Monday, September 26, 2022

Busy Autumn Days


The past two weekends have been full of family events - a birthday party for the three lovely people seated on the couch (son-in-law, son, and daughter). Two little people wanted in on the photo, too. I made an apple cheesecake with caramel sauce, and a Swedish berry cake. 

We had such a good time together. Everyone contributed to the meal of Ecuadorian food - pinchos (grilled beef on skewers, humitas (corn pudding baked in corn husks), curtido (onion/tomato salad), chifles (plantain chips), patacones (thicker slices of plantain, smashed and fried), salchichas (street food of hot dogs and french fries). It was all delicious, if a bit heavy. 

This past weekend, my parents came for a visit. It's always lovely to host them. In preparation, I made some Dad's Cookies - not so named because my dad likes them (which he does), but a cookie that my parents only purchased on vacation. It's made with oatmeal and coconut. I also made Lemon Bars, one of my mom's favourites. 

I baked bread, using a recipe from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Bread cookbook - Struan - filled with good grains like brown rice, oats, oat barley, and polenta. All the individual bits disappear into a really delicious bread that makes great toast. The first crust disappeared as soon as the loaf was cool enough to slice. 

The dahlias continue to fill the garden with colour. These days mornings feel like autumn, but afternoons are definitely still summer. Everything is very dry and we would welcome some steady rain. 

Over the weekend we invited each of our children and their families over for a meal - one on Friday night, one for Saturday breakfast, and one for Sunday dinner - so they could visit with their grandparents (and great grandparents) more easily than in a crowd with everyone together. 

On Sunday afternoon we took a walk along the waterfront in Sidney. Beautiful blue skies, hot sun, and herons in the water. How we are enjoying these days. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A Small Hamlet in a Big Landscape, and an Adventure


En route to the Arctic Ocean, we stopped in Fort McPherson to purchase a few groceries. While there we met an Inuvialuit man who asked us about our trip, opening the conversation for us to ask us about his life. 

He is from the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk which perches on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. His wife is Gwich'in and because her mother needed some care, they lived in Fort McPherson. He was purchasing groceries for a trip he planned to make, down the river, past Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk. His purpose was to hunt a beluga whale, about 16 feet long, he said, for food for the winter. People there still live very traditionally, hunting and fishing, gathering berries, and storing food for the long months of winter. 

In 2017 a year-round road opened between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk (shortened to Tuk by everyone). Previously, access was via air (costly) or by ice road for four months of the year. The landscape changes from boreal forest of spindly evergreens to vast expanses of tundra marked by innumerable lakes. Small cabins hug the lakeshore, providing shelter for hunting parties. Surprising to us were the seemingly abandoned snowmobiles alongside the road. We saw at least 50 of them. It seemed to us that when the snow melted, the snowmobiles were left in situ, and when the snow returns, owners will return and use them once again.

We saw a number of what I think are Sandhill Cranes on the tundra. They migrate here to breed, from the southern United States where they spend the winter. They are large birds, and quite striking with the red patch on their forehead. 

On several lakes Trumpeter Swans drifted with their young. We sometimes see them here on Vancouver Island in late winter when they are returning north to lay their eggs and raise their young. Such elegant birds. I wondered if they were Tundra Swans, but because they are so large, I decided they were Trumpeters. I'm open to any correction.

The hamlet of Tuk is a string of small homes on a peninsula jutting out into the Arctic Ocean. Industrial buildings dot the landscape, including the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line radar station, which monitored Soviet planes during the Cold War. The still-active station is now run remotely. 

I was disgusted by the evidence of oil exploration in this area. In previous decades (70s and 80s), several companies brought in huge amounts of equipment in order to explore for natural resources. They built camp buildings to house workers, and constructed maintenance yards. The oil business diminished and all of this equipment remains, despoiling the landscape. A half-submerged barge sits in the harbour, and heavy equipment is left to rust. My opinion is that the companies that brought this stuff here should be made to remove it. 

This was the coldest day of our trip, with a temperature of 8 degrees Celsius. The previous day had been rainy, but before that unusually high temperatures were the norm for this summer. We wondered about taking a dip in the ocean, but the chill Arctic wind howling from the north soon changed our minds. Around noon, however, the wind died down, the sun came out, and it warmed up enough for us to kayak at the Pingo Canadian Landmark. We wore several layers, including rain jackets and rain pants, along with our life jackets.

Our goal was this boardwalk across the tundra to a viewpoint overlooking a particularly large pingo. What is a pingo? It's an ice-cored hill that rises from the flat tundra. The Inuvialuit people use them for landmarks while traveling. We tied up at the dock and walked along the 400 metre boardwalk. Along the way we noticed a variety of plants, including wild rhubarb and cloudberries, in the tundra. 

Although one could paddle directly to the pingos, walking on them is not allowed during the spring, summer, and autumn, as they are quite fragile. 

Returning to the dock, we prepared to get into our kayaks. Tim was busy doing something with his, and although he usually holds my kayak for me to enter, I decided to be independent, and enter it on my own. (cue ominous music) Things were going well until there was a realization of impending doom as the distance grew between my feet in the kayak and my hands on the dock. Yes, dear reader, I went right under. It was a bit of a shock, alright! But when I came up, I was more concerned about my phone and camera in the now upside-down kayak. Fortunately, they were in double-sealed Ziploc bags and popped up to the surface without incident. (aside - I do have a waterproof case for kayaking, but I'd left that in Inuvik. - sigh)

I couldn't stop laughing as Tim pulled me onto the dock, righted my kayak, and took care of everything. He was quite shocked, he said, when he heard a noise and turned around just in time to see my head go under. He snapped a photo of my drowned rat Arctic look. It was chilly, and I still had to paddle 30 minutes back to shore. The exercise kept me warm, although I was shivering when I changed out of my wet things. (We brought a change of clothes in case the weather warmed up). We blasted the heat on in the Tahoe and that felt absolutely wonderful!

Soft cotton grasses grow on the tundra, and when we stopped to pick up a hitchhiker from Spain, I snapped this photo. It's fun to run one's hand along the grass, for it feels like cotton balls. 

One common question I am asked is about the temperature of the water. It was cold, but I had on a number of layers, and where I fell in was part of the delta. I personally think going into the ocean here on Vancouver Island is colder, but then, I'm usually not wearing so many clothes. 

All's well that ends well, and this adventure will be memorable in many aspects. 

Friday, September 16, 2022

A Reflective Week


The days here have been comfortably full of the regular affairs of life, but threaded throughout I've been watching bits and pieces of the ceremonies in the UK. I wish I understand more of the meaning and symbolism behind some of the magnificent pageantry. I took myself down to Government House one day to sign the Book of Condolence for the Queen. There are several physical books in our province, as well as an online book. 

While at Government House I wandered through the gardens set on a hill high above the ocean. A sharp breeze had me wishing for a light jacket, and whispered of days to come. The fountain in the rose garden trickles a soft melody and flowers continue to bloom on the bushes.

Patches of autumn crocus (colchicum autumnale) dot the ground. They are also called "naked ladies" because their leaves emerge in spring, then die down, and in autumn, leafless flowers appear. 

I love a good-looking stack of wood. It speaks to me of cozy evenings spent reading by a fire. Our own wood burning fireplace has been converted to gas, and it's very convenient and clean, but lacks the atmosphere of a crackling wood fire.  

Autumn colours are beginning to show. In our area we don't get the vibrant glowing mass of colour that is more evident further inland. It's a gentler season of muted golds and orange, with a few flames thrown in here and there. 

I've been roasting and freezing tomatoes this week, and made a small batch of blackberry syrup for pancakes or ice cream. Our across-the-fence neighbour planted thornless blackberries several years ago, and encourages us to pick the ones that we can reach from our side. They are big berries, but sadly, they lack much taste, so boiling them down is a good way to concentrate the flavour. 

There will be a birthday party for 3 this weekend, and perhaps some garden clean up. So I'm off to fold laundry, bake a cake, and cut flowers for the house. 

What does your weekend hold?

Monday, September 12, 2022

My Autumn Garden


Mid-September and the garden glows with colour. Dahlias, zinnias, rudbeckia, and roses continue to produce bloom after bloom. Cafe au lait, the creamy dahlia in the centre of the image above, is a late bloomer, but well worth waiting for. Bees continue their work, although they are a bit slower to get going in these cooler mornings. 

We went for a walk around the bog yesterday afternoon and oh, how dry it is. No visible water, and the waterfowl have taken themselves elsewhere. Skies have been muted with smoke, giving an eerie light to the days, and most colourful sunsets. These days feel suspended between summer and autumn, as if waiting on the brink of a change. 

I have so enjoyed the fresh peaches this year. I made a fruit salad, slicing the peaches into the bowl so the juice dripped into it. Tame blackberries grow across our neighbour's fence, big and juicy. I pick a few late strawberries and raspberries every day or two. One trick I learned many years ago from a friend, is to add a bit of vanilla extract to a fruit salad. The fragrance is heavenly, and the fruit flavour is enhanced. 

Hydrangeas are turning different colours - some pale green, others pink, or pale blue. A few fresh blooms remind me of how they looked while we were gone. 

Another peach treat was a Peach Crumble Tart. A partially baked crust lined with peeled and sliced peaches, then topped with a simple crumble of butter, flour, and sugar, with a bit of almond extract, baked until golden. That disappeared in a hurry! 

This morning a little wind stirs the leaves and will hopefully blow away the remaining fire smoke. 

Is September golden for you this year? 

Friday, September 09, 2022

A Time to Mourn


Like many others around the world yesterday, I closely followed the news about Queen Elizabeth II, and was saddened to hear of her death. 

In elementary school, we opened each day's classes by singing God Save the Queen, followed by reciting The Lord's Prayer. She visited Canada 22 times, and I saw her on one of the visits. Prince (now King) Charles and her other children accompanied her as she walked through the park where we had lined up to see her. 

As Canada's Head of State, the Queen's death triggers a variety of protocols and procedures here, as well as in the UK. This link gives a summary. 

And so passes an era. She was an inspiration to many, and I admired her strength of character, her humour, and her faith. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Driving the Dempster


Fasten your seatbelts - here we go! Maybe get a cup of tea or a glass of water, because this is a long, long post. 

The Dempster Highway (aka Yukon Highway 5 and Northwest Territories Highway 8) had a start and stop construction history, beginning in 1959, but not opening until 1979. The road begins 40 kilometres from Dawson City, Yukon, and ends at Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Further construction, completed in 2017 carries on to Tuktoyatuk on the Arctic Ocean. I'll save that portion for another day. 

We departed Dawson City around 7:30 am on a sunny August morning. We left behind our travel trailer, not wanting to subject it to 747+ kilometers of gravel road complete with innumerable potholes.

Our first stop was Tombstone National Park, about 70 km along the road. Many people drive just this far and turn around, because the road here is the worst of the entire trip. We jounced and rattled along, with Tim crossing back and forth across the road trying to avoid the worst holes.

The mountain above is the view from the visitor's centre. In the clear northern light it looked amazing. I would never tire of that view. 

We carried on, stopping now and again to just absorb the immensity of the space. William Ogilvie, a land surveyor who explored and surveyed much of the Yukon and the NWT, including establishing the border between the Yukon and Alaska, in 1893 wrote, 

"...the scenery is sublime...vastness such as I have never before conceived, while in every direction as far as the eye could reach appeared to brood the spirit of profound solitude, silence and desolation."

We certainly felt that vastness, solitude and silence. It is unlike any landscape I've ever seen. I felt like I was on top of the world. The colours were amazing, with fireweed adding pink, and oddly, burned sections of forest looking dusky purple. The road wound on and on, up and down, and was visible far in the distance. 

Although the drive could be done in one long day, we chose to break it up and stayed the first night at Eagle Plains. What's in Eagle Plains? Very little. A gas station and mechanic shop, and a motel. It was constructed in the 1970s and remains a crucial support point for industrial trucks (and tourists) along the highway. The decor reminded me of visiting a great aunt's home where the welcome is warm, but nothing has been updated for quite some time. 

About 9 people live here year round. We spoke with the manager of the motel/restaurant, who is from Mexico and will be spending his first winter here this year. Another employee, from the Czech Republic, said she spent the previous winter, and it was hard because of the isolation and lack of light. Vitamins and melatonin helped her and this year she plans to get a lamp that replicates sunlight. 

We enjoyed a most delicious dinner in the restaurant both coming and going on the highway, as we stayed on the way back, too. I awoke in the night and peeked behind the blackout blinds to see a glowing red sky streaked with clouds around 1 am. Now I wish I had dressed and taken my camera outside. 

The next morning we got up early and ate breakfast in the Tahoe. I had made muffins before leaving Dawson City, and we had fruit with us. 

Not far from Eagle Plains is the rest stop marking the Arctic Circle at 66 degrees 33 minutes latitude. We were early and the sun fierce behind us, so the photos are not the greatest, but we had fun posing in various stances while I ran back and forth to the camera. 

We stopped to walk on the tundra and taiga several times, and to listen to the utter absence of man-made sound. Distances are deceptive - at one point I suggested we walk to the top of a hill on the road just for exercise. It took far longer than I'd thought. The tundra is soft with vegetation and we sank down almost to our knees in places. We watched a cow moose with her calf on a distant hill for some time. 

There are clear and calm lakes, where we saw Trumpeter Swans swimming in the distance, and geese and mallards floated in abundance. The feeling of utter freedom made me want to run in exhilaration with my arms open wide like Maria in The Sound of Music. The air is an elixir of energy.

Foxtail Barley ripples in the wind, adding motion and colour to the landscape. It's native to Yukon, but can be harmful to animals. 

The highway passes through the Ogilvie Mountains and then the Richardson Mountains. Descending from the latter we came to the Peel River, and then the McKenzie River, both crossed by small ferries. You can see that the ferry "terminal" is not quite the same as we are used to. 

The Dempster Highway closes during fall freeze-up and spring break-up. In the fall, the rivers must freeze solid before traffic can drive across the ice, and in the spring, the ferries can't run until the ice has departed, nor can vehicles drive across. This is about 6-8 weeks in both fall and spring. Supplies must be stored for these weeks as the only access is by air, and that is minimal. The woman who gave us the greenhouse tour in my previous post said she kept a very deep pantry, and was stocking up for freeze-up. 

Fort McPherson is a hamlet inhabited mostly by about 640 First Nations peoples. It is the site of a former Hudson Bay fur trading post, and the starting point of The Lost Patrol, where four RCMP officers died after getting lost in the winter. They were enroute from Fort McPherson to Dawson City via dog sled and missed a turn. Their bodies were found and brought to Fort McPherson for burial. 

On our way back we saw a huge mother grizzly with her also very large cub. Grizzly bear cubs stay with their mothers up to three years, and Tim estimated this one to be 2-3 years old. The mother disappeared over the ridge just before I took the photo. A noise startled this cub and it took off running across the grasses, its glossy fur rippling in the light. A magnificent sight. 

If you've read this far, you're to be commended! One last photo of the scenery, this one taken in Tombstone Park on the way back. Rain in the distance made for a moody photo as we stood, realizing that we would soon leave this place and possibly never return. It was truly the experience of a lifetime. 

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Sweet peas, and Midnight in Inuvik


Inuvik, Northwest Territories, lies at 68.36 degrees north latitude, above the Arctic Circle, and on the vast McKenzie River delta. It's a planned town, started in the 1950s to replace another across the river that was constantly flooded. 

Because of its northern location, Inuvik enjoys over 50 days of continual light during the summer, along with the opposite of 30 days of polar night during the winter. I took the above photo at 3 minutes before midnight on the 5th of August. Actual sunset was about 20 minutes later, very early the next morning. 

I set up my tripod in a little park overlooking the river, around 11:30 pm. Young children were splashing in the water, having a great time. A Muslim family with two young children were enjoying the evening. It felt very odd to me to not have any complete darkness throughout the night. During this portion of our trip we stayed in a hotel and were very thankful for blackout curtains. 

The temperature that day was a sunny 26 degrees Celsius (79 F). The next day was 14 C (57F), and the next even cooler. It warmed up again after we left. 

Construction in Inuvik must consider the permafrost. Buildings are raised on pilings. All services reach homes via an utilidor system which you can see above. Water, electricity, gas, and sewer run through above ground steel pipes behind the houses. 

Landscaping is minimal because of the climate, but I saw lots of pots of petunias in the north, bright and colourful bits of summer. 

An iconic landmark in the town is the "igloo church" - also known as Our Lady of Victory church. We took a very interesting tour through the church and were able to climb into the cupola with narrow stained glass windows. The cupola is lighted at night in winter and is said to be very beautiful. The shiny effect on the domed roof is created by diamond-shaped aluminum "scales". 

The growing season in Inuvik is extremely short, and not suitable for growing much food. An old hockey rink has been converted into a community greenhouse where members can have garden plots for a small membership fee and some volunteer hours. With 24-hour light for a couple of months, the protected gardens grow very quickly. We toured the greenhouse with a gardener who was very enthusiastic. 

But what about the sweet peas? We asked the tour guide to show us her garden, which she was happy to do. "But," she commented, "I don't know why my peas aren't forming big pods." It was her first time growing garden peas, and she had ordered sweet pea seeds. She had a lovely colourful array of flowers, and was quite shocked when I told her that all parts of the sweet pea plant are toxic. "I'll just pull them out, then," she said, "because I want to grow food." 

Once home again, I was very happy to see my own sweet pea flowers still producing a few blooms. Above are the last of them, and I've harvested the seeds to plant next year. The twisted pods in the photo are ones where they burst open on their own. Perhaps they will come up as volunteers next spring. I'll be happy to see them. 

For now, I'm still enjoying summer and am in no hurry to think about autumn. Today is our son's birthday, born on a sunny morning in the Ecuadorian jungle. We'll be getting together later in the month for a family party celebrating three birthdays. Today I plan to deal with all the apples that are falling off the trees! Applesauce, here we come!

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Friday Favourites: More Summer than Autumn


In my garden on this first day of September, golden Rudbeckia dominate one bed. I never used to allow yellow into my garden, but one year I planted these, and oh my, have they ever flourished! I will be dividing them in hopes of curtailing their dominance. The purple Echinacea that I had hoped would take over are not as aggressive as the Rudbeckia, but I plan to give them more space. The yellow does add lots of brightness.

One afternoon I took two of the grand girls to Butchart Gardens. It was hot and sunny and not very good for taking photos. But we had a fun time together. Many tourists continue to visit and I enjoyed hearing the cacophony of languages as we wandered the paths. 

On another day Sadie (whose mother is in teaching preparation mode this week), and I accompanied Ashley and her two littles to a nearby lake for the morning. Digging in the sand appealed much more than swimming in the lake. 

Okanagan peaches are in season at the moment and Sadie helped me can 12 pints of them. I peeled and halved them, she put them into jars and poured the syrup over them. The work was done in very little time. How delicious they will be in the darker, colder days to come.

This morning I noticed how the rich fragrance of ripe fruit rose to my nose as I held a round peach and peeled it with a paring knife, the velvet skin pulling away from the golden flesh in long strips. Then the soft plop, plop, plop as the chunks fell into my bowl. I added raspberries and strawberries from the garden, plus yogurt and nuts, and enjoyed a most delicious breakfast, along with a cup of tea. 

I had thought to eat on the patio, but after going outside, I quickly changed my mind. Mornings are cooler, and damp, a harbinger of days to come. Still, the days are pleasantly warm, and summer lingers in spite of the quickly shortening days. Already by 8:30 it's now getting dark. I plan on enjoying every bit of summer I can. 

Days at Home

  Last night after dinner the sunshine illuminating the bouquet of peonies prompted me to grab my camera. I love the frilly elegance of the ...