Friday, February 27, 2009

Heading Off On Your Adventure

There are those who think of having an adventure means things went very wrong on your trip, but somehow you managed to survive the experience. Recently two Québeçois had an adventure in British Columbia, but, sadly, the trip resulted in disaster with one person dying. I look out at the photo above and realise how easy it is to become lost when you're far from home in unknown territory and the weather starts closing in... So, as I sit here planning this summer's paddling trips I can't help but wonder if I'm really ready and properly prepared to go. What if things go wrong? Am I preparing for that possibility?

The details on the couple who became lost in British Columbia are not known as yet, but their tale once more brings home the message: while you can never be well enough prepared, you can make provisions to minimize your risks. For example, it has reminded me to always let someone know where I'm headed and roughly how long I expect to be away. That someone could be a family member, a friend or in some instances the police. I would also take a SPOT device or something similar on longer, more remote trips when cell phone service isn't available. Normally I take more food than I ever manage to eat, but I'm wondering about my medical kit. It's time to renew and even upgrade its contents again...

Let's all paddle safely and keep our 'adventures' happy ones!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Magic Mountain

One of the thrills of exploring the winter mountain landscapes is that now and then you catch the unwary. We had begun our climb mid-afternoon and were nearing the summit about 5 o'clock when most creatures expect us humans to be warming ourselves by the fires below. Rounding a bend in the snow clocked forest, we suddenly encountered this scene shown in the photo: a rare glimpse of a wood gnome dressed in winter garb just emerging from its lair! It instantly froze in its tracks hoping not to be noticed, but of course we were on the alert for just such a sighting. I managed to grab this quick photo... I know..., amazing creature isn't he?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Something A Little Different...

Open view at the summit.

Given the water is still very much in the frozen state here and given I enjoy both skiing and show-shoeing, I decided to do something a little different yesterday. Some friends and I decided to rent the little refuge hut at the top of Mont Mégantic, one of the higher mountains in southern Québec lying up against the Maine border.

Nearly buried under the snow in the woods.

Monday turned out to be quite stormy with a 30 cms snowfall, so just getting to the mountain was an adventure. Once there we headed up through piles of newly fallen snow. At times the trail rose up to our waists as we made our way upward.

A gray jay inspecting our food offerings before landing on our hands.

This morning we woke to sunny skies and a pristine environment (top photo), all traces of our ascent having disappeared in the new snow over-night. We began our way down the mountain, stopping along the way to feed a few gray jays and play in the magical wonderland that the deep snow creates on mountain tops.

I took some video of the trip which I'll try to post here and on the Vimeo site once I've done some editing...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Obama Day in Canada


Needless to say, much of the country went a bit nuts over the American President's visit yesterday. He's seen here walking with Canada's Governor General, Mme Jean. And looking wistfully at the frozen Ottawa river, Obama did mention he'd like to return in warmer weather. Is he a closet kayaker?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Do Petitions Work?

We all get asked to sign petitions for various causes, but do they work? In some cases they act as polls and in that sense they do have influence. That this is perceived as true is perhaps the reason we continue to use petitions to try and change things we don't want to have happen. If they aren't effective, then at the least, we feel we've tried to act for change by.

I've recently been active trying to influence the Harper government to separate the seemingly dissimilar issues of economic recovery and how most of Canada's rivers are modified by various construction projects like dams, bridges and so on. The link between these two appears to be that fast-tracking construction projects will help the economy even if that means little or no consultation will happen with interested parties before construction occurs and that environment assessment will have to take a hit because, well, we need to act quickly and without unnecessary hindrances if we're to save this country from economic disaster, don't we?

I don't buy that logic at all. To my mind, that's the thinking that got us into the mess we're in. More of the same doesn't save the economy for me. So one of the things I've been doing is signing every related petition attempting to influence this issue. Facebook has a petition which, last week, had a goal of 1000 names. It has already gone past 1500 signatures which is really heartening. If you're on Facebook and want to add your name, please do so by clicking 'here'. If you're not on Facebook, but want to sign, click 'here'. Thanks for being influential!

Photo from ''.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Man Over the Atlantic

When I was in high school, my physics teacher was an American guy who'd worked as a meteorologist in some branch of the military. As an after-school activity he formed a little club of junior meteorologists and we learned how to read weather charts and to a certain extent predict the weather. Interestingly it was an interest which has stayed with me and helped when I was out paddling. I continue to watch the clouds, the winds and the barometer for signs of change. It was his legacy which got me off a lonely island in the arctic a few years back. Noticing the changes, I was able to get to the mainland before high winds pinned me down for a week of foul weather. Instead of a lonely vigil, I was able to weather the storm with a bunch of Inuit fishermen and their families in relative comfort. Well, our tents did blow away one night, but that's another story...

This afternoon I noticed a change in the clouds to the west. They told of changing conditions on the way. Sure enough, we're going to get some snow (look at the very cold air over northern Vermont in the picture above).

While I will get some additional snow coverage to ski on, look at the system over the north Atlantic! I call it 'Atlantic Man', but perhaps I should say 'monster' given its size. He seems to be bouncing a ball just off Newfoundland, where I bet they're having some nasty weather as I write! If you live in Iceland and northern Scotland, I'd get a fire going... Stray warm!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Signs of Things To Come!

I decided to go snowshoeing today out to a point of land I often paddle past in open water season. It was a glorious, warm, sunny day and walking along in the woods there was a definite spring-like feel to the air.

Once down off the cliffs at the point, I walked out onto the lake ice and there it was, the best sign of things to come I've seen yet. The sunlight being reflected off the cliffs was melting the snow on top of the ice creating shallow pools of water. Not enough to paddle in mind you, but where there's a drop, there's a gush, as they say. It won't be that long and I'll be paddling on home waters once again. I can hardly wait!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Unhappy Anniversary...

In 1992 when it became obvious to many that increasing emissions of several gases, particularly carbon dioxide, were promoting adverse global climate changes, a meeting was held in Rio de Janeiro to discuss what might be done. This led to a 2005 meeting in Kyoto where a mechanism was decided upon which would help countries to lower their emissions in an effort to try to come to grips with slowing down and eventually ending the changes which were occurring. Today is the anniversary of that meeting in Kyoto.

The world map above indicates which countries have ratified the Kyoto Treaty or not. It is a bit misleading. For example, while Canada ratified the Treaty and began making provisions to lower emissions, our present government has done almost nothing. In fact, it reduced funding to the various efforts to lower emissions in Canada. Some parts of Canada like Québec, have continued to work on lowering emissions, but without a national plan, these efforts are not what they could be. Conversely, some countries which have not ratified the Treaty also have regions which have been working hard to reduce their emissions. Again, without a national program, results have been less than what they might have been working collectively.

So there's not much to celebrate on this anniversary day as nations, but I'm encouraged to read about successful efforts here and there, even when it's only a few people or businesses involved. As Red Green used to say, "We're all in this together...".

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

You don't have to paddle very long or very far before you begin to meet folks who are real Valentine's people. If you don't know what I mean, then either you need to paddle more or you need to open your heart more to the world around you! To all those who know what I'm talking about, keep paddling. There's a wonderful world out there, full of exciting places to paddle, filled with wonderful people who want to meet you! Paddle forever!

Photo from

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

See How They Run

Dam at Montmagny, Québec

My concern for Canada's minority Conservative government's secret plan to alter the public's right of navigation on the small rivers of Canada and the removal of the requirement for environmental assessment and public consultation when "works" are undertaken on these rivers prompted me to write 13 letters to various people intimately involved in this decision. I emailed the letters on Sunday. Now I thought it would be interesting to see how long it takes the recipients to respond and in what fashion they do so. It will be a little exercise in democracy-in-action!

Today, Tuesday, is the second working day since sending my email. First to respond - Monday morning early - and the only one to write a personal letter stating he will be "looking into" the issue and contact his Member of Parliament, was William Munsey, deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada. Interesting.

Next to respond was Mario Laflamboise, a Liberal member and VP of the Permanent Committee of Transport and Infrastructure. His note was a simple acknowledgement of my email. Okay, but I wanted more.

This morning came another acknowledgement of my email this time from Jim Prentice's office. He's a Conservative MP and Minister of the Environment. This is the first email from a member of the Conservative government, but he'll need to do more to impress me.

I'll post updates on this item letting you know who responds and what measures they are prepared to take on behalf of maintaining the public's right to have unhindered access to Canada's rivers, and, most especially, that the environmental safeguards and reviews are kept stringent and ecologically sound in any new legislation or amendments.

Update #1 - Thursday, Feb 12
One more reply late yesterday, this time from Bruce Hyer, MP for the New Democratic Party. He wrote an informative note mentioning the NDP are on top of this issue and are working to see the amendments meet the goals of a wider group of Canadians than the Conservatives have in mind. This move by Harper's Conservatives certainly makes one wonder who the proposed amendments are intended for and why the environmental safeguards would be left in the Minister's hands alone?

Update #2 - Friday, Feb 13
Two more replies in today. The first was from David Lewis, Research and Operations Coordinator for the Green Party. He provided me with some additional links on the subject as well as the party's position. I have the feeling that these people are interested in this issue, although, they do not sit in the House.

The second reply was a simple letter of reception from the office of Joe Volpe, the Official Opposition Transport Critic. Other than assure me that Volpe will get to see my letter, nothing else was mentioned. Are these people interested? It's hard to say...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Inuit Odyssey Documentary on CBC

Image taken from CBC's Inuit Odyssey web page.

David Suzuki's television program The Nature of Things will present Niobe Thompson's documentary film Inuit Odyssey this coming Thursday night. If you happen to be located in a region where you can pick up this program, I suspect you will be delighted. It tells the story of the Thule Culture people, those we know today as the Inuit, and their journey through time across the arctic landscape from west to east. Their story is a sweep across the top of North America from eastern Russia to the southern tip of Greenland, into Labrador and into the barren grounds of Canada. It promises to be an interesting glimpse into the history of the people who brought us the kayak.

If you cannot get The Nature of Things here are some web sites connected with the program...
- Inuit Odyssey
- Promo clip
- Buy the video!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow...

Yesterday I went snowshoeing...

Today I went cross-country skiing...

Tomorrow I... that's odd, the photo is missing.

It doesn't matter. You see those clouds in today's photo? They're full of relatively warm air and that means it's going to get really warm soon on the ground and that will probably put an end to the fine snow sports we've been enjoying around here since December. It's times like this that start me thinking it's time to head south to paddle once again.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Paddle To The Ice Age

We all think about the coolest paddling trip, the one we'd love to make, if only we could! Like many people, every now and then, I have another look at my dream trip and try to work out the costs, logistics, partners, time-frame and so on. Each time, I reach a stumbling block, some factor which prevents the trip from actually happening. I'm beginning to think, however, that I'm coming to a point where either I have to get this trip on the road or give it up in favour of some other more practical trip given all the limitations this one has. So what's the trip, you ask?

Take a look at this Google Earth photo. The dominant feature is that blob of white. It's the Penny Ice cap sitting in the middle of Baffin Island, melting away faster than ever now that global climate change is with us. They claim this blob is the last of the giant ice cap which once covered much of North America. What a thrill it would be to walk up to it and touch it! Ten thousand years later this is all that's left and you can walk up and touch it. Imagine, your last chance to visit the fabled Ice Age!

Okay, now look to the southwest corner of the photo. The water you see is northern Foxe Basin, a great paddling venue, full of seals and walrus, ice pans and all sorts of ancient wonders worth visiting en route. The paddling distance from the nearest community is roughly 200 kms, about a week or so on the water. Now look at the coastline (best seen by clicking on the photo). There is a ruggedly indented shoreline which I've actually visited years ago during a caribou hunt. The landscape rolls gently as it slowly rises to the ice cap itself. The shortest route is about 70 kms, let's say 150 kms round trip.

Part of the adventure would be to arrive in July to give yourself time to build a skin-on-frame expedition qajaq and perhaps pick up some local Inuit up for the adventure. Given the prevailing ice conditions and other considerations, one ought to plan to begin paddling around the beginning of August to reach the Baffin coast sometime early in the second week. I'd give yourself about 10 days to get to the ice cap and then a few days to look around. Repeating this in reverse ought to see you back in the community around the end of the month or early September.

What a trip! What a story you'd have to tell! At the moment, I'm looking at heading out in 2010. What about you?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Banff Mountain Film Festival 2009 Tour

A few days ago I attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival. I think I've been attending for about five years now. Over those years, there have been some truly memorable films of adventures in often exotic locations, although few tour films have involved seakayakers. As I left to go home I began to wonder what criteria are used when choosing the films both for awards as well as those which travel the Festival route around the world.

Certainly we're into 'extreme sports' these days so danger and near death thrills factor into the decisions. Exotic locations also seems important and does improve the visuals at least at first glance. Still, there needs to be something more, but what?

When I think of the films which have moved me over the years, I suddenly realised that the key was the 'human story'. Films which open you into another person's world, which get you to feel the emotion of being with the characters on the screen, seems to be the key or at least, one of them. Seeing the emotional and physical changes which take place as the adventure unfolds is what makes the film memorable. Simply showing one incredible camera shot after another isn't enough, nor is 'interviewing' the people involved. It won't last in your memory or move the viewer to think further or feel deeply.

The lack of much development in this key element in this year's tour choices, left me with a flat feeling as I left the theater. Great films, amazing stunts, super locales, but nothing really memorable. The films did make me think about the making of my own videos and forced me to wonder how to get that key story element into them. Hmmmm...

Photo from Journey to the Center by Jens Hoffman

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Magic Of Wood

I like the feel of wood. It's one of the reasons that all my paddles are made of wood. If I'm going to have something in my hands for hours on end, I'd prefer it to feel warm and nearly alive. Wooden paddles give me that feeling.

When I'm not paddling in the winter, I like to cross-country ski, preferably on wooden skis. I broke my last pair a few years ago and sadly, unless one makes one's own skis, replacements are hard to find today. Garage sales are the best outlets, but even they are drying up - pun intended!

That leaves me with my other pastime: playing the guitar. I'm lucky enough to own a nice Spanish made guitar which even a non-player can sense comes alive when the strings are set in motion. It's not the best guitar I've ever played, but it's good enough to let me know there's magic in its creation. There are few experiences which can give me that sensation every time I indulge myself. Life is good!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Who Will Build Your Next Kayak?

Kayaks were first developed by people who lived in an ecology of hunting and gathering. In those days, much like today, one had to face competition from others in the same endeavour. Competition was often fierce and could lead to all the usual complaints and nastiness. When the local hinterland became unproductive, people either changed their diet or moved to a new area. That was the cost of survival in the environment people were part of.

Today we don't think of ourselves as hunters and gatherers (H & G). We think more about making products which compete with other similar products in a common marketplace. A few years ago this competition was often found only a few miles away. The competition resulted in product diversity and quality improvements on the one hand, but it also drove some factories into closing their doors and brought on the usual complaints and nastiness just like in the old H & G days. In the transition, we significantly moved our thinking from 'ecology' to 'economy'.

More recently, the competitive circle has moved from a local thing to a global one. Naturally some people still complain and get nasty about the "unfair" global competition and instead of becoming more competitive, they try to set up barriers, divide the world into exclusive markets. However, the best competitors have always found ways to get around these barriers one way or another and factories still close when they couldn't maintain their now globally based market viability.

People must be ready to adapt or move and this is exactly what's been going on in the kayaking world. In my opinion, it will result in better kayaks for all of us. It means that your next kayak - unless you are building one yourself - is likely to come from almost anywhere in the world. In fact, it will probably come from many parts of the world when you figure in design and the various component parts and accessories. It is just the next step in a process that's been going on for millenia. To be a survivor, one must constantly stay ahead of the pack by innovating and changing and moving.

In his books,The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded, Thomas Friedman discusses what has taken place in the modern world economy and then, in the second book, the directions he believes people need to go to compete in the changing global environment. Both books make interesting reading and probably much more useful than complaining about where your next kayak will be made.

Monday, February 2, 2009


It's a sign of winter when kloggers - the word I coined for kayak bloggers - start looking for topics to write about that have little to do with paddling. Tagging our friends is one such topic. While at first it may appear frivolous, it can be another way to get to know our fellow kloggers. Today's photo is the result of a tag sent to me by Silbs in Wisconsin. I was asked to publish the fourth picture in the fourth folder in my photo collection. It turned out to be this white crowned sparrow who has chosen to over-winter in a bush on the front lawn. This species more commonly migrates out of our area in the winter.

We've been keeping records of bird sightings ever since we first moved to this area in 1977. It has proven to be interesting pastime to watch the various species come and go through the seasons and over the years. It has also given me a wealth of data to play with.

I love working with databases and so have built various data models to track the birds over the years. The data lends itself nicely to various manipulations and insights which have provided me with hours of intellectual play. The skills I developed spilled over to my classroom when I was a teacher. I was able to track my students' progress much more carefully than ever before and found I could catch problems often before even the students themselves were aware they were in difficulty. Fixing problems early, long before they'd fallen too far behind and become discouraged, turned out to be the key in helping students with problems. Now that I'm retired, I still love playing with databases so continue to watch the birds.