Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Not Too Terrible

Dan Simmons, in his novel The Terror has written an interesting account of Sir John Franklin's last voyage, the one where he and his two ships the Erebus and Terror and all the crew vanished into the arctic ice back in 1845. I say interesting because he does an admirable job of arranging the few known, but often confusing, facts into a somewhat logical story sequence. Much of what he writes could have been the way it actually happened.

At the same time, Simmon's use of the fantastical and mystical, his bear 'monster' and the interplay of Inuit mythical stories takes much away from the account. It makes for a good story, but one that most Franklin fans will toss out after reading. For myself, I'd read it again for the assemblage of facts, skipping over the rest. As I bought the 'electronic' paperless version of the book, I might just do a little re-writing of my own!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Paddling in the Rain

I went kayaking today in the rain. Yesterday was sunny and breezy and would have been a better day to be out on the water, but I had other obligations. Anyway, the lake was probably full of motor boats and so on, just the sort of thing I like to avoid.

As I was getting the boat in the water and setting up my video equipment, a canoe and kayak passed me and called out, "Are you the 'web-kayaker'?" At first, I wasn't sure what they meant, but after we spoke for a bit, it was clear they'd visited this blog, but had no idea who I actually was. We chatted for a while and then paddled off on our separate ways. It gave me an odd feeling, being recognized like that! I suppose some people get that all the time, but it was a new experience for me. Interesting.

I was anxious to try out a new camera set-up I'd made for filming my little videos. After paddling around for about an hour, I returned back to boathouse for a look. Everything was upside down! I headed out again with the lens properly orientated and tried again. This time, the camera must have stopped filming early as I captured only a few moments of video, mostly getting the camera set-up on the deck, and so on. Not really vintage footage! I'll have another go next time I'm out. I'm anxious to improve the quality of these little films so they're worth seeing. I'm getting closer, but still have a ways to go before I'm happy with the results.

Update! Since posting the picture above and given some of the goings on in the small world of kayak blogging, it's interesting to look again at the picture. Clearly it suggests to us that there's 'My Point' of view, 'Your Point' of view, the 'Observers Point' of view and finally 'What's-the-Point'. Four points, four opinions. Time to move on, I think. It's rained long enough.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Diversity, the Food of Life

Nice little stream, wouldn't you say? It could be one of the streams that made up the old Indian canoe routes that criss-crossed northern New England and my part of Canada in the old days. Last evening, my wife and I walked our dog along an old rail bed now converted to a biking trail that parallels the stream for a good part of its length. As pretty as it is, it's not really suitable for paddling on. It's full of nasties, some left over from industries now long since closed and today farms pump tons of nutrients into it by refusing to provide buffer areas along its banks. These nutrients were the major cause of the cyano-bacterial outbreak on my lake last summer which prevented whole towns from drinking the water.

The book cover pictured to the left is by Barbara Kingsolver. It is a wonderful read, but a sad one as well. It describes how we are ruining ourselves, depleating our planet of its diversity and its food sources. Like the stream, it tells the story of our greed and thoughtlessness. At the same time, it holds hope. The stream could be repaired and brought back to its pristine glory, if we want. Kingsolver talks about how her life and that of her family were enriched by searching out 'real' food sources, grown and bought locally, in season, then cooked and eaten for its taste. They discovered that eating food shipped from one side of the planet to the other was ill-advised, unnecessary not to mention, tasteless!

Finally, like this marsh, life can become rich in its diversity. The trend towards mono-culturism,

agri-business and long shelf-life vegetables for pill-popping couch potatoes doesn't have to happen. But it will if we do nothing.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lineages, Yours or Theirs?

As many of you know, a new kayak manufacturer has appeared in England called 'In-uit Kayaks' From what I gather, the boats being produced by this company have an excellent lineage running from Nigel Dennis boats, to the Rockpool 'Alaw' boats. I suspect the new 'In-uit' line will carry on the fine reputation these earlier designs enjoy.

As I have an interest in the Canadian arctic and the Inuit who live there, some time ago, I wrote to Aled Williams, the man behind this new company asking for some information regarding the company name and the appearance of the syllabic script used on the boats. I have yet to hear from him, but perhaps he'll eventually get around to writing. It would be interesting to know the answers to my several questions. For example, I wondered why the company would chose to use the word 'In-uit' and to borrow (and perhaps copy-right) the inukshuk symbol for a company logo when neither is of English origin (nor Polish, where the boats are made). Surely these belong more properly to another culture which does not seem to have any involvement with the company. As well, my Inuit friends tell me the syllabic scripts used do not seem to make any sense, at least in the Canadian Inuktitut dialects they know. The two words appearing on the prototype read masaitila and pirinatinatijapila, but what do they mean? Why are they written on boats designed in England and built in Poland?

Perhaps I'm being picky. Like many others, I'd like to see this company enjoy success in the kayaking world, but I'm concerned about how they seem to have begun that journey. Surely taking something they don't own to promote that success is not wise.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Working On The 'List'.

I received news recently that my plan to paddle for several weeks in Georgian Bay, Ontario has run into doubt. While I have not heard from two of the participants, the third has regretfully had to put the trip off for at least a year. The remaining paddlers may still wish to do part of the trip, although neither was committed to it in its entirety, a complete circumnavigation of the bay.

This leaves my August paddling plans up in the air a bit. However, like many people I have a 'little list' of potential paddling trips I'd love to do. I mentioned the Lower North Shore of Quebec a while ago, a trip I'd dearly love to finish one day, given a suitable paddling partner. Here is another trip on my list, the lake formed when the Manic 5 dam was built on the Manicougan River which drops down to Baie Comeau on the St Lawrence River in Quebec. The impoundment lake thus formed has created a circular body of water, the result of an ancient meteorite impact. From what I've heard, the area is a geological wonderland well worth the time it would take to paddle. The distance around is roughly 120 miles or 200 kms making it a great week's outing. This would provide sufficent time to see all the wonders reputed to exist on the shoreline.

Interested in coming along? Or are you having trouble with your 'trip list' as well a list as well?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Like 'Inuk' Father, Like 'Chinese' Son

My son (on the left) has spent the last university year on an student exchange in Singapore. During his New Year break he and his cousin, also on an exchange, spent some time hiking in the mountains of Yunnan Province of southwestern China. At his age I was learning to hunt with the Inuit, another sort of adventure entirely. I think it is such a wonderful experience to get out and 'rough it' while you're young. Once the die is set, a lifetime of pleasure will be gained from knowing how to travel and how to mix with people very different culturally from yourself.

At this point, they have managed to hike the gorge practically up to the Tibetan border. The building here is in Lijiang and is typical of the Tibetan style found in the area.

Hiking back in Montreal? No. The boys flew over to the city of Chengdu in central China to meet up with a young Chinese lady they both knew when attending McGill University. She had gone home for the holidays and offered to show the boys around her home town. Chinese students are also getting out and exploring the world and then bringing home their skills and memories to fashion their lives with. Good for them!

Incidently, both boys took it upon themselves to learn to speak Chinese. Between the two of them, they managed to meet all their needs, one filling in the missing word for the other. My son is now back in China for the summer using his new language skills to make his way in the hustle-bustle of the land.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


This photo is another in my little historical series from Lake Massawippi. Again the time period is the late 1800's, a time when there were several steam boats on the lake. Some were privately owned. Others were owned by some of the large hotels on the lake and used to transport guests - mostly Americans coming from the southern States to escape the summer heat - from the village train station to the hotel. Several of these boats sunk in the lake and, in younger days, my brother and I learned how to scuba dive while exploring the depths looking for them. We found one and spent many hours playing 'Jacques Custeau' games with it.

By the turn of the century, many of these Americans began to buy property and build summer homes. In fact the northwestern side of the lake seen here in the background, became known as the 'American Side'. Many of these cottages still stand today and a few are still owned by the descendents of the original Americans.

Besides steam boating, canoes were very popular and the 'American Club' was formed to take advantage of the canoe with various outings and racing scheduled each summer. Over time, they discovered sailboats and held weekly races on Sunday afternoons. Much of this sport is now gone, replaced by water-skiing and jet-skis. I paddle one of the few kayaks to be seen on the lake, but rising gas prices might soon add to the numbers shortly...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Well, Lookie, Lookie!

For years we've caught fleeting glimpses of the colourful Baltimore Oriole around our place, but we've never seen one long enough to be captured one on film. They would often nest in the copse across the road, but again we only knew that by finding their nests in the late fall when they'd long since left. They seemed impossible to find in the foliage at other times of the year. That all changed today.

I mentioned at dinner last night that I had caught yet another glimpse of this elusive bird.This morning after walking the dog, my wife cut an orange in half and nailed each half to some liliac branches I had trimmed last fall. Within a few minutes we had success. The picture tells the tale. What a beautiful bird!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Historical Views

North Hatley - 1893

I recently came across some old pictures of North Hatley, the town at the outlet of Lake Massawippi where I paddle so frequently. What suddenly struck me was the old railway bridge. Could this bridge be the same bridge I paddle under so often? Certainly the design remains the same, but as there is a 114 span between the two pictures, so surely the posts have been replaced during that interval, but no one I've asked can remember it being done.

North Hatley - 2007

Another interesting feature is how the early settlers in the early 1800's managed to cut most of the original forests down and create fields. These fields still existed at the turn of the century, but today the forests have grown back especially around the shorelines.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Moody Lake

A quiet day, rainy, moody, awkward,
Sun denied, filled with remembered
Smells of earthy richness.
Dreams of missing friends.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Doesn't Look That Warm to Me...

... But it's getting there! And that's not good news. This man, Simon Qamanirq, who had his picture taken on the trail out of Pangnirtung heading into the Auyuituq National Park recently, has just arrived in Igloolik along with the other members of Will Steger's Global Warming 101 project. I suspect he and his companions would have much to say about how rapidly the north is warming up compared to just a few years ago.

If you haven't already visited their site, check out Nunablog, Ian and Jennifer's blog from Igloolik. Lots of fun things have been going on there recently as well as the arrival of Simon and his friends.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Team Rollers

One of the fun activities for the spectator is to watch 'team rolling' activities whenever Greenland kayakers gather together for some fun. As one can readily see even in the somewhat blurry photos below, team rolling is a natural activity perfected even by the non-kayaking crowd, in this case a pair of mallard ducks!

Okay, ready? On three... 1... 2... 3... up!


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ready to Go... Again!

Paddling on the lower St Lawrence River in 2005

Last night I got a chance to 'relive' a kayak trip I never actually went on. Seems odd, but a few years ago I started out on this same paddling trip down the 'Lower North Shore', the part of Québec that faces Newfoundland. This coast was sparcely settled by Newfoundlanders who came across for the summer fishery. Eventually they built permanent homes and then a few small villages. It is a fabulous wilderness paddling area with wildlife, scenic countryside, and friendly people. Alas, my trip ended just before it really began as my paddling partner ran into some problems forcing our return home.

Last night I attended a film show given by 'Jean & Mario', two local kayakers who made the trip last summer. Their trip differed slightly from mine in that they took the supply boat part of the way down the coast to Harrington Harbour. They then paddled from there to Blanc Sablon, a distance of roughly 300 kms, which they covered in 18 days of paddling.

I enjoyed several aspects of their trip. First they were very self-sufficient, even making their own car-top kayak racks, sails and camera mounts. Next, they planned well, opting to go only an average of 15 kms per day to allow for bad weather and lots of sight-seeing along the way. Finally, they chose to make a video record of the trip rather than a slide show. Not that slides are bad, but by using video, one instantly gets movement and sound which I find added greatly to the 'feeling' of excitement they experienced. This was so apparent for example, when whales surfaced so close to their kayaks that you could see their breath and hear it too. It was very much like actually being there.

So, this trip is not only still on my places-to-paddle list, but I've moved it back up a few notches. Having 'relived' the trip in a two hour video presentation and speaking with the two paddlers, I'm all excited about this trip again. I really want to go! Now just where am I going to fit it in...?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Too Hot, Too Soon

Our dishwasher bit the dust recently, so while we debate whether to repair (again) or renew (my vote), I get to do dishes each morning. Today I watched the thermometer go higher and higher as I washed. Finally, it was 24°C and rising faster than the sun. I went to the lake before it dried out.

I like this time of year because now that the kayak is in the boathouse, it's easy to head out for a paddle on the spur of the moment. Today there were difficult decisions to make, however. By the time I got there, dishes done etc, the temperature had soared to 31°C! The water temperature was at 2°C. So definitely a drysuit day, but what to wear underneath?

I finally put on light fleecy wear and went for a little swim to see how it felt. Not too bad. I slowly got chilly, but I felt I'd have lots of time to self-rescue if I happened to tip over. I put the boat in the water and headed out.

Three people waved at me, nearly a record for my lake. The weather must be getting to folks. One lady, clad in the briefest of bikinis was attempting to paint her boathouse in full view of some fishermen who persistently tried to catch something off her dock. She seemed amused. A bunch of college students, also dressed for the hot weather, rollicked on the public dock. I sweltered in the drysuit. Every now and then I had to stop and splash water on my face and neck to stay cool. I guess I'm not ready for the sight of so many bikinis just yet!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Don't Read This If You're Working!

My busy, buzzing classroom.

If you're supposed to be working right now, I'm sorry you're reading these words and looking at these pictures. You see I worked once too and as you can see in the picture above, it was tough keeping all those rambunctious kids in line during the last couple of months at school each year...

Hooded merganser on Kingscroft pond.

Anyway, right now I'm a 'ducker', as you can see. I'm out paddling and biking around looking for ducks which have stopped in our area during their annual northern migration. Like school kids, they don't have a lot of interest in seeing me or cooperating with my instructions either. So I still have to be sneaky and pretend to be not doing what I'm really doing. Life may change, but it tends to stay the same, doesn't it?

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Turtle Days

It's one of those days. Sunny, sort of warm, lots to do and no inclination to do any of it. I ought to be paddling, but yesterday was a 'bad knee' day for some reason. It woke me up and terrorized me for the rest of the day as I ran errands for my Mother and sister. So, I'm surfing the net, seeing what's out there for kayakers and other water-borne folks. It's a 'turtle' day for me. Get together with some friends, sit in the sun, pop some Advil, dream...

Friday, May 4, 2007

Ernie Lyall, Angutimarik!

An Arctic Man tells about life in the north as it is actually lived, by its native and non-native inhabitants alike; it offers a rare, privileged view of the peoples of the Canadian Arctic.

Born in Labrador, one of 19 children of a Scottish Hudson's Bay Company cooper, Lyall grew up in a north dominated by white traders. After adventures that took him around the Arctic and down the Labrador coast, Ernie settled in Fort Ross in the Arctic Islands. He married an Inuit woman, Nipisha, and immediately became part of her extended family. Ernie writes warmly about his Inuit friends and family, and about daily life in the Arctic and the remarkable transformation of the north that has occured in the last 40 years.

I picked this interesting book up while I was in Halifax last month. I'd heard stories about Ernie while I lived in the arctic so finding his autobiography in a bookstore there was a real treat.

I was interested to learn that Ernie had grown up in Killiniq or Port Burwell as it was called then. This is a place that Nigel Foster and his wife Kristen Nelson paddled by on their Labrador trip a few years ago. When Ernie lived there in the 1910's he used to go out to school beginning when he was around 9 years old. He only got to return home for about one week each year to see his parents before setting off again for another school year!

Years later, he was posted for a while to the Hudson's Bay Post at Killiniq, but his parents no longer lived there. They were down the coast near Otak, another place that Nigel and Kristen paddled their kayaks past during their trip, but it was too far for Lyall to make a visit to see his parents. Only an appendicitis attack in 1928 and once again during his only holiday from the HBC in 1934 did time allow him to make the journey to Otak to see his parents. Both visits forced him to take a whole year off to make the trip, travel being so difficult along the coast in those days.

He never saw his parents again, although his mother kept in touch by mail until she died in 1952 at the age of 99. Times were hard in those days, but Ernie lived an amazing life in the arctic. He become the only non-Inuk to have a Canadian government Inuit identification tag (# E5-1) as he lived in the Inuit manner for several years after leaving the Company. These tag numbers are no longer used, but used to be a feature of northern life until family names officially took their place in the 1970's. Today the name Lyall is well known throughout the central Arctic. Ernie would be proud!

His book:
ISBN10 0-88780-106-4
ISBN13 978-0-88780-106-8

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Injuries and Ducks

Instead of drawing my paddle through the waters these days, I've been busy walking and today, with the arrival of better weather, I'll get my bike out. One of the reasons for all this lower body work is to strengthen my injured knee. I managed to strain some tendons in my left knee while practicing some wet exits and self-rescues. I'm not sure whether it was exiting or re-entering that caused the injury, but it was an eye-opener for me. I've never injured myself paddling before and it made me wonder what I'd have done had I been off on some solo trip somewhere. I was unaware of injuring myself until the next day when the pain set in. That's one of the reasons I haven't been posting any incredible paddling stories recently.

There has been a benefit to doing less paddling and more walking and that has been getting out more with my wife, who is an avid birder. In the picture above, we came across a blue teal duck just at dusk, on a back-road pond. I thought it was too dark for a photo, but interestingly, it ended up with some interesting colours.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Mars Bar Anyone?

That soggy, wet, monster heavy of a cloud is still sitting here, it's fat 'aff' plunked down like a fat glob of mist right on my lake. I'm getting totally depressed and unhappy. If I could remember the address, I'd head over to the intergalactic worm-hole station and jump off to another more suitable, drier, more fun planet. I think I'll get under a blanket and speed-read through Pandora's Star by Peter Hamilton. It seems to me he listed all the worm-hole station locations in there somewhere. I could be gone in an instant and be off this drippy planet!

In the meantime, and while I'm searching for the closest station address, I'll eat my favourite meal, deep-fried Mars bars, a nutritious, top of the food chart, offering eaten only by Olympian gods and their youthful cohorts, university students. While power snacking, I'll open up Rosie's website and see how she's been doing on her other-worldly trek to the North Pole. I understand she's sponsored by Mars bars, which has to be the ultimate, most awesome sponsorship company imaginable. I'm not sure whether they air-lift her yummy supply in daily or if she has to carry them all with her, but just imagine being out in that wintery wonderland, all by yourself, knowing that every one of those Mars bars is just for you! You can eat every single one. You don't have to share! Gives you goose-bumps, doesn't it? Of course you'll have to pack out the wrappers yourself. There's always a downside to every expedition... I remember stashing all our garbage against the forward cockpit bulkhead going around Manitoulin Island. After a while, I wondered if I was paddling a kayak or a garbage truck!

Anyway, like I said, the ultimate experience! You hear that, Cloud! I don't care! Sit there forever! Rosie and I are eating Mars bars and you never will! Ha, ha, ha...

Silly rotten cloud.