Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hiking the Maligne Canyon

The  hike along famous Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park begins innocuously enough from a parking lot surrounded by tall pines. 

Very quickly as we intrepid hikers follow the path closer to the Maligne River, still cutting down hundreds of feet through limestone, we see stunning views. 

The one-way trail crosses 4 bridges, each affording glimpses of the white water at some points about 150 feet below.  

Wire fences protect us from the rushing water and chasms below, though some climb over the barriers to pose at the brink.  Several miles further down the road we find the source of the water, Medicine Lake. And our first mountain goats.

What did I take away from this several hour ramble along the cliffs above Maligne Canyon? 

A little history: The river was apparently named by a priest who had trouble crossing the river in 1846, dubbing it maligne (evil). 

An appreciation for the sheer wilderness of Jasper. 

And very sore feet.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Edmonton Birthday . . .

Just a few blocks from our hotel is the delightful Chinese restaurant, Beijing Beijing, here in Edmonton. To celebrate Allen's birthday, we strolled over to take advantage of their delicious dim sum, a treat we haven't had for many, many years.

Imagine a crowded restaurant filled with eager eaters as friendly waitpersons push carts loaded with Chinese delicacies through, we estimated, some 140 tables seating 2 to families of 8-10 each. Allen requested a fork; I continue to learn chopstick skills. 

Delicious dim sum ensued: pork buns, sticky rice in banana leaf, rice roll with shrimp, steamed shrimp dumplings, and the most adventurous -- steamed chicken feet in special sauce. With hot tea and sesame roll for dessert, and the birthday feast was complete.

Yesterday, we also visited Muttart Conservatory after a hair-raising drive through Edmonton's twisting freeways. One wrong turn and we found ourselves downtown! 

We then wandered through Muttart's very unique pyramids which are organized around four arid, temperate, tropical, and featured gardens. My favorite: the Bat Flower from Asia, delicate, fragile, beautiful.

What's next? Three days of camping in Jasper and no internet.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Fort Edmonton Redux . . .

When we last visited Edmonton in 1996, the U.S.A. women's soccer team won the World Cup, the sun shone brightly, and we visited Fort Edmonton for the first time, not realizing we would return one day. We're back. The population has doubled from about 800,000 to 1.5 million. Modern freeways mimic what I remember of driving in L.A., and yesterday, we revisited Fort Edmonton.

Rowand's Folly, Fort Edmonton

Chief Trader, Company Store
We spent about four hours in the oldest part of the park, a recreation of Fort Edmonton in 1846, exactly the period of my current book. Staffed with very well-informed and helpful costumed volunteers, this living history section of the park was fascinating, positioned as it once was right along the North Saskatchewan River.

At that time, John Rowand was a demanding Chief Factor at Fort Edmonton, enforcing a strict sense of duty with a volatile temper. When told a man was too sick to work, he said something like: "If he is not dead after three days, he is not too sick to work."

In 1842, Rowand built a very unique house to conduct business, entertain, and to serve as his family's private quarters, the largest at any of the Hudson Bay Company forts. Dubbed Rowand's Folly, the three-storied house was about 2,100 square feet with the third floor reserved for family and guests.

Kane's study at Fort Edmonton
But my primary interest is with Paul Kane who stayed at Fort Edmonton for a month during the holidays on his journey west in 1847 and again on his return east in 1848.

Rowand gave Kane quite a luxurious though small two rooms near his own bedroom. Decorated as it once must have looked, the outer room features Kane's sketches pinned on the wall, while the tiny bedroom is fitted up with a twin bed and Hudson's Bay Company blanket.

Kane's sleeping quarters,
Fort Edmonton
Class consciousness can be seen in the bed coverings throughout the Fort.

The Chief Factor, officers of the Company, and wealthier workers used furs atop those Hudson Bay Company blankets, while the poorer workers simply rolled in blankets and slept on the floor, space available.

Volunteer in full Metis dress,
Fort Edmonton
A kind volunteer dressed as a Métis donned his full regalia, explaining that the Assumption sash, which he wore, was also used to calculate how many bales of furs each man carried to ensure fair pay was received. This reminded me of Incan quippus, knotted in somewhat the same style as a kind of record. Notice the lovely beaver-skin top hat worn -- and the coat over a vest, formal dress for the wilderness.

Later today, we're visiting the Royal Albert Museum -- if our feet hold up.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A stop at Rocky Mountain House

Tromped around just half of Rocky Mountain House Provincial Park yesterday, with its tiny but very helpful museum and archaeological digs, right along the North Saskatchwan River. Serious flooding in 2012 took away the banks on the west side of the river, now fortified with rip rap.

View of the North Saskatchewan

Rocky Mountain House was never quite as successful as a trading post, especially as the fur trade wound down in the 1840s, but it was very useful for provisions at a time when starvation was all too risky. Here European goods were traded for pemmican, supplying groups traveling east to York Factory or west to Fort Vancouver. 

Paul Kane stopped here in April, 1848, for a month's stay before returning east with the York Factory brigade. About a decade before Kane's arrival, a major smallpox epidemic decimated the local Blackfeet people.

Front of capote, showing sash
and snowshoe
Here too, Allen bought me a reproduction Assumption sash, commercially made (not traditionally finger woven), but I am thrilled to have this tangible momento. The sash is considered a key part of the Métis costume and can cost hundreds of dollars if made in the traditional way. 

The sashes, practical slashes of bright red or blue, were worn to hold heavy coats closed. Sometimes the men tucked a knife or firebag into its folds.

The capotes (coats) were typically made of Hudson's Bay Company blankets -- Note the snug hood in the back. 

Back of capote, showing hood
The sashes also served to support the voyageurs' backs as they carried heavy loads (often 150 pounds or more) or pulled York boats along shallow streams or portages when rapids were too rough.

I had thought from staring at the map and thinking about the name of Rocky Mountain House that the geography would be rugged, with views of the peaks ahead, to the west. Instead, we are in rolling plains. Here bison once roamed. In August, it's hot here, the air humid, and as we walked along the North Saskatchewan, we heard the familiar call of the chickadee.

Tomorrow we leave for Fort Edmonton, a relatively short drive of 130 miles, only two-and-a-half hours by car. Such luxury.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Farewell to Calgary

Yesterday we spent at the Glenbow Museum, several hours of studying exhibits on First Nations peoples (does not include Metis), until we sank down on a nice black leather couch in the lobby and said, "Let's go back to the hotel."

I feel like I'm circling around what all these artifacts mean, without truly understanding the culture. What we experienced at Heritage Park seems tied in some way, but the meaning is not laid out. What emerges is a life in balance with nature, with the people moving in tune to the seasons, a sharp but complementary division between the work of men (hunting/protecting the clan) and women (gathering/making the home), and an underlying respect for all life in all forms. The spirituality is clear as many of these artifacts are sacred, with specific and undefined purpose.

Beaded Moccasins, Siksika, 1900s
But the realities of having human emotion can be seen as well. Story robes, beautifully painted with key events in a tribe or person's life, recall daring deeds and skirmishes between tribes/clans over land and horses.

One of my favorite mini-exhibits was a series of photographs on hair styles. Women, being modest and unassuming, wore simple braids.

The men were more flamboyant, with very specific purposes behind their hair dressing, plaited, supplemented with 'product', and embellished with beads or feathers. When a man left his hair unbraided, he was involved in something serious, most likely related to death.Children were warned not to copy the hair styles of the men, for the meanings were not always shared.

Metis Fiddle, Assumption Sash, and
Accordian (Glenbow)
A thread of outrage underlies the history of how life changed for the native peoples once the Europeans came, bringing alcohol and diseases. Early fur traders intermarried with natives, creating a mixed race of Metis; their usefulness played out against a backdrop of simple, greedy exploitation as the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company battled for control of the fur trade.

Even the opening definition of terms at the Glenbow says that Metis are not considered part of First Nations. But I get a sense for those men who married into clans, that the Metis were family.

Our next stop: camping for two nights in Banff and then on to Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site where we shall learn more of fur trade history.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Calgary's Step into the Past

Yesterday we spent several hours exploring just a small part of Calgary's Heritage Park, Canada's largest living history museum. Our first and major stop, a small Hudson's Bay Company post and a nearby First Nations encampment.

The fort was rather small, contained behind a high log fence, with a small trading post to the immediate right, filled with an array of traditional goods, dishes and cooking pots, pelts to trade, and Hudson's Bay blankets.

Immediately behind the trading post, a small garden featured potatoes, onions, and a variety of medicinal plants -- geranium (for cough), willowbark (for tea), and sweet grass.

The larger building, maybe 20-25 feet long, was split in two -- with one side the private quarters for the postmaster and visiting officers, and the other side shared by some 25 men, who slept rolled in blankets on the floor.

A large stone fireplace was shared between the two sides of the building.

Snow in Calgary begins by the end of October and disappears sometime in April, so I can imagine the traders and workers huddling close to this small fireplace.

Our guide wore rough pantaloons, a baggy shirt, and a beautiful traditional Metis arrow sash.

These sashes have quite a complicated history. Apparently, the Métis learned the craft of finger weaving from the native peoples in the 18th Century. The sashes quickly became a trademark of the voyageurs. The sashes were worn to hold the loose, outer coats closed, protecting the wearer from bitter cold, and to brace the back.

Fairly wide, and traditionally bright red, the sashes featured an arrow pattern, were hand woven, and later commercially produced. The modern hand woven sashes cost hundreds of dollars today.

Outside the tiny fort, several tipis had been set up, among them a ceremonial tipi, the Yellow Otter Tipi. We settled on the grass to hear the tale behind the design of this beautiful sacred tipi told by Natasha, Night Walker, of the Blood band of the Blackfoot Tribe.

This tipi's design is unique, derived from a vision quest resulting in a ceremonial tipi, sacred, not for ordinary use. From its top red banner that proclaims the otter is present, to the four sacred lodge poles, to the markings of the otter (left being male, right being female), to the two entries, one in front facing east for morning prayers to greet the sun, one immediately opposite, in the west, only for the otter -- all parts of this tent have meaning and are treated with respect.

Even the colors (red for earth, black for night, and yellow for the sun) and shapes (triangles for mountains, straight lines for rivers and circles for shooting stars) show connections to beliefs held dear. The tipi is considered to be alive, a breathing entity.

We were allowed to enter the tent to see a small exhibit of ceremonial dress, with braided sweetgrass and clumps of sage ready for use.

The rest of the day, we rode the train around the different eras highlighting the later 19th and 20th Century history, stopping for snacks. We spent a little time exploring the Gasoline Alley Museum, a collection of early cars (and gasoline pumps) to find this classic trailer, one I remember well, for my grandparents often camped in one of these and told bear stories to us kids as we bedded down for the night. Starting Sunday night, we'll not sleep in such luxury, for we begin tenting at Banff, on our way to Rocky Mountain House, another key stopping place for fur traders traveling west!

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Canada: Calgary with a boom!

Rockies at Kootenay National Park
We left Radium Hot Springs this morning, stopping for a leisure soak at the hot springs before winding our way through the Kootenay National Park and our first real view of the Canadian Rockies. Just about 330 miles from Spokane, and we are in the midst of real wilderness, rolling hills to breathtaking mountains, covered with gigantic pine forests.

Our first real hike of the trip turned into a hour-long jaunt up Tokumm Creek to the head of Marble Canyon. We walked along a winding trail, noting the glacial blue of the stream.

Hike along Marble Canyon
Marble Canyon Falls
This mountain stream cuts over a hundred feet down through an amazing variety of rock, green limestone, granite, shale, and volcanic rock. I learned that it may snow here as late as June -- when avalanche risk remains high.

Fireweed blooms everywhere. When the blooms appear at the top of Fireweed, the end of summer is near, but the bright purple-red flowers delight the eye. Did I say the temperature hit 52 degrees this afternoon? We're back to the 70s in Calgary now.

We didn't spot any bears, but we did see what Allen calls a ground squirrel and I call a chipmunk. Which is it?

The rest of the trip should have been uneventful, a drive of about 100 miles to Calgary. 

But we ran into the mother of storms as we approached Calgary. Heavy traffic and hail so loud and heavy, everyone pulled over by an underpass -- after 15 minutes no real let up, so we continued, with rainwater sloshing over the freeway in nearly impassable puddles. Tornado warnings continued as we checked in for the next several days here in Calgary. Just now, a few hours later, clear skies and a sweet sunset suggest a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, museums and a quiet library are on the agenda.

Hope your summer travels are a little less eventful.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Canada, here we come!

Kootenai NWR II
On the Kootenai, near Bonners Ferry ID
by Steven A. Wolfe (Flickr

Finished packing about 12:30 pm, and after a quick lunch at that old standby, Subway, hit the road for Canada, a leisurely drive east and north, past murky skies clouded over with smoggy smoke from wildfires everywhere. 

Today we have television, smart phones, and even my little new Kindle Fire to alert us to such danger ahead. But I wondered what life was like for those fur traders traveling across Canada during the summers. How did they know fires lay ahead?

Made me remember camping in eastern Oregon once when Rachel was 3. We had hiked straight up for about three miles, set up the tent by a nice little lake, maybe Blue Lake. In the morning, the air was blue, really blue. A smokey blue. Just then, a ranger came by and said, "Get on out of here as fast as you can! We got a forest fire coming." We tore down the tent, threw our stuff into our back packs, and ran back down that trail as fast as we could. Got in the car and travelled a ways down the road to find fire on both sides of the road, the fire crew working hard to put it out. Smoke burned our eyes. We could taste the smoke in the back of our throats for a long time. That was the last time we went camping for awhile.

Our rules now are:  If it's over 90 degrees, we're camping at the motel. Otherwise, our little car is loaded with tent, cookstove, and all the accoutrements. Last night we slept at the very comfortable Dodge Peak Lodge in Bonners Ferry and split a civilized brisket sandwich and a Pilsner at a local brewery. Today, Radium Hot Springs awaits.

I did spend hours upgrading the virus checker on this old netbook (maybe 6 years old?) to find the operating system didn't sync with the new virus checker. But success at last, so I will post updates as I can . . . musings on our trip north to Fort St. James, Edmonton, and just maybe to the Hudson's Bay Company Archives Library at Winnipeg before turning home.

May your summer be cool with good travels and no forest fires.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Nearly the last day in Galveston

Yesterday we took the ferry over to Bolivar Island.

Reminded me of the last time I took a ferry from mainland Mexico to Baja, a large, hulking ferry that listed to one side all the way across the Sea of Cortez. I felt transported back to the 1930's in our tiny cabin with quaint fixtures, in case we wanted to rest. The bunkbeds had these canvas curtains one could draw closed for privacy. Back then, we were eager to see whales wintering over.

The free ferry from Galveston to Bolivar Island was a model of tiny efficiency as we crossed this busy port's lane of barges and tugboats, followed by black-headed seagulls sparring for bread tossed by seasoned travellers. We were going birding.

And birds we did see. At first, just lots of seagulls, big ones all along the beach, with a few sandpipers skittering along the sand. But later, a little off the main road and very near the ferry in a rocky, oysterbed of a wetland, we saw white egrets, oystercatchers, brown pelicans, and a great blue heron or two. 

Then we spotted a roseate spoonbill working his way along the reeds on the far shore, his bill in constant motion. I don't think I knew how hard birds had to work to eat. 

Roseate Spoonbill, Bolivar Island (February 2015)
Not bad for nearly the last day. This morning, packing looms, with the usual frenzy of printing out boarding passes, for tomorrow we return home, rested, with new pictures to share and fond memories of Galveston. I will remember for a long time the sight of this beautiful pink bird lifting up to flight.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Walking around Galveston's Historic District

Yesterday, we walked our feet off after quite an exciting bus ride up to the Pleasure Pier on 25th Street and Seawall where we peeked through the gates at the rides (closed for the day).

Pleasure Pier, Galveston (Camp 2015)
We walked to the ShyKatz Deli for lunch (a most delicious vegetable soup), and then over to the Mosquito Cafe (to check it out for dinner later). We found the highwater mark for Hurricane Ike inside the Mosquito Cafe. 

Across the street at their Pattycake Bakery, we discovered the most amazing "knock knock" cupcake -- a rich chocolate cake filled with whipped cream, fudge, and then rolled in crushed Oreo cookies. Amazing!

Then over to the Bishop's Palace to browse the architecture, classic stained glass windows and chapel in this sturdy Victorian mansion, built in 1892, which was one of a very few houses that remained standing after the tragic hurricane of 1900 which took thousands of lives.

Bishop's Palace build 1892
Bishop's Palace still standing
post Hurricane, 1900
In fact, one of the pleasures of walking through this East End historic district is imagining life from long ago and admiring these beautiful Victorian houses, each with distinctive decorations and gardens.

For more information about the Bishop's Palace, go HERE.
Read more about the hurricane of 1900 HERE and Hurricane Ike HERE.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Monday in Galveston . . .

Today we went to lunch at the Tortuga, a sprawling Mexican restaurant, right on Seawall Boulevard, just about a block from our tiny condo. 

Someone else cooked! A delicious avocado stuffed with shrimp, fish, broiled vegetables with three kinds of salsa met our appetite delightfully. Even at 1pm, we hit happy hour! A nice draft beer with lime for 99c topped the meal. The music in the background? Cajun style to mark that blend of Spanish and French culture reflected also in the Mardi Gras parades this past weekend and next.

After a brief trip to Kroger's for supplies (carried home in a daypack), we lounged by the pool for a while and then upstairs home again, a quiet day in what seems a little like paradise.

Tortuga Restaurant from the Bay 
Photo by on Flickr
Today's temperature 79 degrees
For inquiring minds, yes, the writing is coming along just fine, the temperature today really was close to 79, and we wish you all could be here!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Packing the lazy way . . . out the door!

My husband has the most efficient way to pack. When we travel for say a month-long journey, he methodically gathers up 7 pairs of shirts, shorts, socks and 2 pairs of pants. Just whatever's on top. Then a few basics (books, maps, Sudoko). Maybe a snack for the plane. He's done. I typically add a few more things to his suitcase that he might need. Swim suit. Cell phone plug.

But I dither when I pack for myself. As the departure date gets closer, I begin to stress out. It's hard to say goodbye to family. My little 2-1/2 year old granddaughter doesn't understand about planes or wanderlust -- yet. I don't want to leave my sewing/writing room, and I can't take it with me! I can't even decide what exactly to take with me.

So I've come up with a one-size-fits-all travel packing list on my computer. Just revise for the current trip. Print it out. Check it off. Our categories are simple: Clothes, books, writing/sewing, toiletries & meds, camera/computer.

About 7 days before we leave, I open up my one suitcase and leave it propped open. Over the next few days, I throw stuff in that I think I might want. My journal for the trip. Favorite shirts. My sewing projects. I'm not worried because hubby says, "If we forget something, we can buy it!" I know he's talking about toothpaste, but somehow, he reassures me that we'll be OK no matter what I pack or don't pack. 

Day 2 before departure, I work the list, make a quick run to the store for airplane snacks, and we're truly ready.

The morning of departure, a final check all around, water the plants, print out boarding passes, recheck our day packs for essentials for the plane, and we walk out the door -- this time, for a month in Galveston.

Do we check luggage? Yes. I'm too old to sling a rolling suitcase into that overhead bin. Why not lessen the congestion in that tiny aisle on the plane?

Where's my purse? I use a day pack with my tiny purse inside. This way, I can carry my netbook, reading, and snack with ease.

And we're ready to adventure.

"Red Suitcase" by Ken Yuel on Flickr

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Did you see the sunrise this morning?

We're 8 days away from leaving for that month-long trip to Galveston. Suitcases are open and empty. My packing list is ready to begin checking off, and I still haven't decided if I'm taking my sewing machine as a carry-on. Southwest says I can. Yippee!

One suitcase = how many books? how many sewing projects?

Today's inspiring quote as I gather sewing projects, fabrics, and organize a sewing travel kit comes from Patricia L. Brown's Easy Batik Landscape Quilts:

"Did you see the sunrise this morning?"

I think that any travel adventure should begin with hope. 

This picture by Kim Seng is of Lake Worth in Florida, and shows with beautiful optimism what our condo view will be! At least we have the pier nearby for fishing, if not that sunrise . . . 

Kim Seng "Lake Worth Beach Sunrise" (Flickr

Friday, January 02, 2015

A night of light . . .

We had been driving east through the Canadian Rockies, a very long day, when we finally came to the first sign of a settlement, a lovely bed and breakfast near a small lake. The owner invited us to sit in the hot tub late that night for the Merry Dancers were expected.

Northern Lights by James Medcalf (Flickr 2012)
The Romans and Greeks recorded stories about the Northern Lights. Cultures close to the far north and far south have very different legends about these Northern Lights. 

Scots from the Orkney Islands call them the Merry Dancers, from the Gaelic, Na Fir-Chlis, roughly translated as 'the nimble ones' who, according to legend, fought in the sky. 

Some say these sheets of color that fill the sky are a portent of storms to come. In northern Canada, the Cree believe the lights are the spirits of ancestors, saying "If we rub our hands together as we watch the lights, these spirits will dance in the sky."

We shivered in the cold night and saw on the horizon faint but awe-inspiring smudges of colors -- red, green and yellow. But this video, The Night of the Northern Lights, shows better than words, the wonder of these lights.

Read more about the Merry Dancers at The Dark Sky Diary and about their mythology at Luminarium.