quinitsa is not going to be going in for the second half of its refit until January. That means that it will likely not be back in service until after the May long weekend and the start of tourist season. Won't that be fun with the little Kahloke! We heard that, if the Quinitsa is not back in service by April, they will put a second small ferry on the route and have the two of them shuttling back and forth at the same time. Still, the lineups will be horrendous. It is a good thing that Wendy will no longer be commuting by then.

We are going to try to stretch out our trips into town at first to once every two weeks, and eventually to once a month if we can manage it. Not only because of the ever-increasing ferry fares, but also to cut back on our gasoline usage. It is the responsible thing to do for global warming, and it will become a necessity when the peak oil crisis hits, as it likely will in our lifetimes. Besides, we prefer being on our own island. The less time we spend in town, the better.

The second picture this week features Owen. For some reason, he loves water. He is fascinated by dripping taps, and loves to play in the bathtub or shower. He also prefers to drink water out of any container except his own dish. I was fully expecting to see him trotting off still wearing the glass on his head. Luckily, he didn't get stuck.

Although the weather has cooled off, we are still harvesting raspberries and the occasional strawberry. There are quite a few spartan apples and some gravensteins left on the trees that we will be picking over the next while. Today, we will be planting bulbs: daffodils, croci and snowdrops (the latter mostly so that we can brag that our flowers are up in January) as well as some garlic.

8-Oct-2007

Well, my hope last week that the last storm was not the start of the rainy season seems to have been in vain. This weekend, we got another doozy of a storm, with high winds and torrential rain - almost 45 mm worth. There is more rain in the forecast for this week, so I guess the rainy season is upon us. Luckily, the power stayed on this weekend, with the exception of a couple of momentary "blips".

It is a good thing the power stayed on, because we spent most of the weekend cooking. It being Thanksgiving weekend, we had three couples over for Thanksgiving dinner: Bob and Velda, Bentley and Danni, and Andrew and Sharon. I was going to take pictures, but we got so busy eating and talking that I totally forgot. You will have to settle for my descriptions.

For the main course, we had millet loaf with onion gravy, roasted veggies (potato, parsnip, turnip, mushroom, carrots, red peppers, onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts and potatoes), maple-thyme roasted yams and dressing. For dessert, we had lemon tart with wild blackberry topping and chocolate-coconut cupcakes. The latter were brought by Sharon and Andrew against our strict rule that no one was to bring anything. Tsk-tsk! In fact, no one obeyed our restriction, since Bob and Velda brought some home-grown passionfruit for us to try, and Danni and Bentley brought wine and homemade preserves.

I am still keeping busy with miscellaneous projects around the house. We expect the house mover to show up any day now.

Today's photos show how tame deer get when you feed them surplus apples!

30-Sep-2007

This week, I got all our firewood stacked in the woodshed. Not a moment too soon, as the weather has turned cool and rainy. In fact, this weekend, it started raining after lunch on Saturday and still hasn't let up as I write this, giving us a total of over 57 mm (so far) - nearly two inches - for the two days. We are hoping this is not the start of the rainy season yet. It really is not due until November, and after a cool damp summer, we are due for some warm, or at least sunny, weather.

I finished the concrete work for the cottage foundation this week. There, too, my timing was good, since wet weather is actually good for concrete setting.

Having heard the forecast of a storm for the weekend, we spent Saturday morning picking most of our remaining fruit. We picked all the remaining plums, most of the remaining apples, and, for the first time, our grapes. Just in the one morning's picking, we harvested about 50 pounds of plums, probably about 75 pounds of apples, and 10 pounds of grapes. Our next job will be to figure out what to do with them all! The deer already get the rejects, we have been eating a lot of them, and Wendy has been freezing and making sauce and jam. Next, we will have to try juicing them. Clearly, one of our projects in the future is going to have to be some form of food storage facility, such as a root cellar.

This weekend, we treated ourselves to a little trip, down to Salt Spring Island, the largest of the Gulf Islands, for the annual Apple Festival. Weather-wise, it couldn't have been worse timing, since the two days of our trip councided precisely with the two-day storm. However, we dressed for the weather and enjoyed ourselves anyway.

On Saturday afternoon, we drove down on the old highway as far as Parksville, partly because it is more scenic, but also because the big highway is unsafe in wet weather. We stayed overnight in a motel at Chemainus, and then, this morning took the ferry over to Salt Spring Island. (In hindsight, if we did the trip again, we could leave Denman on the 6:40 am ferry and still make the 9:30 ferry to Salt Spring.)

The Apple Festival is a one-day tour of about 17 apple orchards on Salt Spring. We started in the Fulford Community Hall, with a display of over 200 different varieties of apples grown on Salt Spring. They were all arranged alphabetically around the hall, with three of four examples of each variety. Some of them are the "grocery store" varieties that most people are familiar with: Macintoshes and Spartans, but many more were heritage varieties that have fallen out of favour with commercial growers for various business reasons, but which are still being preserved by small orchards: Gravensteins, Winesaps, Bramleys, Pippins, etc.. Many of them, in fact, are still growing on century-old trees on Salt Spring, planted by the original European settlers.

Some of the orchards are working mixed farms, including one that is part of a provincial park. The original homesteading family donated most of their land to the province as a park, retaining enough to continue as a working farm and orchard. The farm is integrated into the park as a feature, with interpretive signs and trails. There, we encoutered this big Tom turkey and his harem. We advised them to keep a low profile for the next week or so.

Salt Spring Island is quite a bit larger than Denman Island. In fact, it is the largest of the islands in the Islands Trust area, and the second-largest of all the Gulf Islands (the largest being Texada). It is big enough to have three separate villages on it, which gives the island a totally different feel. The "capital" of the island is Ganges, which has a very urban feel to it. It could be any cutesified small town anywhere in North America. We suspect that the size of the island (population 10,000) and its division into separate villages would give the community a totally different feel from Denman.

We arrived back on Denman on the 8:30 pm ferry. In spite of having an extravagant abundance of our own apples, we couldn't return from a festival empty-handed, so we brought a handfull of Sweet Winesaps with us.

23-Sep-2007

Though we don't have television here, we don't lack for entertainment.

One of our entertainments this week was a meeting convened by the Islands Trust to inform the community about an application for expanding a shellfish-farming lease in the waters of Baynes Sound. One of the current shellfish growers wants to triple the size of their lease, by rezoning water area that is currently zoned for conservation. The application rankles islanders for several reasons, among them: the company is treating "conservation" zoning as though it were "commercial reserve"; they are offering the community absolutely nothing; they are asking for us to donate this zoning, giving them an asset that is worth a lot of money. This sure sounds like corporate welfare to me and a lot of other residents. As a result, there was a large turnout at the meeting: the big hall at the Community Hall was packed to standing room only.

Though decorum prevailed, not a single voice spoke in favour of the application, aside from the applicants themselves. There is not much chance that Islands Trust will grant the rezoning in face of unanimous community opposition. However, that will likely lead to a showdown between Islands Trust and the provincial government, who are keen to develop every square inch of Baynes Sound. Interesting times ahead.

Our other entartainment this week was the first concert in the annual Concerts Denman series. The concert featured a Vancouver group named Tamboura Rasa, consisting of guitar, fiddle, bass, drums and percussion, playing a variety of Spanish-influenced music. For several numbers, they were accompanied by flamenco and belly dancers, a combination that worked surprisingly well together. The concert, as usual, was excellent, and was well-attended.

On Thursday, I celebrated my birthday. We didn't go out to celebrate, it being a particularly busy work week for me (major project implementation with much overtime), but Wendy baked me a great big chocolate birthday cake. I would post a picture of it, but you've got to be pretty quick to catch a chocolate cake around here!

The pictures I do have are from a hike we did today on Hornby Island's Mount Geoffrey. We hiked there in the spring, but, not knowing the area, ended up on the "wrong" side of the mountain, with no views. This time, we hiked the "right" trails, and enjoyed the scenery immensely.

The trailhead is located only a kilometre or so from the Hornby ferry dock, so we parked on the Denman side and walked onto the ferry as foot passengers. The trail follows the top of a benchland half-way up between the water and the summit of the mountain. All along the bench, there are views out over Lambert Channel to Denman Island and Vancouver Island. After a couple of kilometres, the trail doubles back and climbs up the ridge to the top of the mountain, at 300m above sea level. The trail is through mixed forest of douglas fir, arbutus, cedar and poplar, but with frequent viewpoints.

We had just arrived at one of the viewpoints, and I was getting ready to take a picture of the ferry crossing Lambert Channel when I saw a huge splash a short distance ahead of the ferry. It didn't take long to realize that what we were seeing was a pod of orcas, at least eight in number, playing and dining on a large number of salmon. The ferry stopped in mid-channel, and the passengers must have had a magnificent view of the orcas only a few metres away. The large splash in the picture was made by one orca who leaped right out of the water and landed with a huge splash. A few seconds later, we, up on our lofty vantage point, heard the "thump" of its landing, followed by the clearly-audible chorus of "WOW!!" from the ferry passengers. Wow, indeed!

It was an excellent treat on a perfect day of hiking. Lunch at the top of the mountain consisted of sandwiches made with Denman Island produce, and home-grown apples. What could be finer?

16-Sep-2007

As the offical Denman weatherman, I would like to explain that, when it comes to weather, I am in advertising, not in management! We had a nice warm, sunny, dry week, followed by two days of cool, cloudy, wet weather. Guess which two? The weekend, of course. The sky is starting to clear out now, just in time for Monday.

However, the various fruit trees and bushes were quite happy to enjoy the warm weather last week. We are getting a nice bowl of raspberries every day, a few strawberries, and more plums and apples than we know what to do with. Wendy has been busy making apple sauce, plum jam and several delicious desserts, as well as freezing a lot of them. We can see that we will have to investigate building a root cellar or some other kind of storage system before too long.

We had a good crop of pears for the first time, but unfortunately, most of them turned out to be rotten at the centre. A pity, because the edible parts are quite delicious. Talking to one of the local orchardists at the Farmers' Market yesterday, we learned that pears are really a bit marginal here. Even as orchardists, (i.e. knowing what they are doing) they have only been able to grow pears in the last couple of years as the climate warms.

This week, we noticed that the grapes are starting to look riper. The skins are starting to turn translucent, though they are still undersized. Wendy and I each tried one and agreed that they are sweet enough to be almost ready to pick. Another couple of warm days should do it. Since this is exactly the point at which some thieving varmint ate all our grapes last year, I covered the vine with the fabric that we used in June to cover the strawberries. We are hopiing that it will discourage birds and other critters from stealing them.

We had a very pleasant visit from some old friends, Michael and Bev, originally from Calgary. They now live in Sooke, near Victoria. They have some other friends on Denman and drove up for a combined visit for a couple of days. It was fun showing them around the property and giving them the grand tour of Denman. They were impressed by how much there was to see on the island when you get off the main road to the Hornby Ferry.

I am continuing to prepare the new building site. I have built up the sides of the foundation to their final height. This week's operation will be to fill them with concrete. The ends are being left open for now so that the house-moving vehicle can drive through. Fortunately, it is the sides that are load-bearing, so the building can just be dropped (well, lowered gently!) onto the side walls, and the trailer driven out. The design of the foundation was planned with this operation in mind, so the footings are exactly at ground level. Once the building is in place, I will brick up the end walls.

9-Sep-2007

It has been a fairly uneventful week.

We have finished picking the transparent apples, and are harvesting the gravensteins. The gravenstein is our favourite eating apple, as well as being the absolute best variety for apple pies. Unlike many of the supermartket apples that are recent upstarts, the gravenstein is a true heritage variety, dating back to the 17th century. We consider ourselves very lucky indeed that our favourite variety was already growing right here when we moved in.

We picked the first plums this week. These are the dark plums, my favourite type. They have a sweet, complex flavour that might make a rather nice wine. That might be something to look at in the future.

With some warmer weather finally, the grapes are starting to make some progress. It is unlikely that they will reach full size this late in the season,, but they are starting to sweeten up. I will have to put a cover over them soon to prevent birds from getting them before we do.

The raspberries are in full production now. We are getting more each day than we can eat on our porrige, so Wendy is freezing them.

With all that good fruit, we have been eating particularly well lately. Lest anyone think that we vegans are deprived, check out this banana split, with soy ice cream, home-grown raspberries and home-made chocolate sauce.

Speaking of chocolate, the new chocolate factory just down the road is nearing completion. We are expecting to see a notice of a grand opening extravaganza soon. Or hoping to, anyway! We took a stroll by the place today to check it out, and Wendy took a peek in the window to see if they had any stock on hand. Yes, folks, that nice cedar-shake building with huge picture windows is a chocolate factory! As a condition of their rezoning application being approved, they were required to finish the building in a style consistent with island architecture. The building is beautiful, and you should see the view!

Speaking of views, we went for a walk to a viewpoint for a picnic lunch today. This is not the view from the chocolate factory, but it is not much different from it. Here I am admiring the view out over Baynes Sound.

The construction is going well. I had a load of supplies delivered yesterday, enough to keep me busy for the next week or two.

We also got our final load of firewood delivered. Between it and the wood I cut earlier from our blowdowns, we are well supplied for the winter.

2-Sep-2007

We continue to harvest our fruit trees. We have almost finished the transparent apples, and are starting to pick the gravensteins. All of a sudden this week, our plums are changing colour. Our grapes, unfortunately, seem to have been stunted by the cool, damp weather. Last year at this time, they were just starting to ripen when some theiving varmint stole them all. This year, although much more abundant, they are small and nowhere near ripe.

We are enjoying a surprisingly good harvest of our late strawberries, and our late raspberries are just starting to produce. With a little warm weather, we should have a ton of raspberries.

In preparation for our cottage move, I had to dig another 100 feet of trench for the septic system. However, I have had enough digging for a while, so I hired a young fellow to do the work for me. He did a splendid job at a fair price. That is definitely the way to go!

The Blackberry Faire, Denman Island's annual fall fair was held today. It had all the ingredients of a traditional fall fair: a parade with vintage cars and fire trucks, booths selling produce and crafts, vegetable contests, etc.. It also had torrential rain, though it didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits.

A highlight of the parade was the entry by our three island doctors. Dressed in surgical scrubs, they wheeled a gurney, complete with patient, on whom they "operated" without benefit of anesthesia. Their sign said, "Denman Island doctors: keeping the island in stitches".

I worked the morning and lunchtime shift at the Fire Department's hamburger stand as the designated veggie-burger cook. Most of the customers wanted regular beef burgers, but one little girl, no more than five or six years old, asked for a veggie burger that was not cooked on a greasy grill with meat. We were happy to be able to oblige. We sold more than a dozen veggie burgers, compared to over 150 meat burgers, so I wasn't exactly worked off my feet!

The pie booth was selling vegan chocolate mousse pie. Naturally, I felt obligated to sample it, and can report that it was excellent!

26-Aug-2007

This has been a week of apples. We have hervested most of our transparent (August) apples, and Wendy has made and frozen lots of apple sauce from them. We are starting to pick some of our gravenstein apples as well, though the bulk of them are not ready yet.

We have also been out picking wild blackberries. We filled a couple of big bowls with them yesterday afternoon. Wendy made a delicious apple and blackberry crumble from them and our own apples. This evening, she made an applesauce and date cake. We can't take credit for the dates, much as we would like to be able to have those bragging rights.

There are two kinds of blackberries that grow wild here. The native blackberry is small and grows as a vine. I call it the "anklebiter" blackberry, since the vines often trail right at ankle height and trip you as you walk through the woods. Although its thorns are not huge, your ankle gets slashed by many of them as you try to disentangle it. The other blackberry is the Himalayan blackberry, an imported invasive species. It grows in big bushy bramble patches along the sides of roads, and produces large, tasty berries. Its thorns are massive, and body armour is appropriate attire when picking, but few islanders other than biologists complain about its invasive habits.

I have finished splitting and stacking our blown-down firewood from last winter's storms. There are still a couple of nice logs in the forest that I might go after if I have the time.

Some of the best entertainment on Denman Island comes in the form of community meetings. This week, we attended a meeting to discuss the future of "Central Park", a quarter-section of land recently acquired by the Denman Conservancy Association. Most of the land will be preserved as a park, but there is a proposal to make a small corner of it available to the community as a new cemetery, the existing one across the road being completely full. There was much discussion about the type of cemetery that would be permitted. Most people were in favour of an "eco-cemetery", in which people were not to be pickled in formaldehyde, and were to be buried in cardboard boxes. Several people expressed a preference, when their time comes, of being composted. There was discussion about the disposal of cremation remains, and whether it was ecologically more sound to bury the ashes or to scatter them across the park. There is a tradition here that, if you make a suggestion at a public meeting, you are automatically volunteered to coordinate the effort to bring it about. That raised an interesting issue when someone suggested what the most appropriate method for disposing of human remains should be, and he was immediately asked if he was volunteering to try out his suggestion. Much more entertaining than television!

I forgot to mention in last week's diary about Drac, our little visitor. There are a couple of empty flower pots sitting on our front steps, and one morning, we noticed something in one of them. At first we thought it was just a dried leaf, but then I realized that it was a little bat. It was tiny, about the size of a hummingbird. Well, bats don't normally sleep in flower pots, and the first thing you think of when bats behave strangely is rabies, so I wasn't about to move it. I could tell it was alive, because every time I chirped, it twitched.

We called around and found out which of our local biologists was the bat expert. Unfortunately, she was not able to come to check out Drac (short for Dracula, of course) for a couple of days. He survived, though, and was still quite alive when she came to see him. The verdict was that he appeared healthy, and was probably a juvenile who had followed a moth into the flower pot. What I didn't know was that bats cannot take off like birds do. Instead, they have to drop from a height, making a takeoff from the flower pot impossible. If I had just tipped the pot over, he would have been able to crawl out. She released him into the woods and reported that he seemed fine.

19-Aug-2007

I mentioned last week that we bought a wind chime on our trip to Victoria. Unlike many chimes that produce clangy, random sounds, it is tuned to a C minor scale and plays some very pretty tunes when the wind blows. If your browser is not automatically playing my recording of it, you can play it by clicking on this link.

We have been continuing to harvest our August ("transparent") apples. They are the pale yellow ones. They actually get paler as they get ripe, until they are almost white when they are ready to pick. The deer get the ones that aren't suitable for human consumption, but most of them are in perfect condition. Wendy has just made a big batch of apple sauce out of the first batch. The tree is loaded, so I can see a lot of apple sauce in our future!

Our other apple trees are also loaded, though they are not yet ready to pick, and we have quite a few bartlett pears that are showing some colour. With all this bounty, it is clear that we will have to learn about root cellars and other food storage systems in coming years.


In addition to making apple sauce, Wendy has also been preparing peaches for freezing. We got a big box of organic Okanagan peaches, imported by one of our local orchards. We love peach pie, peach cobbler, peaces on oatmeal porridge, peaches in any form. Having some frozen peaches on hand will be a nice treat.

I am continuing to work on the cottage foundation. This week, I waterproofed the concrete and started backfilling the trenches. I am also continuing to chop firewood from our winter blowdowns.

We have a grapevine on a pergola out in our meadow, about 10 metres from the fenced garden. Watering it was always a nuisance, involving either wheelbarrowing a bucket of water out into the meadow or, more recently, running a hose out through the fence. This week, I dug a small trench and buried a pipe from the irrigation pump, under the fence, up to the pergola. Now, it is a simple job to connect a hose right there and water the grapes. The photo shows the hose outlet, the solar panel that keeps the irrigation system's batteries charged, and, between and behind them, the wooden box that contains the battery and pump.

11-Aug-2007

The highlight of this week was a trip that Wendy and I took to Victoria to play tourist, to do a little shopping and to eat at one of our favourite restaurants. We decided to be environmentally sensitive travellers and to try a new experience, so we took the train there and back.

The Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway had the "disappearing railroad blues" until the line's right-of-way was donated to the Island Corridor Foundation in 2006. Now that group contracts with Via Rail and the Southern B.C. Railway to keep the passenger rail service in operation between Courtenay and Victoria. There is one train daily in each direction, coming up to Courtenay in the morning, and returning to Victoria in the afrernoon. Eventually, we hope that they will add a run in the opposite direction, allowing trips to Victoria with only one night in a hotel there.

Anyway, on Thursday morning, we walked down the hill to the ferry, boarded as foot passengers, then walked up the hill at Buckley Bay to the rail line. The railway is just across the highway from the ferry terminal, up a small hill, an easy walk from the ferry. There is no station there, just an abandoned level crossing, which serves as a "whistle stop". After a twenty minute wait, we heard the train's horn and saw its lights coming down the track. The train, consisting of two dayliner cars, stopped just long enough for us to climb aboard, then carried on.

As one might expect of a railway that was almost abandoned, especially one in this rain-forest climate, the vegetation crowds in on the track. For most of the journey, the trees form a virtual tunnel along the track. Leaves slap the car's windows, and branches go whipping by only six inches from the glass, giving the illusion of immense speed.

An illusion is all it is, however, since the train's average speed on the ancient railbed is around 50 km/h. Dogs run out of farmyards to chase the train, which is barely able to escape! In rare bursts of speed on smooth, straight track, it occasionally hits the breathtaking speed of 70 km/h.

All passenger trains are named, and this one is no exception. It is known as the "Malahat", after the scenic section of track that clings to the steep sides of Malahat Mountain above Saanich Inlet on the way into the greater Victoria area. The equivalent section of highway, which parallels the track, is white-knuckle driving in the best of conditions, and downright dangerous in bad weather. Leaving the driving to the rail crew is a much pleasanter way to do the trip. It also allowed me to take some photos of the scenery.

At one point, there is a high steel trestle bridge across a side canyon, and the train slows down to a walking pace as it crosses the bridge. We had several theories as to why it did so, the most benign being that they were giving the passengers the opportunity to take pictures. More alarming possibilities were that they were trying to minimize swaying because they were concerned that the weight of all the passengers rushing to one side to look out would tip the cars off the track, or that the bridge was just in too rough shape to accommodate any speed above a slow walk. Anyway, here are photos of the bridge and the view therefrom.

The train arrived in Victoria at 5:30, after a four-hour trip. The station is right downtown, a one-block walk from stores and restaurants. We went straight to a vegan restaurant (Green Cuisine) that Wendy had discovered via the Internet, where we had a fine meal, then walked to our hotel.

We spent Friday shopping and window-shopping. Victoria's downtown is very pedestrian-friendly, and there are quite a few unlikely-looking alleys that are worth exploring for interesting shops. This one is in Chinatown. We had supper at our other favourite vegan restaurant, the Lotus Pond, where we not only ate a fine meal, but also got some take-out finger-food to take with us on the train the next morning for breakfast.

On Saturday morning, we had to get up early in order to walk to the station and board the train for its 8:00 departure. The two-car train was quite full, with a large section of our car being taken up with a Chinese tour group heading up to Duncan for the day. We arrived at our Buckley Bay whistle stop at 12:30, in time to catch the 1:00 ferry home.

An interesting adventure, without using a private automobile at any point in the journey.

5-Aug-2007

This week, we had the footings for the cottage relocation poured. The redy-mix truck arrived on Monday's 1:00 ferry. The day was warm and the concrete was quite stiff, so it was a race to get it all poured before it set. I won't get any prizes for form construction, but the forms held well enough to do the job. We poured the footings and also filled the utility trench. When we had the trench dug, the backhoe hit bedrock only a foot down. Since the minimum depth for an electrical trench is two feet, we had to put concrete over it to protect future excavators from a wire strike.

Because the concrete was so stiff, there were quite a few voids in it when I stripped the forms off, so I had to do some parging today to fill them. It was a major nuisance, but it is done now. Once the parging has set, I can waterproof it and backfill the footings. And that will be it for the foundation! Whew!

My other big event this week was facilitating a public meeting of the Local Trust Committee (one of our two local governments) on Thursday evening. The meeting was one of five they are holding this summer prior to starting the formal review of our Official Community Plan. The Trustees want to be able to pay attention to what the members of the public are saying, so they are having guest facilitators run the meetings so that they can concentrate on listening. I was "it" for this week's meeting.

Thursday's meeting was on the subject of the Marine Environment. It is a topic that raises emotions because the community is at odds with the provincial government on the issue of shellfish harvesting and farming. It is a huge industry here, and Baynes Sound, the waterway between Denman and Vancouver Islands, produces half of all the shellfish grown in B.C.. They are picked from the beaches on leases that restrict public use of the beach, or are grown below floating rafts in deeper water offshore. The provincial government is pushing for more, more, more shellfish farming and expanded harvesting leases on the beaches. The community wants its beaches to be left in their natural state and for harvesting to be done on a non-industrial scale.

Luckily for my facilitating debut, community sentiment was pretty much unanimous, and there were no off-island shellfish harvesters or farmers present, so I didn't have to do any conflict resolution. There was one representative of the provincial Fisheries Department, but he was a good sport about being picked on. Everyone was well-behaved, the Trustees got some useful ideas from the members of the public, and the meeting ended on time. I was quite pleased with the way it went.

Yesterday, after we did our weekly recycling at the Recycling Depot, we went to an art show featuring the works of three Denman artists. One does watercolour and mixed-media paintings, one does basket scuplture, and one does amazing folk-art paintings on canvas as well as on salvaged household objects. It was an excellent show.

Okanagan peaches are now in season, and we had our first peach pie this week. We can't grow peaches here, but our other fruit trees are doing well. Some of our transparent (August) apples are just about ripe, and the other trees are covered with fruit. It looks like a good year for plums and we should have some pears too. Both grapevines have little bunches of grapes growing.

The first two photos this week show the concrete work: the webcam snapped the view of the ready-mix truck, and Wendy took the photo of me working on the foundation. The other photos show a summery view from the shady side of the deck, towards where the cottage will go, and a view along Pickles Road.

29-Jul-2007

Wendy and I just got back from a short trip to Gold River on Vancouver Island and Yuquot (Friendly Cove) on Nootka Island.

The trip to Gold River involves a drive up Vancouver Island to Campbell River, followed by a drive through Strathcona Provincial Park to Gold River, which is in the middle of nowhere. It was built in the mid 1960s to house workers for the pulp mill on Muchalat Inlet, but the town itself is about 12km inland from its harbour on the inlet. The trip from Gold River to Yuquot is a cruise on the M.V. Uchuck III, a converted World War 2 minesweeper.

The bed and breakfast where we stayed in Gold River had some other guests, a father and son pair from New York, Tom and his son Jeremy. Since they and we were all going on the same cruise on Saturday, Tom offered us a ride down to the harbour in the morning. The first photo shows Jeremy, Tom and Wendy on board the Uchuck.

Saturday morning, we all boarded the Uchuck, which carries about 100 passengers, and also delivers freight to coastal communities. The cruise began at the head of Muchalat Inlet, and took us the length of the inlet to Nootka Sound. The inlet is a very scenic fjord, with steep mountainsides coming right down to the water. The weather was cloudy enough to give my photos that classic West Coast look, but not cold. We had a few showers and a bit of drizzle, but generally it was quite pleasant.

Back at the dock, we had noticed a great number of parked boat trailers, and eventually we found out why. Nootka Sound is a big salmon fishing area. When the Uchuck got to the end of Muchalat Inlet, where it enters Nootka Sound, we saw hundreds of fishing boats, all clustered together around Bligh Island (named for Wiliam Bligh, of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame, while he was still a young navigator on Capt. James Cook's voyage).

A more thrilling sight, though, was yet to come. When we had passed through the fishing fleet and were well out in Nootka Sound, the captain came on the P.A. system to announce that there was a grey whale straight ahead, a couple of miles away. There was a big rush to the front of the boat, and everyone was craning their necks to get a glimpse of it through the rigging. It would take three breaths and then dive for a few minutes, then repeat the cycle.

The captain must have been quite experienced with whales, because he slowed the boat, and was able to position it exactly where the whale was due to surface next. Suddenly, there were "oohs" and "ahs", and the whale surfaced right beside the boat, no more than 100 feet away. It definitely was a highlight of our trip.

After that adventure, the boat continued down Nootka Sound to Yuquot, named "Friendly Cove" by Capt. Cook in 1778. Yuquot is also the location where Captains Vancouver and Quadra met in 1792 to sign the Nootka Convention between Britain and Spain. Commemorative cairns memorialize both events, but they are quite inaccessible to tourists.

The Native community there was abandoned in 1967 for economic reasons, but a lighthouse and a 1957 Catholic church still stand. The Muchalat people still administer the site, and have plans for an interpretive centre there. The fourth photo shows some native totems in the church.

The lighthouse is one of the few remaining manned lighthouses on the coast. It is up on top of a small islet and is very exposed, having nothing between it and Japan except miles and miles of miles and miles. The fifth photo shows the harbour at Yuquot, with the Uchuck tied up at the dock, the lighthouse and a classic coastal sky.

The return voyage crossed the entrance of Nootka Sound, and took a different route back to Gold River, giving us a full circumnavigation of Bligh Island. The final photo shows me on the deck of the Uchuck, looking like my hair could use a de-humidifier!

On Saturday evening, we had dinner at an African restaurant in Gold River. We had a very nice vegetable curry, beautifully presented, and apple strudel for dessert. We got there early, which was a good thing, since it filled up quickly. Who would have thought to find such a place in Gold River, of all places?

Today, on the way back from Gold River, we stopped at Strathcona Park Lodge, a wilderness education centre. Groups of teenagers, such as Scouts or school groups, go there to learn wildernes skills. We had fun watching some novice kayakers and canoeists playing in the water. We also had a good buffet-style lunch there, amid a room full of youthful energy.

On other events this week, last Tuesday, we went for a nature walk in Denman Island's new Central Park, a 147-acre parcel of clearcut land acquired by the Conservancy Association. It is part of a contiguous chain of land parcels up the centre of the island that the Conservancy aims to protect. The nature walks are part of their effort to familiarize residents with the land. It is beautiful land, and the vegetation is starting to regenerate rapidly.

This coming week, I will be facilitating a public meeting of the Local Trust Committee (LTC) on the marine environment. It is part of a series of public meetings to prepare the community and the trustees for an upcoming review of our Official Community Plan, the legal document that guides the LTC in its land use decisions. It should be interesting, but not too interesting, I hope.

21-Jul-2007

Last Sunday, Wendy and I attended the annual picnic at the Hermitage, our local Buddhist meditation centre. It is situated on 60 acres of farmland and forest, and consists of several geodesic domes, and a canvas yurt. There was a good turnout, as the weather was ideal: dry and not too hot.

Later that evening, we attended a sitar concert, featuring Pandit Shivanth Mishra, Head of the Music Department at the Sanskrit University of Benares, India, and his son Deobrat Mishra, both on sitar. The music, consisting of traditional Indian ragas, was excellent, and the concert was well-attended.

The pump for my solar-powered irrigation system finally arrived this week, and it is now hooked up and operational. Here are a couple of pictures of the completed pump/battery box. The solar panel is mounted on a mast on a fencepost, and the rest of the system is in the wooden box. It produces enough pressure to operate a soaker hose or a spray nozzle. The pump includes a pressure switch, so it switches on and off automatically when the nozzle is opened or closed. This means that I can operate it with a standard clockwork water timer to prevent over-watering.

The shelf inside the box holds a portable auxilliary pump that produces no significant pressure, but can move a lot of water really quickly. I can use it to pump water to and from rain barrels, fill buckets, etc. I have it on a long cord, with a cigarette-lighter-type plug on the end for portability.

Now that the irrigation system is fully operational, of course, it has started raining. A low pressure weather system stalled off the coast of Oregon has been giving us south-east winds and wet weather all week. The same thing happened when I installed the cistern (which, incidentally, is now full once again). Obviously, in the event of a severe drought, all I have to do is to install some water-related infrastructure, and rain will follow!

This weekend is the Denman Readers and Writers festival. It is much bigger than last year, and includes more well-known writers than in previous years. They have several venues in use, including the Community Hall (front and back rooms), the Arts Centre, and the Seniors' Hall. Tomorrow morning, the CBC is going to be covering the festival, broadcasting their B.C. morning show from the Arts Centre.

Last night, the festival included an "Authors' Cabaret", with several of the authors reading from their works or taking questions. As an interlude during the evening, the Robert Minden Duo played some rather interesting, if unconventional, music on musical saws, water bottles, and an unidentifiable spiky metal device played with a violin bow. It was quite entertaining, and not bad to listen to.

We regularly have deer come through our yard, including some "regulars". However, today, for the first time this year, a mother deer brought her two spotted fawns for a visit. They still have the "freeze" response to danger, so Wendy was able to keep this one from moving just by waving at it from the window, while I grabbed the camera.

Some people just do not respect our community. A concrete truck, returning from a jobsite somewhere on east Denman or Hornby Island, dumped about a cubic yard of surplus concrete in big blob in a ditch along the side of Denman Road. Obviously, the owner or contractor on the work site did not plan a location to receive the excess concrete from their pour, something that should be a part of any concrete job, and the truck driver decided to just dump it in a ditch. If anyone saw a concrete truck stopped along Denman Road in the last week or two, get in touch with me.

15-Jul-2007

The big story this week was the heat. For several days, Environment Canada had consistently been forecasting a temperature of 36°C for Wednesday. When the day arrived, the temperature topped out at 37.3°C, an all-time record for Denman Island that smashed the previous record of 33°C, set last year.

The big challenge, in weather like that, was to try to keep the house cool. We left all the windows open at night. In the morning, I watched the indoor and outdoor temperatures closely, and closed all the windows when the outside temperature rose above the indoor temperature. I also got a sheet of white corrugated plastic, lined it with aluminum foil, and used it to block the kitchen skylight. Sunlight shining in this south-facing skylight falls directly on our pantry and fridge as well as contributing to the general heat in the house. We managed to keep the indoor temperature from going much above 30°C.

With the heat and the lack of significant rain, the Fire Department has raised the forest fire danger to "High" and instituted a complete fire ban. We were briefed at our weekly practice on Thursday that, when asked by tourists whether campfires were permitted, we were to ask them, "What part of 'complete' do you not understand?" We live in fear of cigarette butts tossed into dry conifer needles from tourist cars on their way to Hornby Island.

Fortunately, the weather since Wednesday's peak has been humid and unsettled. We have had a few thunderstorms, very unusual for this area, but some showers have dampened things down a bit.

We had a bit of an adventure at the Fire Department practice. One of the training exercises was to run a tanker shuttle to fill the Department's big water tank. Normally, it is filled from the firehall's well, but the valve had been left closed and the tank was empty. At this time of year, there isn't enough water in the well to refill it, so it was decided that a tanker shuttle from the marsh would not only serve to fill the tank, but would give us some useful practice in tanker operations. While the shuttle was going on, the rest of us learned how to operate the new pump on our rapid-response vehicle.

While we were learning about the pump, a call came over the radio that our older tanker truck had broken down. Our Deputy Chief and Maintenance Officer headed out to the marsh to try to fix the problem. The next radio call was for someone to bring tow chains in the other tanker truck. By this time, we had rotated our tasks, and I was in the tanker with another firefighter, enroute to the marsh for water. We returned to the hall for the chains, then drove to Pickles Marsh, where the old tanker was in the middle of the bridge, blocking traffic.

Our normal turnaround spot is on the far side of the bridge, so we had to turn the truck around on the road, which is less than two lanes wide. Ever try that? We eventually got it turned around and hooked up the towchain. With two of our most experienced drivers at the wheels, the working tanker pulled the dead one up the hill to the top of Pickles Road. We then blocked traffic at the top of the "big hill", just as a load of ferry traffic was coming up, while the trucks pulled out onto Denman Road and up to the crest of the hill. At that point, they unhitched the tow chain, and freewheeled the tanker down the hill to the firehall, about a kilometre away.

The latest word is that a $60 part will fix the truck, but we are hoping that the bureaucrats in Courtenay will sit up and take notice. The old tanker is overdue for replacement, but the Regional District people are taking their time about authorizing the purchase of a new truck.

On Friday night, we attended a talk by famous wildlife artist and environmental activist Robert Bateman. He made the point that, while there was nothing inherently wrong with farming, forestry and fishing, the environment was being destroyed by doing these activities on an industrial scale. The wealth of today is acquired by being stolen from the generation of his grandchildren and their grandchildren. He illustrated the talk with slides that included samples of his artwork. The event was a fundraiser for the Denman Conservancy, and was well attended.

The talk was originally scheduled to include Merve Wilkinson, a forester from Vancouver Island. Merve is the classic example of how sustainable forestry should be practised. Since he bought his property in 1938 with 1.5 million board feet of timber on it, he has logged 2.1 million board feet from it, and today it has 10% more wood on it than it did back then. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend due to the heat. We had been looking forward to hearing what he had to say. We are now thinking about going down to his tree farm on a weekend for a visit.

The photos this week show examples of island ingenuity. In the first, some folks are beating the heat with a rubber raft towed behind a motorboat. The second is an antenna that an enterprising island techie is using to provide a Wi-fi (wireless Internet) hotspot at the ferry terminal. The third looks like an ordinary bike rack. However, on closer inspection, it turns out to be built entirely from old bicycles.

8-Jul-2007

The weather has finally switched over to summer mode. We have been having temperatures in the high 20s, with a forecast of 30s in the coming week. It is a pleasant change from the cool weather we had through June, though this week sounds like it will be unpleasantly hot. We are not likely to get much rain now until October.

The strawberry harvest is over. For over three weeks, we have been collecting an average of one big bowl of berries every day. We have had strawberries on cereal for breakfast, strawberries on bread, strawberry shortcake, strawberry-rhubarb crumble... And, no, we are not tired of them at all!

The raspberries are starting to ripen up now. It looks like they will not be quite as bountiful this year as they were last year (or as the strawberries were). However, the new canes look very healthy, and we are looking forward to a good harvest next year.

I have been working on various mechanical projects this week. The solar-powered water pump is just about ready for use. I am waiting for a part to arrive, and then it will be ready to go. Not a moment too soon, as we have started watering by hand this week.

My well depth gauge is now operational. I lowered the end of the plastic tubing, with suitable weights attached, down the well shaft until it reached the top of the pump. At the top end, the tube runs through an underground conduit to the pumphouse, where the compressor and pressure gauge are located. When I fire up the compressor, it blows bubbles down the well. The air pressure required to blow bubbles tells me how much water lies above the pump. At the moment, we have 62 feet of water, which is relatively healthy, but considerably down from the 85 feet we had in winter.

The plan is eventually to have the gauge operated automatically by computer. I will then be able to keep proper records of the level throughout the year, and to monitor the recharge rate after heavy use. That will require a bit more tinkering and experimentation. For now, I just operate it manually.

The first photo this week shows one of our regular visitors. Several deer visit our place on a regular basis, and they are quite used to our comings and goings. While they would never let us approach them, they don't seem to mind if we are moving around and doing stuff.

Daisies are the wild flower of the season right now. Our meadow is covered with them. The second photo gives a good view of the house from the meadow, with the woodshed to the left and a pergola with a young grapevine to the right.

Wendy got her hair cut this week, and decided to take a self-portrait in the mirror. It looks "right some fine", I would say.

1-Jul-2007

Happy Canada Day! In honour of the occasion and of our current bountiful strawberry harvest, here is a little seasonal artwork.

This morning was the Fire Department's annual Canada Day pancake breakfast. The Fire Department, Ambulance Crew, the island's doctors and the Emergency Social Services committee all get together to put on one of the biggest social events of the year. We serve over 500 pancake breakfasts between 9:00 AM and noon.

The event has been running for longer than most people can remember, so it is a well planned and highly coordinated operation. Not counting all the preparations ahead of time, the day started with an early morning wakeup call on our fire department pagers. In a couple of hours, we had grills and tables set up, trucks decorated and food prepared.

A large portion of the island's population turns out every year for the breakfast. Proceeds from the event go into a separate fund from the fire department's tax-supported money. The fund is used for such things as a scholarship fund for Denman Island students and fire hydrant standpipes that we are installing at various strategic bodies of water around the island.

The weather was pleasant for the breakfast: a mix of sun and cloud, no rain, and not too hot. It was quite a welcome change, in fact, from the cool and damp weather we have been having all last month. Our rainfall in June was well above average, and the temperatures have been cool.

Our strawberries, however, don't seem to have minded one bit. We have been harvesting a big bowl of berries every day. The yield is starting to drop off a bit now, as the season draws to an end, but we will still be picking them for a while longer. We have frozen quite a few, as well as enjoying lots of big strawberry desserts, and the occasional strawberry flag.

Just as I was typing up this diary entry, Wendy spotted an unusual visitor on our deck: a Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea). We have seen them on our property before, but they are not common, and they tend to be elusive, hard to spot even when they are known to be around. Like all lizards, they like to hang out in sunny spots. I have sometimes had to brake hard to avoid one on the driveway. The deck, of course, is a perfect spot.

To keep the lizard company, one of the tree frogs that spent last summer on our deck is back today. Of course, we don't know if it is the same individual, but it is hanging out in the same spot as last year's did.

24-Jun-2007

My project this week has been to start assembling our solar-powered irrigation system. I have the mast for the solar panel completed and installed. This coming week, I will assemble the battery, pump and electrical components, and build a weatherproof box to hold them.

Luckily, we don't need the irrigation system yet. The weather has been cool and showery all week. The organic gardeners at the Saturday market are producing magnificent lettuce, but other crops are far behind schedule.

Our hydrangeas by the front entrance have been stalled for weeks with just a couple of blooms open in each cluster. The rest, apparently, are waiting for some warm weather to arrive. So are we.

Not everything is stalled, however. This week has been strawberry week. Every other day, I have been harvesting a couple of big bowls full of plump strawberries. Wendy has made several strawberry shortcakes. She cleverly froze some rhubarb last month in anticipation of this month's strawberry harvest, so we also had a rhubarb-strawberry crumble that was out of this world.

It looks like it will be a good year for other fruit, too. Our Gravenstein apples and plums have good crops developing, and both our pear trees have quite a few fruit as well. Last year, we had no pears at all, and the year before, only the smaller pear tree had fruit: a whole five pears, four of which were stolen by deer after somebody left the gate open. This year promises to be significantly better.

The grapevine is covered with clusters of buds. Last September, I sampled one of the grapes and decided that it was only a few days away from being ripe. The next day, someone (birds, we presume) had eaten every single grape! This year, we have cloth and netting ready to throw over it to keep the birds off when the grapes start getting sweet. The electric fence comes on automatically at night to keep raccoons out.

Over the summer, many of the community organizations shut down. One exception this year is the Islands Trust, one of our two local governments. The Denman Island Official Community Plan is ten years old and is therefore due for a review. During the summer, the Local Trust Committee (the part of the Islands Trust that governs land use on our island) will be holding several meetings to get input from the community about what direction they would like to see it go. I have been asked to facilitate one of those community meetings, an opportunity to apply some of my Conflict Resolution training. It should be interesting!

A couple of times a month, there are movies at the Arts Centre on Sunday nights. The week before last, we went to see Casino Royale, the latest James Bond film. (It is quite a departure from the traditional Bond films, rewinding history to make him once again a rookie spy, and making him generally more of a real character.) The film society has installed a DVD projector and screen permanently in the main room at the cantre. They set up about 20 stacking chairs for the audience, and they have fresh popcorn in the kitchen. Admission is a "suggested donation" of $4. It makes for a fun evening, since we know most of the other audience members. Everyone chats before the film begins, and shares their reviews of it after it ends. In true Denman fashion, we stack the chairs before leaving. We usually walk to the movies. The last couple of times we have been, it was light enough in the evening that we didn't need our flashlights to walk home.

16-Jun-2007

This week's big event on Denman Island was the annual Home and Garden tour. It is the biggest event on the island all year, attracting visitors from all over Vancouver Island and even from the lower mainland, as well as many local residents. The tour is a fund-raiser for the Denman Conservancy Association, who are working hard to preserve as much of the island's ecosystem as possible. Each year, ten families open their homes, gardens or both to visitors.

The perennial favourite is the garden of our neighbour, Des Kennedy, famed author and gardener, whose garden (first picture) is the stuff of legends. The Kennedys' house looks like something from a fairy tale, and their grounds are a profusion of flowers of every shape, size, colour and fragrance.

After a warm spell in May, the weather for the last couple of weeks has been quite cool. However, the past week was pleasant and mostly sunny, and hopes were high for good weekend weather. The forecast, as late as Friday night called for "cloudy with a 60% chance of showers", not too bad. We were surprised, therefore, when we (and many other Denman residents, it seems) were woken up at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday by heavy, continuous rain. It poured rain all morning, accumulating almost 20 mm. Needless to say, the gardens were somewhat the worse for wear: peonies sagging and rose petals strewn on the ground. Luckily, the rain eventually stopped, and not all the flower petals were beaten off (second photo).

Denmaners are a hardy bunch, though, and the tourists presumably have enough Scottish ancestry in them that they would not skip out on tickets that had been paid for, so attendance on the tour did not seem to have suffered too badly.

The gardens include both vegetable gardens aiming for self-sufficiency and flower gardens filled with heritage roses. There are gardens of mind-boggling scale and small gardens whose soil has been painstakingly built up with straw and compost literally from bare rock. The houses range from historic log cabins to small owner-built cottages to huge ultra-modern houses.

One thing we noticed in the gardens was how late the flowers are this year. In some of the gardens that are on the tour every year, we are used to seeing all the roses in full bloom. This year, although a handfull of roses were out, the majority were no more than buds. This spring has been cooler than normal, and everything is at least a week behind schedule.

One plant that is almost right on schedule is our strawberry crop. We normally pick our first ripe strawberries on June 10th. This year, we picked the first berries on June 13th. Both our June-bearing and our ever-bearing berries came ripe at the same time. The June berries are big, fat, conical berries, like you see in grocery stores, except with twice the flavour. The ever-bearing berries are smaller and rounder, but just as tasty. The big difference is that, whereas the June berries will be finished by the end of the month, the ever-bearing berries will keep producing throughout the summer.

We had fresh strawberry shortcake for supper tonight. Yummmm!

9-Jun-2007

What a difference a week makes! Last week, we had started dipping into our rainwater reserves to water the garden. This week, not only do we not have to water, but both our cisterns are full to overflowing. Already this month, we have surpassed the total rainfall for the whole of last month.

Yesterday, with the tanks full and more rain in the forecast for today, I even filled a couple of rain barrels in the garden from the cistern, knowing that the water I used would be replaced within a few hours.

Since I had been keeping track of the water levels, I now know that each millimetre of rain gives us 25 gallons of water. Wednesday's rain amounted to almost 600 gallons! Our measly 24 millimetres of precipitation won't impress Albertans who got three times that in one thunderstorm last week, but it was pretty good for late spring here.

I have started collecting the components for another important part of the irrigation system: the solar-powered pump system. I have ordered the pump itself, and picked up the solar panel and marine battery this week. When completed, the system will provide enough pressure to operate several soaker hoses, without using any fuel or grid-based power.

Continuing the gardening theme, last night we attended a talk and slide show about pesticide-free gardening, by an entomologist from Saltspring Island. There is a movement on Denman Island (with its own committee of the Residents' Association) to try to make the island a pesticide-free zone, and this event was part of that program. Several island residents have severe chemical sensitivities, and moved here specifically to avoid environmental toxins. The move to avoid pesticides is in support of them, as well as to clean up the environment in general.

At the talk, we learned that the best way to control insect pests is to support a balanced ecosystem, in which the natural local predators can keep the pests under control. For instance, we learned that roses can be kept nearly pest-free by planing allysum (not garlic!) under them. The predators that would normally control rose-loving pests are attracted by pollen. Since roses are low in pollen, planting a species like allysum that has lots of pollen restores the balance.

Identification is a key to controlling insect pests, so we were encouraged to learn all about bugs.

Although lawns are not common here, quite a few island residents have what the speaker referred to as "LLOs": lawn-like objects. A wild meadow of natural weeds can be turned into a beautiful lawn (or LLO) simply by cutting it regularly at a height of two and a half to three inches (considerably higher than a suburban lawn), an ideal height at which grasses can dominate other plants without the need for weed-killers.

With nothing else picturesque happening this week, we can always count on the cats to be photogenic. Owen is particularly fond of lettuce. He doesn't eat it, though he sometimes has a taste, but he loves the smell of it.

2-Jun-2007

The weather has turned summery this week, with temperatures peaking in the high 20s. Combine that with the last rainfall being over two weeks ago, and the forest fire hazard is already rising. Already, it is up to "moderate", and could easily reach "high" this week if we do not get some rain. There are showers and cooler weather in the forecast. We'll see if they materialize.

We have started watering the garden using our stored rainwater. Although we were not able to fill our new cistern before the rains ended, we do have 60% more water on hand than we started with last year, so our strawberries and raspberries should be okay. It would have been nice to have the whole 2500 gallons available, though!

Although the water is piped to the garden by gravity, the pressure is too low to do much more than fill buckets and watering cans. In order to use sprinklers or soaker hoses, it needs higher pressure, so I am planning to install a solar-powered pump. It is a good fit for an off-grid application, since you need the water most on bright, sunny days.

In the gardem, the weeds, of course, are growing like weeds! If I leave mowing the grass a day or two too long, it grows so long that the lawn mower, a motorless push-type mower, just pushes it over instead of cutting it. For such work, I have a scythe, which works very well on tall stuff.

Our strawberries are doing well, with lots of berries on the way. None have turned red yet, but we are keeping an eye on them. At the first sign of colour, we will cover them with white synthetic fabric, to keep the birds off them.

Our fig trees have leafed out very well. Although they are only one foot tall at the moment, they look healthy and vigourous. We have heard of people getting fruit from their fig trees in the first year, but we are not holding our breaths for that.

The wild roses are in bloom now, clashing with the scotch broom along the roadsides.

With the warm weather, we have been eating our meals out on the deck. It is a real treat to eat supper listening to bird songs. The main bird song around our place right now is that of the Swainson's thrush, a "tweedly-tweedly-tweet-tweet" that spirals upwards. The birds have been around for a while, but apparently they don't start singing this distinctive song until late May or June. It is particularly noticeable at dusk.

This week, there was a new exhibit at the art gallery. The artists were children from the Denman Island Elementary School. The paintings and culptures were a cut above the standard elementary school fare. In a community rich with artists of all types, in which many of the children themselves carry artistic genes, it makes sense that the school kids would produce top-quality work. The school brings in artists from the community to teach and inspire the kids. The results were definitely a cut above the kind of painting I remember doing in elementary school. I was particularly impressed by the watercolours, some of which were - well - artistic.

26-May-2007

This has been a fairly quiet week, with no concerts or special events to go to. We have spent most of our time puttering around the house and yard on various projects. I am still working on the foundation for the new cottage location. With all the utility lines in the trench, I have been back-filling it by hand. It is hard work: lots of rocks!

The weekly summertime farmers' market has been operating for a couple of weeks now. It is set up on the lawn behind the old school, and coincides with the Saturday hours of the recycling centre, which is also located at the old school. Everyone comes to drop off their recycling (an important social event) and then stays to check out the market stalls. The market operates from Victoria Day to Thanksgiving. We try to buy as many of our vegetables as we can there, since we know the growers and can be sure that the produce is organic and locally-grown. Fresh asparagus is in season right now.

The other day, we were sitting down to lunch, and, since it was a warm day, we had the dining room window open. There is usually a steady parade of hummingbirds to the feeder just outside the window, so we are used to hearing their buzzing. However, this time, the buzzing sounded like the Battle of Britain. When we looked outside, the picture was complete, because it looked like it, too. There were whole squadrons of the little birds, zooming, dashing and dogfighting around the feeder, and shrieking at each other. Their flight is so fast that you actually hear a doppler shift as they zoom by.

The feeder is "owned" by one male hummingbird. He lets his girlfriends use it, but no one else, especially other males, is allowed to approach it. Any interlopers are chased off in a high-speed pursuit, accompanied by much angry squeaking. At one point, there were eight hummingbirds near the feeder: four perched on the feeder drinking, and four others either approaching or being driven off.

The action lasted long enough for me to get my camera and shoot about 50 pictures, the only way to have a chance of catching some of the high-speed action. While I was not able to capture the height of the action with eight birds there at once, I did get some reasonable action images.

Some other airborne wildlife is creating quite a stir on Denman Island. The Taylor's checkerspot butterfly is an endangered species that is listed on the federal government's Schedule 1. The last known colony of them in Canada, on nearby Hornby Island, was declared extirpated in 2000. The excitement here is that, this spring, it has been discovered to be living here on Denman.

The checkerspot's normal habitat was thought to be coastal garry oak meadows, which are an endangered ecosystem, being taken over by development and invasive species. As it turns out, the butterfly is also quite happy in forest clearcuts, something we have an excess of on our island. Larvae of them were first spotted a couple of months ago, only a kilometre or so from our house. In the last two or three weeks, the adult butterflies have emerged, and have been seen over a surprisingly large area of central Denman Island. Wendy and I have both seen them on our walks. Although we have not seen any in our yard, we are on the lookout for it, since our property is within its area.

With an endangered species in our midst, off-island biologists have been coming here to see it. Our local resident biologists have printed up "wanted" posters and cards so that people know what to look for. Ironically, the Denman Conservancy Association may be required to preserve its habitat: a clearcut!

The following links have more information about the Taylor's checkerspot. The picture on this page is the best one for showing our subspecies.

19-May-2007

On Sunday, we joined about 40 other Denmanites on a guided tour of four alternative energy homes on the island, organized by the "Inconvenient Truth" group, named after Al Gore's award-winning documentary on global warming.

The first stop was at the farm of Bruce and Leandra, a couple who have lived off the electric grid for many years. They have several panels of photovoltaic cells on their roof and in their front yard, charging a bank of deep-cycle batteries. They are a good example of how efficient technology pays for itself: some of their equipment dates back to 1979 and still works as well now as when it was new.

The next stop was to the home of their friends and neighbours Aaron and Sonia. Aaron is evidently a technological genius. Their home, also off the grid, is powered by a combination of solar and wind power. He built the wind generator himself, carving the turbine blades by hand and winding his own generator coils. The turbine is mounted atop a home-made sixty foot steel tower which pivots at the centre like a teeter-totter to allow the business end to be lowered to gound level for maintenance.

The house, a geodesic dome, is not by any means spartan. They have a washing machine, a normal complement of electric lights, television, stereo and computer. Internet access, since they are more than half a mile from the nearest phone or cable TV line, is via a radio-frequency dish on the roof, which connects them to a friend on Hornby Island who has high-speed Internet access. Their garden is irrigated by means of a standalone solar-powered pump, supplying pond water to soaker hoses.

After a break for lunch (and to grab my camera), the third stop of the tour was to the farm of Bob and Velda, growers of organic produce. While their house is connected to the electric grid, Bob has home-engineered a wind-powered irrigation system for the market garden (photo 1). The turbine blade for the windmill was hand-carved from a single 12-foot piece of clear-grained cedar. Via a couple of belts and pulleys, it drives a crank which operates a pump salvaged from an old fire extinguisher. This pumps water from a large marsh uphill to a holding pond. From the pond, water is fed by gravity to the drip-irrigation pipes in the fields. Goldfish in the pond keep the mosquitoes under control.

He also engineered a solar-powered hot water heater which is the essence of simplicty. Fifty feet of large-diameter black water hose lies on black shingles on the south-facing roof of the barn. No pumps are required. The pressure of cold water entering the heating pipes forces the hot water out. On a sunny day, the water gets close to boiling point and has to be mixed with cold water to provide a comfortable temperature for showering. There is enough hot water in the pipe for two showers. The shower is outdoors, in the garden (photo 2); outdoor showers are a common feature on Denman Island.

The final stop on the tour was the home of local entrepreneurs Tom and Klaus. Their off-grid house is powered by several solar panels. Since their house site is located at the top of a cliff and has no water, their household water is obtained from rainwater, collected off their metal roof and stored in two large cisterns behind the house.

One of the most intriguing aspects of their home is their garden. They practise zero-tillage gardening. Their site had no soil when they first moved there, so they have built it up using straw, wood chips and other organic material. These materials are applied as a top-dressing or mulch rather than being dug into the soil. Everything is grown in greenhouses. This technique allows them to grow extremely healthy-looking crops with very little water.

Our cultural event this week was a Flamenco concert, complete with dancers. It was well attended and well enjoyed.

Today, we went on the annual Denman Island Pottery Tour. Local potters open their studios to the public in a two-day-long event that is popular with both islanders and tourists. Some of the pieces go beyond mere pottery into the world of fine art, particularly those of Gordon Hutchens (photo 3). His work uses exotic rare-earth glazes and special slow cooling techniques that produce amazing depth of colour and intricate random crystal structures in the finished glazed pieces. We didn't go on the whole tour, having picked out our favourites from last year. We showed admirable restraint and only came home with a few pieces (photo 4).

12-May-2007

This has been a quiet week. No concerts or meetings to go to. We did go to a fine photographic exhibit at the Denman Art Gallery, showing images of people and places in Southeast Asia.

Our pear trees are covered in blossoms this year. This is by far the most blossoms that they have had. We also have a lot of bees around already, so with any luck, we might get some pears this year. We had high hopes for them last year, but didn't get a single pear.

The strawberries are flowering now, too. The ever-bearing strawberries started a couple of weeks ago, but now the June-bearing strawberries have joined them. We bought a big bunch of rhubarb from a local farmer and put some of it in the freezer, so in another month, we should be able to have strawberry-rhubarb pie. Yum!

This week's nature walk was on the topic of bird calls. We have been hoping for exactly this topic for a while, since we hear all the bird calls in our woods and usually have no idea what they are. We met at the ungodly hour of 7:00 on Saturday morning, down at the south end of Denman Island. The walk took us through one of the Denman Conservancy Association's newly-acquired parcels of land adjacent to Boyle Point Park. Periodically on the walk, we would stop and listen, and our guides would point out the various calls that were audible. We heard the warbling virio ("deedly-deedly-deedly-deedly-..."), the Townsend warbler ("dee-dee-deedly?"), the chickadee ("chicka-chicka-dee-dee-dee"), the winter wren (a high-pitched trill), the Pacific slope flycatcher ("schlurp-schlurp-pee-ee?"), the red-winged blackbird (many different sounds, the most characteristic of which is a trill that sounds like a phone ringing), and of course, the Canada goose ("honk!"). It was a very interesting and educational walk.

Tomorrow, we are looking forward to a tour of alternative energy homes on Denman Island. There are quite a few places here that are off the power grid, relying on wind and solar power for their electrical needs, as well as some that use solar heat and energy-saving construction methods. It promises to be a fascinating tour.

Of course, no Denman Diary would be complete without some ongoing construction project. This week, I have been building forms for the foundation of the new cottage site. From a distance, it almost looks like I know what I'm doing, doesn't it?

5-May-2007

This week, I went to New Westminster to visit my mother. She celebrated her 82nd birthday last week, so this was her birthday visit. We had a fine visit, including dinner at an Indian restaurant.

I decided to try out public transportation for this trip, and was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked. There is a bus service on Vancouver Island called Island Link that is scheduled specifically to connect with the ferries. When I stepped off the Denman Island ferry at Buckley Bay, the bus was there waiting for me. It dropped me off right at the Departure Bay ferry terminal in Nanaimo, in time for the 10:30 sailing. On board the ferry, I boarded the Greyhound bus, which took me to the main downtown bus depot next to the railway station. From there, I took the SkyTrain to New Westminster, and transferred to a city bus to my mother's apartment.

The return trip was exactly the same in reverse. It didn't work out quite as smoothly, because the Nanaimo ferry was half an hour late. The Island Link bus waited for the ferry, but was unable to make it to Buckley Bay in time for the 8:30 pm ferry that I had planned to take. The ferry was just sailing away when I got off the bus, so I got to spend an hour and a half reading in the Buckley Bay waiting room, waiting for the 10:00 ferry.

The entire trip was planned via the Internet: I made the reservations for the Island Link bus online, as well as checking the schedules for the Nanaimo ferry and the the Greyhound bus. The Vancouver transit system has a nifty website where you can enter your point of origin, your destination and the time you wish to travel, and it will give you a choice of routes. For each route, it tells you which buses or trains to take, which stops to get on, off or transfer at, how far you will have to walk, the exact times and the total fare. I even found a nice Indian restaurant with vegetarian food via the Internet. And I used Google Earth to locate the restaurant and to determine how to get from the bus station to the SkyTrain.

Today, we went on the annual hike to Tree Island, an islet just off the north tip of Denman Island. If you go looking for it on a map, you will find it labelled by its "official" name of Sandy Island. Tree Island is a translation of its native name, and is the accepted name here on Denman. Both names are appropriately descriptive.

We had several biologists with us, including a couple of botanists and an ornithologist, so we were well informed about what we were seeing.

It is reached by hiking across a kilometre of mud flats at low tide (first photo). Fortunately, tides in the Georgia Straight tend to follow a 24-hour cycle rather than the 12-hour cycle common in most places, so low tide lasts long enough for a day hike. The entire island is a provincial park, and it is host to some rare plants and animals. One of the most interesting is the yellow sand verbena, which is not yet in flower. It is quite rare, and is the only known host of the yellow sand verbena moth, an endangered species. Although the sand verbena was unimpressive today, many other flowers were out, including sea blush (second photo), larkspur, and the unusual chocolate lily (third photo).

We stopped for lunch at the Tree Island campground, where we discovered that there was an occupied bald eagle nest right next to us (fourth photo). Through binoculars and a spotting scope, we had a good view of one of the parents sitting on the nest and munching on a fish.

The weather was a bit cool and windy, but it was still a pleasant outing.

28-Apr-2007

Well, it finally arrived! The cistern arrived on Monday and was rolled down the hill and slid into place under the deck. The plumbing connections look exotic, but were quite straightforward to install. I had it completed and ready to collect rain by Monday evening, just in time for a forecast of rain on Tuesday.

Don't tell anyone, but I think we may have jinxed the weather, as a result of installing the cistern. Tuesday's rain never materialized. In fact, in spite of several days this week being forecast to have rain or periods thereof, the forecasts invariably got changed as the time approached to mere showers, which for the most part didn't materialize. We have only had 6 mm of precipitation this week. This is not good.

Our cultural event this week was concert number three in the Mozart Piano Sonatas series, performed by "Bob". That would be Robert Silverman to you, but the concert promoter is a bit of a character and a personal friend of "Bob's", and that is how he was introduced on stage. The four-concert series began with two concerts last fall and includes all 18 of Mozart's piano sonatas. The fourth and final concert in the series is tonight.

The music was excellent, as one would expect. The entire series has played to a packed hall. The community hall owns a superb concert grand piano, which is just the thing for concerts such as this.

As is our habit when the weather is nice, we walked to the concert and walked back by moonlight to a chorus of frogs.

This morning, we were again listening to a chorus of frogs at this week's nature talk, this time about pond life. The talk was presented by Peter Karsten, former director of the Calgary Zoo, and one of many nature experts living here on Denman Island. He showed us samples of the various insect larvae, tadpoles and beetles that can be found in lakes and ponds at this time of year, and told us a bit about pond ecology. He also gave us some basic instructions about how to construct an artificial pond. That is a definite possibility for the back of our clearing, if we ever run out of other projects.

The frog in the picture is a red-legged frog, one of two species found on Denman Island. The other is the tree frog. Apparently, it is only a matter or time before our marshes and wetlands are taken over by bullfrogs, an invasive species that is already on Vancouver Island and spreading north. They are brought into an area by accident by pet stores that import pond weeds for aquariums. If the weeds contain bullfrog eggs which hatch, many stores will sell the tadpoles. All it takes is for a few such tadpoles to be irresponsibly dumped into wild wetlands and the invasion is on. We don't have pet stores on Denman, but who knows how many kids have aquariums?

Remember, three weeks ago, I was talking about the frogs' chorus being used in the background of Hollywood movies? It turns out that my ear was more accurate than I thought. According to Peter, the "standard" frog recording that the sound effects people use in movies was recorded on Vancouver Island, and features our very own tree frogs, whose song was considered by the movie people to be the most melodious of all frogdom. So, even if you are watching a movie that is set in a tropical jungle, there is a very good chance that the frogs in the background are from much cooler climes.

In garden news, our first strawberry blossoms are out.

22-Apr-2007

Yet more digging!

I finished digging the foundation for the new rainwater cistern and lined the bottom of the excavation with sand. My original calculation of one cubic yard of sand proved to be accurate, so I had to make another run into town for the final one-third of a yard that I couldn't haul last week. (On the way home, the truck gave me a reminder that it would very much like its gas gauge fixed: I ran out of gas and had to get BCAA to bring me some.) The cistern will be delivered tomorrow, and there is rain forecast for the following day.

At least this week I didn't have to do all of the digging myself. We had a backhoe come in to excavate the foundation and utility trenches for the new site of the cottage. (photos 2 and 3) That was definitely preferable to digging it all by hand. The backhoe ran into bedrock about 18 inches down for half the length of utility trench, which is going to complicate laying the electrical cable. I will probably have to pour concrete over the cable.

Yesterday morning, Wendy and I went on a nature hike to Boyle Point Provincial Park, at the south end of Denman Island. The hike was led by Hamish Kimmins, a forest ecologist who lives on the island. The title of the hike was "Mayhem in Boyle Point", and its focus was the devastation left by the big storm in December. The south end of Denman and Boyle Point Park in particular were particularly hard hit by the winds, which reached 177 km/h, almost the strength of a Category III hurricane.

Hamish showed us several of the larger blowdown areas, and explained why those particular areas were vulnerable. It all starts with root-rot, of which he was able to show us several examples, since there were lots of roots up in the air. As soon as one rot-weakened tree goes down, either in the storm or just on its own, it opens up a gap in the forest canopy through which the wind can funnel and push on the trees behind it. Typically, the nearby trees are also weakened by root-rot and are easily pushed over. Eventually, the opening in the forest is big enough that the wind can blow down healthy trees. Finally, the trees at the back end of the blowdown may be pushed over like dominoes simply by the weight of the other trees falling against them.

He also explained why change like a major blowdown event was important to the ecology of the forest, increasing the diversity of both tree species and animal habitats.

Halfway through the walk, my fire department pager went off, calling me to a meeting at the firehall. Luckily, it was not an emergency, and the page gave me an hour's notice of the meeting. Wendy and I bailed out of the walk and, along with fellow blogger Harold Birkeland, who generously offered to drive us back to where we left the car, hiked back out without seeing all the mayhem of the forest.

After a very quick lunch, I spent the rest of the day on Saturday participating in a search for a missing psychiatric patient. Denman is a big island with lots of places for a person to hide if they do not want to be found. The search involved the fire department, as well as search and rescue teams from Courtenay and Parksville, helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft, and the RCMP. Luckily, the person was found about suppertime.

It is impressive how well a bunch of volunteers can put together an efficient and well-coordinated multi-agency operation!

After a quick cleanup, we headed out for our cultural event of the evening. The final show of the Concerts Denman season was the Chucky Danger Band. They were pretty good, with some good harmonies and a capella singing, and they did a good cover of the Beatles' "Back in the USSR". However, basically they were a rock'n'roll band, and the sound was a basic rock'n'roll mix: too much drums and bass and too little vocals and guitars. We left at the intermission, with our ears ringing.

15-Apr-2007

I sure was wishing we had our rainwater cistern installed this week! With 17.5 mm of rain last Sunday, and a whopping 52.8 mm (over two inches) on Friday, plus a few showers in between, it would be just about full by now. The roof collects about 20 gallons for each millimetre of rainfall. We are hoping for a few more rains like that after the cistern is installed.

We were getting quite frustrated with delays in getting our cistern, and have finally pulled the plug on our order and switched to another supplier. Not only has he a reputation for better service, but he has reduced his price to be more competitive, and he will deliver. He assures us he can get it to us quickly, as soon as the site is prepared.

As part of the supplier's service, he gave very detailed instructions on site preparation. The bottom line: more digging! I have to make the excavation a foot wider and six inches deeper than I had it. Lovely! I also have to fill the bottom of the hole with six inches of sand, the source of another adventure.

Six inches of sand in an eight-foot hole works out to just over one cubic yard of sand. The back of the truck also works out to just over one cubic yard. This will work, I thought. So, on Saturday, the day after Friday's heavy rain, I went into town for a load of sand. What I hadn't counted on was that the cubic yard of sand also contained a cubic yard of water from the rain.

Luckily, the place I was buying the sand from used a small loader, not one of the big monster machines. Had they dropped an entire yard of wet sand into the truck in one scoop, it would have flattened it! The smaller machine required three scoops to make a full yard. By the second scoop, the rear suspension was bottomed out, and I cancelled the third one. After a quick stop to put more air in the tires, we drove slowly back to Denman, front end up in the air, feeling every bump and dent on the road through the frame of the truck. Aside from scraping the back bumper on the ferry ramp as we disembarked, the trip was incident-free.

Now, more shovelling. Lovely!

Speaking of the ferry, B.C, Ferries has promised us the Quinitsa back in service on Monday. Not a moment too soon! With the tourist traffic having started on the Easter weekend, Wendy frequently has to wait for two ferries to get home after work. The Quinitsa holds about twice as many vehicles as the Kahloke, so the commute should be better at least until June, when the tourist traffic gets really heavy.

The bigger boat also means that they will go back to the regular schedule. With the Kahloke's temporary schedule, the ferry didn't connect with the bus, meaning that anyone trying to save money and fossil fuel getting into town would have to sit in the Buckley Bay coffee shop for 45 minutes. The entire trip, house to downtown Courtenay, took two hours. On the regular schedule (assuming that the ferry is on time), the bus connection is perfect: the bus arrives about two minutes after you reach the bus stop.

Unfortunately, they have warned us that, because they were not able to finish the Quinitsa's refit, it will be taken off our route again in September. Lovely!

The first photo is one that I took earlier this week, while I was at work in my office. I noticed some movement outside the window, and was able to snap a few photos. This is the life, deer outside the "office" window!

The second photo is one from my collection of interesting signs around Denman. The Guest House (the closest thing we have to a hotel here) had a special musical event on St. Patrick's day (note the leprechaun on the window), and apparently were expecting it to attract a particular demographic. The 60's are alive and well here.

7-Apr-2007

Lots more flowers are coming out now. The salmonberries are blooming at the back of our meadow, and the big cherry trees downtown are putting on an impressive display.

Last Saturday evening, we attended a play called "The Wobble", written and performed by the local theatre group. It is set on an island very much like Denman, after some unspecified disaster (the "wobble" of the title) has disrupted western civilization. It is about staying true to small island values. While you will probably never see it performed at the Stratford Festival, it was well-written. During the course of writing it, which apparently took three years, one of the cast members departed the island, requiring the script to be modified to write out her part. The result was a little forced, requiring readings from the diary of a character who never appears, to replace the missing parts. However, the acting and directing were good, and we enjoyed it. The performance was well-attended, too, on the last night of a four-night run.

Because the weather was fine, we walked down the hill to the play. Afterwards, we walked back up the hill by moonlight, serenaded by a very loud chorus of frogs. You know those Hollywood movies where they want you to believe it is night by filming through a blue filter and playing a background track of frogs croaking? And you know how it usually gives the impression that the director is over-doing the frog thing just a bit? Well, those movies are nothing compared to the moonlight frog chorus here!

This week, I started my new job, telecommuting to Calgary to do computer support. The technology all worked properly (more or less, anyway, with the odd curse aimed at Microsoft). Nowadays, most reference material is available on the Web. That is a big improvement over the old days, when a Tech Support guy needed the "gray wall", an entire bookcase filled with 3-ring binder reference manuals. When we first moved here, the only Internet access was dial-up, and this job would not have been possible. High-speed Internet has opened up the employment situation for quite a few islanders.

We did some garden work yesterday and today. The strawberries are weeded, and the compost is turned, for what it is worth. I think I may have to take some lessons in composting. As it is now, the best way to preserve old vegetation seems to be to put it into the compost pile! I did get a little bit of compost, about one wheelbarorow load, out of it, but I would have expected a bit more. You would think that, in this climate, you would hardly have to work at it.

Taking a walk around the property the other day, I noticed that I still have quite a few blowdowns from the big winter storm to cut up for firewood. I have about a cord and a half cut already, and there is probably at least as much again still out there.

31-Mar-2007

Spring has definitely sprung and the grass is riz!

I took advantage of the nice weather this week to finish my trenching project for the garden electric outlet. It had to be two feet deep for about 50 or 60 feet from the house to the garden. With the electric cable installed and the trench backfilled, I connected up the garden outlet, including a photocell (photo at right). The charger for the electric fence is inside the little wooden box. One of the two outlets is controlled by the photocell, so the fence comes on automatically at night and shuts off in the daytime. The other outlet is live all the time, for plugging in tools, or for any time we want the fence charged 24 hours a day.

With the grass "riz", I gave it its first trim of the year. I don't believe I have ever mowed grass in March before! We don't mow the entire cleared area of the property; it would be just too much. We prefer the natural look for most of our meadow. However, we do keep the grass trimmed in a strip around the house and in the fenced garden. We spent the day today weeding and generally cleaning up the garden. We are actually ahead of the weeds for a change. It remains to be seen how long that state of affairs will last.


Many of our summer birds are back again. I quite often hear the barred owls asking each other "Who cooks for you?" while I am working outside. On occasion, I will get into a conversation with one. If you call, they will answer.

One morning this week, as I was working on the computer, I heard a very loud buzzing noise. It repeated several times, and by the third of fourth buzz, I had determined that it came from one corner of the house, on the outside. I went out on the deck, and scared off a flicker (a species of woodpecker), which had been drumming on the house. I didn't find any evidence of damage to the wood, so he might have been hammering on the metal roof. I hope he didn't hurt his beak!

Our first hummingbird showed up on Sunday afternoon, looking tired from his long migration. Other residents, at lower altitude, reported their first hummers last week already. We noticed last year too that ours arrived about a week after the first ones were spotted, so it is probably a pattern. Now we have several of them, squeaking at each other as they fight over the feeders. To reduce conflict, we have two feeders, on opposite sides of the house. At this time of year, they are all males. The females will not arrive for a few weeks.

Last weekend, we attended a performance of Gustav Holst's chamber opera "Savitri" in our community hall, featuring an opera company from Vancouver. It was put on as a fundraiser for the local Buddhist meditation centre. Unfortunately, it was not well attended, a pity, since it was an excellent performence.

This week's cultural event is a play written and performed by the local Denman Island theatre group. I will give a review next week.

24-Mar-2007

This week, trees are starting to show signs of growing leaves. Our maples are showing a haze of green, as the buds are starting to swell. In some areas of Denman, alders are showing a hint of green too, and the first fruit trees are starting to flower downtown. Our place, being 300 feet above sea level is a little behind lower areas.

This week, I have been digging trenches for the plumbing for our new rainwater cistern. I have the supply and overflow pipes in the ground, and the new downspout is in place, though its discharge is temporarily re-routed out onto the grass. I have some finishing up work to do on that project, connecting some valves and frost drains, and then it will be done, and ready for the new 1500 gallon tank.

I have also started digging the trench for supplying electricity out to the garden. We have an electric fence around it, and we want to be able to install a water pump, as well as use other electric tools there. Having a permanent electric outlet there will be much more satisfactory than running a long extension cord from the house.

The reason I had to start that project now is that the trench for the electric cable crosses the trench for the rainwater pipes. Since the electric trench has to be two feet underground, and the water pipes are only a few inches down, it made sense to dig that trench first and get the cable buried in it, at least where they cross, and then install the pipes over it. Now, with the pipes in place, I am completing the electric installation.

It is a relatively short distance, about 50 feet, so I am digging it by hand with a mattock. For a longer dig, I would use some kind of machinery, I think!

Today, for something different, we went on a nature walk to learn about shore birds. Several of our local birders were there with spotting scopes, and there were handouts detailing the various identification features. We learned to tell glaucous-winged gulls from mew gulls and California gulls, and we spotted red-breasted mergansers (ducks), golden-eyes (more ducks) and common loons.

Denman is a significant area for shorebirds. At this time of year there are a lot of transient birds migrating north. The last couple of weeks have been the time if the annual herring spawn. Many sea birds time their migration to be here to eat both the herring and their spawn, which coats the beaches.

In other bird news, hummingbirds have been seen on the island, so it is time to set up the feeders. Our hummers seem to arrive about a week after the first ones are spotted on Denman Island, so we expect them any day now.

17-Mar-2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Spring is bursting out all over Denman Island. Most of the snowdrops are just about finished, though ours must be late bloomers.

There are crocuses in full bloom everywhere.


Daffodils are beginning to flower, though the best displays are still a couple of weeks away.

There are violets flowering, and some little blue flower that we are not familiar with, forming a carpet on lawns. Speaking of lawns, I will have to mow the grass in the garden pretty soon.

Our rhubarb is up and looking healthy.

My project for next week is to start digging the trenches for the new rainwater cistern. I have a pad prepared under the deck for the tank itself. Except for the fill pipe from the downspout, all the plumbing will be underground.

10-Mar-2007

The first two pictures this week appear resemble quite nice semi-abstract landscape paintings. Don't ask for the artist's name, though. What appears to be paint and canvas is in fact the pattern of rust and rubber marks left by the ferries on the steel wing wall at Buckley Bay.

For the last few months, while our regular ferry, the Quinitsa, is in dry dock, our route has been served by the Kahloke. Aside from the significant difference in size, the Kahloke's passenger lounge is on the opposite side from the Quinitsa's. The result us that, whereas I would normally hardly notice the wing walls at the dock, I now see them close-up every time I go on the ferry as a pedestrian. I have been struck by how artistic the bang and scrape marks look. So, this week, I finally took a camera along and captured the scenes. The third photo is the un-cropped original of the first "painting".

Our cultural experience for the week consisted of a concert here on Denman Island last night by classical guitarist Daniel Bolshoy. He played extremely well, at times sounding like there was more than one guitarist on stage. Most of the music he played was unfamiliar to us, but Wendy and I both enjoyed it. Like all concerts here, it was well-attended. Where else does 20% of a community's population come out to a concert?

The weather this week has been quite rainy. However, in between showers, I have got quite a bit of work done on the truck. It is starting to look quite respectable. I am going for the "woody" look. Before long, it should be fully serviceable again.

Another project I have been working on when it was too rainy to work outdoors was a safety interlock for the generator. Information about installing generators always includes warnings to ensure that you do not "back-feed" the power line when you wire a generator into the house wiring. With good reason, since back-feeding can be fatal for hydro workers trying to repair downed power lines. Until now, my preventative measures consisted of a printed checklist reminding me of the proper order to flip the switches. I wanted (and the building codes require) something more substantial.

One alternative is a transfer switch, which costs nearly as much as the generator. A more reasonable alternative is a mechanical interlock, a device which prevents the main breaker and the generator from being switched on at the same time. Of necessity, it has to be a custom-built piece of hardware, since every electrical panel is different. I have just completed making and installing my interlock. It may not be much to look at, but it will protect the linemen and will keep any electrical inspectors happy.

3-Mar-2007

March came in like the proverbial lion this year. Actually, the snowy weather started on the last day of February, and continued for a couple of days. It is not very cold, and most of the snow melts by the afternoon, but it is annoying to have to shovel it in the mornings. One night this week, the first snow melted on contact, and then froze as the overnight temperature dropped below zero. The result was some serious windshield scraping in the morning.

It looks like the worst of it is over now. The forecast for the next few days is for rain.

Another sign of spring is that it is once again chimney fire season. People burn their fires low and smokey this time of year because they want just a little heat, and the smoke creates creosote deposits in the chimney. All it takes is one tongue of flame to go up the stovepipe and it catches fire. The fire department was called out to the first reported chimney fire of the season this week.

I prefer to make a hotter fire, and it is a point of pride with me to have no visible smoke coming out of the chimney. Still, I took the hint and disassembled the stovepipe for cleaning today. We get the chimney professionally cleaned once a year, but the stovepipe, where chimney fires start, should be checked more often. Ours was in pretty good shape, with only a small amount of creosote. It is now clean and should last the rest of the heating season.

Wendy spotted another sign of spring today while out on her walk. In the ditch beside one of Denman's main roads, she noticed these primulas flowering.

Back in January, I mentioned a couple of job prospects. Well, one of them came through. Some of you will already know this via email: I will soon be working at my old Calgary system manager job again. No, we aren't leaving Denman! They have opened up the position to telecommuting, so I will be doing it from home. It is the ideal Denman Island job: part-time, well-paying, and (best of all) no commuting. I start at the beginning of April.

Interestingly, a couple of days after I had accepted the Calgary job, I had a call from the other job I had applied for, at the Comox Air Force Base. They wanted me to come in for an interview. I wrote their exam back in early January, before I even knew about the Calgary position. Once I had applied for the Calgary job, I was dreading hearing from Comox first, since, if they had offered me the job, I would have had to accept it. The Calgary job is a much better situation, and it was a relief to be able to tell Comox that they had waited too long.

Work on the truck continues. I made the sides last weekend, and today I built and installed the wheel wells. Finally, I will no longer splatter mud all over the vehicle as I drive down the road!

24-Feb-2007

Spring continues to approach here on Denman Island. Driving home from work one day this week, I noticed that a flock of sheep in a field by the road now included two lambs: one black, one white.

Daffodils are continuing to spring up in our garden. One group (second photo) has punctured right through a maple leaf in its attempt to reach the light. Downtown, by the Seniors' Hall, we saw a couple of purple crocuses about to open up.

The weather reminds us that, officially, it is still winter. Today's forecast included a snowfall warning. Thankfully, the snow consisted only of a few flakes mixed in with the rain, and did not stick to the ground here. The snow line, however, is not very far up the mountains across Baynes Sound. Earlier this week, I saw a car parked at the Buckley Bay ferry terminal with six inches of snow on its roof. I suspect that it had spent the night up on Mount Washington, at the ski area.

We have ordered our new 1500 gallon rainwater cistern, which should be here in a couple of weeks. While in town this week, I picked up most of the plumbing fittings needed to install it and connect it to the garden irrigation system.

Last night, we attended another in the Concerts Denman Series, for which we have season tickets. Last night's performance was by a Maori dance group named Kahurangi. It was a sellout performance, and justifiably so! It consisted of songs, dances and martial arts techniques perfomed by a group of seven dancers. Although we couldn't understand the words, the pieces apparently told the Maori creation myth story. It was a very beautiful and energetic performance.

I am continuing to work on the truck in my spare time, weather permitting. I have the deck and front wall of the box installed. The trickiest part is integrating the fuel filler cap into the structure. I think I have figured out how I am going to do it, though it involves some tricky woodworking. By next week, it should look more like a truck again.

17-Feb-2007

From time to time, our neighbours across the street, Dave and Carol, ask us to look after their cat when they are away. It is a simple job, consisting of filling the food dish and assuming that it really is the cat, not the local racoon population that is eating it. Last weekend, on a cat-feeding visit, we noticed that they have some flowers that are even more advanced than the daffodils that I was bragging about last week.

I am not sure what the yellow bud is, but the white ones are snowdrops. Actually, I am surprised that the snowdrops are still flowering this late in the season! (Heh-heh! I just have to rub it in!)

The weather has been consistently warm for more than a week. On Thursday, they forecast rain all day. It started out that way, with low cloud and rain, but by mid-afternoon, the sun was shining, and the temperature here on the island hit 12°C. I had taken a day off to do errands in town, and it was very pleasant to drive back on the old highway in the afternoon, admiring the view across the water to Denman Island, shining under a blue sky.

I started working on the box of the truck. The original box was badly rusted, to the point that carrying cargo was a risky proposition. Last weekend, I removed most of the old box (easy to do: just cut along the rust lines!). I am going to build a wooden box in its place. It is an easy and inexpensive fix, and should make the truck look even more rural and rustic than a pickup normally does. It will also make it more usable than it was.

One of the first loads it will carry will be a new cistern for collecting rainwater. We currently have 1000 gallons of storage capacity. We are going to add another 1500 gallons for a total capacity of 2500. The new tank will go under the deck, where it is conveniently located near the downspouts, and where it is high enough for gravity-feeding the water to the garden. I estimate that, if we collected all the water that runs off the roof in a year, we could fill 30,000 gallons of storage. It certainly makes sense to store a portion of that to see the garden through the dry season. We are planning to install the new tank within the next few weeks, so it can start collecting this season's rain.

Remember, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about one of the cats having discovered the entertainment potential of toilet paper? I thought I was pretty smart, reversing the direction of the roll. Well, it seems that the culprit has now figured out that trick. This time, I grabbed the camera before cleaning up.

One of the towels on the floor is meant to be there. The bathroom floor is heated, so it is one of the cats' favourite spots to sleep. The towel is there to make them more comfy. Apparently, they do more than sleep there, though.

11-Feb-2007

Last weekend, we attended the 16th annual World Community Film Festival in Courtenay. It was a day-long extravaganza of documentary films, mostly feature-length, highlighting development and community issues around the world. Although there were evening screenings on the Friday and Saturday evenings, we only went for the Saturday morning and afternoon films, viewing a total of six films. They had five venues, so, at any one time, there were five films in progress. It was quite hard to decide which of the five we wanted to see in any time slot.

The films we saw addressed the privatization of drinking water, the human side of telemarketers, making human connections in war zones, providing humanitarian assistance to illegal immigrants, a rescoring of Vivaldi's Four Seasons for traditional musicians from India, China and the Inuit culture, and the response of Cuba to its oil crisis.

We found the final film, the one on Cuba, to be inspirational, as it addressed the issues of sustainability that we all will face as a result of global warming and the coming "peak oil" crisis. After a few years of hardships, the Cubans have reorganized their society to be less dependent on petroleum. People live closer to where they work; universities have been decentralized to reduce commuting; people walk or travel by bicycle; farming is organic, and 80% of Havana's food is grown within the city limits in urban gardens. Denman Island, with its "back to the land" ethic might be a perfect laboratory for trying out some of those ideas in our society.

Speaking of Cuba, last night, we attended a concert here on Denman by AlexCuba, a trio of Cuban musicians from, of all places, Smithers, B.C.. It was good, toe-tapping Latin music, and there were dance areas set aside in the hall for those who felt the urge to move. Their stage presence was a blast from the past, as the lead singer, Alexis Puentes, sported a magnificent 1970s-style "afro" haircut.

A sign of impending spring: the frogs have started migrating across the roads. Just over the ridge from our place, there is a spot on Denman Road that is a known frog crossing, and, on a couple of occasions recently, I have had to swerve to avoid the little hoppers. In fact, that particular location is used with such regularity by the frogs that, a couple of years ago, someone erected a warning sign for motorists (above). The sign is gone, the victim, no doubt, of a lack of humour in the Department of Highways, but the crossing remains.

While searching in my archives for my frog crossing photo, I noticed that, a year ago this week, I reported on our daffodils being up. Naturally, I had to check on their progress this year. I am happy to report that they are right on time, being in the same state that they were then.

2-Feb-2007

For the past week, we have been under the influence of a weather pattern known as an "omega block". The jet stream winds take a looping path resembling the Greek letter omega, a pattern that effectively deflects all incoming weather systems and prevents the weather from changing. As a result, the weather all week has been exceptionally boring: low-lying fog that does not burn off all day, highs of +4°C and lows of -3°C, every day.

Every morning, I have had to scrape frost off the car windows, rather annoying in this part of the world!

On Thursday, the fog thinned enough that the sun was able to peek through in the late afternoon at higher elevations, providing these scenic views out over the remaining fog bank in Baynes Sound to the Beaufort Range on Vancouver Island.

The fog has affected the operation of our ferry. In order to serve the normal traffic load with the Kahloke, the smaller vessel that is temporarily filling in while our regular ferry is in for its refit, it must normally boot across the Sound at quite a high speed. Obviously, in the fog, this is not a good idea, so they have been running at reduced speed, fog horn honking all the way, and the schedule has been approximate at best.. In fact the fog has been so dense that they have a lookout standing on the bow all the way across, surely one of the coldest, most miserable jobs on the entire ferry fleet. Wendy reports from her daily commute that they have had at least one close encounter with a fishing boat in the fog.

I had a bit of an automotive adventure on Monday, when my beater truck decided to take some unscheduled time off. Coming home from work, I was driving up our "big hill" (a 13% grade) when, halfway up, the engine died. As this is on one of the busiest roads on the island, at a spot with no shoulders, only an upward cliff on one side and a downward cliff on the other, I had no choice but to roll back down the hill to level ground below, where I parked on the grassy shoulder and walked home up the hill.

A call to a local mechanic suggested that the likely cause was ice in the gas line or carburetor, due to the cold, humid weather. So, on Tuesday morning, I was down at the hardware store bright and early to pick up a bottle of gas-line anti-freeze. After a couple of hours of roadside tinkering, during which I established that the gas line was not frozen and that a dirty fuel filter was not the cause but was not helping matters, and after an impromptu consultation with a local resident who strolled over to see what was going on and, surprisingly, offered useful advice, I concluded that the problem was a dead fuel pump. It was able to supply a trickle of fuel, enough to start the engine and run it for a few seconds, but not enough to drive, and certainly not enough to lift the fuel the extra height caused by the truck's pointing uphill at 13%. Had I been able to run the engine long enough to get turned around, it is probable that I could have driven up the hill in reverse!

Luckily, I was able to find a replacement fuel pump in Courtenay which Wendy picked up for me. Meanwhile, I rode my bike to work, and was able to put in a half-day at the job site. Then, after supper, by the light of a trouble lamp plugged ito the car's cigarette lighter socket and a head-lamp, I performed the required fuel pump transplant surgery by the side of the road. To my relief, the diagnosis was correct and the surgery successful, and the truck is running fine now.

One of our cats (Owen, we suspect) has discovered the recreational use of toilet paper. Going downstairs to check the kitty litter one morning this week, I discovered that the basement and stairs were festooned with the remains of an entire roll of it. I was in a hurry to leave for work, so I was not able to get a picture before cleaning it up, unfortunately. The following day, with a replacement roll now mounted so that the paper unrolls from the back of the roll, Owen tried the trick again. Apparently, he found it less entertaining this time, but not for lack of trying, as you can see!

27-Jan-2007

After a wild winter, we are finally getting a break in the weather. The sky has cleared, the wind has died down and there is a big bright shiny object in the blue sky. Aside from a few sprinkles early in the week, it has been dry and pleasant.

This morning, we woke up to a heavy hoarfrost after a clear night. It almost looks like snow in the photo, but it is just frost.

In the other photos, our neighbour has a burn pile, and the smoke drifting across our yard is combining with the low sunlight through the trees to make some pretty images.

All this week, someone has been doing helicopter logging across Baynes Sound on Vancouver Island. I haven't actually seen the operation, but it has been impossible to miss it: the drone of the helicopter has been non-stop all week. The poor folks who live on that side of the island must be going crazy with the continuous racket.

I saw a big Sikorsky (the civilian version of the infamous Sea King naval helicopter) flying up towards Comox earlier this week, and I suspect that that is what is being used in the logging operation. The trees they are harvesting must be valuable, because the helicopter is running for about 8 hours a day with only minimal refueling breaks. That has got to be expensive!

At the work site, we are finished with concrete work and have started on actual carpentry. We were installing the joists and sub-floor yesterday. By the side of the excavation, there is a small crocus that will be ready to bloom soon!

No word yet on the other job opportunities I mentioned last week.

20-Jan-2007

Another week, another storm or two...

There was snow on the ground most of the week, a result of a snowfall on Tuesday. Our house, being one of the highest on Denman Island at 300 feet above sea level, doesn't necessarily get more snow than other parts of the island, but it tends to stick around longer here.

The weather is still a major topic of conversation on Denman. Everyone is quite sick of winter: it is just so Canadian; not at all West Coast. We are used to "winter" being green, not white.

On Wednesday night, it was rainy and windy, but it didn't seem to be stormy, at least not by recent standards. On Thursday morning, however, we woke up, not to the sound of our clock radio playing CBC, but to the shrill beep-beep of our battery-powered backup alarm clock. Yes, yet another power failure overnight.

It turned out that one of our trees had come down just after midnight, according to the stopped kitchen clock. The tree was 100 feet tall, and fell from 15 feet inside our property line across 20 feet of unused road right-of-way, 16 feet of road, another 20 feet of unused right-of-way on the other side, and landed on the power line on the far side, snapping it at just about the same place that the neighbour's tree snapped it back in the December hurricane.

Preparing breakfast was straightforward, thanks to the generator, but, when Wendy left to catch the ferry to work, she encountered the tree blocking Pickles Road just outside our driveway. She quickly turned around to try to make it around the back road in time to catch the ferry, but that way was blocked by another tree. So, we ended up taking a weather morning. Wendy finally got the 11:00 ferry and worked half a day.

After checking that the breaker feeding the power line was off, and that both broken ends of the line had sprung back and were nowhere near the fallen tree, our neighbour Dave chainsawed the tree enough to clear the road. Later, once BC Hydro had arrived and repaired the line, I harvested the wood from the tree. At this rate, we should have no trouble obtaining all the wood we need for next winter without it costing us a cent.

In other news, I have a couple of interesting job prospects. Not wanting to count my bushels before they are reaped, I'll leave it at that for now, but please keep your fingers crossed.

14-Jan-2007

Just a short Denman Diary this week. It has been a quiet week.

I have been working at the site of a new house being built on the island. This was the week for pouring the concrete foundation. The concrete pour was scheduled for Tuesday, which also happened to be the day forecast for another Pacific storm to arrive. The wind was howling through the trees, occasionally getting up to the freight-train roar that indicates that it is 100 km/h or higher. Baynes Sound was stormy enough that we were concerned that the ferry would shut down and prevent the concrete trucks from getting here.

The trucks all made it, but the storm took out our electricity, which meant that the electric vibrator that we had rented to settle the concrete was useless. We poured the concrete, finishing just as the rain started. For the next couple of hours, as 16 mm of icy rain pelted us, we beat on the forms with hammers in lieu of the useless vibrator. We were cold, wet and tired, but the concrete turned out all right.

The storm continued inland to become a major blizzard on the Prairies.

One of the benefits of all the storms we have had is that Mt Washington, our local ski area, has unbelievably good snow conditions. Today, we went snowshoeing there for the first time.

The road climbs 1500 metres in 15 km, so you very quickly reach alpine terrain. As we arrived, we looked back down over the Comox Valley and saw a beautiful view of sunlit clouds below us. Unfortunately, by the time we had parked the car, the clouds had risen, and we were in pea-soup fog, so I was unable to capture the view for this diary. The flat light made the scenery resemble the inside of a ping-pong ball.

However, we had a great time exploring some of the trails. At one point we encountered a pair of snow caves, undoubtedly made as part of a survival training exercise.

We are planning to return with skis and/or snowshoes again.

7-Jan-2007

On New Year's Eve, Wendy and I were invited to the beach at Fillongly Park for an evening bonfire. It was a small group, about eight or ten people, and a small bonfire, very properly contained within one of the campground fire pits. In the spirit of cooperation, everyone brought a couple of sticks of firewood. We sat around the fire talking and drumming on an impromptu firewood xylophone.

The main topic of conversation was An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's documentary about global warming, which had made the rounds of the group on DVD. It is an important film, one that everyone needs to watch. We talked about what average people can do to make a difference, and there is now a movement afoot on the island to try to put some plans into action, from letter writing to transportation planning.

One couple at the gathering, our friends and neighbours Herb and Barb, are examples of what people can to to minimize their impact on the planet. They live in a very comfortable, hand-built, 140 square foot cabin, a quarter mile from the nearest power line. They have a battery-powered electric light, charged by solar power. I am not sure that we could live that simply, but they set a good example for us.

The new year dawned the next morning with another reminder of off-grid living. Another south-easter blew in, and along with it came another six-hour power failure. The newly-installed generator was supposed to prevent that, on the umbrella principle: if you have one, you won't need it! Still, it was a good opportunity to try the installation out for the first time. I am happy to report that it worked perfectly. We were able to have running water, the fridge and a couple of lights. We can't run everything at once, but we can run just about anything individually, with the exception of the electric heat and the kitchen stove. One drawback of the installation: since the generator is switched in at the main panel, we have no way to detect when the power comes back on! Of course, there are no street lights to indicate that the power is back. I'll have to give that some thought.

The weather pattern in the North Pacific that gave us the wild storms in December has changed, and our storms are now just "regular" winter south-easters. With the return to more normal weather, I am back at work in the construction business. This week, my main task was digging foundations. The main hole for the foundation is dug by machine of course, but this building requires quite a few posts for a deck, porch and carport, and all the holes for the post footings have to be dug by hand. In between digging, I have been learning how to tie rebar in preparation for pouring the concrete foundation.

I amused myself this week by starting to clean up some of our blown-down trees. I got six trees limbed and cut into stove lengths. There are still several more to go. They will need to be split and stacked to dry, but it is all free firewood. Luckily, the fallen trees are all within extension-cord reach of a power outlet, so I can deal with them with my electric chainsaw.

The largest tree was one that was up behind the garage. It was hung up between two standing trees in a way that made it awkward to deal with its lower 20 feet, so I cut it off at that point and only cut up the top. At the point where I cut it, it was 60 years old and required the full length of my chainsaw's 16-inch bar to cut through it.

I have joined the new photography club here on Denman. The format is that we decide on an assignment for the next meeting, and then everyone has to take pictures to fulfill that assignment. The pictures have to be taken between the meetings - we can't pull an old picture from our files. At the next meeting, we bring in our assignment photos and critique each other's work.

This month's assignment was closeups. Here is a photo that I am thinking of using for it: a frozen spider with a pile of snowflakes on it.