Friday, September 12, 2014

First impressions from Churchill

Descending through the clouds, the area south of Churchill, Manitoba revealed a seemingly stark landscape of small lakes, patchy trees and low lying shrubs aglow in fall colours.  A bright midday sun illuminated willows yellowing, bearberry reds, larch taking on just a hint of blonde prior to loosing their needles as shallow grasses waved and weaved between it all.  A horizon uninterrupted by tall trees or taller buildings.

I applied to come to Churchill and more specifically the Churchill Northern Studies Centre after an unfulfilled summer of low to dismal job prospects in my northern resource town.  As mild depression and feelings of worthlessness, under appreciation and really-what-the-f-am-I-doing?!? were creeping in, I knew I needed to shake up my (lack of) routine and rediscover my direction while deeply reflecting on future plans.

There's something about isolated places that attracts unconventional people.  Living, playing and working alongside and with these goofy, wayward folks is something I have sought out around the world.  Aside from university residence halls, the shared intimacy of daily life cannot be harnessed anywhere else.  Few other places do we have the opportunity to live closely with people who are not our family.

Happily I can recall more than half a dozen occasions where I have willingly left the comfort and security of home, friends and family for immersion travel.  Satisfying experiences for paid and volunteer work that have taken me to truly great physical places while supporting that parallel journey of personal introspection and soul searching.

So, as I've outwardly oggled the recent northern lights and polar bear in my first week, I am also consciously monitoring inside for the redevelopment of creativity and passion.

Views from my bedroom towards Hudson's Bay
Returning from field work
Churchill River
Churchill's own beach to Hudson's Bay

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Upcoming (more) northern visit

I think I have a thing for apex predators.

Living and working in northern British Columbia in prime black and grizzly bear habitat, I regularly see these beauties cruising the powerlines, cutblocks, roadsides looking for a feed.  In all the sightings and interactions on foot, none have given me any grief or cause to worry.

Two previous stints took me to volunteer at the Sharklab on beautiful Bimini in the Bahamas with a variety of shark species.

On Sunday, I will be arriving in Churchill, Manitoba to volunteer for six weeks at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.  Situated on the aurora oval and adjacent to Wapusk National Park which protects the inland denning area of the polar bear, I'm looking forward to the opportunities to view northern lights and migrating polar bears.

As at the Sharklab, it's the spectacle of these apex predators that lures in most visitors and volunteers. While I fall into that category, I have to remind myself that these places are SO much more than the critters they're known for.

Bimini has endemic snakes, migrating birds, massive turtles and tiny seahorses while Churchill is also a birding haven, botanist's wet dream as three biomes converge, an active archaeological dig and there's even seasonal beluga whales!  And then there's the people I met and have yet to meet.

Yeah, I had a great time longlining, observing and acoustically tracking juvenile lemon sharks, swimming with reef sharks and pen building at the Sharklab, but it is the relationships I developed and continue to nurture that were the greatest prize from my time spent in Bimini.  So again, I'm looking forward to a new place and new faces to share this great next adventure.   

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Spring on Bickford

Still in its infancy, the Chetwynd Outdoors Society is committed to continuing its restoration of a decommissioned fire tower on Bickford Mountain.  I hiked up on Saturday with four other members of the group to document how the tower fared in our brutal northern winter and begin planning a work bee later in the summer.

There was no shortage of lingering snow.  Nearly all were prepared with gaiters and waterproof hiking boots and layers for the wind and rain.  A tough slog up the melting trail and over a swollen creek was worth the view from the tower and summit.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

May there be spring!

On a recent helicopter flight for work, our pilot commented that the Peace is two weeks behind his hometown Vernon.  The rivers here are filled with silt and not yet at their high water level for the year, snow still lingers in the bush and makes roads inaccessible, vegetation here is in various stages of leafing out while Vernon has had leaf out, flowers and is snow free!

We northerners cherish our summers.

It's rare for gardeners to plant before June due to lingering frost risk yet we're out on riverboats enjoying the snowcapped peaks and high water that makes areas inaccessible in warmer months.  Music festivals run into the never-dark night.  Black out shades sell out from the local hardware store a month before summer solstice as we attempt to adequately rest before launching ourselves into another high activity day of weeding, hiking, fishing, BBQs.  Even with our long days, it seems there's never enough time to fit it all in.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Disconnected travelers

I didn't intent to take a break from blogging this past trip. It wasn't a conscious electronic departure. Ample internet access was available as cafes and on a tablet thing when my dear friend Jaana was around.

On my last two trips, I've been deeply annoyed at wifi's pervading presence in guesthouses, restaurants, dive shops, bars and even places of worship. In the latter, I can assure you users were not communicating with the divine.

Yeah, it's great we can stay connected with friends, family and colleagues while we're away from our for-now homes but I fear there's a disturbing trend of travelers that aren't engaging with the locals or their fellow travelers.

It used to be easy as a solo traveler to meet new people or invite yourself to share their table. Now, when an ENTIRE table has their faces lit up by computer, tablet or phone screens, I'd rather dine, drink, explore sites, sleep alone than feel like I'm intruding on their electronic time.

An uneasy feeling of loneliness and isolation sets in as travelmates ignore you in favour of sending gang emails, updating statuses, posting photos or applying for jobs back home when the very people they are electronically "connecting" with are sleeping!

Such is the blessing and curse of the internet's popularity and deemed necessity.

I acknowledge I could not travel without it but I long to travel alongside people and connect face-to-face. To hear their stories first hand, not a polished online version of it. To laugh at cultural missteps, share advice on that delicious restaurant, cool elephant rescue place, warn against a dodgy overnight train, not read Tripadvisor reviews.

Ironically/fittingly/fortunately email, facebook, couchsurfing facilitates meeting with locals, distant family, friends of friends and expats. An online community persists when it feels like there isn't one.

As surfer, host and traveler at large, I have contacted and been contacted by members of the traveling community. I have dispensed advice and sought it.

I connected a dear friend and classmate who would be living and working in eastern Africa for overlapping timeframes. My mother's cousin's best friend's son let us stay with him in New Zealand and I have since visited him and his new family in several Canadian cities. My cousin and I continue to celebrate her birthday outside this country.

Yes, the world is opening up, and there's no shortage of people who've been there to consult with, but I caution amongst these marvel of being connected, we're guilty of not connecting to those around us in real life.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hiking tea party in Sri Lanka

Haptule's mosque is meters and meters away from our rooms
"Would you look at those speakers!" Jenny, a recently retired Aussie school teacher and Sri Lanka tourmate, exclaimed as we oggled the imposing green mosque adjacent to our hotel. 

"There's roosters out the front," Paul said joining us as we marveled how the size and sheer number of speakers was disproportional to a) the size of the mosque and b) the size of the town.  Cursing our good luck we wouldn't need an alarm clock the following morning the multi-national Intrepid tour group keenly walked around Haptule after a stunning - and predictable delayed - six hour train journey from Kandy. 

Female pickers in the fields
Impossible slopes supported one of Sri Lanka's biggest exports - tea.  Nestled in lush valleys, the train skimmed along the ridge to a dizzying height of more than 1800 meters before descending into the mist.  Workers (mostly female) precariously perched at all elevations were clinging to the hillsides to collect their quota of 18 kilos. 

Gaaahh!  The gradient!
 After an interrupted night acclimatizing to the elevation and cooler night temperatures, our group set out for an overnight hike into the tea plantations.  Using the roads (and that's a generous term) and pathways the workers or lorries do to move the raw leaves and later final product to market gave our group an appreciation of the physical effort involved in a morning cuppa. 

Ten kilometers over a ridge, through villages and vegetable patches, we arrived at our hillside house. 

Mercifully unplugged from wifi and phone signal, our group was expected to provide musical or dance entertainment for our hosts in the hills.  They sang traditional Tamil songs accompanied by a sorry looking but powerful drum and we countered with national anthems, Waltzing Matilda and Savage Garden hits from junior high. 

Much giggling and a too many rounds of carrom later, we dropped into comfortable beds and waited for the neighbour's roosters to rouse us.

Guide Siva explaining a typical day in the plantations
Keen to get moving before the heat of the day, we set off along the tracks dodging sluggish tractors, transports and motorbikes.  How they gained traction and had confidence on the paths was mind boggling. 

Our knees were crying out on the downhill, we struggled to adequately replace the sweat that drenched us and we stopped often to inadequately photograph the stunning surrounds and still we slipped and slid down the paths. 

Glimpsing Sri Lanka's highest water and later the bravest of the boys swimming in its plunge pool we were refreshed and grateful to be back to our starting point in Haptule - even if it was in the shawdow of the town mosque.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Foster cat update

Rarely am I involved in meeting adoption candidates for our foster animals.  Friday I had the pleasure of delivering Ella, a black beauty of a kitten, to good friends in Chetwynd.  They were looking for a companion for their male Pomerian and the male of the couple has always had cats around.  I did not hesitate for a second to recommend them as new owners to On Our Way Home's President.  

From the update I've received, she's settling well into her furever home and getting along with the dog while providing the humans hours of entertainment.  I'm glad she'll be close and we can monitor her maturing.  

Millie and Ella snuggling/battling
Millie and Ella again doing top kitty priorities
Carl joined us the same night we dropped off Ella.  Freshly neutered, he was still a bit dopey and sleepy from the drugs, so we set him up in the basement for a healing, restful night before introducing him to the house and Millie.  She's kind of a bully!  It takes her two to three days to welcome a kitten in and then they're fighting and chasing and having a grand kitty time.  She's still hissing at Carl.  They seemed to have worked out some sort of truce and he'll only be with us until we leave for holidays next Monday.  

Isn't he handsome?!?  I swear there's a storyteller trapped in his body as he's very vocal. 

Carl chilling in the sunshine
This handsome boy loves to snuggle and purrs like a chainsaw