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

Denman Diary: 2008

21-Nov-2017, 18:57 AST 21-Nov-2017, 22:57 UTC


28-Dec-2008

The story last week was snow. The story this week is still snow. Tons and tons of it! Every time we shovelled the walkways, more snow would fill them in again. Every time the plow would clear Pickles Road and I would take the chains off the car, it would snow again and I would have to put them back on again.

The temperature, fortunately, has started to moderate. We have had several days with highs above freezing, and a couple of days now where the temperature has stayed above freezing overnight too. In fact, it is raining right now. The moderation in temperature has turned the snowpack on the roof into a slowly creeping glacier. Nothing stops a glacier! On Wednesday, with an enormous crash, half the eavestrough came down and draped itself over the ground, the deck, and the cat shelter. Since then, the remainder of the gutter has come down.

Though we are not getting any more new snow, we still have to go out regularly and knock down large overhangs of snow to prevent an uncontrolled avalanche that could damage the cat shelter or the deck. Tonight's rain will, we hope, finish off the snow on the roof.

The snow on the ground has diminished considerably in volume. Nevertheless, it will be quite a while before it is all gone, especially the big piles where we cleared it off the deck. Pickles Road thaws a bit in the daytime and refreezes at night. It is now like a long, thin, inclined hockey rink. I need the chains on the tires to get out to the stop sign at the corner. Then I take them off for driving on the clear, dry, paved main road.

On Christmas Day, the weather turned sunny and beautiful. I took this photo of the General Store, the heart of "downtown" Denman Island.

It has been a busy week for social activities. We went to a pot-luck dinner on the 23rd, and were invited out for dinner on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We got to hang out with old friends, meet some interesting new people, and commiserate about the entirely too seasonal weather.

Yesterday, we participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count. The weather surprised us by being nicer than forecast, though there was a raw wind in the morning. The experienced birders were each assigned an area of the island to cover, and the inexperienced ones, such as us, were teamed with them as assistants. Our group covered shorelines on the west and the far north of Denman Island. We learned to identify some of the many duck species that over-winter in our waters: surf scoters, buffleheads, goldeneyes, and scaups, among others. We also saw loons, grebes, herons, cormorants, lots of eagles and large numbers of gulls.

It was another group that recorded the "catch" of the day: bohemian waxwings that are rare enough here to be worth an urgent email to serious birders, but we did see one savannah sparrow that is considered "very rare" here in winter. In all, it was a very successful count, noting over 5300 individuals of 74 species. It was all the more successful in that many of the surrounding communities in the Comox Valley cancelled their Christmas counts due to bad weather.

21-Dec-2008

They told us, when we moved here that "at least you don't have to shovel it." Ahem. They were wrong!

Our main activity this week has been shovelling. It started with the snowfall I wrote about last week, which amounted to 25 cm. Then we had another major dump of 30 cm on Wednesday. Last night and today we got another 24 cm.

The arctic airmass that has the rest of the country in a deep freeze is also affecting us. Temperatures have not gotten above zero all week. People's pipes have been freezing. I took the precaution of draining the pipes in the cottage before this weather hit, so that is not a concern. However, I forgot about our rainwater storage tanks. They have enough thermal mass that subzero overnight lows are not a problem, but, given enough time, any amount of water will eventually freeze. By the time I remembered the tanks, the valves were frozen solid and draining them was not an option. So far, nothing has split and I am keeping my fingers crossed.

It is the arctic air, of course that is responsible for the snow. Moist systems coming in off the Pacific Ocean hit the cold air and turn to snow. They also stop dead in their tracks and just sit off the coast pumping moisture ashore.

Trying to keep the driveway clear is futile. We have over two feet of snow on the ground. Every time it snows, we re-clear single-file walkways from the front door to the car, the garage, the generator shed, the cottage and the woodshed.

We also clear walkways for the deer that are always hanging around, looking for handouts. One of them regularly sleeps under our front steps. One young deer, probably the same one, actually got up the nerve to come up the front steps in search of our stash of apples. (The photo is a bit blurry because I had just brought the camera in from outdoors, and the lens was fogged up.)

I got a set of tire chains for the Honda, and what a good move that was! There are two types of vehicles on the roads these days: those with chains and 4x4 trucks. It is the 4x4 trucks that you see stuck in the ditches - something about feeling invincible, I think. Crawling around in the snow installing and removing chains every time it snows or the roads get plowed keeps you humble enough to remember just how vincible you really are.

Our transportation mode of choice this week has been boots. Rather than take the car out, we walked to two major events this week.

The first event, on Saturday evening was a choral concert by Musica Intima, a 12-member choir from Vancouver. They were exceptionally good. They are self-directed, singing without a director or conductor. They compensate by paying close attention to each other. It was interesting to watch how closely they watched each other as they sang. The result, of course, was a very "tight" performance: not a single note out of place in timing, pitch or expression. They sang a capella, their only musical instrument being a pitch pipe for a reference note before each piece. Just a wonderful concert of Christmas music, both familiar and unfamiliar.

The second event, this evening, was the annual community Christmas Dinner. The idea is to ensure that some of the poorer members of the community can enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner. But, rather than single them out for charity, the entire community comes out to enjoy a fine social event. The Community Hall is full of tables in both the front (main) and back halls, and, over the course of two sittings, everyone gets to meet with friends and neighbours and enjoy a delicious meal. The price of admission is a pot-luck salad or dessert. All the regular "fixin's" - the mashed potatoes, veggies, and turkey for those so inclined - are provided. It is a fine way to get into the spirit of the season.

14-Dec-2008

The weather served us up a nasty reminder that Denman Island is still technically a part of Canada, with some genuinely Canadian subarctic conditions. It started with falling temperatures and a little bit of wet snow on Friday. By Saturday, it was supposed to taper off to a few flurries. Well, the few flurries started late Saturday afternoon, and by evening had intensified to a steady accumulation of dry fluffy snow that continued all night. Today's high temperature didn't make it above zero.

The highlight of the week was the annual Fire Department dinner on Saturday night at the Community Hall. The Department supplied turkey and booze; the rest was pot-luck, provided by the members. After the meal, they had award presentations and a very professional magic show, put on by a duo from right here on Denman Island.

This year, we also had a "roast" to say farewell to Chief John Kirk, who is retiring from the Department after twenty years. I can honestly say that the Denman Island Volunteer Fire Department is the best-managed and best-led organization of any I have belonged to, including the civil service and the Air Force. John leaves big shoes to fill.

All the time we were in the hall eating, toasting, roasting and watching magic, the snow kept falling. By the time we had put away the tables and chairs and swept the hall, everything outdoors was a winter wonderland. We took the "back way" home, which, though it meant driving on some unplowed roads, avoided having to go up the "big hill".

In this weather, we always park the car at the top of the driveway, the road end. It only takes a small amount of snow to make the hill on the driveway impassable.

Any time it snows, the Fire Department members have to put chains on the fire trucks. This morning, I was sipping my coffee, thinking that when I was finished, I should head over to the firehall and help with installing the chains when my pager went off. No big deal, I thought: they are probably just calling us to come and do the chains. As it turned out, it was a First Responder call, an emergency, not a work party.

Luckily, I was able to get the car through ten inches of unplowed snow on Pickles Road to the main road, and from there on plowed roads to the hall, where someone had already installed the chains on the First Responder vehicle. By the time we returned from the call, a crew had put the chains on all the other trucks.

The roads were quite slippery, and I got to try out the anti-lock brakes on the Honda Fit. They are noisy and rough - it feels like taking a washboard road at high speed - but they work really well!

After I returned from the call, Wendy and I spent the rest of the morning shovelling. We don't even try to shovel the whole driveway, at least not the first day. But it is nice to have clear walkways from the house to the woodshed, the garage, the cottage, and the car.

This afternoon, we went for a walk "around the block" (an 8.5 km loop) to enjoy the winter scenery and take a few pictures.

This wintery weather is set to continue for the whole week.

7-Dec-2008

This week's main event was the annual Christmas Craft Faire. (The "olde Englishe" spelling is the official way to spell all fairs on Denman Island.) This event is one of the biggest craft fairs in the area, and people come from all over to do their Christmas shopping.

The vendors are mostly Denman Island artists and artisans, though a few off-island exhibitors are allowed every year. It is so large that it occupies both the downtown halls: the Community Hall (shown) and the Seniors' Hall across the street. The crafts on display include pottery, weaving, glassware, jewellry, quilting, and many more. What makes the fair so popular is not only the quantity and variety of crafts, but the quality. We consistently heard people commenting on how much better the crafts were here than at other fairs.

The Craft Faire is probably the busiest weekend of the year for off-island visitors here. Though we get a lot of tourists in the summer, there is nothing that compares with the concentration of visitors for the fair. Both halls were packed with people, and there was much to-ing and fro-ing between them.

In addition to the off-island visitors, everyone on Denman comes to the fair. So, as well as being a commercial and artistic affair, it is also a major social event. You run into all your friends, neighbours and acquaintances, and there is at least as much conversation in the aisles as there is admiring and purchasing of merchandise.

For the whole weekend, the main street downtown was jammed full of cars and pedestrians. There is limited parking downtown in front of the stores, so the side streets were lined with cars as well. Because of the congestion, many people leave their cars on the Vancouver Island side of the water and walk onto the ferry as pedestrians, since the downtown area is easily within (horizontal) walking distance of the ferry dock. There is a considerable vertical component to the walk, though. For those not up to the challenge of slogging up the ferry hill, the fair laid on a shuttle bus service up the hill. B.C. Ferries, not normally known for their community spirit, even allowed extra parking at Buckley Bay for the walk-on passengers.

We spent the better part of the day on Saturday at the fair, mostly just looking, though we did buy a few small items. Both halls provided food, including vegan options, so we had a very nice bowl of soup at the Seniors' Hall for lunch. For dessert, we decided to splurge and have brownies and coffee at the Kafe Klatsch Bistro, one of the very few permanent eateries here on Denman.

Today, we went into Courtenay for our bi-weekly grocery shopping. We aren't often in town on a Sunday, and we remarked on how quiet the streets were, especially after the hustle and bustle of downtown Denman!

We had a couple of loads of firewood delivered this week. We have all of next winter's firewood in the woodshed now, or will have once the new wood is stacked. It is important to have the wood on hand for at least a year to ensure that it is properly dried before burning it. Dry wood burns quite cleanly: our chimney seldom shows smoke even when the stove is on. Burning green, or fresh, wood produces smoke that irritates the lungs and condenses in the chimney as creosote, which is a fire hazard. Already this year, the Fire Department has been called to several chimney fires.

In renovation news, I finished the plumbing connections in the bathroom in the house, and then did the equivalent installation of the old vanity in the cottage. We actually have running water out there now! Amazing! The list of outstanding jobs for the project is now down to a manageable size: shelves, trim, toilet installation, and painting. Oh, and the railing for the deck. And... Hmm, I think I'd better quit this line of thought while I'm ahead!

30-Nov-2008

The weather this week has been cool and damp, alternating with mild and damp. Here on the west coast, we get the occasional "Pineapple Express" weather system which usually brings drenching rain and warm temperatures all the way from Hawaii. We haven't really had the drenching rain, though there has been a bit of rain most days, but the weather maps are showing that our current mild temperatures are coming straight from Hawaii.

For now, we have thick fog. At times, it was hard to see across our own meadow.

This being the first Sunday in Advent, we have the Christmas lights on. Observant readers will notice a remarkable similarity to our lights of previous years. That's because I don't take them down from one year to the next. In one of my home renovation projects earlier this year, I wired the outlet that the lights are plugged into to a switch, so that, if the weather is ugly, I don't have to go outside to unplug them late at night.

As I mentioned last week, my project this week was to do a bit of renovating in our upstairs bathroom in the house. Nothing major (famous last words), just new flooring and a new vanity. Which, of course, meant disconnecting and removing the old vanity, temporarily disconnecting and removing the toilet, measuring and cutting the flooring, gluing the flooring down and rolling it flat (Note to self: remember to rent a floor roller next time!), reinstalling the toilet, assembling and installing the new vanity and connecting the pipes. It took a few days, but, as you can see, the job is all done now except for the final plumbing hookups for the sink, and installing the doors on the cabinet.

The old flooring was a nondescript off-gray colour that looked like nothing so much as a city sidewalk. The new flooring warms up the appearance of the tiny room considerably.

With December coming up, there will be a lot of parties and events to go to in the next month. The first of them will be the Christmas Craft Fair, this coming weekend. After that, we have several Christmas dinners to go to, and the annual "Moonlight Madness" event, the one night of the year when Denman stores are open for late shopping. It used to be called "Midnight Madness" in previous years. I presume that the name was changed because it was not held at midnight. However, I am not sure the new name is much of an improvement! I note that the moon will be in the last quarter for this year's event, so that there will be no moonlight for it.

23-Nov-2008

Work on the cottage has slowed down lately. I have been puttering away, trimming around the shower, and I installed a light for the vanity. The vanity itself has been holding things up. It is the next major item to go in, but has been on back-order for weeks. (Apparently, there was a strike at the supplier's plant.) We finally got the call that it is in, so we will be picking it up tomorrow.

Installing it will not be straightforward, since the new vanity will not go in the cottage, but in the bathroom in the house, which is getting a minor makeover. Once that is done, the old vanity from the house will go into the cottage. Nothing is ever simple, right?

Autumn is well established here now. I never noticed it before, but the alder leaves do not change colour before they fall. They just dry out, still green, and fall. They have been doing that over the last couple of weeks, the last deciduous leaves to fall. The maple leaves fell earlier, and now form a thick mat anywhere they have landed. The only broad-leafed trees with leaves still on them are the arbutus, which are evergreen and keep their leaves all winter, replacing them eventually in mid summer.

Desperate for pictures, I went out this evening, just after sunset (and about one minute too late to catch some colour in the sky!) to take a few. While I was out there, I came across this young deer. Although it was not on our property, the deer and I recognized each other: it is one of our "regulars". It was no more than 10 feet away, and was not at all alarmed at my presence, though the flash from the camera startled it. It was giving me a look that seemed to say, "Got any apples for me?"

The mountains across the water on Vancouver Island have quite a dusting of snow now, the result of a big storm on Friday. We didn't get snow here, just a lot of rain: 34.5 mm. It was a real south-easter, with winds up around 70 km/h. Every time it blows hard, we expect trees to come down and the power to cut out, but so far we have been lucky. Apparently, the forests have not yet replaced all the unstable trees that came down in the big storms two years ago. We only had one minor power bump on Friday, enough to reset the clock on the microwave and nothing more. We are prepared, though. Wendy has several soups in the freezer, ready for cooking on the woodstove if the power does go out.

So far, we have not had any actual freezing weather, though there has been frost on the ground on the occasional morning. A couple of times, walking "around the block", there has been ice on the surface of the Pickles Road bridge, down at the marsh. I suspect this cold weather will not get us much sympathy from those in non-west-coastal Canada.

On Friday night, as the storm died down, we went out to the community hall for the second concert of the Concerts Denman season. This time, we were treated to the Kokoma African Heritage Drum and Dance group. I wish I had brought my camera, because the costumes were very colourful. The music and dance were good, and there was a full house to enjoy them.

16-Nov-2008

There were two events of interest on Denman Island this week: the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Seniors' Hall and the municipal elections.

Since our parents are World War II veterans, Wendy and I like to observe Remembrance Day. Although I find a lot to dislike about typical Remembrance Day ceremonies, our local organizers have, for the last three years, put together a variation that is much more palatable. It honours the living, and gives thoughtful consideration of the effects of war on real people. Although one of the regular officiants is the United Church minister, he perhaps realizes that he is outnumbered, and, every year, delivers a thoughtful, meaningful talk, free of the hollow formalities that are often found at such occasions. We were happy to participate in such a thoughtful, meaningful ceremony.

The other big event was the municipal election. We voted in three elections: the Comox Valley Regional District Council, the Denman Island Local Trust Committee (Islands Trust), and the Comox Valley School Board.

In the Regional District race, the big issue for us was how we islanders would be represented. Until this week, Denman and Hornby Islands together constituted a separate area within the Regional District, with our own representative on council. As of yesterday, we are now part of an area on the "mainland" (i.e. Vancouver Island). We have been wondering whether our new representative would even recognize that we exist. The choice turned out to be fairly clear. One candidate was a business-oriented, pro-development, "Islands? What islands?" ATV-rider. The other was a people-oriented, pro-rural cyclist who actually came over to Denman to sit in on our Residents' Association meetings and talk to us. Surprisingly, he won easily!

In the Islands Trust election, we had two incumbents and one challenger competing for two seats. The big issue was development versus protection. The issue is less straightforward here than it would be in other jurisdictions, since the Islands Trust has a legally-mandated bias in favour of protection. In effect, its purpose is to resist development. The incumbents have a good track record of resisting inappropriate development proposals, and they were both re-elected over the challenger whose position was less certain.

The school board election was less interesting, at least to us. What was interesting was that the winning candidate was, again, the one who took the time to come and visit Denman Island. Not that we have a deciding influence in the area, but it seems that rural communities here, both on the little islands and the big island, do have a lot of influence collectively, and that candidates who show an interest in the needs of rural communities will do well.

On Wednesday, Wendy picked a bunch more raspberries. What a difference between gardening in Zone 7b and Zone 3a!

Fresh berries or not, we are well into the heating season. We have a good supply of firewood, and the house is extremely easy to heat. The cats, of course, are ecstatic when we have the stove on. They tend to spend all day comatose in some warm place.

9-Nov-2008

We have had a considerable amount of rain, this week, which has washed out any outdoor work. In fact, we have had enough rain that we may not, after all, break the all-time dryness record, set back in 1929. We are now up to 63% of our normal rainfall for this time of year, a level we have not seen this year since the middle of February.

The well is now up to its full winter level of 85 feet, a full 40 feet above its late summer level. It is nice not to have to worry about water consumption for the next few months.

With all that rain, I have been concentrating on indoor work. I have been getting quite a few calls from people needing computer help. In the typical scenario, the client has a new computer and wants to rescue old files and emails from the old Windows 98 machine before it is sent to the junkyard. You wouldn't believe how difficult Microsoft has made it to network Windows 98 and Vista! It boggles the mind how they can actually make money selling such junk. It is making for plenty of work (and hair-pulling) for me.

In renovation news, I finished connecting the supply plumbing for the shower. If I get the drain side connected this week, I will be able to try it out. We also did some major paint purchasing this week. All the interior surfaces will be painted in warm orange shades.

We continue to harvest the last produce from the garden. Rather than mess around with root cellars, we left our carrots in the ground. Whenever we need one, we just go out and pull one up. More interestingly, though, Wendy picked a cup and a half of raspberries on Tuesday. Fresh berries in November! Woo-hoo, I love this climate!

Other than that, not much has happened this week.

Our photography club assignment this month was "celebrating light". Here are my three entries. A version of the first photo appeared here a couple of weeks ago, but who is counting?

2-Nov-2008

What a difference a week makes! It is a good thing I got my pictures of the fall colours last week, because a few days of rain and wind this week brought almost all the leaves down. There are still a few spots of colour here and there, but 90% of the leaves are gone.

Leaves are not the only thing that came down this week. Some time between Thursday night and Friday morning, several large boulders broke off the cliff face beside the road on the "big hill" and landed within a foot of the downhill driving lane. The cliff face is overhanging and unstable sandstone, and usually loses several little rocks every winter. It is unusual to have rock come down this early in the season, since we have had no frost to speak of. It is even more unusual to have boulders this big come down. These guys were big enough to cave in a car roof or flatten a person if they came had come down in the wrong spot or at the wrong time.

The shoulder on which the boulders came to rest is our normal foot path up the hill. Being well-trained pedestrians, we always face the traffic when we walk along the road. I think that we might start walking on the other side from now on, and to heck with the traffic.

At the Fire Department, we finished our First Responder testing on Monday. Now we have to wait several weeks to find out if we passed...

I completed a major step in the cottage renovation today. With the help of several friends, I got the shower stall installed. It measures 3 feet by 4 feet, and weighed about 100 pounds with its wood bracing in place, so it was definitely not a one-man job. Getting it in through the doors was a bit of a performance: the widest door was only 30 inches wide. Needless to say, it is a two-piece shower (walls and base), since a one-piece unit of that size would have to be installed before the walls went up. We negotiated the doors by rotating the wall section counter-clockwise through the front door and clockwise through the bathroom door, all carefully choreographed. The two pieces were then assembled, and we raised it into its framed enclosure. Amazingly, it fit!

With that job done, I can concentrate on finishing the plumbing. Both the drain pipes and the supply pipes have been waiting for the shower before I could finish them. Then, I can close up the last of the walls, and it will be time for paint, before the other fixtures are installed.

Denman Island runs on committees, clubs and associations. I had two different meetings scheduled for this Tuesday evening, both of which were postponed because people wanted to watch the American election results on TV. Gimme a break! Granted, it is an important election, but watching election results is like watching paint dry. I am quite happy to find out the results on Wednesday morning, or whenever all the hanging chads are counted. Speaking of which, I wonder if we should tell them about our system of marking an X on a piece of paper. It seems to be a lot less trouble.

26-Oct-2008

The fall colours this year have been particularly good. We have not had much in the way of wind or rainstorms to knock the leaves off the trees, so they have retained them long enough to show their full colour.

Because the maple leaves change colour slowly, it is common for the few leaves that have turned to be blown off each time the wind blows. The usual result is that the tree shows a little bit of yellow and less and less green, as the leaves gradually change and drop. In contrast, this year, the first yellow leaves have hung on long enough for the stragglers to catch up, and the result is big swaths of gold across the scenery.

The lack of weather has also meant many beautiful clear fall days on which to photograph the trees.

Our local weekly paper published the federal election results from the Denman Island polls. We had a 75% turnout, which is well above the national average. I should hope we have a good turnout, considering the level of community involvement here.

The NDP incumbent got 52% of the island's vote, not that it did her much good across the riding as a whole. Last week, I was whining about the number of Conservatives elected by Green supporters' splitting the opposition vote. Well, that didn't happen here. Despite strong ideological support for the Greens, less than 1% of Denman voters voted for them. Strategic voting is alive and well, here, at least.

Speaking of elections, we have our municipal elections coming up soon. We actually vote in two municipal elections: the Comox Valley Regional District, which handles most municipal services, and the Islands Trust, which handles land use planning for the Gulf Islands. On Saturday, the Residents' Association held an all-candidates' meeting, which was well-attended. In separate sessions, the candidates for Islands Trust and the Regional District got to tell us why they would like us to vote for them, and to answer questions from the floor. It was a useful session, and helped us to make up our minds about how we plan to vote.

The previous evening, we attended the first concert in the annual Concerts Denman series. This was a jazz convert, featuring the Don Thompson Quartet. It was tight, clean, high-energy jazz, featuring piano, vibraphone, saxophone, double bass and drums. We have once again bought season tickets for the six-concert series. The music is consistently excellent, and the concerts are a highlight of the winter season on Denman.

This is a busy weekend, as the Fire Department's First Responder recertification test was rescheduled from November to this weekend. (Actually Sunday evening and Monday morning) We have been doing extra practices to brush up on our techniques. With the rescheduling, we didn't get in quite as many practices as we had planned, but I feel ready to do the test.

And, just to add one more thing to the weekend, I have to do another weekend software installation for work.

19-Oct-2008

On Tuesday, Wendy and I walked down to the Seniors' Hall to do our civic duty and cast our ballots. Support for our encumbent NDP M.P. was strong on Denman Island, judging by the driveway signs, but our riding covers a wide area demographically, including several cities, and the race is always close. When we went to bed on election night, it was too close to call. The next morning, it had gone Conservative.

Ours was one of 20 ridings across the country where, had Green party voters voted strategically, Conservatives would have been defeated. Add in ridings where strategically-voting NDP supporters could have defeated Conservatives, and the total would be 37 ridings. *Sigh* Proportional representation is long overdue.

I am continuing to work on the cottage/studio. The plumbing is now ready for installing the fixtures, and I have started panelling some of the walls that were opened up. The first photo shows the bathroom, looking from where the sink will be towards the water heater and out to the front room. The second is a candid shot taken by Wendy of me looking like a builder.

The final picture is the view from the cottage deck down the hill to the big maple tree, which is showing its fall colours. The bigleaf maples here do not turn red the way the sugar maples down east do. The best they can do is a mixture of green, yellow and brown, as the leaves all turn and fall at different times.

On Thursday, we took the big ferry over to the mainland to visit my mother, who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. We had a pleasant, though subdued, visit, staying with my brother Adrian and his partner from Thursday to Saturday, and driving from Vancouver to New Westminster for daily visits with my mother.

Visiting the lower mainland and the big city is always a total culture shock. The traffic is insane, the pace is fast, and everything is loud. Of course, a lot the roads are dug up with pre-Olympic construction. We did some shopping, and were amazed at the sheer number of ways in which you could part with your money. We were quite happy to return to our little island.

12-Oct-2008

The highlight of this week was a trip to Gabriola Island on Saturday to go on their studio tour. The tour was really just an excuse for us to visit another Gulf Island; we had no intention of buying any crafts.

We wanted to be there right from opening time, so we had to get the 6:40 ferry off Denman Island in order to catch the 8:15 ferry to Gabriola. That's an awfully early start on a Saturday morning! Still, it was a pleasant drive down the big island to Nanaimo, watching the sunrise.

The Gabriola ferry is a sister ship to our own ferry, being the same basic design, but a bit larger.

The island is about half the size of Denman, but the population is about three times as much. The result is that, although some areas had a similar rural feel, much of Gabriola feels very suburban. Lots are small, and houses are crowded together. Because the ferry docks right in downtown Nanaimo, commuting as a foot passenger on the ferry is practical, making the island a bedroom community.

In spite of that, Gabriola has a reputation for having the highest number of artists per capita in Canada. The studio tour reflected that, as there were 60 studios on the tour, featuring 90 artists. Though the tour was on for all three days of the long weekend, we only went for a day trip, so there was no hope of seeing all the studios.

Wendy had done some Internet research to determine which studios we wanted to visit. The tour's website did not include a map for some reason, so our first order of business on Gabriola. was to pick up the official tour map and transfer our notes to it. We then set out and were waiting outside the first studio right at opening time.

We visited about a third of the studios, including painters, sculptors, glass workers, potters, photographers, woodworkers, and furniture makers. The caliber of work was very high. Had our budget felt so inclined, we could quite easily have returned with a truckload of art. At one stop, a seniors' painting group had a joint exhibit of about a dozen painters; all were extremely good. We were very impressed with a number of glassware studios, featuring staned glass panels, fused glass dishes and scuplture, and glass lawn signs. One of the photographers specialized in closeup photos of birds. His work was world-class, having been featured on the covers of Audubon and similar magazines.

By the time the tour closed for the day, we were pretty much studio-ed out. We ferried back over to Nanaimo for a meal at a Lebanese restaurant, and then drove back up to Denman Island, missing the 7:00 ferry by only a couple of minutes.

I am continuing to work on the cottage. The shower arrived as scheduled on Monday. It is now sitting in the garage while I take measurements off it to make sure that the enclosure and plumbing all fit properly before it is set into place. I am now in the process of finishing up the drain plumbing, which had to wait until the shower was on-site.

For the rest of this month, I will be doing extra First Responder practice for the Fire Department. First Responder licenses are good for three years. It is now three years since I joined the department, and, by coincidence, three years since the rest of the members last renewed their licenses. We are all going to be practising for the next three weeks to make sure we can pass the exams!

5-Oct-2008

Remember the grapes?

After careful taste-testing, we pronounced Monday to be the best day to pick them. On Monday morning, Wendy went out to start picking and found ... not a single grape. Apparently, the local racoon population had also determined Monday to be the ideal picking day, and had already done the job for us. It is good to have our taste judgement confirmed by recognized experts in the field, but their price was a bit steep: a 100% commission.

So much for my netting as protection. The electric fence was installed specifically to protect against racoons, but unfortunately, the ground has been too dry to conduct electricity for months.

That seems set to change soon, though, not that it will do us much good this season. The rainy season appears to be upon us finally. Yesterday was our wettest day of 2008 so far, with 31 mm of rain. More rain is in the forecast, and the long-range computer projections show the summer circulation over the Pacific Ocean finally breaking down into a more winter-like pattern.

The shower for the cottage bathroom is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. Getting it installed will be a major step in the renovation. This past week, I installed the baseboard heaters. Not a moment too soon, as there is now a distinct chill in the air in the mornings.

Last week, I mentioned our domesticated deer. They are now so relaxed that they regularly sit on our "lawn" chewing their cud.

Back in July, a new restaurant opened on Denman Island. Restaurants have been tried here before, without much success. We just don't have the permanent population base to support one in the off season. However, for now, it is still open.

Last night, they had a vegan special, so, along with some friends, we went to sample the fare. We started with a salad, then had a very nice vegan roast with baked potato, followed by apple crisp and decaf coffee. It was all quite delicious. However, it was also quite expensive. It actually would have been cheaper to go into town for our meal, even with the price of gas and the ferry fares. That would explain why there were only two other people there.

28-Sep-2008

It is late September and the cedars are starting to show their fall colours. Wait a second, the cedars??

Cedars have been in trouble for years on Denman Island due to climate change. Cedars are a true rainforest tree, and this side of Vancouver Island is not really a rainforest. In winter, it resembles a rainforest, but our dry summers stress the cedars. Denman is marginal habitat for them, and is steadily getting more so. Though the winters have, in general, been getting wetter, the summers have been getting drier. Individual cedars on Denman have been dying for quite a while.

This year, however, is a record-breaker for dryness. The dry season started in January, and hasn't really ended yet, though it is showing signs of easing up. The result is that just about every cedar on the island is showing red needles. Though a healthy tree can stand a few dead needles, when a tree shows this much red, it is a goner. I fully expect that, by this time next year, there will be very few cedars left alive on Denman.

Our local deer herd is continuing to show signs of domestication under the influence of the "apple lady", a.k.a. Wendy. The youngsters don't run away when we are working outside, and even approach us looking for handouts. It is very entertaining for us, and, as you can see, for the cats, too.

I am making progress on the construction project. As advertised last week, I took advantage of a dry day to get the plumbing vent stack completed through the roof, including all the necessary flashing. It was put to a good test the next day with a moderately heavy rain, and, I am happy to report, with no leaks.

I installed the hot water heater and pressure-tested the plumbing this week. In the course of doing so, the well suddenly packed it in. With no warning, the water pressure suddenly went to zero.

One of the disadvantages of rural living is that, when the water quits, you can't just phone the city waterworks department and ask them to get it fixed. Fixing the waterworks here is strictly a do-it-yourself affair.

Thinking I had just run the well dry with my water heater testing, I waited 20 minutes and then tried to "reboot" the well pump. Nothing. Uh-oh. I tested the electric lines leading to the pump and they weren't shorted or open, so the motor probably wasn't burnt out. A call to our local plumber confirmed that I had done all the obvious checks, and that the next step would be to pull the pump out of the well to inspect it. Yikes! The pump is at the bottom of 100 feet of pipe.

It was getting late, so the priority was a quick trip to the General Store before they closed to get bottled water for drinking, cooking and tooth-brushing, followed by filling buckets with rainwater for other purposes.

This morning, I opened the wellhead and was quickly able to determine the cause of the problem. The water pipe coming up from the pump had broken, luckily not too far down. I called on my friend Herb to come over and give me a hand. Together, we built a tripod over the wellhead and used a pair of comealongs (hand-operated winches) to hoist the pump and its pipe up about three feet, just enough to expose the broken end.

Whoever installed the well had used the wrong type of fitting. To attach the plastic pipe to a brass part, they had used an adapter made of black iron. Black iron is a bad material to use on a water system because it rusts, but it was particularly inappropriate when attached to brass. An electrochemical reaction with the brass had corroded the iron to the point where it was literally nothing but a pile of rust held together by wishful thinking.

After a quick trip in to town to Home Depot (these things never happen when the local hardware store is open), I was able to clean out the remaining rust from inside the brass part (which was undamaged by the corrosion) and repair the connection using a plastic adapter. I had the well reassembled and fully functioning by suppertime.

I celebrated by taking a well-deserved (and necessary) shower!

21-Sep-2008

It has been a fairly uneventful week.

I am continuing to work on the bathroom of the studio/cottage. I dismantled the old kitchen cabinet to make way for a new vanity and storage unit. I have one chore that I want to get done soon, before the rainy season starts, which is to cut a hole in the roof for the plumbing vent stack to go through. After weeks without a hint of moisture, I was finally ready to do the deed, and, what happens? The first rain this month, definitely not the time to be making holes in the roof.

However, I have all the materials ready. The first day that looks like giving me several dry hours in a row, I will do the vent installation. That will be the last weather-dependent task before the building is useable. Everything else is interior work.

On Saturday, I celebrated my birthday. I use the word "celebrated" loosely, because what I actually did on Saturday was work. My client's computer system needed a major software upgrade, a task that can only be done on one weekend each month. If I hadn't done it this weekend, it would have had to be postponed until next month. Luckily, it went smoothly, and I was finished early.

As far as actual celebrating goes, Wendy treated me to a birthday lunch on Friday, when we were in town for our regular bi-weekly shopping trip. She also made me some vegan Nanaimo bars. Yum!

We had an interesting situation this week on a Fire Department callout. It was a First Responder call, meaning that we respond to stabilize a medical patient before the ambulance gets there. Just as our crew was assembling at the firehall, a second call came in for a different medical emergency. With only one ambulance on the island, we decided that the ambulance would respond to the more serious emergency, while the Fire Department responders went to the less serious call. It shows the value of having First Responders available, since, without us, the second patient would have had to wait over an hour for the ambulance to get back from the first call. The patient had to wait anyway, but at least had the benefit of trained emergency help at the scene.

We have several families of deer wandering through our property on a regular basis. Today, for some reason, they were all together at the same time. We had a herd of eight deer - three mothers and five young'uns - munching the vegetation at the same time in a very small area.

When you run out of photo ideas, the old standby is kitty pictures. Here is a photo of Owen enjoying the warmth of the heated floor in the downstairs bathroom.

14-Sep-2008

We have been harvesting fruit this week. Our gravenstein apples are coming ripe one or two at a time. There are plenty that are not yet ripe, so there is no point in picking the whole tree, but if you don't pick the ripe ones, they fall. A lot of them are are big honkers, and end up with a bruise to match when they hit the ground, making them fit only for the deer. So, we pick a few at a time, which is more manageable anyway.

Today, we also harvested pears and plums. We had been warned not to wait until the pears were yellow to pick them, as they would be past their best. So, we had been picking them a bit under-ripe and letting them ripen indoors. However, one of today's pears was just at the peak of ripeness, so I had it for dessert. Yum! There is nothing that can compare to tree-ripened fruit!

Our grapes are close to ripe as well. A couple of days ago, having sampled one and pronounced it as almost edible, I covered the vines with bird netting. Without protection, thieving varmints will clean all the grapes off the vines the day before they are of peak ripeness.

This morning, after checking the tide tables, Wendy and I drove up to the north end of Denman Island and hiked out to Tree Island. Getting there involves several kilometres of beach walking to get from the nearest public access to the north tip of Denman, then a walk across a kilometre of mud and rock flats to Tree Island. We actually extended the trip by hiking across another mud flat to the Seal Islets, just beyond Tree Island.

Along the way, we encountered stranded jellyfish, ranging from saucer-sized to dinnerplate-sized and bigger. This one was the granddaddy of them all, the size of a serving tray. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do for a stranded jellyfish; they are too fragile to move, even if they didn't sting you, and after a short time in the sun, they are pretty much goners anyway.

The same could not be said for this large starfish. It was definitely still alive, clinging to stones with its little tube feet. However, its prospects didn't look good, facing several hours of hot sun. We found a piece of plywood in the driftwood line up the beach, and, using pieces of bark as shovels, scooped him up, rocks and all. We carried him down to the water and plopped him in.

It was a beautiful, warm day, perfect for hiking, and the Seal Islets were a nice, quiet place to stop for lunch. Quiet is a relative term, since, for the entire duration of the hike, we could hear the roar of heavy machinery working at the log dump at Union Bay, across Baynes Sound. It makes us appreciate not having waterfront property, especially waterfront facing Vancouver Island.

You will notice on the picture of Tree Island that there are several boats anchored off the beach. It makes for a pretty picture, but the reality is less savoury.

Tree Island is a popular spot for boaters because there is no enforcement of any kind of rules or regulations. It is not that the regulations don't exist. The island is a provincial park, with all the normal rules that apply to such places. Some of the more important rules - "No Fires" and "Dogs On Leash Only" - are even spelled out in billboard-sized signs with lettering big enough to be read easily without binoculars from 100 metres offshore.

But, because there are no park wardens, the campsite on the island was overrun with drunken yahoos. We saw at least two fires, one of which was unattended, and numerous dogs running loose. (I knocked down the unattended fire.) It wouldn't be so bad if the yahoos were only teenagers. There would be hope that at least some of them would grow out of it. Unfortunately, the yahoos included the crew of a dragon boat, definitely old enough to know better, who, when informed that fires were prohibited, made light of the situation. No wonder the teenagers are such perfect idiots when the adults teach them so well!

Sooner or later, Tree Island is going to burn. By the time they get a water bomber to it, it will be too late to save any of it. And it will be small consolation that the perpetrators would be liable for the water bomber costs. There would be no way to prove which particular idiot was responsible, and the island's unique micro-forest would be gone.

On a lighter note, I have been doing plumbing work in the cottage. I have most of the supply and drain lines roughed in now.

7-Sep-2008

This week's weather has been sunny and mild, perfect for getting things done. I have been working in the studio / cottage, doing electrical and plumbing rough-ins. The electrical work is now done, and I have made a good start on the plumbing. You wouldn't believe how many drawings I have made trying to figure out how to fit the various drain lines into the available space under the floor. It looks like it will all fit, though.

This week, I hosted a meeting of the Trails Committee. The committee has existed for a long time, but there hadn't been much interest in it. Now, with fuel prices and climate change awareness both on the increase, there is a lot more interest in providing routes for non-motorized transportation on Denman. We have some ambitious plans, including trails for recreational hiking as well as a ferry-to-ferry trail across the island. The cross-island trail would have to be built gradually in phases, starting with sections that would allow walkers to avoid the most dangerous stretches of road.

As you can see from the photos this week, our fruit trees are coming along nicely. We have one tree of August apples that didn't do much this year. It is a biennial fruiter, and produced well last year, so this was an off year for it. However, the gravensteins and spartans have a lot of fruit and are starting to ripen, as are the plums and pears. We are keeping an eye on the grapes too, so that we can harvest them before the birds and/or racoons get to them.

This year's baby deer are starting to lose their spots now. We have several families that hang out in our area, and it is not uncommon to see a couple of does and three or four fawns in the meadow at the same time.

On sunny days, our aligator lizard sits out on the rocks near the driveway sunning himself.

This evening, we took advantage of the warm weather to walk down to the beach after supper. It is a 45 minute walk across the width of the island. (This would be one of the last sections of trail to be built, as the road has fairly wide shoulders.) The evening was noticeably short, and by the time we got back, it was getting dark and the bats were starting to fly around.

31-Aug-2008

This has been another week for puttering on various projects. The weather has been cool and damp, but still suitable for some outdoor as well as indoor work.

One indoor project I worked on was completing the installation of the water filter system I wrote about last week. On Monday evening, as I finished cutting the cold water line to splice in the connector for the filter, it suddenly occurred to me that such a task probably ought not to be attempted when the hardware store is closed! Too late, though, so I pressed ahead. I had some interesting moments when the compression fittings initially would not seal. However a pair of vice-grips and a bigger wrench solved the problem, and it all miraculously ended up water-tight. The filter is great for convenience and peace of mind, and the water tastes excellent.

This week's big event was today's Blackberry Faire, our annual end of summer event. The morning started with the annual Blackberry Run, a road race around our 8.5 km "block". Because they close one lane of the main road for the race, the start time is based on the ferry's sailing time, to minimize traffic conflicts. I was part of the traffic control crew for the race.

Similarly, the fair's parade, which covers two blocks and lasts all of ten minutes, starts when the ferry leaves the dock. Unfortunately, I was unable to get any photos of the parade.

There were booths selling crafts and food, as well as vegetable contests in the community hall. Though I took a quick walk around the park taking pictures, I spent most of the day at the Fire Department's burger stand. I was the chief tomato slicer and backup bun server. Though there was plenty of food at our booth, some of it even edible (veggie burgers), Wendy took pity on me and brought me a big piece of blackberry-apple pie from one of the other vendors. Yum!

The weather for the fair(e) was cool and sunny. The Fire Department's traditional spot is in deep shade, so anyone who wasn't working at a grill got pretty chilly. After several rainy days, though, it was nice to have a bright, sunny day for it.

This being the Labour Day long weekend, tomorrow marks the end of the annual tourist deluge. Hornby Island has a tradition that, as the last ferry on the afternoon of Labour Day loads up with tourists going home, the residents come out to wave them off. The visitors think that it is a friendly gesture, but, for the residents, it is a gesture of relief at having their island back again.

We have learned to spot tourist vehicles. One easy clue is if the roof and back of the vehicle are covered with bicycles. In fact, if B.C. Ferries charged a loonie for every bike that is brought over, they could eliminate all their fuel surcharges. We seldom actually see tourists riding their bikes. Other sure tourist clues: the back end of the vehicle sagging under an overload of a month's worth of suitcases, recreational equipment and groceries; kayaks on top; shiny SUVs; tinted windows rolled up.

There are some who would turn Denman Island into a tourist destination. (Most of the tourist we see are just passing through on their way to Hornby.) It is tempting to try to squeeze $200 out of every tourist that comes by; it would be a major contributor to the island's marginal economy. However, quite apart from the harm it would do to the social structure of the community, it would be foolish, in view of the coming end of cheap oil, to base our economy on an industry that will likely not exist in any significant form in ten years.

24-Aug-2008

The weather has changed this week. We had our second rainfall of the summer (the first having been on July 31st) on Tuesday. After the July rain, the weather went right back to being hot and dusty. This time it looks like it is staying cooler and damp. We have had measurable rain six days in a row now, the first time that has happened since April.

The deck railings are done (at least this phase of them), and the woodshed looks good with one bay full of wood. I have some indoor projects lined up in case the change in the weather lasts for a while.

One indoor project that I worked in this week was to install a filter system for drinking water. We have used a countertop Brita filter for a long time, and it is pretty good at removing colour and odour from the well water. However, every fall, when the level rises in the well, we get bacteria in it, and the well has to be cleaned. We had considered an ultraviolet sterilization system, but it is expensive to install, consumes energy continuously, and requires an expensive bulb replacement every year.

Recently, the folks at our local hardware store told me about a ceramic filter system that does pretty much the same job as a UV system. I have used a portable version of this technology for years on backpacking trips, so I was familiar with the principle. The hardware is a tenth the cost of a UV system, the replacement filters are a fraction of the cost of a UV bulb, and it requires no additional energy.

So, I spent this morning installing it under the kitchen sink. There is a separate faucet for drinking water that installs on the side of the sink. I will still need to clean the well annually, but at least we can be sure that our drinking water is safe.

The garden is pretty much finished for the year. Due to all the other projects we have been working on, our garden effort this year was fairly half-hearted. All the greens have bolted, and we harvested our potatoes and garlic a couple of weeks ago. We have some lovely carrots, the first time I have ever been able to grow them to full size. Other than a patch of mint that is ready for harvesting, all that is left are the raspberries and the fruit trees.

Earlier this week, Wendy noticed what appeared to be some deer poop in the garden. Since the garden is fenced and we are diligent about keeping the gate closed, we were doubtful. Perhaps a racoon? However, today, she noticed some more, and then ... a baby deer hiding behind the apple trees. The little @#$% had squeezed in between the back gate to the compost pile and the fencepost! Luckily, it did not eat more than a few windfall apples, though I am suspicious that its presence may explain our poor raspberry harvest this year. The back gate is now firmly tied in place.

Tourists are the bane of Gulf Island existence. At best, they are clueless. (I have had a tourist stop me to ask where "downtown" Denman was - right in front of the Genreal Store, the heart of "downtown".) A couple of weeks ago, we ran into a couple that were more clueless than usual.

Wendy and I were walking towards downtown when we spotted a young couple coming towards us, headed for the "big hill". He was carrying a surfboard under his arm; she was trundling a suitcase-on-wheels along the road. "Excuse me, mite," he said with an Aussie accent, "how far is it to the ferry?" "Um, which ferry?" I asked. They were heading the wrong way if they were aiming for the one that was within walking distance. "The Hornby ferry," he said. "Well," I said, pointing the way they were heading, "it's about 10 km in that direction." "Yeah, right," he chuckled, "but seriously...?" "Seriously! It is ten kilometres!"

I suppose they must have planned their trip using a provincial highway map and assumed that, since Denman Island is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence, they could walk across it in five minutes or less.

17-Aug-2008

This week, I took a couple of days off work, and Wendy and I went for several day trips, sightseeing on Vancouver Island.

On Monday, we dusted off our hiking boots and went up to Paradise Meadows, near the Mount Washington ski area. The trail started off as a tourist trail, on wheelchair-accessible boardwalks. After a couple of kilometres, though, it turned into a proper hiking trail, through a mix of forest, meadows and lakes.

In the forest, even though there were no flowers to be seen, the air smelled deliciously floral. Out on the meadows, there was a profusion of flowers: asters, lots of lupins (photo) , paintbrushes, and "little white flowers".

Because we were just the two of us, we wore bear bells on our packs, thus ensuring that we didn't see any wildlife at all. (Old joke: How do you tell black bear scat from grizzly bear scat? The grizzly bear scat has bells in it.) Next time, it might be less annoying to take along a chatterbox friend.

The hike was a loop trail to a viewpoint called Cruikshank Canyon Lookout (photo). It was a spectacular view, well worth the stiff muscles the next day.

On Tuesday, we drove down to Coombs and Errington to see the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre. This organization exists primarily to rescue and rehabilitate injured wild birds. Many of their patients are eagles that have been illegally shot. Birds that can be rehabilitated back to releasable condition are kept away from the public, and are eventually released back into their original habitat.

Birds that are unable to fend for themselves in the wild, due to injuries or to imprinting on humans, are put on display on large enclosures designed with the needs of the birds in mind. Ravens, for example, need stimulation: their cages are full of bells and shiny or colourful toys.

While at Coombs, we stopped in at Demxx Deconstruction Inc., an architectural salvage company. Their yard is full of doors, windows, gates, beams, and every kind of doodad that you might need for remodelling a house, mostly salvaged from demolished older homes. It is definitely a place to keep in mind for future projects.

On Wednesday, we drove down to the Cowichan Valley to check out some wineries that we had heard about. We visited one winery and one cidery, at both of which I sampled the wares. I didn't particularly care for the wine (two oak-y for my taste), but some of the ciders were very nice. The cidery also makes apple brandy from their cider, using a very fancy still (photo).

Two tastings in one day are plenty if one is driving, so we went to the village of Cowichan Bay to visit the True Grain Bakery. We enjoyed some very nice chocolate-chip hazelnut mini loaves for lunch, and bought a couple of regular sized loaves of bread to take home. We also checked out the wooden boat museum and looked around the marina (photo).

This wekend, Arts Denman held their annual studio tour, along with an art show at the Arts Centre. The art show was a fundraiser to help them purchase their building. We picked a few favourite studios to visit, including pottery, painting, weaving and jewelry.

In between times, it has been too hot to do more than an hour or two of work per day on the various projects. I have been building railings for the cottage deck, and Wendy has been moving firewood into the new woodshed.

10-Aug-2008

This week, the Denman Island Photography Club had our big photo show at the Art Centre. Ten photographers displayed about 30 photographs, and I have to say, there was not a single one that I didn't like. The show had no specific theme, other than being each photographer's best recent work. That made for a high-quality show.

The club has a mix of professional, experienced and new photographers. For each month's meeting, we have a themed assignment. We have to bring a new photograph that fits the theme, and then we all critique each other's work. It is a good way to develop one's skills.

This weekend's show started with a reception on Friday night, which was well attended. (By which I mean that there were considerably more people there than just the photographers and our spouses.) The show continued Saturday and Sunday, and the total attendance was over 100, considerably better than a typical weekend at the Art Gallery. We had a lot of favourable comments. I would have to call it a very successful show.

I entered two photos, both of which I am including here. As a special treat, click on the photos to see a larger version of each. For the show, I blew them up to 10 x 15 inches, and, of course, they were matted and framed.

I finally got the woodshed finished. I finished screwing down the roofing metal, and built floors and supports for the wood. The floors are nothing fancy: just a combination of pallets and salvaged lumber, the idea being to keep the wood off the ground and allow ventilation beneath it. I have vertical supports along the walls to keep the wood off the walls and ensure that there is good air circulation. The next job will be to stack the winter's wood in it.

This week, I am taking a couple of days off, and Wendy and I will go hiking and sightseeing to various places around Vancouver Island.

3-Aug-2008

We had a very strange event this week: water falling out of the sky!

A Pacific disturbance, moving through the area, dropped nearly 24 mm of rain on us. That doesn't sound like a lot, not quite one inch, but, compared to the drought we have been having, it was a veritable monsoon. In fact, the last 24 hours of July provided two-thirds of the month's rainfall. We collected about 600 gallons of rainwater in the cisterns from this system, which could be enough to stretch our supply of irrigation water to the end of the growing season.

In order to complete the new woodshed, I needed three sheets of roofing metal, which were delivered on Wednesday. On Thursday, I was just checking whether the the existing metal sheets were dry enough to work on (they weren't) when the rain started up again in earnest. I already had tarpaper installed, which had gotten wet and started to curl, stretch and sag, and I needed to get it covered before it was ruined. So, I placed the remaining metal sheets in position and screwed down the edges while standing on the ladder. I'll have to go back and finish the job this week.

My main work this week was rebuilding Wendy's computer, which had been wiped out by a virus. Luckily, we didn't lose any important files, so all we lost was a couple of weeks of access and a couple of days of my time.

Having rebuilt the computer, I once again had access to my photographs. Just in time, since the photography club is having a public show next weekend. I am entering two photos in it. I'll let you know next week how it went.

This weekend, Wendy and I went to the Filberg Festival, an annual festival of music and crafts in Comox. The festival runs from Friday to Monday of the August long weekend every year. In the past, we have only gone on a single day, ferry fares being what they are. This year, however, we had the benefit of a gift certificate to the Kingfisher Resort that I was given when I won the Firefighter of the Year award last year. We took advantage of it to stay overnight on the big island and attend two days of the festival.

The Kingfisher is a swanky resort and spa that we pass on the old highway every time we drive in to Courtenay. It is right on the beach, with a view across Baynes Sound to Comox Harbour (photo 1). It is the kind of place we normally wouldn't dream of going to - everything costs twice as much as it should. However, it has all the frills: designer soap in the bathrooms, bathrobes for the guests (in fact, guests are encouraged to go to breakfast in their bathrobes), jacuzzis, massage studios, etc. We didn't eat there (with or without bathrobe) due to the high prices, but, thanks to the gift certificate, we enjoyed a bit of luxury at a price we could afford.

The Filberg Festival itself was fun. There are numerous vendors selling top quality crafts: pottery, paintings, weaving, photography, etc. They also had two music stages with some of the best musicians in Canada performing: Murray McLaughlan, Ellen McIlwaine, and J.P Cormier, to name just a few. We had a great time listening to the music and wandering around the craft booths. We were very good, but we couldn't resist bringing back a couple of pieces of pottery: a coffee mug for me and a new cereal bowl for Wendy.

27-Jul-2008

This week, we took a few days off from our regular chores to explore the north end of Vancouver Island. Neither of us had been there before, so it was all new territory for us. The drive to Port Hardy takes about three hours, though we took our time and stopped along the way in Campbell River and Telegraph Cove.

Most of the drive is inland, so there are no coastal views to be had from the highway. However, we did see several black bears anlong the road, including a mother with a cub.

Telegraph Cove was founded in 1912 as a construction camp during the building of the telegraph line from Campbell River to the north end of Vancouver Island. Over the years, it has been the home of fish packing factories and sawmills. It is now a major tourist destination, featuring kayaking and whale-watching.

Most of the original buildings along the old boardwalk still stand. An old warehouse has been converted into a Whale Museum, displaying the sad history of whales and their near extinction. Prominently on display, at an almost un-photographable angle, are skeletons of minke and fin whales, suspended from the roof. Both of the skeletons show evidence of collisions with ships. The fin whale was struck by a cruise ship, which dragged the carcass all the way back to Vancouver, draped around its bow.

The museum also has information about the two populations of orcas which inhabit the waters around Vancouver Island. The various families ("pods") of orcas are identified by letters of the alphabet. There is an A-pod, B-pod, and so on. The museum staff assured us that there is an "iPod". They have not yet figured out a way to use that fact in their publicity.

We continued on to Port Hardy, where we had supper at the only place offering anything close to vegan food: a nice little coffee shop with a craft shop attached. The crafts were high quality, but the store was closing, so we didn't have time to take a good look. Port Hardy is a sleepy little town, with little to recommend it.

We stayed a half-hour's drive away, at the very comfortable Dolphin House bed and breakfast in Coal Harbour (photo 3). Although well inland, it is on a fjord that opens to the Pacific side of Vancouver Island. Presumably it was once used to ship coal, but it would be hard to say what, if anything, its main industry is today. The B&B was a beautiful house on the warterfront, filled with stunning wood carvings made by the son of the owners.

On Saturday, we drove down to Port McNeill. Although smaller than Port Hardy, it seemed to have more energy, and a much bigger business district. Our plan was to take the ferry across to Alert Bay and Sointula, but, after studying the complicated schedule and missing one ferry, we realized that there was no reasonable way to visit both places in one day. We picked Sointula, and left Alert Bay, with its famous museum, for another visit.

Having just missed one ferry, we had some time to kill, so we visited a gallery of Native art. It was filled with gorgeous masks, totem poles, carved figures, all of the highest quality. Our favourite was a large cedar chest, decorated with typical Haida designs. It was quite stunning, as was the price tag.

The ferry to Sointula turned out to be a familiar face: the M.V. Tacheck, which serves on the Hornby Island run in the winter time. Because the ferry goes right from downtown Port McNeill to "downtown" Sointula, we were able to park the car and walk on the ferry as pedestrians.

Sointula is a Finnish community on Malcolm Island, just off Port McNeill. It was founded in 1901 as an experiment in communal living. It is still the home of many unconventional people. It has a population of about 800, including many artists and still quite a few people of Finnish ancestry. This weekend was their "Artopia" art festival, so we were able to walk around the town and visit several artists' studios.

One of the most impressive exhibits was of the sculptor who created this heron. While we watched, he worked on a large wall piece, a very complicated bas-relief of octopus, halibut and kelp.

We also visited their museum, which had a varied collection of local artifacts. They have a well-researched photographic history of the community, and poster-sized blowups of many of the more interesting photos were displayed on the walls.

Being tied to a ferry schedule, we missed the Artopia parade. Probably just as well, since it rained on the parade. The weather during our trip was cool and cloudy, with the odd shower. By late Saturday afternoon, though, it was getting cold, foggy and rainy.

After supper in Port McNeill, which was considerably easier to obtain than it had been in Port Hardy, we returned to our B&B at Coal Harbour.

This morning, before heading back, we took a detour to Port Alice, another town on a fjord opening to the Pacific. It has no particular attraction, other than that it is there. It is a small pulp-mill town, quite pleasant in its own way, but totally isolated, at the end of a very twisty two-lane road.

After that, we headed back to good old Denman Island. We will have to go back up that way again some day to see Alert Bay, which has a well-known museum and the world's tallest totem pole.

20-Jul-2008

The weather continues to be pleasantly warm without getting stinking hot. Out raspberries are starting to ripen, and the apples and pears are starting to look like they should. We have potatoes and carrots that are growing to a healthy size, and romaine lettuce that looks better than anything in the grocery stores. Our garlic is almost ready to harvest.

It continues to be crispy dry, though. We have had only 2.5 mm of rain all month. I did some research back in the records to see just how this year's drought compares to previous dry years. According to Environment Canada's records for Denman Island, the driest previous year was 1929, with 892 mm. As of the end of June, we have had only 75% of the rain that fell in the first half of 1929. At the rate we are going, we will likely smash the old record for dryness.

For the garden, this means that we are going to run out of stored rainwater before the rainy season starts. We have less than half our supply left, and still more than two months to go. We will keep watering until we run out, and then we'll probably just harvest what we can, whether it is ready or not. Our well has good quality water, but does not supply enough for gardening.

High on our priority list is to add another water storage tank this fall. There is no shortage of rain here; it just is poorly distributed throughout the year.

I noticed another interesting sign of dryness. We have an electric fence around the garden to discourage racoons. Periodically, I check it to ensure it is working properly. The test is simple: touch it, and you are supposed to go "ouch!" The other day, I checked it and felt nothing. Hmm: check for short circuits, broken wires, make sure it is plugged in. Everything checked out, but no zap. What has happened is that the ground is now so dry that it is not conducting electricity. With the ground not conducting, you don't complete the circuit when you touch the wire.

I thought I'd got the upper hand on the computer virus problem last week, but then it blew up again and trashed the computer. Now I'll have to rebuild the thing from scratch. @#$%!! Just what I needed - another project!

Speaking of projects, the woodshed is nearing completion. All that is needed now is to install the roofing. If you are wondering about the apparent incompleteness of the siding in the photo, that is intentional. We found that the old woodshed was too airtight, and didn't allow the wood to dry. This one not only has an open front, we have also left the left (north) side open for maximum air circulation. Just about all our weather here comes from the south-east, so only the south and east sides are enclosed.

This week's cultural event was the annual Readers and Writers Festival, right here on Denman Island. They bring in top-notch Canadian writers to talk about their work, read from it, or to discuss topics of shared interest. We didn't attend all the events, but the ones we did go to were interesting and inspiring.

We often have deer wander through our yard, and they are always cute, especially when there are fawns around. This particular fawn must be a boy, we think. He was showing considerable interest in the car. He didn't quite kick the tires, but you could tell he was thinking about it.

Today's kitty picture is of Liesl being cute in a sunbeam on the bed.

14-Jul-2008

It hasn't been an eventful week.

Progress is slow but steady on the new woodshed. I have all the rafters in place and have started on the blocking between them. Just for fun, I hung a few of the siding boards to get an idea what it will look like. This week, I should be able to finish framing the back wall and get most of the strapping on the roof.

The weather has been hot and dry, so we have been keeping an eye out for reptiles. Some people concentrate on the garter snakes, which they would rather not see, but we also have some aligator lizards which hang out by the driveway. Today, this one was out catching a few rays on a rock. They are kind of cute.

Speaking of hot and dry, the Fire Department has instituted a total fire ban on Denman Island. This measure is usually taken later in the summer, but everything is turning brown and crunchy early this year.

You may have noticed that Denman Diary is a day late this week. Yesterday evening, instead of writing it up and processing photographs, I spent the evening trying to eliminate a particularly nasty adware virus from one of our computers. Neither Norton Antivirus nor Ad-Aware could detect it, yet it was undoubtedly active. After much head-scratching, Internet research, and an occasional well-chosen word (ahem!) I still haven't been able to get rid of it, but I have at least brought it under control.

Wendy's rule of diary-writing: when all else fails, throw in a kitty picture. Owen and Liesl like to sit at the window watching the parade of critters outside. For them, it is like veging out in front of the television.

6-Jul-2008

This week's big news is our new car. We ordered it over a month ago, but, because they are in such high demand due to rising gas prices, we had to wait for a new shipment to come in. I took the bus into town on Monday and picked it up.

The Honda Fit is an exceptionally well-designed no-frills car. It is a four-door hatchback, much more practical than the two-door models that used to be the only choice for small cars. They left out some of the bells and whistles that drive up the prices of most cars - no power door locks or remote-control side mirrors, for example, though it does have five (count 'em, five) cup holders. Instead, they focused on utility, safety and performance.

The trunk is larger than the one on the old Civic, and the hatch is wider and has a lower sill height. The rear seats fold several different ways to produce either a totally flat cargo floor or a tall space. Anti-lock brakes are standard equipment.

The best thing, of course, is the fuel economy, which is one of the best in the industry for a conventionally-powered vehicle. It would have been nice to buy a hybrid or a totally electric vehicle, but their prices are still too high for us. The Fit is the best fuel efficiency we could afford.

We are very happy with it. Amazingly, the colour is a perfect match for our doors and picnic table!

My work project this week continues to be the new woodshed. I got all the posts and beams in place, and am now working on the rafters. The last couple of days have been quite pleasant for outdoor work: sunny, but not too hot. Earlier in the week, though, it was quite hot, so I had to work in the mornings and do indoor stuff in the afternoons.

One of my indoor projects has been to design a website for the Fire Department. It went public this week. The information that everyone wants to know - Can I light a fire today? - is all right there on the front page, updated automatically every day. If you want to take a look at it, it is here.

The strawberry beds are still producing at an amazing pace. Wendy has frozen sixteen (!) containers of them, and, of course, we have been eating them in all possible forms. Most of our meals for the past couple of weeks have been strawberry-based. The absolute best was a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler; heavenly!

The grape vines have flower bud clusters on them, and the clematis at the front entrance is growing several inches a day. The photo shows one of the blossoms on the honeysuckle vine.

29-Jun-2008

Strawberry week!

With the official arrival of summer last week and the accompanying hot weather, we have been harvesting a deluge of strawberries. Strawberry shortcake, strawberry-rhubarb pie, more strawberry shortcake. Did I mention that we like strawberries? Wendy has been making all kinds of strawberry desserts as well as freezing some for later.

My missing lumber finally showed up, so I have started building the new woodshed. It's not much to look at yet - just some footings, a couple of posts and a beam, but, when finished, it will be give us a much more satisfactory place to store our wood. It will hold a two year supply of wood, and it will be tall enough that we don't bonk our heads on the ceiling - a pleasant change, believe me!

Something else that arrived is our car. No pictures yet, though (That's not it on the left!). It's in Courtenay, but we don't actually have it yet. I'm going into town on the early bus tomorrow to pick it up. Tune in next week for pictures.

Our cultural event for the week was the Fire Department's 30th anniversary Canada Day Pancake Breakfast. The weather was superb - sunny and warm - and the turnout was good. At least half the island's population comes out for this big event. The entire department, along with spouses, turns out to serve up pancakes, bacon (with a veggie sausage alternative), stawberries and whipped cream, coffee and juice.

People had fun inspecting our new tanker truck, which was prominently on display, and a lot of kids tried out our brand new Fire Department pedal car. It was donated to our auction earlier this year, and the department members chiped in to purchase it for exactly this kind of event.

Actually, it was a long day of Fire Department activity. We were paged out in the middle of the night for a medical call, then had to get up early for the Pancake Breakfast. Finally, just before supper time, we were called out again for a motor vehicle accident. I hope the rest of the long weekend is quiet!

Of course, this is the beginning of the main tourist season. Traffic across our island is heavy as thousands of vacationers head over to Hornby Island. People rushing to beat the lineup for the next ferry tend to speed...

Just in time for the tourist rush, the Quinitsa, our regular ferry, has returned from its major refit. After months of having two little ferries, it seemed as big as an aircraft carrier! It is all shiny with fresh paint and no rust, and its new engines are remarkably quiet. Of course, the work is not totally finished, and a work crew rides the ferry back and forth all day putting in the final touches.

In the last couple of weeks, the mother deer have been bringing their fawns out into the open. Wendy snapped this picture out our den window.

22-Jun-2008

The truckload of lumber I've been waiting for finally arrived. Or, most of it did, anyway. I am still waiting for several important pieces. They've promised to deliver those "soon", at their expense. They'd better. The missing pieces are evenly distributed among all my various projects, so there's not much I can do without them.

I did get enough to build the most urgent project: a walk-in shelter for the strawberry patch. Up until now, we've been covering the berries with fabric over plastic hoops to protect them from birds. (Just today, as I was working, a robin perched on the fence eyeing the strawberries greedily, licking his beak.) The fabric reduces the amount of light and rain that the berries get, and increases humidity and mold, and it is just a nuisance for weeding and harvesting. Once I staple bird netting to the frame, we will have a nice room where we can stand upright, move about and work freely and still protect the berries. I must have some good karma because, in digging a dozen post holes, I only encountered one rock and two roots.

The strawberries just started to ripen this week. The majority of them are supposed to be June-bearing, and I guess they just made it with a week to spare. The weather has been too cool for ripening until the last couple of days. However, they are catching up now. We picked our first bowl full about an hour before the official beginning of summer. Fresh strawberry shortcake! Yummmmm!

The last couple of days, the weather has been nice enough to go for walks in the evenings. One of our favourite walks is down to Pickles Marsh, less than a kilometre down our street. This time of year, it is home to marsh wrens, red-winged blackbirds and numerous other birds. In the evening, the air is filled with the sounds of birds singing. The marsh is surrounded by a protected nature reserve, so it is a beautiful spot with big old cedars and douglas firs all around.

15-Jun-2008

This week has been cool but dry: quite pleasant to work in the garden, but not warm enough for anything to be happening there. Our strawberries, which we are usually enjoying for dessert by this time each year, are continuing to grow, but are not ripening. It has just been too cool. Some of them have a bit of a pinkish blush on them, but nothing approaching redness.

I am still waiting for a load of lumber that will, among other things, allow me to build a bird-proof enclosure for the strawberries. Until then, we have cloth covers over the beds, to protect any that might happen to ripen.

Today, Wendy and I went over to Hornby Island to visit a rose nursery there. We wanted a fragrant climbing rose for the west wall of the house, which now gets quite a lot of sunshine ever since we had an ugly maple tree cut down last year. We ended up with a rose called "Bantry Bay" (left), which is supposed to grow up to 12 feet tall. We won't be able to plant it in the ground until the fall. Until then, we will keep it in a pot on the deck.

While on Hornby, we went for a short hike around the Helliwell Bluffs, a rare ecosystem type known as garry oak meadows. We had a perfect day for it: cool and sunny. When we stopped for lunch on the tip of the peninsula, we were greeted by an immature bald eagle who stood on the rocks watching us quite calmly.

The major social event of the week was the Spring Swing Fling, a fundraising dance event for the Denman Conservancy Association. We were fed with a variety of tapas (finger food): puff pastries with mushroom or sundried tomato fillings, hummus rolls (that could more appropriately have been called garlic rolls!), dolmades, nori rolls, marinated tofu kebabs and nettle kopitas. Those were just the vegan items; there were also crab and salmon munchies for those so inclined. It was all very tasty, served by very elegant waiters and waitresses in tuxes and cocktail dresses.

Following the eats, we were treated to a demonstration of west coast swing dancing by a couple of young competitive dancers, followed by a mass lesson in east coast swing. The change in coasts must have confused people, because Wendy and I were not the only ones who didn't quite get the rhythm sorted out. It was fun anyway, though! As with just about all social events here, the hall was packed.

Because I am still waiting on my truckload of lumber, my construction efforts this week have been more along the lines of destruction. I finished demolishing the old woodshed. The site is now cleaned up, and will make a fine sawing and chopping work area.

8-Jun-2008

Last week, I mentioned that one of the Fire Department's trucks was scheduled for imminent replacement. Well, the long-awaited replacement arrived this week. It is a brand new tanker that holds 1500 gallons of water, a 50% increase over the truck it is replacing. It will greatly speed up the delivery of water to a fire scene, as well as improving our reliability. The old tanker, an amateur-built rig, was more than 30 years old and was showing its age.

Although the new truck is designed and intended for delivering water, it is fully equipped for firefighting itself, and could take over as a pumper if something happened to the regular pumper. This means we now have three pumper-capable vehicles, which gives us a lot of flexibility.

Around the house, I have just about finished demolishing the old woodshed. I have the new site staked out for the replacement woodshed already, just waiting for a shipment of lumber to arrive. We have decided to build it in a different location, one that is more convenient to the back door for hauling wood on those cold blustery winter nights. The new location will also mean that our view of the meadow will be opened up.

The garden is doing well. We had a decent rainfall this week; in fact we had almost as much rain in the one week as we had all last month. All the veggies and fruit trees are happy, and so are the weeds. We spent a full day on Saturday weeding. The gardening challenge here is not so much trying to get things to grow. Rather, it is beating back the jungle. So far, we are ahead of the weeds, and the garden looks great. In the photo at left, we have spinach and romaine lettuce in the left row, chard in the middle, carrots at the right, garlic behind, and mint behind that.

Our pear trees are covered with little pears (photo at right), and the apple and plum trees likewise have lots of baby fruit starting to develop. If they all mature, it could be another great year. The raspberry canes are developing well and will start flowering soon, and the strawberries are starting to show a bit of colour already.

We had been getting worried about the lack of rainfall this spring. We have been drawing quite a bit from on our rainwater cistern to keep the garder watered. This week's rain has eased those worries for now. It not only gave the garden a good watering, it also topped up both tanks to full once again. If, as it looks, it turns out to be a dry year, we will be glad of every drop.

1-Jun-2008

The garden continues to grow like crazy. We have had the odd sprinkle, but it is weeks since we have had any significant rainfall, so we are very glad to have our rainwater system for irrigation.

This week, I extended the main water feed line to reach all the vegetable beds and berry patches. It makes it more convenient to get water to each bed with less dragging of hoses. About half of it is underground, and the rest will go underground eventually.

I have started demolition of our woodshed (née kid's play fort) to make room for the new improved woodshed that will be built there shortly. What we had was better than nothing, but was unsatisfactory for several reasons: it didn't hold a full season's wood (never mind the following year's wood), the roof was too low, so we were always bonking our heads, and it was too airtight, preventing proper drying of the wood..

The new one will be bigger in all dimensions, and able to hold a two year supply of wood. This is necessary, so that the wood has a chance to dry properly for a full year before being used. It will be open on two sides to allow good air circulation.

On Saturday, we went on another nature walk, this time on the trail from Central Park to Pickles Road. This is the same trail that Wendy and I hiked on our own a month ago. This time, we had a whole herd of people with us, and a botanist leading the group to explain what all the plants were. We managed to stump him on a few plants. The trail includes both some recovering clearcut and some mature second-growth forest.

We are going to have a Fit!

A Honda Fit, that is. It is time to replace my venerable old Civic, and, after researching on the Internet and shopping around the various dealerships in town, we settled on the Fit. It has the second-highest EPA mileage ratings of any conventionally-powered vehicle, and has a reasonable purchase price. We don't actually have the car yet - it is on its way - so this Photoshopped picture of it on our driveway will have to do. Ours will be this colour.

The Civic must have overheard us talking about being replaced, because its battery picked this week to die. Two cells are shorted out, and it is unstartable: it won't even start on the "Start" setting of the battery charger.

When I discovered that, I thought, "Boy, I sure hope we don't have a Fire Department callout." Wouldn't you know it: we did! I had to ride my bike to the firehall. I made it in time to board the last truck ... which also had a dead battery! That vehicle is also imminently due for replacement. Don't ever let a vehicle know that it is being replaced! The fire, fortunately, was quickly contained by other crew members.

Now, I have to have a new battery delivered for the Civic, to last the next couple of weeks. Well, at least it will be a selling point for the new owner.

24-May-2008

With more warm weather, the garden is coming along well. Some of the greens that I planted last week are up already, and the strawberries are flowering like mad. In fact, my project this week is to build a cover for the strawberry patch to keep the birds off. I want to have it in place before the fruit starts to ripen in a couple of weeks.

The other evening, Wendy noticed that, when the sun catches it at just the right angle, our small Japanese maple glows a luminous red. With natural backlighting, this is the result. I promise that the colour was not retouched in this photo.

On Saturday, we went on the annual hike to Tree Island, a small islet just north of Denman Island. At low tide, it is a one km walk across mud flats.

The island is a large sand dune that has been colonized by a small forest. As a result, it has quite a variety of ecosystems from sand dunes to meadows to old growth forest. The hike was led by Andrew Fyson, a retired botanist, and he was able to point out some of the more interesting plants.

The little plant with sand all over its leaves is the sand verbena, which lives in sand dunes. It is home to the rare sand verbena moth, another of our engangered species. The sand grains sticking to the leaves help to reflect excess sunlight, keeping the plant cool on hot sunny days.

Speaking of which, the weather for the hike was ideal. It started off mostly cloudy, but, by mid afternoon, it was almost totally clear. It was warm, but not excessively hot - perfect hiking weather. A total of eight people participated in the hike.

One of the participants was a more experienced hiker, and we picked his brain for ideas on where to hike locally. We have an itch to go on some longer, more challenging hikes sometime soon. There are several hikes in the Beaufort Range of Vancouver Island.

For exercise, I have been riding my bike around the island most days. There is a nice 17 km loop that is all on paved roads. Since it takes the better part of an hour to do the circuit, I can count on having at least one ferry rush pass me, but otherwise, the road is pretty quiet.

Our hummingbirds are on a feeding frenzy this week. Perhaps they are feeding young hatchlings? At any rate, we can't leave home for more than a day because they empty three feeders in a day. Every evening, Wendy mixes up several cups of syrup for the little birds.

18-May-2008

With the arrival of the Victoria Day long weekend, summer is beginning. The weather suddenly turned warm: we have had some 27° and 29° days. What a concept: nice weather on the long weekend!

We have been busy weeding in the garden, and planting more seeds. In addition to the spinach, lettuce, chard and carrots that have already started growing, we planted mixed mesclun greens, arugula, beets, turnips, parsnips and squash. With the warmer weather, the grape vines are starting to leaf out. They are always about the last to wake up in the spring. If the flowers on the pear trees are any indication, we could be in for a bumper crop of fruit this year: the trees are covered with blossoms.

On Saturday, we went on a nature walk, put on by the Denman Conservancy Association, to the so-called Settlement Lands. Though the name sounds like an historical reference, it actually refers to a legal settlement, in which the Conservancy dropped a lawsuit for illegal logging in exchange for receiving this particular quarter-section. The land is a recovering clearcut and is ecologically significant for several reasons.

For one, it demonstrates the amazing recovery potential of the land. In the five years since we first saw it, it has changed from a moonscape to meadows, brush and young forest. Secondly, it is an important link in a string of protected properties through the middle of Denman Island. Several blocks of Conservancy land and crown land form a contiguous strip of protected forest and wetland.

Thirdly, the Settlement Lands are home to the recently-discovered population of critically endangered Taylor's Checkerspot butterflies. This pretty insect was thought to have been extirpated from Canada until a local biologist discovered this surviving population in 2005, probably founded by the remnants of the last known population from Hornby Island. It prefers open meadows, and its new habitat will become threatened as the clearcut recovers back to forest: a dilemma for the Conservancy.

Though the Checkerspot is rare nationally and internationally, it is easy to find in this area. Wendy and I saw four while walking to the gathering place for the nature walk, and I took this photo of a Checkerspot feeding on strawberry blossoms during the walk.

This weekend was also the weekend for the annual Pottery Tour. We visited the studios of three of our favourite ceramic artists. We blew our budget for artwork in one day as we couldn't resist making purchases at each of the three studios! In the composite photo, the top picture is a copper-glazed bowl with an amazing lustre to which, unfortunately, a photo cannot do justice. This bowl was Gordon Huthchens' latest work, as it was just removed from his kiln this morning, still warm. The vase at lower left was from Tom Dennis' studio, and the face of Helios is the work of Bentley LeBaron.

The Victoria Day long weekend not only brings out butterflies and pottery admirers; it also brings out tourists. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of large SUVs, with tinted windows rolled tightly up, driving around the island and parking downtown. The weather is forecast to turn rainy tomorrow; that'll fix 'em.

Earlier this week, the cougar was shot by a wildlife officer. Or rather, "A" cougar was shot. The Wildlife Committee is not convinced that this cougar is the same one that had been living on Denman all winter. That one would be seen occasionally, but would mind its own business and stay away from people. It hadn't been seen for several months. This week's cougar killed a sheep on a farm and was seen hanging around a barn. And it had an ear tag, indicating that it had been "busted" for being a nuisance in the past. It is sad that any cougar has to be shot. Many Denmanites are hoping that "our" cougar may still be out there, either living happily in Denman forests, or having swum back to Vancouver Island.

11-May-2008

Even though we didn't get much in the way of April showers, we are enjoying lots of May flowers now.

The apple and other fruit trees are flowering abundantly this week. There are some sizeable orchards on Denman Island. Whether they are actively maintained or not, the blossoms are beautiful. The orchard in the first photo is not ours, but is putting on a great show for passers-by on the road.

Our own fruit trees are contributing to the spring atmosphere too. The composite photo shows some of our apple, plum and pear blossoms.

Meanwhile, we have strawberry blossoms about to open, and the daffodils just keep on flowering. And, on that note, we just received our bulb catalogue in the mail (It seems a trifle early this year!), so it is already time to start thinking of what bulbs we want to plant for next year. I think we can predict that we will choose more daffodils; the supposedly deer-proof crocuses and snowdrops turned out to be a tasty delicacy for our deer. Daffodils are about the only thing they won't eat.

My main gardening activity this week was getting the electric fence ready for repelling marauding raccoons, a rather important chore with a strawberry crop only a few weeks away. Over the winter, movements of the fence and growth of weeds combined to short-circuit it. It took the better part of an afternoon to patrol the entire length of the fence, clipping weeds and repositioning the fence. Of course, it required testing... Even though I was wearing insulating work boots, I can certify it as fully operational. Yeowch!

With the upcoming long weekend next week, the busy season will arrive on Denman. There will be studio tours, nature walks and all kinds of meetings to go to. Public events are, of course, written up in the weekly paper, but an old tree stump at the main intersection downtown is also used as a public notice board. Because the tree is located at the top of the ferry hill and just a few metres from the general store, everyone on Denman has to pass it regularly. Community groups regularly hang notices there for their upcoming events. This was a particularly good week for notices, as you can see.

This week, we took a few days to visit my father in Alberta. We had a very pleasant visit, though we were startled fo see fresh snow on the ground in Calgary!

4-May-2008

Last week, I had you primed for a review of this week's concert with comedian Lorne Elliott. Unfortunately, he had to cancel the performance due to illness. There were a lot of disappointed people on Denman that evening.

We have been puttering in the garden. I continued to install soaker hoses in the various veggie beds. They now have soaker hose in 1/4-inch size, which is much easier to install close to the plants without damaging them than the old half-inch hose was. Once each bed has its hose installed, I cover it with straw mulch. The mulch holds in the moisture, preventing the soil from drying out, and it also cuts down on weed germination and growth.

This climate is perfect for growing all kinds of plants, weeds included. Most gardeners use mulches of various kinds to keep them under control. One well-known gardener down the road from us uses newspapers between his veggies to hold the weeds down.

While I was installing hose and mulching, Wendy was recovering an old burn pile site by covering it with decomposed wood chips and weeds that were removed from the garden when we rejuvenated our pathways. The old wood chips had deteriorated and become invaded by plants of all kinds, to the point that the paths were indistinguishable from undisturbed ground. We would have just composted the lot, but it makes a great quick treatment for an area with no vegetation.

Our red tulips are at their best right now. We have tons of daffodils all over the place, because they are the only spring flower that the deer will not eat, but tulips have to be confined to the fenced garden.

Today, Wendy and I went for a hike from Pickles Marsh to Central Park. The trail runs through mature forest on a quarter section of ccrown land, then comes out onto a quarter section of recovering clearcut, which is our Central Park. It was bought by the Denman Conservancy Association a couple of years ago. It is one of the home areas of the endangered Taylor's Checkerspot butterfly, which was discovered on Denman last year.

Central Park is recovering well from the clearcutting that happened about ten years ago. There are a lot of small hemlock and fir trees growing up, and some very dense thickets of fast-growing alder. We came across this flower that looks somewhat like a bleeding heart. I will have to find out what it is.

The Conservancy has done an excellent job of cleaning up the trails, mostly former logging roads, so that now there is a network of trails to explore. The main trail is the one we hiked, which connects several blocks of Conservancy and crown land into one long hike through some of the most beautiful and interesting areas of Denman.

27-Apr-2008

This week's main event was that Wendy returned home from visiting her parents in Nova Scotia. It took her a few days, but she has recovered from her jet lag and is back in our time zone. I was sure glad to have her back!

The cats were happy to have her back, too. While she was away, they treated me with suspicion, as though I were responsible in some nefarious way for her disappearance. They are much more relaxed now. By the way, the paper bags in the photo are supposed to be there: they are among the kitties' favourite toys.

The hummingbirds are drinking like crazy from their feeder. Last week, I already upgraded them from the small feeder to a larger one, because I was having to refill the small one every day. This week, Wendy has put out two large ones, and they are both being used a lot. Perhaps they have baby hummers to feed already.

Another bird certainly has babies already. I found this robin's egg shell on our lawn. The parents apparently take the eggshells a distance away from the nest so as not to give away the location of their nest to predators.

I have been continuing to get the garden in shape for the season. I got the strawberries weeded and mulched and dug some horse manure in around the rhubarb. It is really doing well, as you can see. I also set out soaker hose in several of the beds. I eventually want to install soaker hose in all the beds on a seasonally-permanent basis. It is a very economical way to irrigate crops, and the permanent installation means less injury to the plants.

The major community event of the week was the Fire Department's biennial auction, held today. People donate their unwanted stuff, and the proceeds go towards the Fire Department, the Sports Field, and Emergency Social Services. The Fire Department is tax-supported, but fundraising allows us to spend some money on non-tax-supportable projects like bursaries for students, as well as purchasing additional equipment above the budgeted amount. This year, the money will be used for new self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs). It is too early to tell how much money we raised, but the auction appeared to be very successful.

Someone donated a brand new kid's pedal car finished in fire department trim, complete with bell, red light and the words "Volunteer Fire Department" on the side. Needless to say, the Fire Department members chipped in to buy it. It will be featured in the annual Blackberry Fair Parade, probably with the Chief pedalling!

I was outbid on an elderly ("They don't make 'em like that any more") jointer. (A jointer is a power tool for planing board edges perfectly flat.) Power tools tend to fetch good prices, so you have to set your personal limit before bidding. On the other hand, I did pick up a nice exercise machine for $5.

This coming Tuesday is the final concert in the Concerts Denman season. The term "concert" is applied a bit loosely in this case, since it features stand-up comedian Lorne Elliott. It is sure to be good.

20-Apr-2008

Hmmm. There really isn't a lot to report this week.

I finished the deck construction by laying the deck boards and driving several hundred screws. It actually looks the way it was intended to look! Hooray! Of course, there are still a few finishing details...

I have also been puttering in the garden, weeding, mulching, chipping more branches to make pathways. I planted a bunch of potatoes: five rows. There is a row of tiny romaine lettuce plants already above ground.

The daffodils are finally flowering en masse. With the cool weather we have been having, it sure took them long enough! Still, they look pretty good now.

Speaking of weather, I see that they had a three-day snowfall in Alberta. I really shouldn't gloat. After all, we had a flurry here yesterday morning. It took until 10:00 in the morning for it to melt!

Wendy is due back from Nova Scotia on Wednesday. Not a moment too soon. I've missed her!

13-Apr-2008

Wendy is away in Nova Scotia this week, visiting her parents, so I am fending for myself. Fortunately, I am not totally incompetent in the kitchen, and, even more fortunately, Wendy left several meals in the freezer, so I should manage nutritionally, anyway. I miss her already. The cats do too; they have not figured out where their mommy went.

The weather this week has warmed up considerably. Our daffodils are still dormant after the unseasonably cold March, but I am expecting a flurry of blossoms shortly.


The salmonberries are now flowering, and this is what the hummingbirds have been waiting for. We have seen one or two hummers around for over a week, now, but suddenly there are a lot of them. This evening, at supper time, there was a major Battle of Britain re-enactment at the feeder, with hummingbirds zooming every direction. They are very territorial, with each hummer thinking that the feeder it its own private food supply and taking on all comers. Nevertheless, they occasionally tolerated each other on the feeder at the same time.

With the warmer weather, I have been able to get a lot of outdoor work done. The never-ending deck project is actually nearing completion. I was able to get the footings installed, the main support beam built, the joists laid, and the steps built. In the next day or two, I will get the deck boards installed. At that point, phase three of the deck will be complete. The remaining work will consist of railings and the glass roof over the side walkway. That will be a lot simpler, since the entire structure at that point will be above ground. The biggest part of any construction job is simply getting it out of the hole and above ground level.

Other than that, it has been a quiet week.

6-Apr-2008

PSSST!

No, I'm not about to share a secret with you. That is the sound of me taking an Air Brake training course, this weekend. The Fire Department's new tanker truck will have air brakes on it, so all members of the department will have to get air brakes endorsements for their driver's licenses. Our department's air brake training is planned for early May. However, the Qualicum Beach Fire Department, a few miles down the coast of Vancouver Island, had scheduled a course for this weekend, but didn't have enough people signed up to let it go ahead. They needed a couple of bodies to fill up their course, so another officer and I volunteered to go.

I had assumed that it would be a really simple course "crammed" into an excessive amount of time, but I was surprised at the amount of material you have to learn. Air brakes are complicated things. It really did take all weekend - Friday night, all day Saturday, and most of Sunday.

In addition to having to learn about all the components and how they fit together, there was a substantial practical element to the course in which we had to memorize a lengthy pre-trip inspection procedure. I passed the practical test - being a former pilot has advantages when it comes to memorizing checklists - so all I have to do now is take the knowledge test at the provincial government office in town and I will be all set to drive the tanker, which is expected to arrive in late April or early May.

As an additional benefit, now I know what truckers are doing when they stop at the top of a steep downhill grade.

It has been a cool and showery week. There are more daffodils out every day, around the island, but the majority of them are still waiting for some warm, sunny weather to open. Some of the flowering trees and shrubs are starting to put on good displays this week.

We have replaced several more of the garden walkways with new wood chips, and it is starting to look quite spiffy. I have planted spinach, lettuce, chard and carrots.

31-Mar-2008

I absolutely refuse to show pictures of the two snowfalls we had this week. It is supposed to be spring here in Lotusland, and I would hate for anyone to get the impression that we are subject to Canadian weather. So, here, instead, are some of the last of the crocuses and the first of our daffodils.

Hummingbirds have been spotted elsewhere on Denman Island in the last week, but ours haven't arrived yet. Ours normally arrive a week after they are seen in lower areas, so we expect them any day now. Every time we see a little bird zipping around the trees, we grab the binoculars to check if it is a hummer, but so far none of them has been.

On Tuesday, I was going into town and drove down the ferry hill, where I was greeted by a B.C. Ferries employee who wanted to know if I was going to Buckley Bay or to Hornby Island. That was a rather unusual question, since normally, we don't have a choice of destinations. I quickly figured out that the dock on the other side of Denman must be out of commission. Sure enough, while I was waiting there, I could see the M.V. Tachek, the Hornby ferry, chugging up Baynes Sound.

It made for an interesting day at the West Denman dock, since we currently have two ferries serving on the regular Denman-to-Buckley Bay run. The Hornby ferry had to try to squeeze in dock time between our ferries. They thought about sending Tachek over to Buckley Bay directly from Hornby, bypassing Denman altogether, but apparently its deck is not compatible with the new dock at Buckley Bay. So the Hornby traffic had to disembark on Denman, drive up the hill, then do a U-turn and come back down the hill to board the other ferry.

The crossing from Hornby to Denman normally takes ten minutes. On Tuesday, it was taking an hour and a quarter, because of having to make the long voyage around the "Horn of Denman". Lest you think that I am making an unreasonable analogy with that expression, check out the video of the voyage that was posted on YouTube. The weather out in the more exposed waters off the south tip of Denman apparently made for an interesting trip!

In other ferry news, there was a protest against rising ferry fares this week. A group of Denman and Hornby residents protested by riding across to Buckley Bay, having a demonstration with speeches and placards, then getting back on the ferry without paying. It came off without incident and with media coverage. Whether it will accomplish anything remains to be seen. The government is stuck in its privatization rut and refuses to see reason or logic regarding fares. In fact, it apparently refuses to do the math either: ridership on the "small" ferry routes is decreasing about as fast as fares are increasing (hardly rocket science), so the government's attempts to make the routes pay their own way are failing. No one expects highways to be self-financing, so why should marine highways be any different?

On Friday night, we attended a concert in the Concerts Denman series, featuring two young operatic singers accompanied by piano. The three musicians were 18, 21 and 22 years old, all students in UBC's music program. The soprano, Simone Osborne, was absolutely magnificent! I am not normally a fan of opera music, especially not sopranos, but I was blown away by her performance. She won this year's Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in New York City, out of a field of 2600 singers. I guess operatic singing is not other people's cup of tea either, because the hall was not full, but they obviously didn't know what they were missing.

On Sunday evening, we had a traditional Nova Scotia maple syrup supper, in honour of Wendy's birthday. (That is the reason that this week's Diary is a day late.) We had some friends over to enjoy lemon and poppyseed pancakes, vegan "sausages", maple baked beans, all slathered in maple syrup, along with whole wheat rolls, fresh biscuits, and a dessert of chocolate peanut butter cookies. It was a right-some-fine evening.

23-Mar-2008

Happy Easter!

Spring has sprung. We got some nice sunny weather this week, enough for a few more crocuses to pop up. There haven't been too many deer around lately, so we got to enjoy them un-nibbled. We have tons of daffodils with big fat buds just waiting for a few more warm days before they flower.

We did some more cleanup work in the garden, weeding and digging in compost. I borrowed a small rototiller and turned over the winter clover in the unused beds. It was a nice machine, light and easy to use, and it had all seven beds done in under an hour.

Speaking of machines, we bought an electric chipper this week. With all the trees we cut up for firewood, there is always a big pile of branches left over. The larger pieces can be turned into more firewood, but the small pieces are a nuisance.

Most people here burn the branches. Burning can be a problem, though. You have to check the venting index, which tends to be poor in cool weather. (The venting index is published daily by Environment Canada, and indicates how well smoke rises. Burning when the venting index is poor causes major inconvenience for neighbours, and hardship for those with respiratory problems.) If you wait until warmer weather for a better venting index, by mid-April, the fire season starts, and then you have to get a permit to burn. By summer, burning is usually prohibited altogether. Even if conditions are right for burning, the branches are mostly green and don't burn very well.

A chipper is an ideal alternative. You not only dispose of any branches too small to use as firewood, you also produce a wonderful mulch, that makes a great surface for pathways. I tried it on one of the pathways between the beds in the garden, and really liked the result. We have several pathways that are due for re-finishing, enough to utilize all the chips that we can make this year. In future years, they can be used to keep the pathways in good repair, to surface other walkways around the property, or even as compost. We will never need to burn branches again.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the chipper worked. The electric models do not have the power of a gas-powered chipper, but this one had no difficulty in digesting branches up to one and a half inches in diameter. You just feed them into the slot at the top and catch a flurry of chips in a bucket underneath. It only takes 10 or 15 minutes to fill a large wheelbarrow.

In our continuing quest for more pantry space in the kitchen, Wendy had her sights set on a big former coat closet. It was no longer much use for coats, since we moved the front door to the opposite side of the house, but much of the large vertical space was wasted. A little bit of work in the shop produced a sturdy shelf, suitable for holding her large (and heavy!) bins of flour.

We are awaiting the arrival of the humingbirds any time now. Harold Birkeland, down in the lowlands, usually reports their arrival in mid-March and we get them here a week later. This year, they seem to be late, but we have the feeder hung up, ready and waiting for them.

We also hung up our wind chime for the season, and have been listening to its little random melodies as we worked outdoors.

16-Mar-2008

This week, we have had some quite nice weather. I have taken advantage of it to take a break from deck construction and work in the garden instead.

The first picture is not from our garden, but from the lawn in front of the Guest House, downtown. I don't know what this little blue flower is, but it is one of the first to bloom in the spring, and it is quite pretty. The lawn there is carpeted with them.

The purple crocus is in our garden, under one of the apple trees. The crocuses in the garden are behind a fence and have not been browsed by hungry deer.

We spent the last couple of days tidying up the garden, raking up dead vegetation, removing tree limbs from one of our winter blowdowns, and so on.

Believe it or not, one of the most important tasks, even this early in the season, is weeding. Unlike weeds on the east side of the Rockies, ours grow all winter. At this time of year, they really start to take off. If we didn't get ahead of them now, we'd never be able to catch up. I weeded the rhubarb, mint, garlic and strawberry beds, while Wendy raked grass and dead vegetation from the flower beds and under the fruit trees.

The rhubarb and garlic, as you can see are already off to a vigourous start, and are looking very healthy.

I dug a bunch of fresh compost into several of the beds. Composting here is amazingly simple. Back in Alberta, I used to try composting, but nothing ever decomposed. I would pile up alternating layers of different materials, turning it regularly, and hosing it down if it got too dry, but nothing seemed to make dead leaves look like anything other than dead leaves, no matter how long I waited. Here, I can pile one of the compost bins high with just about anything. Within two weeks, it has reduced to half its volume, and, by the end of the season, it is nice rich black compost.

On Monday evening, we were invited out to a dinner, where the food followed an Ethiopian theme. Ethiopian food is mostly vegan, which meant we were able to try just about all the very tasty dishes. Lentils are prominent in a lot of Ethiopian dishes. It was followed by lemon pie for dessert, which, Wendy assured everyone, is a favourite delicacy in Ethiopia.

Happy St. Patrick's day, tomorrow!

9-Mar-2008

While the lowlands of Denman Island saw their first snowdrops four weeks ago, up here in the ridge, ours finally bloomed this week. Both of them! Our crocuses are out too, now. By the time I finished working yesterday and grabbed the camera, the crocuses had closed up for the night, and we didn't get enough sunshine today for them to open at all. But there they are!

The next time I order bulbs, I will be a little more skeptical of the claim that they are "deer-proof". Notice, on the crocus picture, how all the leaves have been nibbled! We can't prove it, but we suspect the deer may be partly responsible for our dearth of snowdrops. Next year, I am going to suggest that Wendy let the deer fend for themselves in the fall and winter, and that she feed them the apples in the spring to keep them away from the bulbs.

We might have to racoon-proof bulbs, too. There were several spots where we thought we had planted bulbs, and where we found small holes and no plants.

We also have garlic up, and the rhubarb is showing new growth above the soil. We put horse manure on it last year, and it really liked that. The new growth this year looks very vigorous.

The big old maple tree that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, and of which I had a photo last week, is now in our woodyard. It took all afternoon yesterday to cut up the trunk and branches into pieces that were small enough to wheelbarrow down the hill. My chainsaw was close to its limit to get through the butt end of the trunk. Even when cut to stove length, some of the rounds weighed 75 pounds or more.

I spent some time this afternoon chainsawing those pieces further so they can be run through the splitter. Maple is a particularly hard wood, and this tree was all gnarly and knotty. It would be asking too much of the poor splitter to try to crack one of those full-sized pieces open. With smaller-sized, straight-grained pieces, it does quite well, though. Between the trunk pieces and all the branches, we could end up with the better part of a cord from it, not to mention a stack of kindling from the twigs and smaller branches.

Earlier in the week, I did a two-day decking marathon and finished phase two of the studio deck. It looks pretty spiffy, if I do say so myself. As you can see, there will eventually be a roof over this section.

This morning, we went out for brunch: Lee Andra had another of her Mexican brunch extravaganzas at the community hall. It is fun to eat out once in a while. We had a big vegan plate of tacos, black beans, guacamole and salsa, along with some excellent coffee. Yum!

2-Mar-2008

This has been a fairly slow week. No concerts or community meetings to go to.

We did notice a couple of signs of spring: some crocuses and some early daffodils are out along Northwest Road. We don't have any flowers yet at our shady lot, but the daffodils have multiplied since last year and look healthy. Another few weeks and I will have photos of them to show you.

In town this week, there were lots more crocuses out, and all the stores now have their bedding-out plants on display outdoors. Such a shame that people in some parts of the country are digging out from a blizzard this week while we are getting ready for gardening.

Speaking of which, we need to get the garden ready for planting vegetables soon. Some people here grow veggies year round. They leave carrots and turnips in the ground all winter and pull them as they use them. Kale grows all winter here, providing year-round gardeners with fresh greens.

I have been continuing to work on the side deck of the studio. I finished the remaining columns and placed them on their footings. The deck is finally starting to take shape and look like something: I have the beams and the rim joist in place. Next week, I will install the remaining joists and start on the deck boards.

Last week, I mentioned the unsightly old maple tree we had cut down next to the house. Due to a superfluity of pictures last week, I didn't post one of it. This week, I am making up for that lack. As you can see, there is quite a bit of firewood to be split and stacked.

24-Feb-2008

Last Sunday evening's concert was actually two events on one program. The first half consisted of a troup of Chinese acrobats doing plate spinning, juggling, and acrobatics. In one of the most impressive acts, one of the performers balanced on a board on a roller while flipping multiple dishes from the opposite end of the board onto her head. She started with one dish and worked her way up to four at a time, ending up with ten dishes on her head.

The second half of the program was a concert by the duo Silk Road. The music was played on a pipa (Chinese lute), accompanied by guitar. We have heard them before at the Calgary and Canmore folk festivals, and really enjoyed them every time. The music spanned a wide variety, from traditional Chinese tunes to Irish jigs and reels. The pipa gives quite a different flavour to celtic music!

Our shopping trip to Courtenay was unremarkable except for a couple of unmistakable signs of impending spring. We saw someone washing their car the old-fashioned way with a sponge and bucket, something you would never see on the prairies in February. The other was an outdoor display of primulas for sale at Thrifty's.

Speaking of flowers, our snowdrops and crocuses were a disappointment. They were set back, no doubt, by the cold spell we had at the end of last month. The tops were also nibbled by deer. They are supposed to be deer-proof, but the deer didn't know that. Deer have to learn what they can eat, which means that the young ones nibble everything before deciding, "Nope, don't like that." We may still see some snowdrops, but they will likely bloom along with the daffodils in a little while. The daffies are up now, and are looking healthy. Quite a few of the bulbs have multiplied and are coming up in clusters.

This week, B.C. Ferries started work on widening the West Denman ferry hill. Because the ferry terminal on the west side of Denman Island has no apron area to speak of (it holds at most six cars), people waiting for the ferry queue up on the road leading down to the dock. Since the road is only a narrow two-lane road, and the queue is often well over fifty cars long, this leaves only one lane available for two-way traffic. In the minutes before the incoming ferry docks, a lot of cars head down the hill in the wrong lane to drop off foot passengers. This poses a problem, because the same cars have to come back up the hill in the same lane. It is not uncommon for a downhill car to have to back all the way up the hill to yield to an uphill car.

While B.C. Ferries doesn't like to spend money, someone apparently whispered the word "liability" to them and they quickly decided that they needed to add a queueing lane to the road. For the next five weeks, they will be culverting and filling in the ditches to make room for the additional lane. As part of the fun, the contractor has decided to obtain gravel from Vancouver Island instead of from Denman Island, so most ferry sailings will be transporting one or two tandem dump trucks of gravel. Weight and stability requirements for the ferry mean that there will be little additional room for cars. This is the small ferry, since our regular ferry is still off in drydock being overhauled. They plan to add a second ferry to the run ... in about five weeks' time!

To help islanders keep an eye on the construction and the ferry lineups, Del Phillips, who resides on the ferry hill, has set up a webcam of the fun.

We had a big maple tree near the house cut down this week. The tree was not pretty, leaning at a drunken angle. It had large branches that were threatening to overhang the house, and it blocked the light. With nothing going for it, and several strikes against it, we called in an arborist, and now it is firewood.

This week's eclipse of the moon would have been a spectacular sight, as it would have been rising over Hornby Island. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, so all we noticed was that the night wasn't as bright as it should have been. There'll be another one in 2011.

My projects have been continuing. I completed the shelving unit for the kitchen, and it is now installed. Outdoors, I spent a lot of time sculpting two of the eventual four columns that will support the covered deck along the side of the studio building. I say "sculpting" because it takes a lot of chisel work to carve out the various beam pockets. Each beam has to fit precisely into its pocket. You don't dare make a mistake, because the 6x6 posts cost a bundle.

The two posts are finished and installed. It was a great relief to haul them into position and find out that the beam pockets lined up and fit perfectly.

Today, a gorgeous day, we went for a walk on a trail we have been meaning to check out for a while. It turned out to be the remains of an old logging road, so it was easy hiking. Along the way, we stopped at the Pickles Marsh bridge and noticed clouds of insects swarming above each clump of vegetation in the marsh. Another sign of spring.

The trail led us in an unexpected direction, ending up on the summit of Denman Ridge, with a magnificent view over Baynes Sound. On the way back home, we spotted large numbers of bald eagles soaring in the ridge lift and thermals. We counted sixteen eagles visible at one time. The best I could do in one photo was nine.

17-Feb-2008

The weather has finally been warm enough and dry enough for outdoor work, so I have been working on the post footings for the side deck of the studio. Digging holes, cutting rebar, mixing concrete, pouring footings, cutting and positioning sonotube, mixing more concrete, pouring columns, setting anchor bolts. It was a major performance. Like all construction jobs, just getting it above ground level takes half the effort. However, I now have a nice row of concrete post footings ready to take the posts that will support the side deck and its roof.

Whenever the weather has been too cold or too wet for outdoor work, I have been working on an indoor project: a shelving unit for the kitchen.

Between rising ferry fares and global warming, we have decided to limit our trips into town to once every two weeks. Eventually, we want to cut them down to once a month. However, that means that we need to have two weeks' or a month's worth of groceries on hand. Wendy keeps a lot of her baking and cooking supplies in plastic bags in a drawer. The drawer is already too crowded, hence the need for more shelves.

The shelves will hold mason jars for storing beans, raisins and such things, as well as canned goods. I applied the second coat of stain today. The final touch will be a low fence across the front of each shelf to keep earthquakes and wayward cats from knocking jars off the shelves.

It is so nice to have a good workshop to be able to do such projects!

Our cultural event this week was a fashion show, put on as a fundraiser for the Renewable Energy Denman Island (REDI) group. REDI is planning to install solar-powered emergency lighting in the Community Hall. In the big storm last winter, many people who had no heat or power used the hall as an emergency shelter. The idea of the emergency lighting is that, if that need ever arises again, life in the hall will be a bit more bearable. It is also a highly public showcase project for the benefits and practicality of solar power. The fashion show was to raise money for that project.

This was no ordinary fashion show. All the costumes were made from clothing and materials picked up at the popular Denman Island Free Store, or from other recycled material. Some of the costumes were serious and some were goofy, but all showed amazing creativity.

Wendy was one of the models, showing three different costumes. In this photo, she is wearing an elegant pink outfit made from a recycled bathrobe.

The final photo shows one of the less serious outfits. Well known local gardener Sandy Kennedy is wearing what appears to be her entire garden, made from recycled decorations from some floral-themed event in the Community Hall.

The fashion show featured a band (The Free-Cycled Four) playing instruments made from Free Store kitchen utensils (plus a non-recycled electric bass), as well as our local chapter of the Raging Grannies, singing songs of recycling. A dessert counter offerd a wide range of sweet treats, including several vegan options.

The event was well-attended, with standing room only in the hall. I haven't heard the word on the final door receipts, but it appeared to be a smashing success.

Tonight, we will be going to another concert in the Arts Denman concert series, for which we have season tickets. Tonight's concert features Silk Road, a Chinese-Western duo, and Chinese Acrobats. Tune in next week for a review.

10-Feb-2008

It has been an interesting week for weather. On Tuesday, we had a big storm, with lots of rain and high winds. It brought in warmer weather, though. The combination of higher temperatures and rain finally melted the last of the snow. It is so nice to be able to park the car in the driveway again!

On Thursday, I decided to take advantage of the warm weather to prune the apple, plum and pear trees. I entered the garden and, where I expected to see apple trees, I saw a great big douglas fir. Apparently, on Tuesday evening, a big tree beside the neighbour's driveway had come down onto our garden fence.

My first thought was to grab the chainsaw, not the camera, so I only have "after" pictures to show you. When I first saw the tree, it was supported by the fence, eight feet in the air, totally blocking the view of the first apple tree. The pictures show the pile of branches and the bucked up trunk of the fir.

The garden fence was a bit crunched, bit not too badly. The fir just missed the apple trees. It was a big tree, maybe 100 feet tall and 16 inches across at the butt end. More free firewood!

The fruit trees did get pruned once the wood was taken care of, and they look a lot better for it.

On Thursday, we attended a meeting on solar hot water, put on by our local renewable energy group. Since the only conventional heating sources for hot water here are electricity or propane, solar hot water makes a lot of sense economically, in addition to the environmental benefits. The meeting described some of the different solar configurations, and some folks described their experiences with building their own systems.

Wendy and I have been thinking about installing a solar hot water system in a couple of years, once we get caught up on some of our other projects. It is a practical retrofit for an existing house. Since the sun never clears the treetops in winter at our house, we would only use it for three seasons of the year. This simplifies the design, since we would not need frost protection. Our neighbours across the street are planning to install a system this year, so we will be checking with them to see how it goes.

On Friday, we attended a birthday party for two of our friends, Bentley and Doug, both of whom turned 70 this year. (Actually, Bentley turned 70 last year, but he postponed the celebration so they could celebrate it together.) There were probably about 100 people there, and the cool thing was that we knew most of them. We probably knew as many people in that one room as we did in the whole of Calgary when we lived there.

Today, the weather forecast called for lots of rain. It did rain heavily for a short time, but then cleared up into a very nice, mild day. We took advantage of the unexpectedly pleasant weather to do more log splitting and post-hole digging. I have the post holes ready for concrete now.

While we were outside working, we could hear tree frogs croaking in the woods. Winter must be over!

3-Feb-2008

Well, I never would have expected it, but I got my old rank back!

This week's fire practice was the Department's Annual General Meeting. Along with various reports, there was a bit of a shuffle among the officers. One of the two deputy chiefs stepped down, one of the captains was promoted to deputy chief, and another captain is going to be concentrating on starting up a Fire Department Auxilliary. The result was that there were two captain vacancies, and I was appointed to one of them.

I guess that will mean more training. In particular, I will likely get to be the Incident Commander the next time we have a live fire practice. Time to crack the books!

I have already been issued my shiny new red helmet. For easy identification on a fire scene, ranks are denoted by the colour of one's helmet: yellow for firefighter, red for captain, blue for deputy chief, and white for chief. Our blue for deputy chiefs seems to be unusual, but the other colours are fairly standard across North America.

It remains cold (for us) here. Temperatures have been on the low side of normal for a couple of weeks now, even though we have had quite a few sunny days. (It`s that darned arctic airmass infiltrating across the strait from Canada.) We still have snow on the ground that stubbornly refuses to melt, while most other places on Denman are snow-free. Being up on the ridge, our house seem to have had more snow than most areas to begin with. The sun does not climb above our treetops yet, so it isn't melting as fast as elsewhere. It is going to take a major heatwave or a major rainstorm to melt it.

With the cold and snow, there hasn`t been much opportunity for outdoor work. I have started building a shelving unit for the kitchen. It is nice having a well-equipped workshop for such work.

Yesterday, we went into Courtenay to attend the World Community Film Festival, an annual festival of documentary films. This is our second year attending it, and the films were every bit as good as last year. We saw films on biodynamic farming in India; an AIDS clinic in southern Africa; whales and the scientist who discovered whale song; sweatshop textile workers in China; the antiwar movement within the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam era; a primary school from a refugee camp in a war-torn region of Uganda that entered in a music and dance competition against all the other schools in their country; and the story of a military observer in the Darfur area of Sudan and his struggle to bring the deterioring situation there to the world's attention (deja vu Rwanda). And that was only a fraction of the films that were being shown! We kept the program so that we can rent the ones we missed.

The film on the Ugandan schoolchildren (called War / Dance) was especially moving. The kids, all refugees from the civil war there, many traumatized by the conflict, worked together with dedication and abundant talent to earn the respect of their more fortunate peers from more peaceful areas of the country. It has been nominated for an Academy Award, deservedly so, in our opinion.

27-Jan-2008

The weather this week has been clear and cold, with the temperature frequently not getting above zero until the late morning. Stop laughing! That counts as cold here. Any time you need to wear gloves, it is considered cold.

Chickadee Lake was frozen solidly enough that one could carefully walk on the ice, though I would not recommend doing so over water that was more than a couple of inches deep. When I commented on the thickness of the ice, one of the old-timers told me that, in years gone by, one could skate on Chickadee Lake almost every year, and there were regular hockey games on its surface. It is certainly uncommon these days.

The clear, cold weather makes for great views out over Baynes Sound to the mountains on Vancouver Island.

My outdoor work this week has consisted of digging holes for the footings of the covered deck at the side of the studio. With the ground frozen, I had to chip the top inch of soil off with a pick. Below that, however, it was unfrozen and the digging was only impeded by lots and lots of rocks.

While I was digging, Wendy has been continuing to play with the log splitter. She has about a cord stacked already, and has made a sizeable dent in the pile of unsplit wood. I contributed to her efforts by cutting up and hauling another tree from last year's storms. We should have about two cords when everything is split and stacked. This is next winter's firewood. Our goal is always to have fuel on hand for the following winter and be collecting more for the winter after that. That way, all our wood will be well dried, and we will have a reserve on hand if we have a particularly hard winter.

While we were outside digging and splitting, one of our neighbours stopped by on his way to someone else's house. He commented that we looked like a picture of pioneer domesticity, working on our land while a curl of smoke came from the top of the chimney. He should talk: he and his wife live off the electrical grid in a little cabin that they built themselves.

One of my projects for this summer (yes, another project - yippee!) is to rebuild the woodshed. What we have is a jerry-built conversion from a kid's play fort. One of our neighbours has a beautiful, well-built woodshed that I studied in order to get ideas for ours. It will have a higher roof, for one thing; no more bonked heads! It also needs to have better air circulation than we have now, to ensure that the wood dries out properly.

Wendy received a surprise package in the mail this week. In it was an entire Christmas village that her grandmother used to have when Wendy was a child. Wendy's mother, instead of packing it away this year, decided to send it to us.

On a sad note, on Saturday, the Fire Department was called out to handle a vehicle fire near downtown Denman. The vehicle, a camper van, was fully engulfed in flames when we arrived on the scene. Unfortunately, when we got the fire under control, we discovered that there had been an occupant inside. I think it is only the second fatality in the Department's history, the first since I have been a member.

20-Jan-2008

This has been a quiet week.

There hasn't even been any weather to write about, since a great big high pressure system off the coast has routed all incoming weather up north to the Alaska panhandle. We have had a few showers, but no storms. The U.S. Navy's weather modelling website shows the high remaining there all the coming week, too. (Click on the word "all" beside "Previous 12-hr Precipitation Rate" to see the maps.) However, next Sunday's forecast map looks like we might pay for it then.

So far, we have managed to record precipitation every day this month, even if some of it just consisted of dew or melted frost. I wonder if it will be a clean sweep.

Today's weather was cool and sunny, perfect for photographing the snow-covered Beaufort Mountains over on Vancouver Island. The second photo is of moss on the rock wall beside the road on the "big hill".

I completed my task of driving all the deck screws, and have now moved on to doing the layout for the next phase of deck construction. While I was doing construction stuff, Wendy was splitting firewood.

This morning, we went out for breakfast. From time to time, one of the island residents puts on a big breakfast / lunch event at the community hall. We missed the last one, in November, and were looking forward to today's event. The menu featured huevos rancheros (ranch-style eggs), with an option of refried beans and soy cheese on tortillas for us vegan folk. (How cool is that? They actually had a vegan option!) The food was excellent, and the event was well attended.

This afternoon, Wendy attended a meeting to plan an upcoming fashion show. The show will feature costumes made from recycled items from the Denman Free Store, and is intended as a fundraiser for Renewable Energy Denman Island (REDI), a local group that is trying to encourage islanders to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels.

We have heard that another of REDI's upcoming events will be a workshop on solar hot water heating. We are really interested in that, since it is a practical way to retrofit solar energy to an existing house. Solar hot water can significantly reduce electricity consumption and, of course, electricity bills.

Late-breaking news: The rumours of the demise of our island's resident cougar have been greatly exaggerated. There has been a reliable sighting of the big cat in the Lindsay Dickson Conservation Area just yesterday. There had been rumours that it had been shot, and the lack of recent sightings had made people start to believe the rumour. It is nice to know that we have a healthy ecosystem here, even if it does mean looking over one's shoulder when out walking.

13-Jan-2008

In spite of the fact that there was a lot of rain in the forecast this past week, most of it fell at night, only part of the day or didn't materialize at all. The result was that we had a string of several days in a row with several hours of good outdoor working weather. With amazingly good timing, this coincided with having a truckload of lumber delivered.

The result is that I went on a marathon of deck-building. The first phase of the studio's deck is now complete. Well, almost complete. I still have over 300 more deck screws to drive in, but at least all the boards are in place. There is rain in the forecast for tomorrow, which is fine, because my knees could use a break!

It is amazing how much more visible the progress is on a construction project once you get above ground level!

The first photo shows the front of the studio, with the new deck in the foreground, and the house in the background. The second photo shows the view from the deck down the hill towards the forest. There will of course be railings eventually, but, for now, I am just happy to have a flat surface.

The next phase will be more complicated: a deck with a roof, forming a covered walkway along the side of the building. The final phase will be a matching deck at the other end of the building, a mirror image of the one I have just finished. With decks on opposite sides, there will always be one sunny one and one shady one.

We got a new toy this week: a log splitter, a gift from Wendy's father. It will make the job of splitting our year's firewood a lot easier! I will have to build a proper work platform for it (Yay, another project!), but this test run proved it to be very capable.

I don't really have anything else to report. Deck building has been the whole of my activity this week. I will be monitoring the progress of our bulbs over the next few weeks until they flower, but, since I don't want to "rub it in" about our climate, I won't mention them this week!

6-Jan-2008

The weather this week has been wet and stormy, with three storms in a row. Every time the wind gets up, we start getting nervous about the power. One evening this week, the lights actually blinked a few times. Although Wendy's computer shut itself down, the power didn't actually stay off for more than a couple of seconds. There were scatterd power outages all around us, but we got off lucky this time. We figured that maybe all the unstable trees have already been blown down.

In a lull between storms, I finally got my wind instrument installed and connected. The physical installation was not too difficult, up on the power pole, but getting it wired into the network was tricky. I had followed all the wiring diagrams accurately, but had missed the fine print that said, "Oh, by the way, our cable is wired backwards from every other cable in the world." After several unsuccessful attempts to communicate with it, taking it down off the mast, disassembling it, then reinstalling it, I finally figured out what the problem was. I had to re-wire the connection box so its wires were backwards to match the cable, but now it is working fine.

The U.S. Navy's weather modelling website is showing three storms coming again this week: on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Tuesday's one looks like a doozy. Now I will be able to monitor just how stormy it gets.

Last week's picture of the Gingerbread espresso cake had enough mouths watering that Wendy got two requests (one from a total stranger) for the recipe.

We have our own resident deer population. The yearling deer that Wendy has been feeding are now quite tame and hang around the house a lot. They even follow us around as we move about the yard. Now that hunting season is over, we are less concerned about them wandering off, and are no longer giving them apples. We figure that eventually, they will realize that the good eats are gone. Still, for now, we get some good photo opportunities.

This week's third photo is specifically for the benefit of those folks living on the prairies. Some of our bulbs are poking their heads above ground already. We went on a bulb planting spree in the fall, and I have forgotten what is planted where. My guess is that these are snowdrops or crocuses, though they are big enough to be daffodils. They are a bit early for daffodils, though. I will be sure to post photos when they bloom, particularly if the prairies are enjoying -30°C temperatures!