Fall Photographs

The seasons are changing, and here are a pair of recent photographs that show it. You can click on the pictures to see them in higher resolution.

 

Icy Pond

The little pond by the Sandy Nook trail on Tunnel Island froze over the other day. It’s in a shadowy hollow that makes it hard to get the morning light to shine on the ice, so my first batch of pictures were a bust; the ice was barely noticeable. An hour later, I passed by again, and by including the reflection on the small unfrozen portion of the pond I got the ice to stand out better.

Closer to home, Caroline spotted this magnificent fungus on one of the trees by our driveway. It’s bigger than both my fists.

Tree Fungus

I’m amazed at the macro capability of my smartphone’s camera, (a Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo, if you want to know).  I shoot mostly landscapes, where everything is in sharp focus, so it’s nice to see the limited depth of field come into play for a change.

If you know anything about tree fungus types, I’d love you to comment on this one.

A note on my photographic preferences: I prefer to show the world without people or their constructs. I try to avoid power lines, contrails and so on unless I’m specifically taking pictures of a bridge or something. The pond in the first picture is plagued by utility poles, so I did a lot of walking around to get a vantage I liked. Scrutinizing the fungus picture reveals the rooftop of one of my neighbour’s houses, but mercifully, it is so blurred as to be ambiguous.

As to the seasonal theme, I can’t resist bringing up my position that Kenora (and much of Canada, for that matter) doesn’t really have four seasons. We have two: the one when the temperature is above freezing, and the one when it isn’t. Sure, there are a couple of shoulder periods where the daily highs and lows straddle the line, but when it comes right down to it, the mean temperature is either one or the other.

It snowed a little last night—although nothing like as much as our first snowfall on October 10th—so I took down the Halloween decorations from our front steps, and put up the winter ones. I’m going for a walk soon, and I’ll be looking for beauty, but squinting grumpily.

Dinner Debriefing: A Weekend in Thunder Bay

Caroline had a conference in Thunder Bay last weekend, so we drove down. I was warned that the drive was a bit bleak, but it was beautiful sunny spring weather, and the scenery was of the rocks and trees persuasion, which works fine for me.

Lakes were thawing, so we saw some that were open water, and others that were largely covered in candled ice. We stopped for lunch at the Riverside Lodge in Dryden. We were told it would be good, and it was.

We pushed our dinner reservation at The Caribou back by half an hour to be on the safe side, and arrived in plenty of time. We had a nice dinner there, with exceptionally fine service. Example: Shauna always came by to check on us just a minute or so after our dishes arrived, so if there had been a problem, it would have been rectified right away. The meal got off to a strong start with an original bread-basket accompanied by hummus. I always feel that if a restaurant does well with basics such as bread and soup, the food will be good overall. See the dinner menu here. We shared an order of Calamari to start. The squid part was very agreeable- lots of tentacle bits, which we both like. We were less sure of the tamarind dip. Caroline took a dislike to it right away, and switched to the hummus that came with the bread, while I persevered for a while before deciding it really wasn’t for me. We shared a salad, the warm goat cheese one with Dijon vinaigrette. For our main courses, I chose a fish special—I forgot to take notes, but I think European Sea Bass, with barley done like a risotto—while Caroline ordered the Mafaldine Braised Rabbit with Pancetta, mushrooms, truffle butter, and Parmesan. Both were tasty and tender. There was a fair selection of wines by the glass, and many suited our personal tastes. We picked the Noble Vines Merlot, and liked it so much I went looking for it in an LCBO the next day, but they list it as discontinued. We finished with a chocolate torte thing that rounded out the meal nicely. We would go back on any future visit to Thunder Bay. We might try for a quieter night; Friday evening was busy and rather noisy.

Saturday I had a day to myself while Caroline did conference things. A helpful front desk clerk printed me a map showing how to get to the scenic lookout on Mount McKay. I wanted to go there because every time I land on runway 30 in Thunder Bay, I get a good look at it from the pilot’s seat: Mount McKay is right beside an approaching aircraft. Map in hand, I programmed Dingbat, our long-time GPS, (notice I call him long-time, not trusty) and he knew a better way to get there. Which took me to a closed bridge. I told him to detour, and he diverted me to Boundary Road, which is blocked by gates to the mill property. When I attempted a second detour, Dingbat tried to guide me back to the closed bridge. Apparently, the Garmin algorithms do not deal well with double detours. I got the map out and did it the old-fashioned way.

The trip up the base of Mount McKay was serene, and a sign at the base said the scenic lookout was open from May to October, between the hours of 9:00 am and 11:00 pm. They didn’t mean all of May, apparently, because there was no one at the toll gate when I arrived at 9:15. Still, I had been told it would be okay to park my car outside the gate and walk in, so I did. It was about a twenty minute walk up the winding blacktop lane to the lookout.

Because we went by road, I had my titanium hiking staff with me! I can’t take it when I travel by air, because: one, it’s oversize and the cost is prohibitive, and two, it’s packed with survival supplies including some fire starting thingies that are prohibited on aircraft. Click to zoom in on this picture, and you can see that my staff is on its third wood grain paint scheme.

But I digress. Scenery!

This is as close to the edge of the drop as I cared to get; there’s a vertical drop of a hundred feet or more. You can see Thunder Bay’s runway 30 in the distance. There was a hiking trail that started at the scenic lookout, but it quickly became steep, and crossed scree slopes that I didn’t care to try alone with the ice still coming out of the rocks.

Saturday we went for dinner at Bistro One. We’d heard good things about the food, and we weren’t disappointed. On the other hand, the meal was slow getting started. We began with some classic French bread with roasted garlic and butter, but then there was a long pause before we saw anything else, and our server seemed to be avoiding us. I started with the Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna, while Caroline chose the 5 Hour Roasted Confit of Ontario Duck Leg. We were both happy with them, although the duck leg was salty, as it often is; some chefs believe this dish should be rinsed, some do not. The wine list here wasn’t quite as tailored to our tastes, but there was a good choice of wines by the glass. For entrees, Caroline had the Roasted Fillet of Atlantic Salmon while I decided on the Cognac Flamed Breast of Duck. Both dishes were superb. By the time we were done, it was getting late, the staff were clearing things up, and there was a hockey game on, so we didn’t linger for dessert. We wouldn’t be likely to go back, but this restaurant was tranquil, and might suit people who wanted to take their time and talk.

Caroline’s conference finished before noon on Sunday, so we hit the road, pausing for lunch in Upsala. We were told it would be okay, and it was.

There were two incidents of note on the way home. First, I saw moose. Not one, but a group of four. They were down by the ditch, so it was more interesting than startling. I flashed my hazards at the next truck, in case they moved onto the road.

Second, we got flagged down by motorists with two cars stopped at the side of the road. I pulled over immediately, in case someone had been hurt in an accident, but they just needed a screwdriver to remove a wheel-well liner that was rubbing on a tire. Boy Scout that I am, (well, was once) I had tools including a Leatherman and a multi-tip stubby that was just the thing. We had them fixed up in minutes and were back on our way.

All in all, a nice little trip.

 

Extreme Cold

I go for a walk every day, even when it’s extremely cold. I try to keep my eyes open for beauty, and sometimes I remember to take a picture.

Yesterday morning, walking in the icy mist by the river on the Tunnel Island hiking trails, I got this.

Iron & Ice

Iron & Ice

 

Today, our extreme cold warning came back, so I waited until the afternoon. The wind died down, but it was still bitterly cold down by the river.

Fenceposts

Fenceposts

 

You might be wondering why I shoot landscape photographs in portrait mode. It’s partly because I like the depth of having the near foreground start right at my feet, and it’s partly because I like to save them as wallpaper for my computer monitor. Yes, I have my 27″ monitor in portrait mode, for writing, so I resize and crop the images to 1200×1920. You can click on the pictures to see them at that resolution.

Those letterbox pictures at the top of my blog are also my own work, by the way.

Dog Story

We writers are known to be cat people. When it comes to walking on a keyboard, dogs are useless. But I married a dog person, and for decades, she has wished for one.

Voila!

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This is Piper. She is, according to It’s A Dog’s Life, a Husky cross. Crossed with what, they don’t say. Her reddish coat, bushy tail and narrow snout make me wonder if she’s part fox.

She’s large enough to hike with me, but small enough to not pull Caroline right off her feet. She’s unbelievably quiet and tranquil, but a fussy eater.

We went to Tunnel Island today. I hike there a lot, and I even do a little trail maintenance now and then, such as clearing fallen trees with a Swede saw. This was our second visit together, and although it is common practice there to let dogs off the leash, after less than a week together, I wasn’t ready to turn her loose just yet. I’ve been using a retractable leash to give her a little freedom of movement.

There was a blanket of fresh snow on all the trails, and once we got to where the A and B trails forked about a mile from the parking lot, there were no more footprints. We’d be breaking trail. We did the easier A trail last time, so today I picked B. Piper trotted happily ahead. She hesitated at the first footbridge, but after pausing to look through the planks at the ravine below, she decided it was okay with her if it was okay with me.

All went well until about halfway round the island. Then an off-the-trail excursion to look at a squirrel got her tangled in the undergrowth. Rather than floundering uphill through the deep snow in the bush to get her, I coaxed her to come back the way she went in. That went well enough at first, but as she tried a little too awkwardly to negotiate the last sapling, she pulled right out of her collar. And took off.

She sprinted down the trail right out of sight, but I was reassured when she came back to check on me before running ahead again. She was acting like all the other dogs I meet on Tunnel Island, the ones who have established relationships with their humans. I let her have her way for twenty minutes, then I realized that if we got separated, she had neither her collar nor her tag to help people reunite us. When she waited at the next junction to see which trail I wanted, I gave her a treat and put her collar back on. But not the leash. She was having way too much fun, and she was being pretty responsible. We carried on like that for a while, and I decided that I would reattach the leash when we approached the parking lot and the highway. She was with me, more or less, all the way to the railway bridge. She paused there to see some ravens, and I figured she’d catch up like before. But a couple of minutes later, when I went to see about putting her leash back on, she was nowhere in sight. I called for her, but she didn’t come. We’re only so-so on her coming when I call.

I backtracked to the railway bridge. No Piper. I returned to the car in case she had outrun me in the woods somehow. No Piper. I went back to the bridge and checked the pond and river for dog footprints and broken ice. Nope. At the railway bridge, there were dog prints that looked like hers. They didn’t go near the water. They went up to the railway tracks.

I clambered up the steep, snow-covered embankment. No dog, and I could see a long way. I called some more. The pawprints went along the tracks. Were they even hers? I saw a few spots of blood. Had she  fought an animal, or been hit by a train? Up ahead there were ravens on a kill.

Fussy eater, my ass. What does a husky cross like better than dog food? A deer carcass. This one, lying by the tracks, was mostly reduced to hide. Piper was happily gnawing on it. The ravens were not impressed.

She let me put her leash back on. I reeled it all the way in and we returned to the car handcuffed together. She obediently got in. I didn’t give her a treat, but she found one on the back seat from earlier.

At home, we were tired from our adventure and napped together on the couch. Surprisingly, Rufus, our male cat, came and joined us for a few minutes. He has been rather leery of Piper. She has done nothing to upset him, in fact she’s been the soul of animal diplomacy, avoiding eye contact and showing studious disinterest by lying down or scratching herself when he is in the room. It’s working. He is slowly getting bolder about approaching her.

We have another week before we must formally adopt Piper or return her. I think it’s working out. But we’ll be going to evening classes.

Seattle to Portland via Ape Cave

Seattle to Portland is not a long drive, so we planned a diversion to  Ape Cave, which is actually a lava tube under Mount Saint Helens.

It was a lovely change from the I-5 to drive through the winding two-lane road to Cougar, Washington and make our way uphill to the site.

We had lunch at a picnic table on one of the trails to the cave entrance.

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The official recommendation is warm clothing and three sources of light. I carefully set out a hoodie this morning, but left it in the car when I went back for something after lunch. It is just above freezing in the cave, (6°C) and very breezy in the narrower parts of the passage. Caroline wore a sweater and still got cold. I’m glad we had all the lights we did. Our headlamps were all but useless, casting a dim glow. It might have been possible to walk by that light, but it wouldn’t have been easy. What worked best were the pair of tactical flashlights I picked up for the trip. I’d been second guessing the usefulness of such a narrow beam, but they were ideal, penetrating all the way to the next bend and revealing ceilings high overhead.

I’m calling this novel research, as parts of Bandits are set beneath a volcano. Right now, those scenes are in draft form, with the basic plot and dialog written. Walking through the lava tube gave me a much better understanding of what it would be like; it wasn’t as straight or as dry as I had imagined. I look forward to rewriting sections where I have Raven suffering from thirst. There’s water, but mostly in the form of drips; actually trying to drink the water would be frustrating. The footing varied from flat and gritty to jumbled rock. That’s perfect for my story.

Once we were done with that, we resumed our drive to Portland. When we got out of the car in the hotel, we were stunned. They’re in the middle of an extreme heat warning here, and the jeans and t-shirt that were so inadequate in the cave had us wilting in the parking lot.

The Titanium Hiking Staff Project

I like to hike in the woods. A stick comes in handy on steep sections of trail, and it gives my arms something to do.

At first, I improvised a hiking staff from a five-foot rake handle. I frapped a section with string for a grip, and shoved on a rubber cane tip from the drugstore.

But I wondered- if I had a light metal tube, could I pack it with survival gear and first aid supplies? Aluminum would work, but what I really wanted was titanium. The price was a deterrent, but I finally ordered a five foot length of one inch welded titanium tubing from Online Metals.

While I was waiting for it to come, I started picking up things to put inside: a space blanket, fire starters, a small compass, a tiny roll of duct tape, water purification tablets, a whistle, fishing line and hooks, a first-aid booklet, triangle bandages, surgical gloves, chewable aspirin. Total weight, about 250 grams, or just over eight ounces.

Step One: Paint. The titanium tube arrived with the specs stenciled all over it. I’m not 20150521_115059Csure other hikers want to meet a large man with a metal pipe in his hands, so I primed it with red oxide and applied a faux wood-grain in chocolate acrylic glaze. I used a nubbly rubber glove for the graining, and the overall effect is a dark brown grain like teak. I applied a clear-coat to protect it.

Step Two: Ends. A one-inch rubber cane tip for the foot. These have steel discs inside, so the metal tube does not cut through them. For the head end, I wanted something versatile. I chose to fit the top with a broom-handle thread so that I can attach different tips. I used a lathe to turn down the handle of a SOG Spirit for this purpose, and epoxied it into the tube with the threaded portion sticking out. I found a wooden paint-roller handle that is threaded to take a broom-handle for painting ceilings. I cut it down and rounded it off to make a knob for everyday hiking. It has a decorative metal ring that looks nice on the staff.

Step Three: Frapping. The one-inch tubing is a little small for my grip, and slippery. Paracord would be best, but the closest I could get locally was some polypropylene braided cord with a 200 pound breaking strength. I wound about forty feet of it around the staff at elbow height in two layers. To do this, I mounted the tubing on a dowel spindle so that I could turn it easily. I started at the lower end, wound my way up for about ten inches, then tightly back down again. Then I tied the loose ends with a tight reef knot and fused the ends to the metal with a lighter. The knot is almost invisible. Unwound, the cord could be used in a myriad of ways, from building a shelter to suspending food from a tree.

Step Four: Packing.

Hiking Staff

Contents. I did get the space blanket more compactly rolled after several tries.

The space blanket was the biggest challenge. Although it was folded into a compact rectangle not much bigger than a deck of cards, rolling it into a slim cylinder was harder than I expected. The key was to refold it into a larger flat rectangle of the right length, squeeze all the air out, roll it tightly around a welding-rod spindle, and draw it tight with adhesive tape at regular intervals. The blanket came with an added bonus; it’s bright orange on one side and printed with diagrams showing how to use it for shelter and so on. It went in first, and slid right up to the head end. Next up, all those loose items. I rolled the first-aid booklet up tightly and taped it like the blanket. I packed some of the loose items into little ziploc bags, then I used heavy duty aluminum foil to make a pair of cylindrical torpedoes filled with the odds and ends, and slid them in. That prevents the contents from rattling or shifting and jamming. Plus the aluminum foil can be used to fashion a cup or a reflector. The last items in were the ones I thought I might need in the biggest hurry; the first-aid supplies. Repeated attempts to roll the triangle bandages into a neat cylinder were pathetic. Finally I just used a chopstick to stuff them in, tied together like a magician’s kerchiefs. The safety pins and the tiny scrap of paper with sling and bandage diagrams went in with them. When the staff was nearly packed full, I squeezed in the whistle and the surgical gloves, and left the tail end of the triangle bandage right at the end where I could grab it and pull it all out. Then the rubber cane tip went on.

Empty, the titanium staff is lighter than the wooden rake handle, and would likely float. Fully loaded, it is just over a kilo: 1070 grams (or 2lbs, 6oz). I find it a comfortable weight. You may have noticed that I carry water purification tablets, but not any kind of water container. Emptied of it’s other contents, the titanium staff will hold 650mls of water, about right for one tablet.

A few months after I wrote this post, I found the way I’d done the top and bottom wasn’t working out all that well. I changed things around and repainted the staff with a more convincing wood grain. You can see an update here.