Dog Mountain Days

5 12 2016

Yesterday I took my son and one of his mates snow-shoeing up Mount Seymour. Dog Mountain specifically.

We were a bit late getting there so we were treated to a lovely sunset when we got back. I love it when the snow is still fresh and forming unspoilt mounds on rocks and trees.

Reflections of First Lake

Shadows of the Forest

Shadows of the Forest

Sunset from Seymour

Sunset from Seymour

And now for a touch of Florence…

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Another Day Being Grateful I Live in BC

6 08 2016

The weather was fine but not overly sunny today. Perfect hiking weather!

It’s the weekend, so I can’t pretend we got up especially early. We’ve got a visitor at the moment, so that’s always a good excuse for lying in too.

Anyway, comfortably before noon we were on the West Canyon Trail in Golden Ears Provincial Park. It was surprisingly busy and there were signs up telling folks that the camp sites were totally full. There’s plenty of other entertainment for the masses though. Several large motorboats were being towed up and there were even a few motor-homes and caravans descending the hill. Either they ignored the sign and tried their luck anyway, or – perhaps more likely – they were simply leaving after spending the night and were leaving a few spaces for those who were in fact trying their luck and ignoring the signs.

Around April-time Mrs E had seen a posting on the BC Provincial Park FaceBook page letting folks know that they had recently opened a bridge in Golden Ears linking the West Canyon and East Canyon trails. We’ve hiked the Gold Creek trail many times over our 15 years living in BC, but we’d never tried either of these trails and it seemed like it was about time to put that right.

The round trip is about 12km and basically goes up either side of Gold Creek towards the North. We had a great day out, got some exercise and the weather was perfect. I have to say though… not in the top 10 hikes. It’s two very different experiences. We went clockwise and the West Canyon trail starts off very gently as a very wide track easily suitable for bikes. After a while though it changes from “easy dog walk path” to “proper hike” with some trivial scrambles and a few steep bits. Nothing major but more enjoyable than trudging up what was effectively a logging road. We actually saw some remnants of the past logging history, and I suspect much of the trail had originally been built to support the logging activities.

After about 4km there is a lookout over the creek and the new bridge could clearly be seen in the distance. We stopped a little further on, just before the trail splits and offers an alternative route for those wishing to ascend Golden Ears itself or perhaps camp on Alder Flats. Here the path disappointingly becomes VERY “improved” – hard wearing crushed rock laid very neatly and evenly through the forest. This led inexorably towards the new bridge, which is actually bent. There’s a central pier in the river which implies some earlier bridge once performed its duty here. The new bridge is actually two bridges from each bank meeting at the pier at a jaunty angle. Standing mid span gave some lovely views, and the rock was noticeably orangy here. Perhaps mineral-bearing. On the Eastern side of the bridge was a sign forbidding horses to cross (apparently BC horses can read), and it was soon apparent that the Eastern trail was indeed suitable for horses… and good for rose growers with the foresight to bring a bucket and shovel. There were a few slight rises in the trail, but essentially it was a wide smooth path all the way back South to the car-park. Uninspiring, but fast to hike. Definitely do it clockwise – the near-boring Eastern trail is OK if you’re just making a dash back to the car, but it might turn you off if it was the start of your hike, before you got to the more interesting Western Trail.

Mustn’t complain though – it’s another 12km on the odometer, and I’m happy I can do it in such lovely surroundings.

West Canyon and East Canyon Trails

West Canyon and East Canyon Trails

Elevation

Elevation Profile of the hike





Who was Peggy Helms?

18 04 2016

Yesterday was hot and sunny in the Lower Mainland. Like mid-summer hot and sunny. I gather there was a sprinkling of snow up in Whistler, but that was not where I was!

After a shaky start to the day which involved doing a bit more of the family tax returns, we were finally ready for offsky just after lunchtime. Master E. wanted to borrow my car for some odd reason (perhaps coupled to the fact that his own seemed to be totally bereft of petrol…), so Mrs E. and I headed off up the valley in his charabanc… on an adventure. We realised as we headed over the Golden Ears bridge that we hadn’t actually eaten (such is the danger of lying in at the weekend and having late breakfast), and so a brief stop at Timmy’s was felt to be prudent. I treated myself to an Ice Capp made with chocolate milk, and all was good with the world. Well – once the brain freeze had subsided a little.

Around 3pm, we arrived at the Malcolm Knapp UBC Research Forest in Maple Ridge. The weather was gorgeous and there were only a few cars in the car-park. It’s been a few years since we were last here and so we headed off to the information panels to pick up a map and see what’s what. Needless to say all the maps had gone and apart from a sign telling us not to pick mushrooms, there wasn’t a lot to be learnt from the notice boards. Noting from a sign on the office that the park closed at 8pm, we ambled off in the general direction our memories told us the trails began.

The trailhead was obvious enough and followed the usual convention of coloured blocks to mark out several trails. Unfortunately though, there was no map, so though the intent was clear enough, there was nothing to illustrate what the various trails might entail. No matter – there were apparently 3 (it later turned out there was a fourth, but that’s another story), and since the tree had all three colours, we couldn’t really go wrong.

Ted Lowe woz 'ere

Ted Lowe woz ‘ere

So, off we pootled on the very clear and well-used trail. This was a stroll rather than a hike, so neither of us were wearing boots, carrying water, waterproofs or any of the usual things I’d normally have in a small rucksack. After a few minutes we came to a decision point where one way had a blue square and the other had red and yellow. Personally, I’d have gone for the twofer (to double the chances), but Mrs E. thought the blue looked pretty and off we went into the unknown. The going remained excellent and we came to a little bridge over a bubbling beck.

The sound of fairies laughing

The sound of fairies laughing

Eventually we popped out on a logging road and as we entered the other side there was a map showing how the area was split into various test zones. To the casual eye the whole place was one large forest, but in fact each sector was testing one or other forestry technique. One area was testing for quality on a 50 year cycle, others for cost effectiveness.

You are here! But why are you here?

You are here! But why are you here?

Though the signs had a rough map, the worrying thing was that the blue route was basically shown running south to north over the mapped area… no hint of a loop. I joked that knowing our luck we’d end up popping out in Haney with a sign hoping we’d had a nice hike. Yes – this was now officially a hike. It was still only about 3:30pm and we had good daylight until around 7:30pm or even later. No hint of rain in the sky and still warm. No need to panic yet. We decided on a “turn around” time and decided to press on. The trail was very well marked and well travelled, though weirdly we’d not met a single person (or bear).

Spring was definitely here in the valley and we saw lots of fiddle-heads as the ferns were unravelling. I thought they looked like seahorses suspended in the foliage, but maybe I’d inhaled some botanicals along the way.

Sea-horses grow on bushes

Sea-horses grow on bushes

Eventually we found a “proper” map. Now this was both good and bad news. Good in that it confirmed what had hitherto only been a hope – that it was a loop trail! Bad in that we weren’t even half way around and the last 40%+ was deemed a “rough” trail.

Having the trail map as a photo in my iPhone was a boon. Right up until the battery faded...

Having the trail map as a photo in my iPhone was a boon. Right up until the battery faded…

Still – we had plenty of time, and there was no need to turn back. You may just be able to see a purple triangle at the very top of the map which is the viewpoint on a spur of the blue trail. We were already on the supposedly “rough trail”, and frankly I’ve seen worse A roads in the UK. This was still very good walking. Without really meaning to, we headed off on the spur and after a short climb we came to a little shelter tucked away in the brush. A plaque near the entrance declared that it was in memory of a Peggy Helms who had died in 1987.

In loving memory Peggy Helms who died accidentally June 2, 1987 Delta BC.

In loving memory
Peggy Helms
who died accidentally
June 2, 1987
Delta BC.

We had a quick look at the picnic bench overlooking the valley (lovely spot to have your sandwiches… if you have them!) and headed back on the trail. One patch was a little confusing as it was actually on the forest road for a couple of hundred metres but the markers implied you were to go into the wood. Eventually we figured it out and had a spot of excitement balancing on a log to cross the stream. The rest of the trail was pretty much downhill and after 2 hours 20 minutes we arrived back at the office and the old steam mule – a remnant of the area’s old logging history.

Steam mule

Steam mule

Arriving home, I did a quick search for Ms Helms but having passed away pre-Internet, she left very little in the way of clues. Her widower though – Robert – didn’t die until 2014, and so we find from the digital archives of Vancouver’s The Province:

Robert Helms
Obituary

Robert Helms July 16, 1922 – August 26, 2014

Bob passed away peacefully at the age of 92. He was predeceased by his wife Peggy in 1987 and is survived by his children Juliette ( Rick), Paul (Pat), Anita (Steve), 5 grandchildren, 8 great grandchildren and 1 great great grandchild. Born in Gludsted, Denmark, he immigrated with Peggy to Canada in 1953, settling first in Vancouver and moving to North Delta in 1957. Bob loved living in North Delta and throughout his 57 years there remained involved in community projects and politics. A celebration of Bob’s life will be held at Juliette and Rick’s home on October 5 at 2:00.

So that’s all the Internet will divulge for now – that she was Danish, had 3 kids and was outlived by her husband by nearly 30 years. How she died accidentally, why there’s a shelter in her memory, these are questions that remain opaque.





Receiving an Education

5 03 2016

I don’t consider myself an activist. Not in the way we normally pigeon-hole people at least. I’ve never felt the need to chain myself to railings (though they’re rare in the Lower Mainland) or throw myself under a racehorse for example. I’ve never even attended a rally or listened to a soap-box speaker. There are some things I feel very strongly about though. Education; women’s rights; recycling; human dignity. To name a few. A few things strike me as fundamental to who we are as a species if we claim to be superior to fungus in any way at all.

I do act on my convictions though. I donate money and time to causes I support. Scouts; young entrepreneurs; amputees; it’s an eclectic mix of course, as am I. Most recently I volunteered to the Immigrant Services Society of BC. They came into being to help BC support the large influx of refugees from Idi Amin’s, er, aberration back in 1968. Since then they have developed processes and services to help newcomers integrate and assimilate into Canadian life. All immigrants, not just refugees. However the recent Syrian situation has caused a spike in calls for their services and they put out a call for extra volunteers. I am humbled to say that BC responded well and now there’s a “better” problem in processing so many volunteers.

I’ve already had my orientation session and fulfilled the Police Criminal Record Check to make sure I’m not a danger to these vulnerable families. The government sponsored refugees are the main target for the help and they were selected as the most needy from the refugee camps around Syria’s borders. That was an important factor for me. I am open to helping anyone that needs it, but a refugee is very distinct from a migrant in my view. ISSofBC agrees and even had a slide on the differences between the two, in terms of attitudes, needs and expectations.

The next phase of training was this last week and involved a 2.5 hour session on cultural sensitivity. I always maintain that no matter how bad a training session is there’s always something to be learnt. It may not be what was intended, and indeed it may actually be about oneself, but I always try to be open to learning opportunities. Last Thursday turned out to be quite educational. Firstly there were the “expected” learnings. We were taught some generalities of Arab culture so we could avoid unnecessary irritation due to differences with “normal” Canadian expectation. One in particular was regarding time. In the west, if we arrange to meet someone at say 9am, we tend to expect them to turn up around then – unavoidable accidents aside. It seems that with our new mentees we should be prepared for some, er, fluidity in the concept of time. The phrase “God willing” should be interpreted as “maybe, possibly, if the wind is in the right direction and nothing more interesting turns up”, it seems. OK – that’s me expanding what was actually said, but “Tomorrow, if God wills it” should not be interpreted as “Yup, tomorrow for sure”. They say forewarned is forearmed, and now I know not to think I’m being snubbed or ignored. I’ll be particularly alert around things like doctor or school appointments. The flip side of this is that if you are in conversation, you are the most important thing. They miss those meetings because of the respect they have for the person they’re already with.

Some of the biggest adjustments for the newcomers are in the smallest things. We were told 95% of Syrians smoke. Now I’m quite sure that the percentage is not scientifically arrived at, but it’s indicative of the issue. When trying to find new homes for the refugees after their 2 week stay in the welcoming apartments, there’s a form (inevitably) to be filled in. One question is “Do you smoke?” They are told “If we tick YES you may be waiting 6-9 months for an apartment. If we tick NO you will have a new home within 2-3 weeks. Now… which one shall we tick?” Adjustments are needed on all sides, it seems.

The part I’m dreading though is where my personal views clash with the cultural expectations of the newcomers. I’m not religious, and have no stronger negative views around Islam than I do around Christianity. The west is far too arrogant in that regard. Check out the Dutch social experiment by “Dit Is Normaal” for an illustration of that.

However, it is true that we have SOCIAL and CULTURAL expectations that may be very different to a newcomer’s and it’s always better to avoid unnecessary conflict and distrust. We don’t all need to agree about everything even within our own society, but offence is best performed deliberately rather than accidentally! 🙂 The learnings here ranged from confirmation of assumption (“under no circumstance should a male mentor touch a female in the family – even to shake hands”) to the less expected (“do not offer ANY advice about females in the family. ESPECIALLY with regards to education or employment”.) It seems that the father is not just head of the family, as might already be anticipated, but is the sole arbiter of the lives of the female members. Even offering advice about higher education opportunities of any male children can be seen as unwelcome interference. This area is going to be the most challenging for myself personally. I have strong views about women’s rights and education more generally. Cultural sensitivity is one thing. Oppression is another. It will be a real test of my mentoring and inter-personal skills. A learning opportunity yet to come.

One of the other volunteers was himself a middle eastern immigrant – there are many Persians in Vancouver – and made the point that all immigrants must follow the law of the land, no matter what their “old country” expected. This was a complete non-issue when I myself immigrated. Canada’s laws and social norms are almost entirely the same as in the UK. But as indicated at the start… I learnt a few unexpected things at the end of the session. About myself and my own sensitivities as an “outsider” – despite my blue passport.

After 90 minutes of lecture about various aspects of integration and sensitivity we were split into groups of 4 and given some case studies to talk about and present. My group was given an example of a Cambodian lady with a long name that was hard for westerners to pronounce. We were asked to consider how we might discuss any concerns with this hypothetical lady.  I mentioned my experience in Taiwan where it was common for Chinese people to adopt English Christian names to help smooth business dealings with westerners. I’d found it notable because many of the names were “old” such as Ernest or Arthur, or just very unusual such as Forest, Ferry or Tiger. One lady in my group gave an example of a Chinese friend who had chosen an Anglicised name to help herself integrate. (The common thread being they’d all chosen these names themselves – the group agreed it should not be an expectation.) She’d then married a Canadian and now was known as Agnes McDougal or something.

This was all just unremarkable chit chat until the lady in the group concluded with “she ended up with such an English name!” From nowhere, my “lizard brain” felt the need to gently jibe “Actually – that’s Scottish”. I was surprised – even shocked – at myself. I consider myself pretty well integrated… and might even have said assimilated up until then, yet here I was still sensitive to subtleties of UK geography that few outside the islands know or care about. I resisted continuing with the lecture on the differences between Britain and England, but it was a not entirely pleasant reminder of the prejudices and assumptions I myself would be bringing to any interaction with Syrian refugees.

Muttering internally to myself about being more observant of my internal compass and not to get unnecessarily bent out of shape, I got the double whammy when a member of the group then suggested that our spokesperson should be “the guy with the accent”. Plainly I was – after 15 years – still not quite acceptable as a Canadian. The irony being that the suggestion came from a young Chinese-heritage lad.

Still smarting from this uncomfortable self learning I had one final jolt as I left the room. Because of the case studies, we were all largely sat in different chairs to the ones we’d sat in through the earlier sessions. We were now at the end of 2.5 hours “learning” about cultural sensitivity. I wandered back to my original chair to collect my belongings and quietly asked the lady sat there if she’d mind me disturbing her to collect my coat and jumper. “Jumper?!” she exclaimed a little too loudly, as she moved. I felt quite small for a moment. After sitting through the same sensitivity training as I had, this lady – quite accidentally and without malice I’m sure – mocked my use of a common English word not typically used in North America. I had just received a timely reminder that feeling “other” is a way more subtle and nuanced situation that how you look, or even the language you speak. Offence and sensitivities can be caused in such casual accidental ways… even after being trained on how not to do it!

I left feeling more educated than I expected, and slightly more self-aware of my own limitations.

Game on!





That time of year again

12 10 2015

I love autumn. Especially here in BC. The damp seems to refresh the land and me along with it. Walking through the trails is suddenly full of things to see, smell and hear. But less people. Sunday, me and the devil-dog went on a bit of a traipse through the woods to build up an appetite for the half-pig that was to help us celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, and were rewarded with lots of mushroom sightings and the real high-point: a Barred Owl swooping right in front of us to traverse the narrow ravine we were walking in. Huge and magnificent in its majesty. Naturally I snapped a few shots with my trusty phone, though was too slow to capture the owl’s image…

 





Photos from today’s dog walk

20 09 2015

At the weekend I like to try and give the dog a bit more of a long walk. It’s good for the pair of us.

The weather has changed distinctly autumnal recently and though the temperatures are still on the balmy side, it’s a lot wetter and today – windier. I absolutely adore this time of year. The winds make everything fresh and somehow renewed. The dead leaves and twigs are stripped from the trees. Sometimes a whole tree at a time! And I love walking in the rain. When I’m suitably attired of course!

Anyway, I had my phone camera with me so I snapped a few impressions as we walked around.

Bark Detail

Bark Detail

No idea what kind of trees these were, but the layered effect of the bark made them almost look like relief models of some strange planet. Note the small growths of lichen.

The way we came

The way we came

I really enjoy the way Surrey’s parks use natural materials so they become part of the landscape.

Footstep Fungus

Footstep Fungus

The long dry summer and now wet autumn has really boosted the various fruiting bodies of the local fungi. This one was evident in the cracks of three or four steps.

Alpha and Omega

Alpha and Omega

I thought it poignant that here in one place were the very beginnings of a tree – a seed, and also the very end – machined planks made into a handrail.

Ermy-germy

Ermy-germy

On the way back out of the forest I suddenly became aware that every couple of metres there was one or more of these metallic copper beetles. They were quite large. I can only think the dry summer had squeezed their activity into the short period remaining until winter hits.





Vancouver Maple Leaves

19 09 2015

No, this isn’t some great upset in the NHL franchise. Nor is it a sudden realisation by Toronto that their Ice Hockey team has been spelling its name incorrectly for decades. It’s simply a posting about maple leaves. From Vancouver.

About four years ago I suddenly had my eyes opened. I started to notice little things that had previously just passed me by un-remarked. Beautiful things. Interesting things. Remarkable things. Amongst this long list was maple leaves. Around this time of year, or actually a little later, the local trees start shedding their leaves. The maples – up until now pretty anonymous and blending in with the rest of the biosphere – suddenly decide to get all showy, turn bright vermilion and yell “look at me, peasants!” The glory of the red in the trees (and shortly thereafter – the pavement) can literally be breathtaking.

This year our BC summer was particularly long and hot. So much so that many trees went into shock and started behaving like autumn was already here. It was apparently more prudent to shut up shop early for the winter rather than try to continue actively growing in the face of a complete absence of the usually plentiful wet coast airborne moisture. So – we started to get beautiful red maple leaves falling in ever growing numbers even in what should really still be late summer. Without the accompaniment of the autumn wetness though, many of these leaves remained pristine after falling to the ground. Every year I take note of the fallen leaves and occasionally am moved to pause and pick one up. I couldn’t really explain why to you. Something about a specific leaf simply moves me to stoop and save it from a fate worse than compost. With the dry ground, there have been more occasions than usual this year.

I began to consider these leaves as a metaphor for people. We each have the potential to be wonderful, eye-catching. Either individually or as part of a broader group. We can still create an impact in the world even after we’ve ceased to live. We can continue to contribute to our world by leaving a legacy of beauty. Of positive psychological impact on others around us. Then again, even the most beautiful amongst us – if we care to look more closely – is imperfect. A slight asymmetry perhaps. A little rougher on the edges than we’d first perceived. Sometimes completely broken on the inside despite the appearance of complete wholesomeness to the casual glance. We can be downtrodden, utterly destroyed by the casual or indeed intimate passing interaction of another. We can be ignored and slowly disappear into the noise of the world, never to be recognised for our individual contribution – great though it may well have been.

So now I take notice. I LOOK at the fallen leaves. Notice them. Especially the maples. They have come to represent for me the unknown people of the world. Those I’ll never meet but have a contribution to make to the space I inhabit. Occasionally I am so moved that I pause and pick one up. I press it in the pages of the book I am inevitably carrying at such thoughtful moments. I save it. For what, I am not sure. To share? To offer as a cryptic gift to someone else on this weird journey we call life? Perhaps. Or perhaps just to say in some small way “you mattered”. You were noticed. Your contribution did not go without reaction.

Vancouver Maple Leaves

Vancouver Maple Leaves