Saturday, February 21, 2009

You Had To Be There...

One of the blogs I follow is “The House and Other Arctic Musings” by Clare up in Arctic Bay. He recently posted an entry entitled “They’re not all worth a thousand words” and I agree with him completely.

What he was saying is that there are some sights that just cannot be captured in a photograph. You know what I mean… every so often you spot something that just makes you stop in your tracks and try to absorb what you are seeing before it all disappears. Those little things that just cannot be captured by a camera but must exist only in your mind forever.

… dawn over Smith Bay with the mist is rising, the loons with their young are making their way down the shoreline heading out for breakfast… deer stepping hesitantly out into the fields, their white flag tails twitching, searching and alert for hidden dangers behind every bush… snow shoeing through the woods at night or through a silent falling of lazy snowflakes, not a sound around you… drifting in a rowboat in the afternoon sun with the dragonflies landing on your idle fishing pole, no place to be other than right where you are at… the moment.

The best however is one I can never explain or communicate in any way you could possible understand if you weren’t there with me. I was doing an overnight computer program and equipment update at our store in Pangnirtung several years ago. Finishing up about 3:00am I set the alarms, locked up and headed out the back door of the store towards the house that had been loaned to me for the night. It was the dead of winter and about -45c with perfectly clear skies, not a breath of wind… and a full moon. I picked my way down the icy walkway and as I was about to climb the stairs to the door I looked around… The snow, the mountains, even the air and my drifting, frosted breath was a shade of blue I had never seen before… since… or ever will again. I have no idea how long I stood there but it was a magic moment in time never again to be experienced by me I’m certain. A sight such as this was surely a once in a lifetime experience and one that should have been shared, not just imprinted in my own memory. It seems “wrong” to have been the only witness to such a thing.

These photos of Pangnirtung were not taken by me, but you may be able to imagine a little bit of what I’m trying to say about the magic of the community. The way it hugs the mountains and cliffs and the way it clings to life even when the 100+kph winds are blowing the length of that fantastic fjord. If there is any way you can ever get there at any time of the year by all means, GO!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Six drinks continued…

The long stories will have to wait. Here are the final five of the six…

#2) Galliano: Ahh, the Harvey Wallbanger period. Not that we liked those things you know… just because we once ordered an entire case of this liqueur and the accompanying ingredients flown in doesn’t mean a darned thing!

#3) Draft Beer Ball: This brings back memories of Salluit (or Sugluk as it was known then). For a long time I fooled around with making my own wine. You need a new and clean plastic garbage pail, water, sugar, Welch’s Grape Juice and a bag of raisins or currants. Mix all those together with a little yeast and the darned stuff would knock you down in no time flat if you let it cook quietly for 2 or 3 weeks first. Anyway… the draft beer ball… the local teachers knew that I made wine and wisely refused to touch it (they weren’t that desperate) but one year we had a Super Bowl (XXIII maybe? Do you remember Jim?) party at the house and invited them all over. As soon as everyone was comfortable I served up pitchers full of beer that I told them was bathtub hooch. “Hey, this stuff is really good, you couldn’t have made this in the bathtub!” I said “Sure, it's there, go take a look” and sure enough there was the beer… the 5 gallon plastic ball was sitting in the tub full of snow to keep it properly chilled. No, I didn’t really make it as it had travelled the 900 mile trip north in one of those “special milk” boxes but it had everyone going for a while and it sure was good! I don’t remember the score or even who was playing or even if we watched the game at all but it was definitely a memorable event.

#4) Lagavulin: I don’t think I need to say anything else. A well aged, very peaty single malt scotch and quite possibly the most magical and transforming liquid ever produced by man. Don’t believe me? Let me know when you’re available to drop by and I’ll have a bottle for us to sip slowly out on the deck some evening while we enjoy a couple fine Cuban cigars. Now that’s life at its finest!

#5) Just to scare you a little bit how about... Coffee! This is now the drink of choice in my old age. Nothing quite beats that first coffee of the day and is there anything better than a large Double-Double with a box of Tim-Bits to go?

#6) Asti Spumanti (the most memorable one to close off the thread): This will always and forever hold a special place for me. I’m not sure exactly when we got out of the habit but on the 24th of every month for many years after Gloria and I were married (June 24, 1978) we would always chill a bottle and raise our glasses in a toast to each other and our good fortune on somehow finding one another. I guess the tradition got put aside when we were posted to areas where we could not import Asti or anything else for various reasons. Occasionally we would get a friendly southern supplier to ship in a bottle or two or even a case of “special milk” so we wouldnt' run dry, but I always hated to put anyone out and there was always a chance that it could be spotted coming off the plane by someone that you didn’t really want to see it. I miss those days… time to revive the tradition wife? I’m ready if you are.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Six Drink Challenge...

Recently my buddies over at Just Below 63 have passed on a challenge that they received and are asking us to summarize our lives in 6 drinks. I’ve had to think long and hard on this one as living in what most of you would call the north for 35 years had its toll in the drink department. It seems that most of the country considers everything 30 minutes up from Toronto as “north” whereas I don’t think the north starts until you get above the tree line, or at least above any connection to the Canadian road system. So…

#1) Has to be Captain Morgan Black. The standing story was that whenever a new clerk transferred to a new post tradition called for them to sit down with the store manager and together drink a 40oz bottle of something containing alcohol just to get the feel of one another. While there is some truth to the manager offering clerk a drink to “get acquainted” the volume in the stories is much exaggerated, most of the time.

At one time there was only one Hudson’s Bay Company dwelling in any community and the clerks lived with the manager and their family if they had one. A drink or two broke the ice and got everyone talking a little bit so you got to know your new housemates (and their quirks) fairly quickly. Why did I choose Captain Morgan Black first? Well my first manager was Glen Speers at Mistassini Post (60 miles north of Chibougamau) back in the early 70’s. This was his main drink, alternated with Burnett’s gin, both mixed with boiling hot water. It sure warmed you up on a cold night, especially when the wood stove was giving us trouble (no furnaces in those days!) He also alternated between Du Maurier and Cameo cigarettes all day and all night. We could often hear him boiling the kettle in the middle of the night to heat up his mix for one or the other drink, along with a cigarette of course.

He’s gone now but I miss those days, and him. I spent two years there and even though we sometimes thought he was cantankerous and hard to deal with he was one hell of a good store manager and it didn’t take long for anyone with a brain to realize that this man had a wealth of knowledge and experience that he was willing to teach and share with us if we were smart enough to listen to him and not our own opinions and egos.

The Manager or “Whitcheemaw” (boss) as he was called in that part of the country was respected by all the community and used to be asked advice on everything from marriage to “Should we sign the James Bay Agreement.” (We apprentice clerks were known as a “Whitcheemush” which meant little boss.) Not a feast or special event in the community could take place without the Whitcheemaw being invited and given a place of honor at the festivities. When couples got married and the manager was unable to attend for some reason the happy couple always came to the store to shake hands with him for luck and good fortune.

At Christmas the entire community would drop by the house to shake hands with all of us and have a cup of tea. We clerks were kept busy boiling water for the tea, emptying ashtrays and putting out cookies for the visitors. We (and they) were all dressed in our finest for the day and it was a great time for neophytes like myself to attempt the few words of Cree we had learned and laugh along with everyone else at our strange pronunciations and accents. As the saying goes… a good time was had by all.

Mr. Speers (as he was called by everyone including us clerks, even after hours) was an old bachelor, and one of the last of the old timers who had delivered babies, pulled teeth and cut off frozen toes when called upon to do so. This was in the days before nursing stations and doctors when the only person the community could turn to in an emergency was the Hudson’s Bay Manager. I didn’t miss those years by much but I’m kind of glad that I was never personally called upon to remove an appendix while following instructions coming in over a crackling bush radio from some doctor hundreds of miles away. Yup, these things actually used to happen and not that long ago either.

Hmmm…. looks like the “6 drink” challenge will have to be spread out. That is #1 gone and I’ll work on chapter and drink #2 over the next few days. Cheers!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sleepless in...

I don’t really know why this time, just too much rolling around my head I guess… freezing rain forecast, will I make the hill on the ice in the morning, summer visitors, go visit my father, work on family tree, get ready to do the taxes, make a fast trip to Espanola, figure out how to use webcam, work on Facebook addiction, do a backup, run spyware checker, optimize registry, defrag, finish the Pituvik web page changes, add Google maps to the Farmers Market web page, update the Our Manitoulin web page, get the new signs on the car, coach the downline, add to the downline, finish convention plans, book Regina for June, read a book, write a book, make a chocolate gateaux, find a better music organizer for the laptop, sort music, make a delivery to Mindemoya… OK so now I’m tired, see ‘ya!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Joke is Still On Us...

They’re all the same. I don’t blame Mr. Ignatieff however, I blame our pro-dictator anti-citizen, anti-region political system. What’s the point in electing a local representative from your riding when that person is not allowed to help you? Why do we bother sending someone to Ottawa when they are not permitted to help the people who elected them because (good or bad) they have to follow the direct orders of the party leader?

Oh sure, your area may get a few perks thrown it’s way, but only if your MP sticks to the party line and follows the dictates of the leader. And every party is the same. I’m picking on the Liberals right now because of the budget vote yesterday and Mr. Ignatieff being generous enough to permit the members from Newfoundland to one time and one time only now vote contrary to the orders from the man himself. How gracious of him to allow the people elected by the people to actually vote the way that does a little good for their communities and not play the silly kid’s game that politics has become.

When will the country wake up and scrap the party system. It doesn’t work but the non-party system used in our northern Territories does, and quite nicely. The members we elect down here are just a waste of money and space as all the power is only in the hands of the party leaders anyway and should an MP choose to vote the way their constituents want and against the party leader’s orders well… you’re out! Let’s turn the Parliament buildings into a flea market and just rent a half dozen small offices somewhere for the party leaders to work out of. To really make sense we’ll put those offices up at Rankin Inlet in the North West Territories as that is pretty near the geographic center of our country anyway and makes a lot more sense to me.

(By the way… I’ve been a liberal supporter since the 60’s but I do believe that has finally come to an end).

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Great Grey...

We had a new visitor at the house yesterday. He stands about two feet tall and a good four feet or more wide when he’s in the air. I knew there were Great Grey Owls on the island but this is the first time I’ve ever seen one. When I first spotted him he was gliding past, completely silent and following a smaller bird into the thicker woods. I’m not sure if he caught him or not but about a half hour later he was perched in a tree down by the road tossing something down.

From there he moved to a poplar tree about twenty feet from the house and that’s where he spent the night… or at least he was still in the same position the next morning. Maybe he can help me with my Blue Jay problem but he seemed content just to perch there watching (drooling?) over the crowd of Goldfinches, Chickadees and other birds that came and went from our feeder.

He’s gone now but it certainly was something special to see such a large and majestic creature close up. I hope comes back later and if he becomes a regular I'll let you know and you can stop by for coffee and check him out.

Thanks to shanta and lizjones112 for the photos as the combination of faint light and an out of date camera prevented me from getting anything but blurs myself.

February 4th Note: He came back the next day again and spent an hour or so sitting on top of the hydro pole.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

A Sudbury Saturday Night at The Slots...

So I'm sitting at the Sudbury Slots, my self imposed limit reached for another trip. Not much luck here the past couple visits but I'm still well ahead all together. I always mark down any loss to education and yes, I realize that there is no way to win long term but it kills some time, and can be entertaining in the short term.

I enjoy it here, although it's much nicer when the horses are running. It's too cold for their lungs at this time of the year but I have seen them run in a rising blizzard. Haven't ever placed a bet on the races and wouldn't have the faintest idea of how to go about it. I suppose we'll have to give it a go someday just for the experience. It’s always interesting to examine and evaluate each horse as it goes through its paces before the race. You can tell the more professional and experienced ones and know they will do well. On the other hand it’s a fairly safe guess that the ones that seem headstrong and impatient may come out quickly but soon find themselves drifting towards the back of the pack. Funny, the same thing seems to apply to humans as well but fortunately as all breeds mature they usually settle down and do much better.

We came up today to do a little shopping and pick up Andrew. He hitched a ride up with Sandra when she was in Wiky Thursday night dropping off Nicholas at his Dad's for the weekend. So now I'm sitting here in front of the big grandstand windows overlooking the track. Gloria is still in there doing well, as she always does... not sure how, but 9 times out of 10 she’ll come out ahead. Oops… here’s Sandra, time to go, chat later!