Monday, July 31, 2006

I'm Home!

. . . and there is so-o-o much to do. Tales and pictures will have to wait a bit.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Arcologist Comes Full Circle

One year ago today, I made my first post on this blog.

Earlier today, I posted "Hills" (below) as a special feature to celebrate. It seemed finished, and I was late for a date with Garth, so I published it even though I had a few pictures and thoughts left over.

Now, in the comments, I hear that some people are still unconvinced (wink). Well. Everything is relative. In the farmyard where my husband grew up, there is some place that they call "the hill." I know where it is because they talk about storing equipment "on the hill," and I've seen the equipment. I haven't seen the hill.

At least "hills" is more honest than their proper name, the Moose Mountains. Hummocks? Shall we call them hummocks? The Moose Hummocks. (giggle - I actually sort of like that as a name. That may give you some insight into my character.)

Ever notice how a camera flattens hills? Try it. This is my meme challenge: show me your hills.

And here are just a few more pictures from mine.

Taking a cue from Madcap Mum, for comparison purposes: here are some views from just outside the farm gate.

Looking north - looks flat, doesn't it? Except... that horizon is awfully close.

Looking south.

Looking home.


Some hills tend to cradle you.

These hills lift me to the sky.

I took this view for granted.

All those years growing up on my parents' farm, I could walk out to this hill just across from the house, just about any time I wanted. Almost looks like an aerial photo, doesn't it? But when I took this picture the other day, I was sitting on a rock. A small one. With my feet on the ground.

We kids used to go out to "the South Slopes," as we called this spot, in late winter when the sun was getting stronger and starting to melt the snow off a few small patches near the peaks of the biggest hills. I still remember the thrill of standing on that bare brown grass and earth, reconnecting with the ground for the first time in months.

We'd come out here to look for the first crocus buds, too.

When I walked out onto this hilltop a few years ago, when we had just moved back to the farm after fifteen years in the city, I was struck with a sudden realization. This view shaped the person that I am.

The other day, with my camera, I tried to capture a sense of the place, but it was quite beyond me. Perhaps if I'd had enough digital memory left for a video, I could have given you a glimmer of it. As it was, I got stingy with the pictures and didn't even zoom in on Arcola, so all you get is a blow-up of part of the scene above. This is my childhood view of the town where I now live.

It's just that band of dark green with some buildings showing in it, stretching across most of the width of this view of the distant "flats." I sometimes worry if I'll offend someone by saying "the flats," but our Arcola-Kisbey history book is subtitled "Mountain Hills to Prairie Flats," so I guess it's okay.

Arcola is about half a mile wide, I'd say. The road you can see in the middle distance is running from north to south away from the hills, and the next north-south road, one mile east of it, runs past the left end of the dark green area.

To give you a sense of how steep this hill is, here is another picture looking across its slope from a bit further east. You can tell by the horizon line on the flats - I didn't tilt the camera. (Okay, maybe a teeny bit. It's hard to stand up straight on that slope.)

And if you're thinking that's not steep, try climbing it. Or try browsing through some pictures of foothills. Most of the steeper slopes that you see are supported by rock formations. This is just glacial till. Here is a view of the "South Slopes" from the meadow below, looking west across their face.

If geology and ecology and botany bore you, skip along to some more pictures below.

I've been told that the Moose Mountains are a dead-ice moraine. When the last continental ice sheet was retreating, a chunk of the ice sat here and melted, dropping all the clay, sand, gravel, and boulders it contained in a great hummocky heap. If I recall correctly, the hollows are places where pieces of ice remained longer, so the earth materials settled around the edges of these lingering ice blocks, forming hills, and when the ice blocks finally melted out, they left holes that softened into hollows. All along the foot of the hills there are sand and gravel deposits, where streams running out of the melting ice slowed down as they entered the glacial lake to the south. The sand settled out of the water as it slowed. The silts and clays took much longer to settle out, so they were more-or-less evenly distributed across the lake bed, forming the flats.

But we're still up in the hills, cradled in a meadow. I'll tell you a little bit about it. The crop in the foreground above is blue grama grass, a native species of short- and mixed-grass prairie, found most abundantly in dry upland areas. (Mom and Dad grow it for seed, for prairie reclamation projects.) This meadow was once a tame hayfield of yellow sweet-clover and smooth brome grass. Smooth brome was widely seeded as a hay crop and as a stabilizer for road ditches, and has taken over most of the "edge" area between grassland and wooded areas in our parklands. Any natural "edge" area - or "ecotone" as the biologists call it - is very important habitat to many wildlife species. My dad remarked that we probably don't know what "edge" used to be like here; brome grass has changed it, everywhere. In the photo above, you can see the extent of the brome grass, as the bright green area beyond the blue grama field, reaching to the edges of the trees and well up the slope of the hill.

Ah, but it's a part of who we are. I have a song about that, called "The Whispers in the Brome." Maybe some other day. I still have lots more pictures. Here's another view in the meadow.

And on the other side of the meadow, south of those "South Slopes," we have "The Big Woods."

It's not the deepest, darkest view I could get, that's for sure. I love to thread my way through the bush and peer through beneath the understory for tiny flowers and mushrooms and such, but when it comes to taking pictures, I'm always drawn to the light. Besides, I was in the perpetual hurry that seems to haunt me these days, so I mostly kept to the not-so-natural trails.

The cattle had just been put into this pasture the day I rambled through it, so they hadn't grazed and trampled out the trails yet. Give them a few days. Then you can breeze through without having to dodge the stinging nettles, and maybe come away with only a couple of woodticks.

The "Big Woods" are a bit unusual in this landscape. They cover a broad low area that probably has water table fairly close to the surface, supporting black poplar (or balsam poplar, Populus balsamifera) and willows. Usually these species are found in smaller areas along the margins of sloughs and the bottoms of ravines.

This is a view from the upper slope of a ravine at the west end of the "South Slopes." I didn't go down to the bottom. You can see a little bit into the shadows, but we're looking mostly at the crowns of the trees. The ravines are a different world. If it's hard work climbing the South Slopes, it's an ordeal climbing straight up through the tangle of thick underbrush on the side of one of these ravines. I've only done it a few times. Usually I seek out a good path before I start up. There is always a path along the bottom, where the cattle and deer and elk and moose follow the way of least resistance. There is good grazing and browsing there, too, even when the hills are dry, and in some of the deeper places there are springs.

Back up at the top of that slope, looking southwest, you can see the ravine running away through the center of the photo towards the flats. In the middle distance at the right side of the photo, you can see an area of more uniform grass cover. Again, it's an old field, now in tame pasture. Notice the contrast with the more diverse vegetation east of the ravine.

Time to turn for home. I did use a deceptive camera angle for this shot, getting down on elbows and knees to look through the needle-and-thread grass (Stipa comata) among the harebells (Campanula rotundifolia).

Oh, I still have more pictures, but it's time to go.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Don't Ask

Thus Spake Garth

"No. I don't need to [go to the hospital]. It's just a scrape that gushed a bit."

Me: "We're going."

Two stitches. The ER staff said it was "debatable," whether to suture it, but they had fun bantering about whether it was a laceration or a scrape. He fell off his bike, you see, when the dog he was exercising decided to go sideways, just as he was using both hands to pull a loose brake lever back into position. When he got home, I was at the computer (guilty) and he didn't say anything, just spent a moment in the washroom and then went to lie down. An hour or so later, he took off his shoes and discovered a problem.

I became aware of it when I turned from the computer to call him to the phone, and I could see a thick pile of bandages on his ankle, and little squirts still leaking out. After eight bandages, he hobbled off and put his foot up, insisting that he was fine. I cleaned up the bathroom a bit while fretting and fuming and repeatedly getting his brother's busy signal - I figured maybe Brian could talk some sense into him.

It would have been different if ER were open in Arcola. From our driveway, we can look across the slough and see the ER doors.

It would have been different if it had been my ankle instead of his. I am a very willing patient. I've been to ER here, when I swallowed wrong and dislocated a tonsil or something. They figured I just had a muscle in spasm after too much time on the phone, but I still think something was out of place, because after a while I tried swallowing with my chin tucked, and something slipped back into place, and I was fine.

Anyway, when I had nothing left to clean, I worked up my determination and phoned the HealthLine. Since Garth hadn't cleaned the wound or even looked at it well enough to describe it, the nurse advised me to take the bandages off, clean it, and check if it might need stitches.

Well, that took some doing. There's no point in attempting something like that without Garth's cooperation. He was stubbornly stoic; I was in a small flap. But once we got the bandages off, I was the calm one. Finally I could see what we were dealing with and know what needed to be done. Garth, meanwhile, was looking off into the corners of the room and wiping his brow.

Cleaned it, covered it with a smaller, neater pile of bandages (one bandage probably would have done it), and drove him off to Weyburn. The ER doctor was a delightful little lady from Northern Ireland. I mentioned Garth's upcoming trip back to Nepal (for three weeks in August, to test some software that was developed as part of his project). She told us about friends of hers who went climbing there. She had given them lots of information about altitude sickness. The husband decided he was feeling the symptoms and needed to go back down, so a guide took him, while the rest of the group carried on. He and the guide were both very fit, and perhaps pushed it a little too hard. He made it. The guide died.

Just before we left, the nurse drew the doc's attention to a second injury, this one on Garth's hand. Standing with his abraded hand palm up in hers, she looked him in the eye and said, "Now that's a scrape."

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Summer Music in the Southeast

Remember Forget! The Forget Summer Arts Festival is coming up fast, July 21 and 22 (a week from Friday), just up the road in - you guessed it - Forget! The line-up includes Eileen Laverty, Jack Semple, the WhistlePigs, and many more fine musical acts. Not confirmed yet, but the Arcola Community Band may put in an appearance, and you can bet there will be other local musicians showing up as "tweeners." Camping is included in the gate price, and what a deal it is! Check it out.

And if, like me, you have to (gasp) miss that one, here's another chance to get your toes tapping without driving halfway across the country: the Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party! Concerts every evening for a week! Michele Amy is organizing a camp for students of guitar, fiddle and piano, and while we've got all those fine instructors here - of course they'll play for us. For everyone! I've copied her announcement below. The location (Kenosee Boys' and Girls' camp) is out at the west end of the lake (with the Mother Theresa Centre); follow the main road west and then turn south where it says "Group Camps" or something like that. Then watch for the camp sign.
Just some information about a concert series in the Park that you might be interested in. We'd love for you to come and join us, and to help us spread the word.
The Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party is presenting a concert series featuring renowned musicians between August 14 - 18, 2006 at the Kenosee Boys' and Girls' camp at 7pm.
Cost is $5 for non-camp participants, and spectators should bring a lawnchair.
Children under 12 are free.
Concerts will be followed by a jam session, and spectators are welcome to bring instruments and join in as they please
The concert lineup is as follows:
Monday, August 14 at 7pm: J.J. Guy (fiddler) Ray Bell (guitarist/singer) Shamma Sabir (fiddler: eldest member of the Sabir Sisters, and a Grand Master finalist. She's also a dynamic performer!)
Tuesday, August 15 at 7pm: Trent Bruner (pianist from Norway), Cammy Romanuck (fiddler.. provincial Grand Champion and 5th place winner in Canadian Grand Masters), and Anthony Bzdell (guitarist, singer and key member of the Rotators)
Wednesday, August 16th at 7pm: Lucas Welsh (fiddler, one time Provincial Grand Champion and accomplished bluegrass guitarist, singer, mandolin player as well!) Shannon Shakotko (pianist / singer with a powerful voice) John Arcand (world-renowned fiddler and the master of the Metis Fiddle)
Thursday, August 17th at 7pm: Camp Pig 'n Whistle: Band scramble and talent show, followed by square dancing with an accomplished caller
Friday, August 18th at 7pm, Students' final show, instructors' performance, old tyme family dance with cash bar.
Hope this helps with your calendar! The music this week will be phenomenal!
...Michele Amy
As a student, I'll be in the final show (gulp) so come clap along for me! I dare ya to try to make me laugh . . .

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Klein's Breath in the Grand Scheme of Things

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein admits a connection between humans and global warming:
I don't argue with the science that all of us - as we exhale, as the population grows, as there are more vehicles on the streets and more carbons produced - that we contribute to global warming.
I wonder how terrifying it was for him to admit that to himself, given that he thinks his own breath is part of the problem. Really, Mr. Premier. The natural functioning of a human body only contributes to global warming after breathing stops. Up until then, you're a carbon sink. Carbon in, when you eat - remember carbohydrates? Carbon out, when you breathe. More carbon in than out, as you grow. Wait - it just occurred to me - dieting contributes to global warming! Somebody call Hollywood!

Relax, though. While some people shrink, others grow.

By the way, Mr. Premier, on your second point - population growth does not absolutely have to be a contributing factor. If the existing population were living with carbon uptake and emissions in balance, and the additional people didn't upset that balance, no problem.

On the other hand, we don't have to have "more vehicles" to have a problem. The existing vehicles have contributed to the existing problem, and will continue to add to it.

Let's get this very clear. A human being can exist within the carbon cycle, in balance. In fact, if we're out of balance, we can't carry on indefinitely, because we're using up a carbon sink - whether it's a forest being burned up in cooking fires (and not replaced by new growth), or the oilsands being mined out, or soil fertility being exhausted growing biofuel feedstocks. At some point we will be forced to resolve the imbalance.

We might want to consider resolving it early. Wouldn't it be nice to have some oil left in the oilsands after it becomes fabulously valuable as an industrial feedstock? Wouldn't it be nice to have some options about how we make the transition to a different lifestyle?

Yes, a different lifestyle. That's what I said.

Most of humanity currently has - or aspires to - a lifestyle that is beyond any possibility of balance within the carbon cycle. Since it comes down to lifestyle, each one of us has the choice: do we want the imbalance resolved or not?

It would be nice, though, if our politicians could help to make this clear.

Little Miss Muffett

A tiny spider is zipping up and down a silken thread about three inches in front of my monitor. I tried pointing the digital camera at him but I couldn't stand the flicker of the two refresh rates interacting, certainly not long enough to find the spider in the viewfinder. I wish he'd show up on a screen capture. He looked very funny in front of Wayne's full-screen dragonfly.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Thus Spake Garth

"It's better to do something illegal than to do something immoral."

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Rain, Rain, Where Did You Go?

When we left town on Friday morning, it was raining. We drove westward, into the weather that we assumed would be heading our way, and it rained and rained, harder and harder. Garth remarked that he hoped it wasn't raining like that at home, or our garden would be flattened. I had more confidence in the plants than that, and I was very glad that they wouldn't want for water while we were away. As we got close to Weyburn, we saw water pooling in the fields from all the rain.

As we drove south from Whitewood this afternoon, we passed through some showers and saw lots of lightning.

When we got home, I glanced at the garden and saw that it definitely hadn't been flattened. The pumpkin plants looked like they had doubled in size. But when I walked into the garden, I noticed that the flour lines on the yang side hadn't been washed away; in fact, they seemed as clear and bright as when we left.

And the ground was dry.

And the rain gauge was empty.

I phoned my mom, out at the farm just five miles north, and she said they got over an inch. They had been to Oxbow on Friday, and it rained all the way. Oxbow is south of us.

I guess the clouds must have parted over Arcola.