Monday, March 30, 2009

Highway of Heroes

While I was away last week, Canada lost four more soldiers in Afghanistan. I was working long hours, and did not have much time to read the papers or listen to the news. I was aware of the deaths, but I am ashamed to say they did not register with the usual heart wrench I feel at such news.

Today it registered, hard, and I cried for the senseless loss of those four young soldiers. And for the men and one woman that have already died in this Canadian mission. It was a video I saw for the first time on Rositta's blog that hit me.

Now, I don't normally get political on this blog, other than to occasionally curse politicians or bureaucracy, but that's just sport. And I am not really going to get political now. But I will say that I do not support Canada's mission in Afghanistan. It is a combat role, not the traditional peacekeeping role of which Canadians can be so proud. And more importantly, I don't believe combat can solve the complex situation in Afghanistan. I don't pretend to have the answers to solve the strife in that country, although if you have an hour or two and would like to discuss it with me I have plenty of ideas and opinions.

Regardless of my opinion on whether our troops should be there, I have nothing but respect for the individual soldiers serving in Afghanistan. Their dedication to duty, bravery, and belief in the work they do, makes me proud. (And they have done some good work on a grassroots level, just not a long-term solution level.)

What made me cry were images of the soldiers coming home on the Highway of Heroes. For those who are not Canadian, let me explain. The bodies of dead soldiers from Afghanistan arrive home by plane at the Armed Forces base at Trenton Ontario. There, they are met by their families, dignitaries and government officials. From Trenton their hearses travel 170 km. to the coroner's office in Toronto, accompanied by their families in limousines. The route is closed to all other traffic as they pass. As soldiers began making that last journey along highway 401 a few years ago, more and more people started to gather along the highway and overpasses to show pride, respect, and sorrow for the fallen, and support for their families. Local police and firefighters joined in. Now, virtually the whole route, which takes an hour and a half to drive, is lined by people saluting, waving flags, crying, or waving in tribute.

I am proud that, despite the fact that there is little support in Canada for our continued combat presence in Afghanistan, we do not hold it against our soldiers. They deserve only our respect. And I hope the journey along the Highway of Heroes (now officially named) gives the devastated families some comfort, in knowing that they are not alone in grieving their sons' (and one daughter's) sacrifice.

Here is the video. The Ontario Provincial Police created this tribute, and it is the OPP "Voices in Blue" that sings in it. Maybe the fact that I have a 22 year old son makes this more poignant for me. But I bet you too will not have dry eyes by the end, no matter how you feel about the war in Afghanistan.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Divine fish and dancing sky

I pause. Is this really the restaurant? I shyly open the door to this log building, which was built in the thirties as a store on the lakefront. A vivacious woman with abundant blond curly hair escaping from her baseball cap grins and yells out, "Look, our new waitress finally showed up."

"What's the pay for your waitress job?" I reply, immediately feeling at home. She, I find out later, is named Renata, and she is the chef, waitress, owner, dishwasher and entertainer of Bullock's Bistro in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

"Come on through, sit down," Renata invites, and leads me into a dining area about the size of my hotel room. All seven tables are full, so I take a stool at the tiny bar. "If you want a drink, help yourself from the cooler over there. Today we've got fresh whitefish, pike, trout, pickerel and arctic char, and all the meat on the menu." The meat on the menu is muskox, caribou, and buffalo. Fish can be battered, pan fried or grilled. All meals come with salad and freshly made fries. There are two choices of home made salad dressing: garlic or feta cheese.

I order pan fried arctic char. This delicate, pink fleshed fish looks like pale salmon, but has a flavour unlike any other fish I've tasted. It is only found in arctic and sub arctic waters. I try to get some every time I come north, but it is hard to find and rarely appears wild and fresh on menus.

For a single diner, there is no lack of reading material, on the walls, the ceiling, and even on the funky caribou's horns.

While watching Renata cook, which she does right behind the bar, I strike up conversation with my bar stool neighbours, both here on business like I am. One is a lab technician from Calgary, the other is a cable T.V. consultant from Florida, on his first trip to Canada. He is enchanted by the north. "They will never believe me at home when I tell them I drove on an ice road!" he says, shaking his head. He offers me a taste of his Great Slave Lake pickerel, which is sweet, firm, and a serious rival to my mouth watering arctic char.

Renata and her one helper keep the whole place laughing with her stories and banter. She serves my coffee with a warning: "Honey, be careful, this coffee will make your bra pop off." (Huh?)

Time to go. I zip up my parka, pull my hat down making sure it covers my ears, put my big mittens on over my gloves, and step out of Bullock's. After a moment I realize dogs are barking everywhere, all over town. Then in between barks I hear why; wolves are howling across the bay. The haunting sound of singing wolves brings sweet tears. When I was a girl my Grandpa Gordon taught me how to call to the wolves through a birch bark megaphone at our family cabin in Quebec. It took a lot of practice, but I got good enough to make them answer almost every time I called them.

As I walk back to my hotel, the northern lights dance and weave over my head. I have seen them several times on this trip, from my hotel balcony, but never so bright. The lights of the big city of Yellowknife (pop 17,000) had dimmed my view from the hotel. But here by the lake on the edge of town they are spectacular.*

What a wonderful place this is!

*(I do not have my good camera or a tripod with me, only a point & shoot, so I did not take the northern lights photo above. But it is very close in colour and pattern to the lights I saw that night.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

North of sixty

Ignore my whining about winter in my recent posts. Today I am going to rave about it. Seriously. It is cold, very cold, and there is fresh snow on the ground. But I am revelling in it! Look at me over there on the left, smiling in the snow. No, I have not gone mad.

I am in the arctic. In Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Where winter is not just endured, it is celebrated!

So to enjoy the winterness of this brilliant day in Yellowknife, I went where the locals go: on the lake. Yes ON it. Great Slave Lake. Where I watched kite snowboarding.

There were folks walking dogs, skiing, playing on snowmobiles, and flying regular kites on the lake. And visiting the art gallery. That's right, the art gallery in an ice castle. ON the lake.

The windows are made of ice.

I had a lively discussion with the creator, caretaker, and curator of this ice castle art gallery, the "Snow King", A.K.A. Anthony Foliot. He told me his ice architectural skills began when he was growing up in Northern Quebec, and neighbourhoods would compete with each other to make the best snow structures.When the ice is thin on Great Slave Lake in November, he saws out bocks to make the windows in the castle.

So, I had great time today time in the snowy cold. In March. Who'd have guessed it!Oh, and please, while I love all your comments, I ask you to refrain from making fashion fun of my over-sized parka with the real fur hood (ick). It's government issue. I'm working you see. Except for a few fun hours today.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

For the birds

We went up to our cabin on Pitt Lake this past weekend. The weather forecast called for rain, but that's not so bad. We have complete rain canvas for the boat (which is the only way to get there), and a weekend spent curled up in front of the fire with a book, without T.V., telephones, or crackberrys is bliss. (An aside here: although our cell phones do not work up there, we do have a portable marine VHF radio, so we can call for help if one of us cuts off a foot with the chain saw. So don't worry Mom.)

The main reason I was anxious to get to the cabin was to put up the hummingbird feeders. I adore hummingbirds. Thirty years ago a First Nations Elder in a community near where I was working on an archaeology dig gave me the name "Hummingbird" in Salish. I have considered this beautiful, fearless, little creature my totem ever since. We get dozens of Rufous hummingbirds at the lake, flashing in the sunlight, dancing and diving around the hummingbird feeders. In summer, with the windows open, often the first sound I hear at dawn is the soft drum-roll of their tiny wings.

We also get the occasional Anna's hummingbird. This is the northernmost edge of Anna's range. A few will even winter over in southern Vancouver Island and some parts of Vancouver. At Pitt Lake, they are still only seasonal visitors. Their iridescent scarlet heads are breathtaking.

Hummingbirds usually return here about the first week of March. Some years they can be spotted at the end of February. I knew their migration north has been a little slow this year, but it was important to me to get those feeders up and ready. The little jewels arrive exhausted after their long flight from Mexico. (Hell, even I'M tired after a flight from Mexico, and that's just from ordering cerveza on board the plane. I don't have to flap my wings.)

So the feeders are up, but there are no hummingbirds yet. In fact they may be very late this year. If they have any sense.

If any of you in more southern climes see my hummingbirds flying north, tell them from me: "Little ones, you should hang around in California a while. As much as I would love to see you, you don't want to be here yet."

Here are some photos I took Sunday as we were leaving the lake.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pigs flew

Friday I was walking down Howe Street, heading back to my office with my take out lunch from Salad Loop. It was a crisp but bright day, and I was walking slowly, to enjoy the sun on my face. Suddenly a vintage Camaro with two young men in it swerved over to the curb beside me. I could see the passenger studying a map. The driver rolled down his window (He was closest to me, Howe is a one way street) and asked: "Hello, can you help us? Can you tell us how to get to the Lions Gate Bridge?"

"Sure", I said, "go down two blocks to Georgia Street, turn left, and Georgia Street will lead you right over the bridge."

"Great, thanks very much, and you have a good day."

"Guys, I should thank you, for making my day. Two men stopping to ask for directions!!!! I'm calling the Guinness book of Records!"

Monday, March 09, 2009


Just over a week ago I wrote about spring in the air, crocuses and primulas blooming, and the promise that the winter blahs (full blown SAD in my case) would soon be gone. I did not just post those pics to annoy my Mom (although it is tradition, for 20 years or so I have been teasing her yearly with letters, then e-mail, and then blog posts about Vancouver's February flowers). But I had truly felt a lifting of spirit. A hint of a promise that I will soon go outside and feel lovely sunshine on my face, and warm soil in my garden.

But now I have been sucker punched. Mother nature is one sadistic bitch. Look at these photos I took today:

Friday, March 06, 2009

Henry loves kitty cats

"Honey, I'm just taking the dogs out for their bedtime pee."

Henry, Tika, come on, lets go out. Walkies!"

"Man it's dark out here guys...Tika, what's wrong, why are you whining old girl? Hey! Tika, where are you going? Why are you running back to the house, you didn't even pee yet."

"Henry, where are you? OH NO! Henry come! No don't go over that way!!! Go back to the house with Tika. Ignore that kitty, he does NOT want to play with you. It's a bad bad, kitty. NOOO!!!! Oh shit, not again. Get over here you stupid, half-witted dog. That's the third time now, and you still have not learned. Oh god, right in your face again. You are spectacularly stupid."

"I've told you, IGNORE the black kitties with the white stripes down their back, you stinking idiot."