Showing posts with label Canada. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Canada. Show all posts

November 03, 2018

Red-Jacketed Rangers Give Up Their Lee-Enfields; Somber Danes Keep Theirs


A Canadian Ranger shoots his Lee-Enfield rifle in .303 British.
I like shooting old wooden-stocked bolt-action military rifles, so I was a little sad to learn recently that the Canadian Rangers were giving up their Lee-Enfield rifles, based on the model adopted by the British army in 1895.

The Canadian Rangers are military reservists who establish a government presence in the Far North ("sovereignty patrols"), perform search and rescue, and so on. Why the bolt-action rifles? Mainly for hunting and for aggressive bears. As reported by the National Post, the Lee-Enfield worked well for decades:

Canadian Rangers with Lee-Enfield rifles
at a shooting match in Ottawa (National Post).
Since 1947 the Lee-Enfield has remained the main service weapon of the Canadian Rangers, a part-time force mainly devoted to Arctic patrols. [In August 2018]  the Canadian Rangers began replacement of their Lee-Enfields with the specially commissioned Colt Canada C19.
Unlike many other antique items in the Canadian military, the Lee-Enfield didn’t hang on for so long out of apathy or tight budgets. Rather, it’s because it’s still one of the best guns to carry above the tree line. . . . .

The Lee-Enfield is on
the Rangers' insignia.
Its wood stock makes it uniquely resistant to cracking or splitting in extreme cold. The rifle is also bolt-action, meaning that every shot must be manually pushed into place by the shooter. This makes for slower firing, but it also leaves the Lee-Enfield with as few moving parts as possible.

“The more complicated a rifle gets … the more prone you are to problems with parts breaking or jamming in a harsh environment,” said Eric Fernberg, an arms collection specialist at the Canadian War Museum.

“It might seem old-fashioned … (but) the retention of the Lee-Enfield by the Canadian Rangers was a wise choice for their role and environment.”
The Rangers' new C19 in .308 Winchester.
The new rifle, still bolt-action, is lighter and more accurate, says the government.

Canadian Rangers march with their Lee-Enfield rifles.
As the photos show, the Rangers are mostly Indians and Inuit people.
The Canadian Rangers provide a limited military presence in Canada's remote areas and receive 12 days or so per year of formal training (often more days of training are offered but attendance is not mandatory), albeit they are considered to be somewhat always on duty, observing and reporting as part of their daily lives. Canadian Rangers are paid when formally on duty according to the rank they hold within their patrol and when present on operations or during training events. They are paid in accordance with the standard rates of pay for Class-A (part-time) or Class-B (full-time) Reserve forces, except when they are called out for search and rescue missions or domestic operations (such as fighting floods and wildfires), when they are paid as Class-C Reserves and receive the full Regular Force pay and benefits ("Canadian Rangers," Wikipedia.)
When I was introduced to mountaineering as a teenager, I received two conflicting pieces of advice about colored outerwear.

One was to wear bright colors because they cheered you up, particularly if the sky was grey and the wind was blowing. I took that counsel to heart during my five years in western Oregon, where my burnt-orange cotton anorak was my go-to jacket. I had a bright red down-filled jacket too, but it was better back in Colorado, out of the Northwestern drizzle.

The opposite advice came from famed mountaineer Paul Pedzoldt, founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School. I never met him, but I read somewhere that he told his students to wear subdued colors above timberline as a courtesy to other mountaineers. Let other climbers sit on a summit and enjoy the view without having to look at dots of orange, bright blue, or red on the next ridge over — that was the gist of it.

While the Canadian Rangers have their new rifle, another elite group of Arctic patrollers, the Sirius Dog Sled  Patrol, part of the Danish navy, is sticking with a related Enfield — in their case, the Model 1917 American Enfield, as carried by many "doughboys" in World War One.

And while the Rangers favor their British red, the Danes seem to be in Pedtzoldt's somber-colors camp.

You can see them in this recruiting video (in Danish with English subtitles):


September 17, 2018

Quick Review: "Alpha," Where Boy Meets Wolf (Dog).

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Keda with a Czechoslovakian wolfdog that plays Alpha
(who has a surprise for the humans)
Just to save you the trouble, I will list some things that anyone familiar with hunting large animals will object to in the movie Alpha.

And then I will tell you that this story of a boy and his wolf is worthwhile anyway.

First of all, if the village hunters were going after Pleistocene bison, they would not walk miles and miles, leaving their families behind. Everyone would go. Non-hunters could still help drive the buffalo over the cliff by flapping skins and making a commotion. Throwing spears to create a "fence" is not going to stop charging bison.

When it is time to process the meat, you need everyone. And a lot will still be wasted, as archaeologists can tell you. Or visit the most famous and weirdly named such site in North America! (The movie too was filmed in Alberta, except for the CGI parts.)

Second, according to my archaeologist friend, 20,000 years BP is too early for bows and arrows, according to current information. I would give the movie-makers a pass on that one.

Third, when winter comes, why do people keep living in a windswept snowfield in what looks like northern Labrador instead of moving to a more sheltered place that might offer some fuel?

Fourth — and this is more of a continuity lapse — during his time along, Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) starts to grow some teenage whiskers, yet in the final scene, they are gone. But going by his father's beard,  this is not a culture where men shave.

And a goof, which someone at Internet Movie Database also noted, "In the first cave scene, Kedi [sic] is kneeling to approach the wolf, and the bottom of his boot clearly shows a rubber lugged sole." Yeah, it did.


Now for the positives

First,  Alpha is a beautiful movie to watch. Some of that is Alberta and a lot of it is CGI, I will grant. But wow, Shining Times. If you were an old man by forty, you still would have lived a life filled with wonder.

Second, it's a "dog story" with a happy ending, a bit like the lines from Kipling's Jungle Book:

When the Man waked up he said,
'What is Wild Dog doing here?'
And the Woman said,
'His name is not Wild Dog any more,
but the First Friend,
because he will be our friend
for always and always and always.'


Its images and story will stay with you.

October 30, 2016

Smoked Links with Seal Meat

This is "good" smoke, coming from a fire-line burnout
on the Junkins Fire three days ago.
I am still catching up after the evacuation, the firefighting, the meetings, and the general nervousness of having Chinook and Skycrane helicopters thumping over the house hour after hour.  So here are some quick nature-blogging links.

¶ Talk about going against the narrative an Inuit filmmaker creates a pro-seal hunt video.
Alethea Arnaquq-Baril: I'm Inuit, so I grew up in the Arctic. I grew up hunting and eating seal meat with my family, and as an Inuk, you just grow up hearing people complain [about] and criticize seal hunters. It's just kind of always been an issue for me, and I knew that when I became a filmmaker that I was eventually going to have to cover this issue. 
¶  When trekking poles became popular a few years ago, I had a sort of snobbish reaction. "Who needs two poles?" I thought. "They turn you into a beast of burden. Maybe if you are carrying a very heavy pack on rocky ground . . . "

Other people put a positive spin on "beast," saying that the poles make them feel like a sure-footed quadruped.

I am all for sparing your knees on long downhill trails, but I hate to have two hands occupied with poles. When I broke one of my old bamboo x-c ski poles a few years back, I cut them both down to walking-stick length and added rubber tips. But usually I carry only one, because the other hands needs to be free for a tool, a leashed dog, or whatever.

But here is Randy Newberg, one of the few makers of hunting videos that I can stand to watch, making the case for them — with a video too.
“You can laugh at me all you want,” says Newberg. ” But there’s a reason why this 51-year-old, gray haired fart, who drives a desk for a living a good portion of the year, can go and hunt the mountains: trekking poles.”
Another video: Put a camera on bears in Yellowstone and let them wander — and see what happens when they encounters wolves.

June 25, 2016

This Baby Beaver Makes Me Think of Grey Owl

Beaver kit



This is the time of year when M. and  I are back and forth to the little wildlife rehabilitation center not far away. One day last week it was to drop off cuttings of willow and lanceleaf cottonwood for the beaver they are rearing.

Gus peers into the beaver's enclosure. Is he jealous?
Gus the badger came earlier this spring. For a time he was the only animal — then came the beaver, some raccoons, a tiny bear cub, and the usual group of fawns (dropped off one of the last on yesterday, in fact).

He took time off from enlarging the den under a boulder in his enclosure to mumble at us through the fence between his home and the beaver's. Does he think that people should be bringing him treats (frozen mice) first?

I can't look at a beaver kit without thinking of Archie "Grey Owl" Belaney, though. An Englishman who re-invented himself as half-Apache, then lived among the Mohawks and married a Mohawk woman (wife #2 of three), he was born in East Sussex in 1888 and died in 1938 in Saskatchewan. He worked a number of years as a trapper, except for military service during World War One. As one biography notes,
Finally, Belaney became disgusted with the brutality involved in trapping. This disgust was triggered by the revulsion his new companion, a Mohawk woman named Gertrude Bernard, felt for the practice. When Bernard, otherwise known as Anahareo, adopted and raised a pair of beaver kittens whose mother had been killed in a trap, Belaney came to recognize that animals he had trapped for most of his life were highly intelligent and affectionate beings. After establishing a close bond with the kittens, Belaney vowed never to trap another beaver and to work to stop the wholesale slaughter of beavers.

Belaney henceforth devoted himself to writing of his experiences of the Canadian wilderness and of Native culture in order to forward his conservationist message and to provide an income to replace the one he had formerly earned by selling beaver pelts. Belaney’s vision was to establish wildlife sanctuaries throughout the North. He was also interested in prohibiting commercial traffic in animal skins to protect animal life and to prevent native culture from becoming commercialized and driven by European fashion trends. Belaney thought that Native peoples, instead of killing animals for profit, could work as conservationists and forest rangers in wildlife sanctuaries.
In his own writings Archibald Belaney presented himself as Grey Owl, a half-breed who was more Indian than white. The popularity of his writings led to extended lecture tours for Grey Owl in Britain and in North America. Grey Owl played up his Indianness for these lectures, darkening his hair and skin as was his custom and dressing in Native apparel. The Canadian woodsman, with his fringes, feathers and beads provided a thrilling sight on the streets and stages of England of the 1930s. (Although, ironically, some of Grey Owl’s Indian costume was actually bought in England, where it was sold as an exotic novelty from the colonies.) His message was thrilling to an audience jaded with and troubled by many of the traits of modern Western culture: "You are tired of civilization. I come to offer you, what? A single green leaf." 
Today, of course, he would be ripped up and hung out to dry by the Culture Police, his actual English identity spashed on websites like FakeIndians.

There were indeed some questions at the time as to how this "half-breed" could produce well-written books like The Men Of The Last Frontier, but people who wanted to believe, believed.

But his defenders can always point out that he did major work as a wildlife conservationist, both hands-on and as a writer and lecturer. (And there were few Apaches in 1920s Ontario and Manitoba to challenge his assumed identify, I suppose.) He was the first "celebrity conservationist" in Canada.

Some called him "the world's most famous Canadian." Here's a short video that mixes original footage of Grey Owl with clips from the 1999 biopic, in which he is played by Pierce Brosnan.


June 17, 2016

The Mushroom Hunter, Her Dog, the Wolf, and the Bears

This is a "lost mushroom hunter" story with a twist. Joanne Barnaby, a resident of Canada's Northwest Territories tells the Washington Post how she and her dog were stalked by a wolf who tried for hours to separate them.
[She[ had been picking mushrooms in the remote Canadian wilderness [on June 10th ] when she had heard a growl behind her. She turned around and saw Joey, her faithful mutt, locked in a snarling standoff with a skinny black wolf.
Then a chance encounter with another top predator led a plan to extricate herself and Joey from what felt like a losing game.

Some people accuse her of being a nature-faker, claiming "wolves don't do that." (They're just furry angels who want bring us spiritual blessings.) She says otherwise, vehemently.

February 08, 2015

How Not To Become Prey

Bears biting backpackers. Mountain lions munching mountain bikers.

Every time that some carnivorous critter bites or kills a human, there will be voices proclaiming, "They were here first. We live on their territory."

That is true in a long historical view —  and it is also true that human populations have lived alongside big carnivores throughout history — but Wyoming writer Cat Urbigkit's new book, When Man Becomes Prey: Fatal Encounters with America's Most Feared Predators, adds some nuance and some new information.

Her book is divided into species-specific chapters
  • Black bears
  • Coyotes
  • Gray wolves
  • Mountain lions
  • Grizzly nightmares
  • Greater Yellowstone grizzlies
plus two more, "Habituation and Alaska Attacks" and "Learning to Coexist with Predators."

Each chapter begins with some narratives, the kind that you want to read in the daytime with a clear view of your surroundings. They then cover relevant scientific research and practical ways to avoid conflict with bears, mountain lions, or whatever. "For some hikers [in coyote habitat] rocks-in-pockets becomes a routine at the start of every hike."

For instance, I was raised to believe that while they were a threat to dogs and cats, coyotes left adult-size humans alone. Urbigkit leads with the 2009 killing of Taylor Mitchell in Cape Breton Highlands National Park by a small pack of three coyotes — all healthy. "Wildlife officials suspected that these coyotes had become habituated to humans during the tourist season, and this may have involved the animals receiving food rewards from humans." (There have been other attacks on children and adults , but she was the only recorded adult human fatality.)

Attacks on pets, even leashed dogs with people, are also increasing. Geographically, coyote attacks seem most common in parks, where no hunting is allowed, and into urban areas, again without hunting and with a variety of food resources.

A certain degree of hunting, she suggests, does encourage predators to stay away from people. Yet with mountain lions, for instance, "wildlife managers believe that when heavy localized hunting results in the harvest of older mature males, more young mountain lions are likely to disperse into those areas, creating an increase in [lion-human] conflicts."

Some other take-aways:

• While people think that black bear sows with cubs are the most dangerous, "the majority of the fatal attacks on humans involved male bears, and most attacks took place during the daylight hours." While most black bears are shy, some do prey on humans deliberately. Also, "no one killed in a black bear attack carried bear spray."

• Urbigkit, who lives on a sheep ranch south of Grand Teton National Park, believes in bear spray: "You don't have to be an excellent shot to be effective with a can of bear spray — a cloud of spray between you and a charging bear should be enough for your immediate retreat from the area."

She also offers a case where bear spray stopped an attacking mountain lion. I myself have used it only on aggressive dogs, where it worked well, so I suspect that it would work just as well on a wolf or coyote.

• There are no documented cases of black bears attacking humans in defense of a carcass, but as Northern Rockies hunters are learning, grizzlies, where present have done that a number of times.

• The old idea, from books like Jim Corbett's Man-Eaters of Kumaon (1944), is that the predators who attack humans are usually elderly, crippled, or wounded. With grizzly bears, that is sometimes true, Urbigkit writes. But there also more North American predators than there used to be, thanks to recovery programs and more-regulated hunting. In addition, we have created such predator-friendly places as parks and food-rich subdivisions.

Consequently, they become habituated to us — and we become habituated to them, sometimes forgetting that they "are not loveable toys to be enjoyed when convenient [Yellowstone wolf tours?] and then discarded or destroyed when they reveal their true natures.

"Predators should be treated with a realistic acknowledgment that they are animals that kill prey to survive, and should be respected for the wild creatures that they are."

Any backcountry hiker or hunter, anyone who visits parks like Yellowstone or Great Smokies, and anyone who sees bears, coyotes, or deer in their neighborhoods — where there are deer, there are lions — ought to read When Man Becomes Prey.

It is available from the publisher, Lyons Press, or from the usual online source.

January 09, 2014

Aliens, Sex, and Incorrect Firearms Usage

The blogosphere this week noticed a claim by Paul Hellyer, former Canadian defense minister, that people from other planets do indeed exist:

“[I’ve] been getting from various sources [that] there are about 80 different species and some of them look just like us and they could walk down the street and you wouldn’t know if you walked past one.”

Canada . . . it is no accident that the X-Files television series was filmed in Vancouver. (That is why it was always cloudy — and you don't see so many Douglas firs in northern Virginia.)

In hot-blooded Santa Fe, N.M., however, they don't just write blog comments about the existence or non-existence of aliens.

They interrupt  "a sex act" involving a gun to threaten their partner over the "Do aliens exist?" question — or so says the Albuquerque Journal. I don't think that Smith & Wesson will be using Jennifer McCarthy in their advertising.

"“Who is crazy, you or me?" is still begging the question, however. Is it crazy to believe or not to believe?

UPDATE: Ms. McCarthy is novelist Cormac McCarthy's third ex-wife.

November 16, 2013

Meanwhile in the Similkameen Valley

A 1935 Packard that functioned as a "school bus" for ranchers' and orchardists' kids in Keremeos, BC. From left: George Hodson (the driver), Ivadelle Clifton, Art Harris, Ike Harris, Wilson Clifton, Wendell Clifton, Mrs. Harris, Shirley Harris, Mrs. Louise Clifton. Photo taken probably in 1936. Click to enlarge. (Photo: Virtual Museum of Canada)

A couple of days ago I was notified of publication of a new issue of The Goose, an online publication of The Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada. The contents promised, "Harold Rhenisch’s memoir on the Similkameen Valley," which caught my attention, because my Canadian relatives either live there or originated there, particularly in Keremeos, "the fruit stand capital of Canda." (You can download the issue as a PDF.)

Three of those scruffy kids are Dad's first cousins: I still get Christmas cards from Ivadelle, who ended up living just over the line in Washington state, while Wendell and Wilson kept the cattle business going. In fact, thanks to my great-uncle Ivan's reproductive success, the Canadian Cliftons outnumber my side of the family.

"Similkameen Peaches," Rhenisch's memoir, starts in the 1960s. It's a fine piece of impressionistic writing — family, local culture, ecology, and history all tossed together. If I were still teaching nature writing, which I'd rather call nature-and-culture writing, I would assign it.
I’m cold. Men have just walked on the Moon. Charlie still owns the jungle in Vietnam, and just a few weeks ago I watched Canadian fighter jets scramble to meet American fighter jets over the Reserve down south, on the Line, as we put it around these parts, above the dwarf shrews of Nighthawk, Washington, at any rate, above the 1858 American-Canadian border, the one put in to keep the peace, although not between any of the people here. Virtually all the people here were Indians and Americans, who all walked back and forth across the border pretty much as they pleased, and saw, really, no great use for it.
And you thought people only talked that way about la frontera? Even in the 1960s, you get the feeling that in Keremeos, "Canada" was an abstraction. Someplace else.

In fact, reading and hearing and viewing photos about the Old West era there, there is a definite sensation that southern British Columbia was more like eastern Washington or Montana than anywhere else. Ontario? Quebec? Far away and sort of foreign.

(A memory of Wendell slapping the table in a Keremeos cafe: "Ottawa wants to take away our guns!")

Maybe that "Old West" unity broke down somewhat after World War I and Prohibition emphasized the differences between the nations. But there is still a lot of similarity.

My great-uncle made no conscious decision to emigrate, as I understand; he was just a young guy moving from one railroad-telegrapher job to the next. Then he put down roots, literally — fruit trees — and later the cattle business. I remember him in his mid-nineties, tottering out to the barn to show me "my boys," the prize bulls.

June 12, 2013

Sweetie, did you lock the truck? The bear is coming.

Camping last weekend, I religiously put the cooler and food box inside the Jeep at night. But I did not lock it.

If I lived near Maple Ridge, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver, I would have had to lock it.

Next: Canadian bears using Slim Jims.

March 14, 2013

Erin Brckovich's Crowd-Sourced Cancer-Cluster Map

The map, covering the United States and some places in Canada, is built from individual reports. There is no information given that I can as to why a particular locale contains a "cancer cluster." Evidently, you have to research that out on your own.

Boing Boing had a piece recently on Brokovich's current environmental work and related issues, of which this map is just a piece.

January 25, 2013

Walking the Keystone Pipeline Route

This guy sets out to walk the length of the Keystone pipeline, starting in Alberta and going south, and makes a blog of it, Pipe Dreams.

It starts here, in September 2012.

January 17, 2013

You Tryin' To Eat Me, Eh?

A remarkably mellow resident of British Columbia dealing with a too-aggressive coyote
(Language warning).

I know a Jack Russell terrier just like this. My boots still have the scars.

April 01, 2011

'Know the Condition and Ready State of the Coffee!'


For my coffee-addict backcountry pals: Canadian soldiers demonstrate field-expedient coffee-making in Afghanistan (language warning).

Evidently, se necesita una poca de gracia, as well as one man watching for insurgent activity. Hat tip: Say Uncle.

January 01, 2011

You Think It's Cold

Ben Franklin published the following in one of his Poor Richard's almanacs in 1748:

We complain sometimes of hard Winters in this Country; but our Winters will appear as Summers, when compar'd with those that some of our Countrymen undergo in the most Northern British Colony on this Continent, which is that upon Churchill River, in Hudson's Bay, Lat. 58d. 56m. Long. from London 94d. 50m. West. Captain Middleton, a Member of the Royal Society, who had made many Voyages thither, and winter'd there 1741–2, when he was in Search of the North-West Passage to the South-Sea, gives an Account of it to that Society, from which I have extracted these Particulars, viz.

The Hares, Rabbits, Foxes, and Partridges, in September and the Beginning of October, change their Colour to a snowy White, and continue white till the following Spring.

The Lakes and standing Waters, which are not above 10 or 12 Feet deep, are frozen to the Ground in Winter, and the Fishes therein all perish. Yet in Rivers near the Sea, and Lakes of a greater Depth than 10 or 12 Feet, Fishes are caught all the Winter, by cutting Holes thro' the Ice, and therein putting Lines and Hooks. As soon as the Fish are brought into the open Air, they instantly freeze stiff.

Beef, Pork, Mutton, and Venison, kill'd in the Beginning of the Winter, are preserved by the Frost for 6 or 7 Months, entirely free from Putrefaction. Likewise Geese, Partridges, and other Fowls, kill'd at the same Time, and kept with their Feathers on and Guts in, are preserv'd by the Frost, and prove good Eating. All Kinds of Fish are preserv'd in the same Manner.

In large Lakes and Rivers, the Ice is sometimes broken by imprison'd Vapours; and the Rocks, Trees, Joists, and Rafters of our Buildings, are burst with a Noise not less terrible than the firing of many Guns together. The Rocks which are split by the Frost, are heaved up in great Heaps, leaving large Cavities behind. If Beer or Water be left even in Copper Pots by the Bed-side, the Pots will be split before Morning. Bottles of strong Beer, Brandy, strong Brine, Spirits of Wine, set out in the open Air for 3 or 4 Hours, freeze to solid Ice. The Frost is never out of the Ground, how deep is not certain; but on digging 10 or 12 Feet down in the two Summer Months, it has been found hard frozen.

All the Water they use for Cooking, Brewing, &c.. is melted Snow and Ice; no Spring is yet found free from freezing, tho' dug ever so deep down.—All Waters inland, are frozen fast by the Beginning of October, and continue so to the Middle of May.

The Walls of the Houses are of Stone, two Feet thick; the Windows very small, with thick wooden Shutters, which are close shut 18 Hours every Day in Winter. In the Cellars they put their Wines, Brandies, &c. Four large Fires are made every Day, in great Stoves to warm the Rooms: As soon as the Wood is burnt down to a Coal, the Tops of the Chimnies are close stopped, with an Iron Cover; this keeps the Heat in, but almost stifles the People. And notwithstanding this, in 4 or 5 Hours after the Fire is out, the Inside of the Walls and Bed-places will be 2 or 3 Inches thick with Ice, which is every Morning cut away with a Hatchet. Three or four Times a Day, Iron Shot, of 24 Pounds Weight, are made red hot, and hung up in the Windows of their Apartments, to moderate the Air that comes in at Crevices; yet this, with a Fire kept burning the greatest Part of 24 Hours, will not prevent Beer, Wine, Ink, &c. from freezing.

For their Winter Dress, a Man makes use of three Pair of Socks, of coarse Blanketting, or Duffeld, for the Feet, with a Pair of Deerskin Shoes over them; two Pair of thick English Stockings, and a Pair of Cloth Stockings upon them; Breeches lined with Flannel; two or three English Jackets, and a Fur, or Leather Gown over them; a large Beaver Cap, double, to come over the Face and Shoulders, and a Cloth of Blanketting under the Chin; with Yarn Gloves, and a large Pair of Beaver Mittins, hanging down from the Shoulders before, to put the Hands in, reaching up as high as the Elbows. Yet notwithstanding this warm Clothing, those that stir Abroad when any Wind blows from the Northward, are sometimes dreadfully frozen; some have their Hands, Arms, and Face blistered and froze in a terrible Manner, the Skin coming off soon after they enter a warm House, and some lose their Toes. And keeping House, or lying-in for the Cure of these Disorders, brings on the Scurvy, which many die of, and few are free from; nothing preventing it but Exercise and stirring Abroad. The Fogs and Mists, brought by northerly Winds in Winter, appear visible to the naked Eye to be Icicles innumerable, as small as fine Hairs, and pointed as sharp as Needles. These Icicles lodge in their Clothes, and if their Faces and Hands are uncover'd, presently raise Blisters as white as a Linnen Cloth, and as hard as Horn. Yet if they immediately turn their Back to the Weather, and can bear a Hand out of the Mitten, and with it rub the blister'd Part for a small Time, they sometimes bring the Skin to its former State; if not, they make the best of their Way to a Fire, bathe the Part in hot Water, and thereby dissipate the Humours raised by the frozen Air; otherwise the Skin wou'd be off in a short Time, with much hot, serous, watry Matter, coming from under along with the Skin; and this happens to some almost every Time they go Abroad, for 5 or 6 Months in the Winter, so extreme cold is the Air, when the Wind blows any Thing strong.—Thus far Captain Middleton. And now, my tender Reader, thou that shudderest when the Wind blows a little at N-West, and criest, 'Tis extrrrrrream cohohold! 'Tis terrrrrrible cohold! what dost thou think of removing to that delightful Country? Or dost thou not rather chuse to stay in Pennsylvania, thanking God that He has caused thy Lines to fall in pleasant Places.


Thy Friend to serve thee,
R. SAUNDERS


The part about "stopping the Chimnies" gives me the willies. It is amazing that they did not all die of carbon monoxide poisoning. Yet only six years before, Franklin himself had invented the Franklin Stove, still not terribly efficient, but a step in the right direction. He deliberately did not patent it, so that other inventors would improve upon it.

December 11, 2010

Poking Poop with a Stick

Darcey at Metis Online looks past Sarah Palin-as-politician to see a deeper divide than Republicans and Democrats.

I am reminded of Edward Abbey's dystopian novel Good News (1980), which I have to admit that I never finished. In the part I did read, however, he has something about the "oldest civil war of all, that between the city and the country."

If Darcey is right, that is what we're seeing here. Her evidence is from Canada, but it sounds all too familiar:

A rural-urban divide? More then possible I think and to test the theory one doesn't have to look much further then the comment sections provided by Canada's own Globe and Mail and the CBC. Both news services think of themselves as being national but their readership tends to be anti-national. Ten minutes of scrolling comments and you would think that rural Albertans are all blood thirsty knuckle-dragging rednecks with guns and the constant tone of the despise gives one the shivers. It can also go the other way and I've been guilty myself of portraying Torontonians as being latte-sipping elitists living in their own filth.

June 16, 2010

An Adventure Tale That Assigns No Blame

"Art [Moffett] took us to a place of peace, and ever since--during these last fifty-three years--I have been trying to rediscover it," writes George James Grinnell in Death on the Barrens: A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic.

Much outdoor-expedition writing seems to be about placing blame when things go wrong. Jon Krakauer writes Into Thin Air about a 1996 expedition to Mount Everest that ends in catastrophe, and then mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev, insulted by Krakauer's account, writes The Climb, with his own perspective on the tragedy.

And so it goes.

Death on the Barrens is an "old man's book,"a genre unto itself. Grinnell was seventy when he finished the revision that was published. In that it reminds me of Norman Maclean's posthumously published Young Men and Fire, which while trying to determine what went wrong on the Mann Gulch Fire back in 1949 also stops at times to patiently reflect that there are times when the universe is just against you.

In Grinnell's case, six twenty-something men, with a slightly older leader, set off in 1955 to spent a summer canoeing and portaging through hundreds of miles of northern Canada. Their leader, Art Moffatt, an experienced wilderness canoeist, died of hypothermia after a disastrous spill in cold rapids, and the others came close to dying before finally reaching the Hudson's Bay Company post that was their goal.

While the canoeists' trip could be critiqued—inadequate food, too many days  spent relaxing during good traveling weather—Grinnell does not place blame. Instead, he remembers how their leader took them "to a place of peace" and "a time when my fears had been elevated through beauty into awe, when my vanity had been transformed by awe into love, and when love had bathed my soul in the waters of eternal peace."

For that he experienced starvation, frostbite, and near-drowning.

After Grinnell himself had become a university professor, two of his sons died on a canoe trip down northern Ontario's Albany River, along with two of their friends: "The four of them embarked down the longest wilderness river in Northern Ontario in quest of peace, harmony, and reconciliation. Forty days later, they were all dead."

"Canoe trip as spiritual pilgrimage" is a trope in Canadian literature. You can even take deliberately designed "contemplative" canoe trips. No doubt the survival rate is higher than on Grinnell's more extreme canoe trip.

Yet though Grinnell admits being lost in despair at times, this is a book of recovery and acceptance.

Farley Mowat writes in a cover blurb that Death on Barrens records the inner process of "looking for an explanation where perhaps none exists." That too reminds me of Young Men and Fire. Sometimes what happens cannot be explained. Sometimes blame cannot be assigned.

December 27, 2009

More Evidence that Franklin's Men had Lead Poisoning.

It has been speculated that the Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin in 1845 came to grief partly through heavy reliance on lead-contaminated canned food, canning being a fairly new technology of food preservation at the time.

New tests of soup cans probably identical to those on Franklin's ships showed lead levels "off the scale."

My study is cold this morning, and it feels colder when I think of the song "Lord Franklin."
They sailed West and they sailed East
Their ship on oceans of ice did freeze
Only the Eskimo in his skin canoe
Was the only one that ever came through.
Michaél O'Domhnaill and Kevin Burke have the definitive version (YouTube). (Hat tip to Mirabilis.)


December 16, 2009

A Severe Gut Reaction

A culinary adventures backfires on French sailors in the Arctic. (Doesn't that sound like an early 19th-century sentence?)

If you go into Le Club Chasse et Pêche and they are serving urs, order it well-done.

(Tip of the toque to Cat Urbigkit.)

November 14, 2009

A Snowy Day for Fidgets


Downtown Montreal from Mount Royal's belvedere.

It's snowing here in the Wet Mountains, a wet, soaking snow that is melting in. This would be a good "desk day," especially as I am only partway through sorting out everything on my desk--the ten days' worth of mail, the receipts and notes, etc. from the conference, the new books for reading and/or review.

One review must be completed today, or I will hate myself.

But I am fidgety.  M. and I spent parts of six days on trains, four days in Montreal, one day in Chicago, an afternoon in Albany, and an evening in Schenectady. It was wearing.

(Note: we rode six different Amtrak trains, and all were on time. Someone is doing something right. If you have a layover at Schenectady, refuel at Katie O'Byrne's, hang out on Jay Street.)

On the Adirondack, traveling through upstate New York along Lake Champlain, I would see some little dirt road winding off into the swampy woods, and I wanted to be off the train and walking along it with one of the dogs.

The birds are in hiding too. All that I have seen this morning are one robin and one Steller's jay--a pity, since it is Day 1 of one of our Project Feeder Watch counts. (We are not the only ones happy that PFW has started up again.) Yesterday we saw nine American goldfinches at once.

Other miscellaneous travel observations from the big world:

Traveling east from Colorado, I notice black.

A century ago, two factors favored black clothing in the city:
  •     Lots of coal soot in the air
  •     A lack of washing machines

Now it is just about attitude.  I am refined and/or serious, don't mess with me. Not asceticism.  Urban grime might be an issue, but it cannot be the issue.

In Montreal, where sports team-themed clothing was not as common downtown as in Chicago (although it exists), black seemed almost mandatory.

I probably stood out for wearing one of about four khaki trench coats that I spotted.

Downtown Chicago is noisier than Montreal. For one thing, it has the elevated trains. For another, there always seems to be large construction projects underway, whereas I saw none in Montreal, just street repairs.

People walk faster in Chicago too. But my candidate for a fast-walking city, believe it or not, is Dublin, based on earlier visits there.