Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A cold trip home

I've not posted for a while so I am going to be brief about my trip home.

I arrived in Toronto Tuesday night around 6.00pm, in time to crawl home along the Gardiner "Expressway", actually pulling up at 37 Wyndham just before 7.00pm. Pretty much safe and sound.

My route home was south on I-5 from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, then east on I-84 along the Columbia River valley, through Idaho and down into Utah. The highway turns eastward just before Salt Lake City and joins I-80, which took me through Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois to Chicago. In Nebraska I left I-80 to follow Route 30 which parallels the interstate but is a little more scenic and a little slower. I eventually rejoined I-80 in Iowa, but left it again just south of Chicago to skirt around Chicago on Route 30, rejoining I-29 in Indiana and following it through Michigan to Detroit. Across the border in Ontario I took the 401 to around Brantford, switched to the 403 through Hamilton and then onto the QEW which became the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto.

The first few days were sunny and clear, with great scenery along the Columbia River in Oregon, and through the mountains and foothills of Utah and western Wyoming. Nights were cold, but not too cold. I stayed at a campground in the Columbia Valley the first night and another campground on Great Salt Lake just south of Brigham City on the second night.

Along the interstate highways of the western states, you can get free coffee refills in many service stations, so I took advantage of that to avoid having to make breakfast in the cold morning air. I also made a honey sandwich the day before when it was still warm so I would have something to eat first thing in the morning with my coffee.

In Nebraska the wind picked up. At first it was coming from the west and gave me a nice tailwind to ride on, but through the morning it shifted to the northwest and got much stronger. I got off the interstate because now I could, there were local highways paralleling the interstate, and the scenery is a little more pleasant and the traffic slower and more sparse. But as the wind picked up, a lot of big trucks with empty trailers moved off the interstate onto "my" highway also, because the interstate is raised and more exposed to the wind. The little two-lane highway became quite crowded with all of the trucks now on it.

I was having to stop every 15 miles or so to retie the tie-downs on the kayak, as it whipped around on the roof most alarmingly (I could see the tip of the bow sliding back and forth just above the windshield, the stern rope moving in tandem in the rearview mirror). Miles of corn fields with corn fronds(?) being ripped off and blowing across the highway in clouds. At one point the highway was running parallel to train tracks which were windward to the highway. Every time a long slow train went by I got a bit of a respite from the wind, and those breaks were actually fairly frequent.

I stayed at a recreation area in Iowa that was very cold, there was frost on the ground and on the truck windshield in the morning. The wind died a bit and I had some not too bad driving weather through Iowa and Illinois. Through most of Wyoming and Nebraska the trees were few and far between, but in Iowa great oak forests interspersed with cornfields began to appear. The oaks were turning colour, but the reds and yellows were muted in comparison to sugar maples.

I passed through Chicago after dark, and just after crossing into Michigan I hit a blizzard blowing in off the lake. Almost immediately at least 10cm (4") on the ground and zero visibility due to blowing snow, big wet flakes that just filled the air. Crawled along the highway at 20 clicks (15 mph), thankfully everyone else doing the same. Was looking for a place to pull off, but the damn highway was under construction and they had closed all the rest area pull-offs. Twice I tried just pulling off on a side road, but the conditions were even worse, at least on the highway there were tracks in the snow made by the big trucks. Those tracks were not only good for being easier to drive in but also actually marked where the highway was, as there was no other way to tell in the blowing snow.

Blowing snow at night is mesmerizing, you have to be careful not to look at it or it will put you into a trance. And if you're already tired, it is crazy-making. But on the other hand, the fear of sliding off the road or into another vehicle certainly keeps the adrenalin flowing, a good antidote to sleepiness!

Moving away from the lake the snow cleared and I could see stars. My map showed a campground somewhere around Fort Custer military base, but I spent an hour looking for it and never found it. Tried asking some of the locals, but at 1.00am they were either too zonked to help me or the place never actually existed. There was a sign for it on the interstate and it was marked on my map, but otherwise there was no sign of its existence.

So at 2.00am I finally gave up the search and pulled into a highway rest area that wasn't closed by road construction. Got maybe 4 hours of sleep, it was way too cold for more than that (and I was fully dressed under as many blankets as I could muster). In the morning the entire truck was encased in ice. But after a week on the road I had my morning routine down pat, managed to make coffee and warm up the truck in record time (and having a warm rest area washroom certainly helped!).

In any other state I would have just bought coffee, but here in Michigan they have The Worst Coffee Ever (I can't drink it, it makes me gag), so I made my own in spite of freezing temperatures.

At the border crossing in Detroit, the woman there wanted to know about the thing on my roof. I explained what it was and that it was from Canada. She asked if I was bringing in firewood. Firewood? She was still looking at the roof when she asked that, then asked, So what is that thing beside the kayak? Ah, the wooden ramp! Also from Canada. Then she asked, Any mishaps? Mishaps? Yeah, misadventures. Oh, misadventures. I had to think about that. Wind in Nebraska? Snow in Michigan? That seemed acceptable, she then warned me about snow in Ontario, heading eastward. And wished me a good trip. Fortunately the snow in Ontario was not due until late in the evening, overcast skies and high winds again were all I had to deal with. And closed rest areas. Very ironic that. You'd see a sign that said Fatigue Kills Take a Break, then the next sign said Rest Area Closed Next Rest Area [A Zillion] Km Away. Gee thanks.

Got a wonderful greeting from Dobby when I arrived home, he was ecstatic. He's changed, his face and chest are broader, his ribs less prominent, his bum muscles finally filled out some. He's still skinny, but no longer looks like he hasn't eaten in weeks.

Listened a lot to NPR in the US. It was, needless to say, pretty much focussed on the election. Quite interesting actually. I thought I would be completely burned out on US election commentary, but after a couple of days found I was getting addicted to it. Although, I did listen to the same two-hour Prairie Home Companion (Garrison Keillor) show twice over the weekend, just as a bit of a respite from All Election All The Time.

Isaac asked me when I got home if I could tell when I was passing through a "red" or "blue" state and to tell the truth, I couldn't. Very few McCain or Obama signs, but a lot of signs for local Congress representatives and senators, and sheriffs. And unlike here in Canada, no colour distinctions, you couldn't tell from the sign colour which party a candidate belonged to, and most of the time the party affiliation wasn't mentioned on the sign at all! I had to listen to local radio call-in shows to get any sense of whether this was a red or blue state. Lots of evangelical Christian stations, they didn't seem to talk about the election at all.

So I've learned that Republicans are all over the map on whether Palin is a good idea or not, that some Hillary Clinton Democrats have switched to McCain because they are appalled at how Obama Democrats treated her ("basically they threw her under the bus"), that there are huge problems with how the US handles voter registration (the US is the most difficult democratic country in the world for actually exercising your right to vote), abortion and gay marriage are still big issues but are being dealt with in state-wide initiatives rather than in the Presidential election rhetoric, and that with a Democrat majority assured in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, some pundits think that a Republican President might actually be a good thing as a kind of balancing act to keep America in a more palatable centrist position.

Now I have to get to work putting my place back in order. The tenants left it clean and tidy, but all my stuff is still either in storage or as yet unpacked, it looks like a daunting task! Hopefully I'll have everything to my liking within a week! And I have to figure out what to do with the kayak now...

I am posting a few photos I took en route, just to give a sense of the scenery I was seeing. I read recently that the US interstate highway system allows one to travel all over the US without seeing anything at all, and to a great extent I think that is true. It's great for travelling fast, it has a very good system of rest areas and service centres, but it is not exactly charming. I wish I could have gotten some photos of the snow, but it was dark and I was kind of busy trying to stay on the road.

Thursday, Washington

Truck ready to go, in Seattle










Thursday, Oregon


Columbia River













Truck in Columbia River valley


















Columbia valley













Columbia valley














Friday, Idaho


Is that snow?












Truck in Idaho











Sagebrush













Oasis














Sunset












Saturday, Utah

Truck in Utah


















Rocks














More rocks













Coal train headed west











Sagebrush














Saturday, Wyoming

Wind turbines














Hills of Wyoming











Pyramids of Wyoming












Rocks of Wyoming














Ravens at rest area













Ravens huddling in the wind


















Truck in Wyoming















Definitely snow















Sunday, Nebraska

Cold morning in Nebraska













Coal train heading west











Tumbleweed on Irrigation pipes













Feedlot











Small town Nebraska














Monday, Iowa

Oak forest, muted fall colours











Corn fields















Tuesday, Michigan

Maples in full glory
























































No pictures for Ontario, the horse can smell the barn!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Totem poles in Seattle

I biked down to the AAA office to pick up maps for my trip, and since it was such a very nice day, I continued to bike down to the University area. I stopped at the Burke Memorial Museum of Natural History and Culture. It is a small museum with essentially two permanent exhibits and two temporary exhibits.



The permanent exhibits were of aboriginal peoples of the Pacific Rim and the local geology of the state of Washington; the temporary exhibits were of polar bears in Alaska and Arctic migratory birds. Both of these exhibits were photographic.



The geological exhibit was interesting, I was expecting the geological history of Washington to be similar to that of BC but it is not, primarily because the glaciers did not extend this far south. When the glaciers melted a large lake was formed in Washington and that shaped much of the landscape of the state interior.



They also had an Egyptian mummy on display, I guess that would be their Odds and Ends exhibit.



I took some photos of the totem poles outside of the museum.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A sunny day for a bike ride

Today was a nice sunny day so I thought I'd go for a bike ride around Green Lake, which is just a short distance from Dave's place. It's a very pretty little lake, similar to Trout Lake in Vancouver but a bit larger I think. And apparently safer for swimming, they have signs up allowing swimming anywhere up to 50 feet from shore. In Trout Lake you can only swim at the supervised beach at one end.

I also saw someone out in a kayak on the lake, it made me think about doing the same. Maybe tomorrow if the sunny weather holds. There were lots of people walking, running and roller blading around the lake, I only saw one other bike.

I biked around the lake once in one direction and then a second time in the other direction. I saw a Great Western Grebe on the lake, haven't seen one of them in a very long time. Also saw a stand of Bald Cypresses, a very interesting looking tree. From a distance it looked to me like a redwood, but then I got up close and saw that its needles are quite different.

I also went shopping for groceries for Dave and for my trip. The supermarket had substantial savings on food items if you have a card for that chain, but of course I didn't. However, when I was looking at the apples, the guy in Produce told me I could get the card price anyway, just tell them at the cash that he said so. So I did, and the cashier gave me the sale price, along with an application for a card. Should I fill it in?

She asked where I was from, I said Canada, and she said, Oh isn't it nice that your dollar is the same as ours now. I said, Not anymore, it's gone down!

She said she'd been in Victoria for her wedding anniversary last February and it had been so expensive because the Canadian dollar was worth more than the American then. I said, Too bad you couldn't postpone till now, you'd have saved a bunch!

As it is, I'm paying pretty high prices for groceries here. The prices of things in Seattle are much the same as in Vancouver, but the dollar is just worth more (or less, depending on your perspective).

I looked at the weather map of the US on a website that showed what the predicted temperatures and precipitation will be for almost a week ahead. My big concern is cold temperatures at night and possible snow on the road in the Rockies. It looks like I can minimize both if I leave here Thursday morning. Even so it will go below freezing at night in the Rockies, so I will have to try to stay at lower elevations at night.

My hope is to get to Toronto around the 28th, leaving on Thursday gives me ample time. I'm probably going to take I-80 rather than I-90 across, but we'll see.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Canadian in America, attack ads and initiatives

Dave works during the week but I decided to stay on for a few days to cook some food for my trip home, do a little laundry, and catch up on my blog. Dave's cat Diamond is not sure what to make of me, she is not used to other people being around but she hopes that I might be good for opening doors and putting out catfood.

On Monday it rained most of the day so I stayed indoors. When Dave got home we watched some TV. I am amazed at how different the political ads on TV are from the ones in Canada. Our election was quite brief in comparison, less than two months. But we don't have primaries, each party already has its leader going into the election. I don't know how Americans can keep up their interest in an election process that takes two years!

The ads I saw on TV were all negative ads. You only know about a candidate through what the opposing candidate says about him or her, and of course it is quite bad. So you never hear much good about anyone! Washington State is I gather supporting the Democrats unequivocally (for President, that is), so neither party has any Presidential ads on TV. That is a done deal here, the ads are all for Governor and members of Congress. Lots of Obama bumper stickers around. Dave's next door neighbour supports McCain, but he has no lawn signs for him. Instead he has three lawn signs for other Republicans running for Congress and Governor. Dave figures his neighbour is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican who has doubts about McCain.

Another interesting thing, Dave gets an election pamphlet that describes every candidate running for every open office, and all of the referendums and initiatives being voted on as well. It's huge! Almost a small novel! The information is quite detailed, so I guess if you never saw a TV attack ad you could still make up your mind on the basis of the less biased information in the pamphlet.

I found the initiatives quite interesting, we don't have initiatives in Canada. I am still not clear on what the difference is between an initiative and a referendum, but referendums are pretty rare in Canada too. Each initiative is described in detail, including background history of the initiative, lists of pro and con arguments for it, the exact costs of each initiative and even rebuttal arguments for the pro and con arguments. There is one for opening up HOV lanes during off peak hours, one for assisted suicide, and I forget what the third one was about.

There's a huge emphasis here on taxes. It's all about reducing taxes, or at the very least not raising taxes. I find it odd that the richest country in the world is so hung up on not spending tax money. Dave explains it to me as a fear of "Big Government", somehow government is viewed as a necessary evil and god forbid it get any more money or else it will become even more evil. Somehow, in spite of this fear of Big Government and rising taxes, the US administration still manages to spend huge amounts on war and subvert the American constitutional separation of powers and protection of civil rights.

A country of contradictions.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lucy's Legacy

On Sunday we planned to go see Lucy's Legacy at the Pacific Science Center. On the way we passed the Seattle Center and there was a Turkish Cultural Festival going on there. I was hoping we could get some Turkish food as snacks before proceeding to the Science Center, but there was none there. We had fish and chips instead. There was however Turkish dancing which we watched a bit of.

I took some photos, but they did not turn out well, not enough light. According to the program, we had already missed the Whirling Dervishes (which I would have loved to have seen) and the Belly Dancing (which Dave would have liked). We proceeded on to the Pacific Science Center.

You're not allowed to take photos in the exhibit, so instead I am showing the Space Needle which we passed on the way to the Science Center, and the towers at the entrance to the Science Center.

Lucy is the name given to an ancient hominid fossil skeleton found in Ethiopia. Her official Latin name is Australopithecus afarensis, it means "southern ape of Afar" (Afar is the nearest Ethiopian town to where her bones were found). One skeleton is not much to make a full exhibit out of, so the display is fleshed out with a history of Ethiopia and some background on the evolution of hominids.

Ethiopia, in brief

The part of the exhibit about Ethiopia itself is rather interesting. Ethiopians trace their history back to Solomon. The last emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, is considered to be the last of Solomon's line, via the Queen of Sheba. Whether this is actually true or not is another question, but Ethiopian has certainly been ruled by a long line of emperors from several centuries BCE. Back in the nineteenth century (CE), when European countries were carving up Africa into colonial empires, Ethiopia (then known as Abyssinia) was the only country that maintained its independence. All of the rest of the African continent was divvied up amongst various European colonial powers.

Italy tried to claim Ethiopia by a rather devious method: they signed a trade treaty with the emperor of Ethiopia but two copies of the treaty were prepared, one in the Ethiopian language and one in Italian, and they were worded differently. The Italian version called Ethiopia a "protectorate" of Italy, the Ethiopian one did not. When the Ethiopian emperor Menelik found out about the discrepancy, he called on the Italians to fix it, the Italians refused, and the upshot was that Italy sent an invasion force into Ethiopia. The Italians were beaten soundly by the Ethiopians at Adwa in 1896. This battle is celebrated in a mural showing ranks of Ethiopian soldiers and royalty on one side, and numerous Italian body parts on the other.

Later, in the lead-up to World War II, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia and carried off many archaeological treasures, including a Stela erected in honour of the Queen of Sheba (Ethiopians assert that she was from there, other sources place her in Yemen). He also used chemical warfare against the Ethiopians, sending in planes that sprayed toxic chemicals on people and crops. Emperor Haile Selassie complained to the League of Nations but he was ignored. Italy and Germany went on to invade and occupy most of Europe and northern Africa shortly thereafter.

Ethiopia is home to strong Jewish, Orthodox Christian and Muslim traditions, the Jewish population dating itself as far back as the time of King Solomon and perhaps earlier. However today they have largely relocated to Israel. The Christian church in Ethiopia has been isolated from both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions of Europe and the Middle East, it is an entirely separate branch of Christianity that still practices rites of the earliest Christian churches.

Lucy, herself

At the very end of the display you get to see the skeleton and a model of what Lucy might have looked like in real life. She stands less than four feet high and appears to be faintly smiling. Her fossil remains were discovered in 1974, the same year that Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed. This discovery is considered pivotal because it answered the question, which came first, bipedalism or large brains. It turns out that Lucy had a brain the size of a modern chimpanzee but walked upright like a modern human. She is considered to be an ape and not a hominid, but there is strong reason to believe that hominids developed from her species.

Lucy represents the first ape that walked fully erect on two feet. Most apes either swing from tree branches or "knuckle-walk" on all fours. They can walk short distances on two feet, but it is awkward and not their preferred method of walking. Lucy was built to walk upright, she would have preferred this over knuckle-walking.

In the final display area of the exhibit is the actual skeleton, a model of what Lucy might have looked like, and a panoramic mural depicting some of Lucy's ancestors and descendents. At one end are great apes and at the other end are humans.

A couple of interesting things about this mural, the different species are somewhat mixed together because in all likelihood they overlapped each other's ranges in time and space, and the humans are brown. How many depictions of the evolution of humans have you seen that show hairy black-eyed brown apes at one end and blond blue-eyed white humans at the other? It was refreshing to see distinctively African facial features on the modern humans.

A ride in the Merc and a walk in the trees

It rained most of Friday but it started to let up a couple of hours before I left New Westminster. When I arrived at the border the sign said there was a ten minute delay, but there was only one car ahead of me in the line-up and the wait was more like five minutes.

I was prepared for a bit of a hassle, what with my "defective" passport and my mismatched licence plates (BC plate on the front, NS plate on the rear). But the US Customs guy did not seem concerned. He asked where I was going and where I lived, shone his flashlight into the space behind my seat and then handed me back my passport and wished me a good trip.

I was able to listen to CBC radio almost all of the way to Seattle. I was finally out of range about half an hour before arriving at Dave's, and then felt incredibly sleepy, so I put on the first tape I could reach in the dark, which turned out to be an old Moody Blues album. Cranked it up and it kept me awake the rest of the way.

I've known Dave for almost ten years, we've visited back and forth between Seattle and New Westminster many times. I've stopped working as a technical writer but Dave continues, currently on contract at Microsoft. He has a little bungalow in a quiet residential area and lives there with his cat Diamond. For almost as long as I've known him, he's been working on restoring a little red Mercedes that he acquired for next to nothing. Finally, it is driveable. Not finished, but driveable. So the highlight of this visit is a ride in the Merc.

Dave has been restoring cars for a very long time, he currently has four vehicles, two of which are licenced and driveable. One is a Rover, one a Lancia Scorpion, one a Toyota truck (the main work-a-day vehicle) and one the Mercedes. The Merc is the only one I have not yet had a ride in.

We spent a little time catching up with each other on Friday night. Dave normally stays up until 3:00am but these days I am lucky if I see midnight, so our waking hours are somewhat out of whack. By midnight I am good for nothing at all so I head for the bed made up for me in his office.

Saturday morning I am up early but Dave does not rise until close to noon. I make coffee and toast, do some browsing on his computer and a little work on my own computer. He does not have a router so I can only access the internet through his computer. When Dave gets up we continue our conversation for the next couple of hours and then I suggest we go out for a walk since it is sunny today. Dave says there is an exhibit at the Pacific Science Center called Lucy's Legacy that we could see, but it would be best to do that on Sunday. For today he suggests a ride in the Mercedes and a walk in the Arboretum. We have walked in almost all of the walkable places in Seattle, and I think we did the Arboretum when we first met, but after almost ten years I don't mind doing a repeat.

The ride is brief as the Mercedes still has one or two mechanical problems and Dave does not want to risk getting stranded too far from home. But it is a momentous occasion and probably my one and only ride in a classic Mercedes.

My memory of the first time we walked in the Arboretum was not particularly great, I mostly remember that it was close to the Interstate and you couldn't really get away from the highway noise. However, it was not that bad and we managed to walk in a part of the park that we hadn't been in before. Many but not all of the trees have little tags on them identifying them, but I was wishing Pat were here to help identify a lot of plants I had no idea about. I saw a Chinese Paperbark Maple that had bark like an Arbutus, very thin and peeling. I saw a fern that sort of looked like the Maidenhair, and sort of not, I don't know what it was and there was no tag for it.


For pictures and more information check out the Arboretum website.

We stopped at a QFC to shop for dinner, Dave picked up a couple of lamb chops and potatoes and lettuce. Great dinner!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Leaving New West

You never know

On Thursday I had to pack up and leave again, but my intention was to leave fairly late as I did not have to be in town until after 7:00pm. I emailed my brother Peter about the yellow light in the truck, he emailed back that it was most likely a dirty oxygen sensor and highway driving was likely to clean it up, so he thought I could probably leave getting it fixed until I got back to Toronto. I said goodbye to Sam and also to the guys he works with in his basement, and headed out around 3:00pm.

I stopped in North Vancouver at Morrie and Sher's place to pick up a coffee mug that I left there the last time, and ended up having supper with them. Then I drove back to New West, dropped off a couple of things at Dave and Johanna's and then headed over to Kim and Josh's place.Josh ordered pizza and it arrived just as I did. We had a great visit, chatting over pizza. We talked a bit about whether I should go to Jim's memorial service in Edmonton this weekend. Josh and Kim were flying to Edmonton on Friday, the service being on Saturday. Kim kind of urged me to come to, I have very mixed feelings about it. Josh tended to think I should not skip it if I didn't feel the need to go. I had pretty much decided I wasn't going but was going to visit my friend Dave in Seattle instead, Kim thought I might regret it since the memorial is a one-time thing and I could always visit Dave anytime. Well, that's not really true, and with Jim's unexpected death, I kind of feel like I shouldn't put things off thinking that he will always be around to visit. You never know!

Close the door!

My plan is to drive to Seattle on Friday evening, arriving fairly late at Dave's place. This is what I usually do when I visit Dave, in order to avoid line-ups at the border. And anyway, Dave is usually up very late so it is almost impossible to arrive too late. So on Friday morning Johanna and I met our friend Judy for breakfast. I had been looking forward to seeing Keith and Judy when I came out here, but they had booked a trip to England that pretty much coincided with my trip to BC. So I saw them the night I first arrived here, and they only just returned from England this week.

We went to Amelia's for breakfast, a little Chinese restaurant down the street that does a very good bacon-eggs-homefries-and-coffee breakfast. They fill your coffee cup endlessly and it is very strong coffee, so I usually end up leaving there vibrating on caffeine. It's kind of a local hangout, lots of folks go there for breakfast, and when you come in the door the first table has a pile of local newspapers to pick up and take to your table to read. The door is old and you really have to come on to it to open or close it, and the restaurant is so small that on a cold day every time the door opens there's a cold draft that makes everyone look up and hold their breath until you've closed the door. It's like everyone is counting to five before they yell, "Close the door!"

Johanna and Judy and I had an animated conversation about Judy's trip to England and my visit here, we went from there to various world problems which we attempted to solve over breakfast. A couple of men at an adjacent table couldn't help but chime in occasionally with their own opinions about the world and its problems. Judy was on a schedule, she had to be at her daughter-in-law's place in Squamish by noon, so we hustled out of Amelia's around 11:30am on a tide of caffeine.

Johanna had some marking to do, I did a little shopping returned the last of my library books. I will surely miss the New West library! I also did a laundry and the final packing of the truck. I had some difficulty with the little wooden ramp that I had brought with me from Nova Scotia, but Dave arrived home from work in time to help me with that. I was ready to go. I went over to Ole! Ole! to order burritos and tacos for dinner. Another favourite restaurant in New West.

Come back fifteen minute

Ole! Ole! is a tiny little place run by Raul (Mexican) and Bing (Vietnamese) with the best Mexican food in the Northwest. I am not exaggerating. Bing does the cooking, Raul runs the cash register and waits on tables. Raul was away on Friday night, and the woman taking orders did not understand English, so Bing came out from the kitchen to translate. When he had taken my order he said, "Come back fifteen minute." I did, but Bing had forgotten the order! He said, "Ten minute, ten minute!" I waited and in less than ten minutes he had our order put together.

After our great Mexican take-out dinner, I said my goodbyes and set out for Seattle. I'm still up in the air about what route I'll take home, but I picked up lots of maps from BCAA and I guess I'll decide when I get to Seattle, where to next.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back to D'Arcy

Service engine soon

On Tuesday I headed back to D'arcy for a last visit with Sam. I would have liked to stay longer but I had also arranged to see Josh and Kim one last time before I left and the only time we could fit that in was on Thursday night.

This was the first time I loaded the kayak onto the truck entirely by myself, without any backup. It went fairly smoothly.

But I had a bunch of running around to do before I could leave, shopping, returning books to the library, etc etc, so I didn't get away until after 2:00pm.

I bought a bike lock and bike pump at Canadian Tire in Barrie a couple of months ago and then found my own bike lock, so I decided to return the new bike lock to the Canadian Tire in Squamish, en route to Sam's.

Just before I pulled in there, the yellow "Service Engine Soon" light came on. Uh oh.

So I went to the auto service counter to ask them what that meant and what it would cost me to get the computer diagnostic done. The guy there said that it was not likely to be urgent, and the diagnostic would cost $90. So I decided to just continue on for now.

Otherwise, the trip was uneventful. The yellow light went off after that, flickered once before Whistler and then stayed off for the rest of the trip.

I got to D'arcy just as Sam was getting off work, so we went for a brisk walk in the woods. I asked Sam about the bear he had seen the last time I was there, he said he hadn't seen it since. So I felt OK about going for walks by myself.

Don't park on hillsides

The next day I went out on Anderson Lake with my kayak. Another first, I unloaded and reloaded the kayak by myself there.

Unfortunately I was parked in a kind of awkward spot on a hillside, and while trying to get the kayak off the roof, I slipped and fell with the kayak in my lap. The bow hit the pavement hard.

But apparently no harm done.

I paddled along the east side of the lake, looking at the cabins along there and the forest.

Once I ran the kayak right up onto a submerged tree trunk, but I was easily able to slip off again.

Returning to the D'arcy dock was fine, but again I slipped and dropped the kayak on the gravel slope when trying to get the kayak back onto the roofrack.

Note to self: don't park on hillsides.

Well, I would have parked somewhere else if I could have, there just wasn't anywhere else to go. And I am getting a little more confident about the sturdiness of the kayak, dropping it does not seem to be such a big deal.

I took all these photos during walks in the woods around Sam's cabin, I didn't take my camera with me in the kayak because I didn't want to have to worry about it getting wet.

.This last picture is a piece of lichen. It grows on a lot of the trees around here and is a brilliant neon lime green. But the photo turned out kind of pale, I had to fiddle with the colour on the computer to get it to look like it did in real life. But that made the background kind of weird.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What's poverty got to do with it?

Today is Blog Action Day, and the theme this year is Poverty.

I grew up in a family that flirted with poverty on occasion, my father had several periods of unemployment with four kids to support and my mother really had no choice about going to work.

For long periods of my childhood our grandmother contributed substantial financial support to our family. Thanks to her, we avoided the worst effects of poverty.

We were poor but not poverty-stricken.

When my kids were little we alternated between being on welfare and being part of the so-called Working Poor, for over fifteen years. I spent twenty years as a single parent, either going to school or working full-time as well as raising two boys by myself.

Again, we were poor but not poverty-stricken, and we got a little help from the kids' grandmother. There was always a roof over our heads and food on the table, and the real possibility of a better future ahead.

The thing about being poor is that there is no margin for error. You are tiptoeing on the brink of disaster all of the time, and it takes its toll in stress, physical weariness, and ill-health.

It's also depressing, there you are with your hands full all of the time while you look around and see other folks apparently enjoying the fruits of their labour, buying nifty electronic toys and wearing cool clothes and enjoying happy vacations in pleasant environments away from the work-a-day world.

I have always been aware that what I experienced was not fun, but it wasn't grinding poverty. I didn't watch my children die for lack of adequate food or medical care, I didn't live in the midst of a war, I didn't live with rats and cockroaches. Well, once I did but that was avoidable.

Being poor is workable, being poverty-stricken is not.

When we face a downturn in the economy, we all get nervous about our future, but the poor just get poorer and watch their flimsy house of cards collapse around their ears. It's very hard. Becoming homeless is a real possibility.

I get impatient with folks who believe that the poor bring it on themselves through laziness and poor decisions, not to mention drugs and alcohol. Yes, it's true that some poor folks are there because of those things, but they are not even close to being the majority.

The thing is, when times are good we as a society can afford poverty. We can afford to have some folks living with stress and ill-health and no money because we can at least keep them housed and fed.

But when times are not so good none of us can afford poverty. We can trace much drug abuse and the crime it engenders to poverty. We can trace poor education to poverty and vice versa, in an incredibly unfortunate vicious circle. And ultimately, we can trace violent uprisings and political instability and even wars to the disparities of poverty and wealth.

Poverty kills and it goes to war and it reduces freedom to ashes. We all need to care about this. The signs are on the wall, we are not headed toward good times for all anytime soon. We cannot afford poverty.

Charity helps, but fairness is far more effective. Vote for fairness, shop for fairness, promote fairness any way you can. Like it or not we are all in this together and trying to climb over each other to grasp diminishing resources is counter-productive.