So much for normal

It seems odd to look back at my previous post, uploaded on March 8th, and think how different things were. Content warning: if you don’t want to read about the pandemic, this is where you move on.

I want to put down some of the things that have happened, in a kind of timeline, before I forget all the details.

Thursday, March 12th, was our last ordinary day at work. I don’t usually write much about my day job, so just to fill you in, I’m an air taxi pilot in Northwestern Ontario. I fly these. Mostly I take people from Kenora to remote northern communities, spend some hours there while they do their jobs, and then fly home again. On Thursday, the weather was poor, with fog and freezing drizzle. We cancelled all our trips.

Friday, March 13th, was nice and sunny, and I flew some people to Cat Lake, Ontario. On the way up, I was speculating with my co-pilot about how vulnerable these northern communities would be. Cat Lake has had a housing shortage for some time, made worse by widespread mould in buildings there. Houses are crowded. Self-isolation would be impossible. If Covid-19 were to get into Cat Lake, it would spread like wildfire. Diabetes is common, so many people would get very ill. At lunchtime, we chatted to some construction contractors who were assembling prefab homes to ease the shortage. As we talked, the foreman got word that the Cat Lake Band Council was thinking of putting the whole community into quarantine. No unnecessary visitors from outside.

By the time we got home to Kenora, things had changed. Schools were closing for Spring Break, and it was announced that they would not reopen until two weeks after the break was over, in order to protect the school population from anyone who might get infected during vacation travels. The city of Kenora announced the closure of the Museum, Libraries and Recreation Centre.

Over the weekend, things got tighter. Large gatherings were banned. The hospital and seniors homes imposed restrictions on visitors. People were advised to stay home if possible. Toilet paper got scarce, but we didn’t need any.

On Monday, March 16th, I went to work. Although we had no revenue trips, we had hired a new co-pilot, and I was to train her. When I got there, the administrative staff were gathering up their things to work from home. I was permitted to commence the training, but we tried to stay a meter apart for groundschool. Our mechanics were working, and at lunchtime, we all sat apart.

There was talk of restaurants removing half their seating to separate their customers.

On Tuesday, March 17th, it was announced that all restaurants would close, except for take-out and delivery. Caroline’s restaurant was already closed for Spring Break, but this meant she would not be going back to work the following week. I should clarify. She worked for many years at the Clarion, but the fire there in January led to her getting laid off and filing for Employment Insurance. She was picking up some lunch shifts at an Italian restaurant, and that’s the place that was not going to re-open.

Flight training continued for the week. An hour or two in the plane, plus debriefing, paperwork and groundschool. Further restrictions took place. I’m not sure of the exact days, but the Vet Clinic said we couldn’t bring our cat in for his annual rabies shot. They were only open for sick animals. Hair salons closed. A fire downtown led to flooding of basements along nearly a block of Main Street. It was eerie to see all the businesses closed when the street re-opened. Then the province declared a state of emergency, and non-essential businesses were ordered closed.

Toilet paper still scarce, but not unobtainable. Limit two packs per customer. We bought one.

Many of my pilot friends, especially those just newly hired at airlines, were laid off as routes were cancelled. Vacationers were being brought home, but you couldn’t fly south anymore. I think this was the week that a million Canadians filed for EI.

On Monday, March 23rd, I went to the hangar. We got as far as pulling the plane out of the hangar to go training, before the Chief Pilot asked us not to. Training flights are expensive. Another plane went out to pull some staff out of a northern worksite, ending a contract. We did some groundschool.

On Tuesday, March 24th, I got a heads-up from the Chief Pilot that an email from headquarters was announcing layoffs. The company should survive because our sister division does essential work with forest fire management, but our base was doing zero flying, and would close. Two or three of our people were offered transfers. Our new copilot was offered work, but not a flying position. She took it.

On Wednesday, March 25th, the expected layoff was announced. We got two weeks notice. Many people at other companies weren’t so lucky.

In over thirty years of marriage, we’ve never both been unemployed at the same time. The worst was when I had to go on long-term disability for about a year. We cancelled a bunch of things like satellite TV and our landline. They’ve stayed cancelled, and it took years to recover. The lesson I learned was to start economizing early. Don’t wait until the money runs out. We’re fortunate that our mortgage is paid off.

I went to the bank, to scale back some payments. I don’t visit in person very often, but I had been in a few days earlier to replace a cracked debit card. What a transformation. The door was locked. They were letting in only one or two customers at a time. Before entering, you were asked if you had been out of the country. The tellers wore masks and gloves, and were separated from the customers by a sheet of polythene plastic. I have to say, it felt very foreboding. Pre-apocalyptic.

I also called another bank to see if we can defer payments on our car loan. I got through after half an hour, and the guy said I was wise to call in the morning. The previous afternoon, he had over a thousand people in his queue. He forwarded me to the right department for my situation. I spent another hour and a half on hold, with some soothing but rather tinkly muzak. I will never open a music box again. They put me on a call-back list. It’s going to take days to hear back. It’s a zero-percent loan, so I’m optimistic we can get some relief, but a deferral will almost certainly run out before I return to work.

Worked up the nerve to post on Ice Patrol (my other blog, much more popular) that there will be no flights this spring.

The bottled water company is operating, but you cannot go in. You can pre-pay and pick up, apparently. No cash. The rest of that strip mall looked closed. The doughnut store next door is closed, even the drive-through. One supermarket has plexiglass barriers, the other has them coming. No cash. Both have markings on the floor to indicate physical distancing. So does our drugstore, and they’re restricting the number of customers in the store to fifty. Our favourite pet store is open, but the owners are distressed. One was close to tears when we said we’d support them as best we can.

I think we’ll be okay. I did get paid for a magazine article, and another was accepted, so I can invoice for that. But I guess I better fill out my tax return.

I hope you’re all doing okay.





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.




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.

Upcoming events

I should have updated sooner, but I’ve had a rash of computer problems. I have recovered my data and my computer is running normally. For now. Fingers crossed.

Here’s a look at some things in the next few weeks.


Back when Avians first became available for pre-order from the big booksellers, some of my friends informed me that Amazon was listing the book as available at the end of June, instead of the first of August. I wasn’t sure if that was right, but those people have received their Kindle copies, so there you go. If you can’t wait, Amazon has it available now.

Some reviews are up at Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads already. So far, things are looking encouraging, with four and five star reviews.


On the 18th of July, there will be a review of Avians on Bonnie Ferrante – Books for Children. Bonnie covers books for children for all ages, from ABC’s to Young Adult.  I also did a fun interview with her and that post will follow a day later. She always finishes her interviews with three random questions, and I think they reveal more about an author than the more logical questions do.


August 1st: the official release of Avians. It will be available from Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, Rakuten Kobo and Five Rivers, as well as Amazon.

When Words Collide is in Calgary on August 11, 12 & 13. Friday evening I’m on a panel on Worldbuilding. My particular focus is on how to show what isn’t there. On Saturday morning I’m on a panel on Pantsing versus Plotting, which should be fun, as I do neither. I’m a quilter: I write the exciting parts first, then stitch them together, outlining retroactively. Saturday afternoon I’ll be at Five Rivers Presents, for the Avians launch. Yay, finally! Then I have to dash across the road to do my presentation on Writing Aviation in the other building. Saturday evening I will put in an appearance at the mass Autograph Session. I’ll probably have plenty of time to chat with the other authors, as there won’t be very many copies of my book in the wild yet. Sunday will be a fun day, I’m the reader for the Science Fiction session of Live Action Slush. It will be my goal to confound the evil editors by making every story sound wonderful. Apart from all that, I had an offer to share a table with some friends in the dealer room. I’ll post further details on rooms, times and co-panelists when the schedule is finalized.

After I return from When Words Collide, on Tuesday, the 15th of August, I’m tentatively scheduled to do an event at the Kenora Public Library at 2:00 pm. I’ll read some short sections of the book and give one or two copies to the library, and then offer to sign some books. If you buy a copy at the event, Elizabeth Campbell Books will donate a portion of the proceeds to the library fund.


PVR 8.0

My post about the last day and trip home is overdue. Some highlights: Caroline had not booked a cabana for our last morning, but she was able to snag one of the two giant wicker couches at the poolside. Usually competition for these is at pretty much the level of Hunger Games, but it was cloudy and spitting the odd raindrop, so perhaps someone chickened out.

Comedy of elevator errors when I got back from my walk and Caroline was not at the terrace table where I left her. She had taken my hoodie and coffee mug to our room, but had not lingered there. As usual after one of my beach walks, I was wet and covered in sand. Really? I used to be on the beach patrol in Australia; I should be able to wade in the surf without getting drenched! After I showered and dressed in my fly-home-to-the-cold clothes, I tried the restaurant again, but could not find her. Returned to the room, assuming we had played hide and seek with the two elevators, only to find that I had neglected to put my keycard in my pants pocket. Locked out. Back to the pool, and found her on aforementioned sofa.

Things went really well after that. The Hilton PVR is only minutes from the airport, and we had a taxi to ourselves. No line-up for check in, and no line-up for security (I mean it: load the bins and walk on through) Our WestJet flight crew was motivated to get back to Winnipeg, and the plane was only two thirds full, so they had no trouble making a quick turnaround. Not only did we score a vacant seat in our row of three, we were the only people in the six front-row seats. This row is not everyone’s favourite, as the TVs are far away and you may get drafted for exit-row obligations, but the leg-room is extravagant.

As usual, the flight crew were unknown to me. Despite having more than a dozen former colleagues at WestJet, I never seem to fly with one of my old friends. Next best thing, though, we got a thumping tailwind and shaved half an hour off the return trip, landing in Winnipeg at 1600. It wasn’t even dark yet!

Breezed through immigration, despite having an uneaten Mexican pear in my carry-on. I declared it, in case it needed to be properly disposed of, but they let me keep it. Baggage took a few minutes, but Caroline’s “international orange” suitcase is easy to spot, and mine is also moderately distinctive. No line at customs, so we zipped through that, too. Claimed car, grabbed a Timmies dark, and hit the road home. This would have been great, except for two things: the temperature had dropped into the minus twenties, causing frost to form on the travel mug I left in the car, cooling my coffee instantly to barely warm, and we had to drive home without tunes because the valet had killed the car’s battery. A clue to how this happened was that the hatchback glass was not secure. I suspect that the valet had hit the wrong button on the key, causing the cargo light to stay on all week.They had boosted it, but the GPS was offline, the trip meter had reset to zero and the window wouldn’t auto-open. More first-world problems. How much can one man take?

Took a minute to gas up in Winnipeg and clean last week’s coating of frozen road-spray off the windows and headlights. I always think this is time well-spent for a night drive, but it sure was refreshing; Winnipeggers need to have a word with someone- the heat’s not working!

Easy drive home to Kenora. Stopped at Keewatin Place for bread, milk and orange juice, then went out for dinner with a friend.