Monday, November 29, 2010

Snow Houses:Igloos

      Since I'm on the "cold" topic I might as well make it three in a row: Polar Bears and Cold Snap and Snow Houses. Since I have been thinking about my polar bear experience it brought back watching the Inuit build snow houses.

      As I said in my last post I spent two years in a remote arctic community. The community had only been established as a settlement for Inuit six years before I arrived in the late sixties. Inuit had lived and hunted in this area for thousands of years. An air radio station had been established in the late 1920's when cross ocean flying first began. Flights from North America went to Wakeham Bay and then across Hudson Strait to Frobisher Bay, across to Greenland , over to Iceland and I'm not sure where after that.They had to use this route so that they could refuel.
     But I got off the topic. When I arrived in this community the people were still actively hunting. One dog team was still in use but all the others had begun using skidoos. These people still were using and familiar with traditional hunting patterns. When they went out on the ice for several days they used snow houses rather than tents. Snow houses were warmer than tents and you didn't have to carry a tent.

     The first time I saw a snow house built was an unforgettable experience. I was not prepared for what I saw. First, the main tool was an ordinary hand wood saw. A large knife (machete) was used in the trimming of the blocks. They first look around for the right amount of snow which has the proper consistency. The snow has to be fairly hard. Then they start cutting blocks out of the snow with the saw. After half a dozen blocks or so they begin setting them up. The bottom of the block is slightly beveled so that it tilts inward. They continue this pattern in a spiral . When the second course is laid they make sure that the blocks overlap the bottom joints and again the blocks are slightly bevelled. The layers continue until one piece of snow can be cut to fill in the last hole in the top. All this is done from inside so you see the blocks of snow do not get that high. Any spaces between the blocks are filled with little chunks of snow. They cut the door out from inside. The test for success of your house is to be able to stand on it! My fellow teacher tried his hand at building snow houses and was very successful.

      Again I have pictures which are still slides and not changed to digital. I have a project ahead of me.

      These houses are surprisingly comfortable. You have to be careful not to warm them up too much or the inside walls ice up and then they are not comfortable. I once had a soapstone mining project where they went out for a week to mine soap stone . At the end of the week the inside of the snow houses were iced up. They used Colemann stoves which would throw off too much heat.

     These were wonderful houses and I'm glad I got to see them even though I didn't spend a night in one.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Early Winter Cold Snap

        I recently posted on Nov. 15 about winter hitting Red Deer with a good dump of snow. In fact it snowed for six days. We accumulated about 10cm of snow which isn't that much.

       When the snow stopped a mass of arctic cold air slipped into our area. The cold was unpleasant but not unbearable. Up until the 15th we had daytime highs above zero and not very cold over night. I had ridden bike a few times in November and could have ridden more times if I wasn't busy.

      It really hit me how cold it was when the paper reported that we had broken an old low temperature record. On Nov. 23  we had a low of minus 36 which was two degrees colder than our previous record low. So after I read this I realized why it had been so uncomfortable.

    On Nov. 25 a chinook blew in and we suddenly warmed up and had a high above freezing again. So we have to get used to the temperature extremes and live with them.

    Hiawatha House did not expect to post about weather again in Nov. but since it was out of the ordinary a post was made.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

There Once Was Polar Bear in my House

       Yes, that's right I had a real live polar bear in my house. Not only one polar bear but two at the same time. Me, being such a brave person, stayed in my house until they both left.

       Now I have to start at the beginning of this story to explain how this really happened. In the mid 60's I was a teacher, principal and administrator in a remote arctic community. The school had only been opened for five years. The inuit were still very independent and good hunters. The area was also a productive game area with lots of seals, fish, birds and caribou. These were wonderful proud people. They supported me and looked after my welfare.  For some reason I learned to depend on them and fully trust them as they were the masters in this land.

     One winter a few hunters were out on the sea ice hunting for seals. As happens on occasion they found a polar bear and killed it. Once they got to the bear they realized it had cubs. They searched and were able to find the den and the two young cubs. They were sharp enough to realize that they could probably get some money if they brought the cubs in. They immediately brought the cubs to my house and half expected I would give them money on the spot as I was the federal administrator. The little bears were active and not in a very good humor. They were probably very hungry and looking for their mother. We could hold them and pet them but you had to watch as they would nip you. We were not about to take a chance to become polar bear food. My house not only had the two polar bears but many of the people from the community as they all wanted to see the bears.

     The issue was quickly taken out of my hands as game was under provincial jurisdiction. So they went off to the provincial office and administrator. The Quebec Provincial Police were radioed and instructions were given to keep the little bears and they would fly in the next morning to pick them up.

     It was one of the more exciting evening during my two year stay. These hunters came in many hours after dark and were cold and excited. Usually the female bears with cubs were not out on the ice. I don't they they captured cubs very often so they were excited. I was excited as I knew this was a once in a lifetime experience. I have pictures of this event but they are on slides and I have not changed my 35 mm pictures to digital. Now maybe I will have to get serious about changing them as I have many slides of my Arctic adventures,

     I don't remember if the inuit got any cash for these little cubs. I know that one of them went to the Calgary zoo and lived a long life there and was a very popular animal. I do not know what happened to the other animal.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Are We Becoming Too Self-centered?

        Okay, self-centered is a very broad topic. However, some of the behaviour I have been watching lately has got me thinking about being self-centered and maybe it has something to do with the poor conduct we see around us.

      The behaviour which has tipped me over the edge recently is the performance of our members of Parliament. Parliament is supposed to be a forum where issues are debated and decisions made for the good of the people in the country. Lately very little if any debate has been taking place. Clever debate is fascinating to watch. Lately the extreme partisanship which has been taking place is disgusting. The Conservative party plays fast and loose with the truth. Shelly Glover accused Michael Iggnatief of planning to sell pot to children because he has been considering decriminalizing marijuana. To stretch things this far is the lowest deceit possible. John Baird stood up in the house and stated that 10 000 jobs would have been lost in Canada if the United Arab Emirates had been allowed more landing rights in Canada. Baird had not one shred of evidence to make this claim. Why is such behaviour happening? They want to maintain power. They are too self-centered to look at what is good for the country.

     If we watch some people drive we have to say, "Where are they coming from?" Cutting in and out of lanes when it is not safe to do so, speeding, tail gating, throwing garbage on the road...all of these things show a total lack of consideration for other drivers and the environment. Constantly talking on cell phones and other distracting behaviours take place because people are only considering them selves rather than the safety and good of others.

    I'm not about to make a complete list of self centered behaviours . You probably have your own list. This should give you some idea of what should be unacceptable behaviour.

    Where is this coming from? What are we doing that is promoting or causing behaviour which shows limited consideration of others? Here are some of my ideas and you may well disagree with me.

    Organized recreation no doubt is very beneficial for our youth. Volunteers spend a tremendous amount of time and have expertise in coaching. However, you don't have to watch a practice session very long and you see a tremendous emphasis on winning. No emphasis on fun. Just do your best to outdo the other guy so that you can win. Tremendous pressure is put on kids by peers, parents and coaches to win. So after such extreme indoctrination, do our young people take this attitude out on the street?  So if the most important thing is to win and if you have to push someone around well that's okay.

     We have developed many programs to improve the self-esteem of young people. Good, strong self esteem is necessary. But is there collateral damage in stressing self esteem. Do some people who do not need self esteem coaching take advantage of it and then emphasize them selves much more than is necessary. Self esteem is used in some ways as an excuse for in appropriate behaviour when it could be other reasons for it. Again very kind and caring people work with youth who need coaching in self esteem to live a more productive life.

     I have to look at the posts in my blog. They are usually 100% about me and my experiences. Could I not pick the good things which are being done out there and support them? Am I also self centered and fail to recognise it?

     So I have to ask myself, am I just becoming a crotchety old man and being overly sensitive of some behaviours and single out things that bug me? Am I blaming some of the wrong things for causing self centeredness? How do we get things back on the rails so that we are far more considerate of others? Or is my question not relevant?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Winter Slams into Red Deer

       That's right folks winter paid us our first visit on Mon. Nov. 15 and it caught our attention sharply.

       Mon. Nov. 15 was a very nice day. It was sunny, calm and warm...high of 6 or 7 C(42-44F). Forecasts were saying, "winter storm watch." About 2:00PM it started to cloud over but the temperature remained the same. Around 7:00PM I looked out and guess what? The air was full of snow and a high gusty wind was blowing. It stayed mild for a few more hours and then the temperature gradually dropped. By morning we had 5 - 8 cm of snow and it had drifted around.

     When winter comes suddenly it's always a bit of surprise even though we've been warned.

     I like it when winter makes it's entry with a flare. All the suspense of waiting is over. Now we can hang on for 4 months of frigid weather. Our mind and attitude has to be adjusted and that is the secret of enjoying and surviving a prairie winter. A fellow blogger from Florida was doing the big whine last week when his temperature was 5C(42 F).  Right now 5C here would be a heat wave . So it's all relative. It depends where you are in location and mind. We can find activities to enjoy. I like cross country skiing so give me snow. I ski very hard and do not need gloves, hat or any heavy clothing at all. I have a pack with heavy clothing in case I stop.

    I enjoy following weather  descriptions and explanations of why certain weather occurs. There are certainly some excellent and interesting blogs to follow.

     So I'm set for the next few months to enjoy my winter. I think I can even survive Home Farm Girl's constant complaining about winter.

     Let me know how you're coping with winter where ever you may be.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Great Value in Hobbies

        As I did my last post on birch bowls, I began to think about the great value of a good hobby. I consider my blog to be a hobby and many of the activies I participate in are hobbies.

       However, if I use the birch bowl topic I can demonstrate some of the values of a good hobby. David, the lather, who produced the bowls, obviously spends a great deal of time working on his hobby. So it is an excellent way to spend leisure time in a stimulating way.

     First, David does not buy any wood to pursue his craft. So he spends time and watches so that he can obtain a variety of wood that would otherwise be wasted. David has friends who know he wants wood and alert him when they see trees being taken down. As a result he gets a variety of wood so can work with color and grain variations. Most people are quite happy to let him have part of their tree and in my case he took the whole tree as he also burns wood to heat his house. So to begin with there is a strong social aspect. He also belongs to a guild where lathers get together and share ideas.

     Second, something is being created and produced. When you watch David begin, he looks at the wood as if to say, what kind of bowl is in this wood. At the end of lots of hard work there is a product with beauty. We need to produce something at the end of an activity so that we can look at it with pride. In my blog I produce material that I can look at. I look back at old posts and quite often get new ideas or further ideas and expand on a topic. Lately I have been going back and revising old posts. It's rather humbling and surprising at how many errors I made.

    Something like wood turning gives a person something stimulating to do with their time. I imagine something new is learned with each bowl produced. I learn with each blog post. I started at zero with my blog so I have had to learn many things. Each new thing I learn is satisfying.

    David has accumulated a large number of tools for his craft. I think he had three different lathes in the shop. Obtaining the right tools and learning how to make them work for you is a worthwhile goal in itself.

    Since David heats his house with wood he can use the waste product for heat. He also gives some shavings away to gardeners like me. David packages the shavings in paper bags and uses them to start his fires. Since there's much of the tree which is too small to make bowls out of he can burn the part not used to lathe.

      Now I've just dealt with two hobbies. There is an endless number of activities one could be involved in. It doesn't matter what age you are , you can still benefit from a good hobby. So if you don't have anything to do find a good hobby and you will find all kinds of benefits from it.

     So a good hobby brings personal satisfaction. We spend enjoyable time, learn things and receive pleasure from what we do.

     So let me know what your hobby is and what you get out of it.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Worries about Remembrance Day

       In my head Remembrance Day  is fairly straight forward. I think of the thousands of men and women who served their countries in the armed services. For all of these people there were sacrifices of various degrees. All of them showed bravery and willingness to be well prepared for their duties.

      It seems to me that the meaning of Remembrance Day is becoming complicated. There are a variety of voices that speak and the message is not as focused as in the past. When World War veterans were prominent in large numbers it was easy to focus on remembrance and be lead in remembrance services.

     As time went on more wars were fought and peace keeping activities took place so we added other aspects of remembrance. Some of our armed forces never participated in action but still made tremendous contributions to our peace and safety.

      Much more is being done in schools for remembrance day activities. Students are being taught about our history so that remembrance becomes more meaningful.

     It worries me when I see comments on twitter and other sites that place a much less value on peace keeping services. Peace keepers have been a valuable service to our country and other countries in the world.

      This year there has been a controversy about the color of poppies. Some promote a white poppy to represent peace. Others promote a purple poppy to remember animals. It seems like a petty issue. Red can represent all issues. Why do some people try to hijack an issue to promote their own bias?

     Where we really show our respect is how we treat our veterans when they return from wars and leave the services. Lately our government seems to want to cheap out on services veterans require as a result of serving their country.

     An inspiration to me is an 87 year old veteran who I skate with. He keeps us informed about his activities and shows the pride he had in serving our country. He also tells us the horrors he went through. He's also very honest about the difficulties he  experienced since his return. He is truly a shining example of people who served their country. He helps to focus my remembrance.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Beautiful Birch Bowls

        I have recently become the owner of a set of beautiful birch bowls which were produced from my own birch trees.

        Two years ago two of my four birches decided to depart from this life. Since I had a chain saw and had felled hundreds of trees I decided to take the trees down myself. Birch trees aren't that tall and I could safely drop them inside my yard.

      I was busy taking off branches and loading them when a person I knew slightly stopped and told me his story. I knew that David was dedicated to using wood for heat and super insulating his house so that less energy would be consumed. What David wanted was part of my trees as he wanted to make bowls. David's hobby is making things on his lathe and one of the things he specialized in was bowls. So sure I told him to take what he wanted. Before he left my wife had come on the scene and  said that she would like a sample of what he would make.
     David explained the long process of making a bowl. First, he cuts the log to the diameter if the bowl. Then he cuts the log lengthwise. Now the wood is coated with wax and left to dry for about a year. This process prevents the would from splitting. When the wood is thoroughly dried he saws it  into a rough bowl shape. This piece is put on the lathe and the bowl is carved out using the lathe. Now it's waxed and left to dry again. The final process is the to finish the wood by sanding with ever finer sandpaper. And voila you have a bowl. Yes the wood is oiled to keep it from cracking and splitting. So two years later you have a birch bowl with the rich wood color and grain patterns.

    This relationship went further as David had loads of shavings which he didn't want to dispose of at the waste site. So I get shavings every year to dig into my garden. The Medicine River Wildlife Rehabilitation center takes lots of shavings for the bedding for their animals.

    I have been fortunate to visit David's shop and see the many special tools he uses and see him start on a piece of wood and shape it into a bowl. It's interesting to watch him before he starts as he looks at the wood and decides what he will produce. The skilled hands and machinery seem to magically bring a bowl out of the wood as if the bowl had always been  in the wood.

    So from the death of my trees I discovered a whole new process of making bowls. I also renewed my acquaintance with David.

Friday, November 5, 2010

November Days

Slowly waning
November days,
Sliding to restful torpidity.

Brilliant dancing leaves
Frantically celebrating
 Their looming end.

November waves of geese
Slowly floating away from
Ice hard cold ponds,
Snow covered fields and

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Gently November Arrives

       The beginning of November has brought us very mild pleasant weather. We've had a chinook which began the last few days of October and is forecast to last to the end of the week. Halloween evening was well above freezing so it was great for all the little beaners out trick or treating.

      I made much the same post at the beginning of October but the October weather turned out to be dismal. We had mostly cloudy cool conditions with some moisture. The moisture wasn't excessive but was enough to prevent the soil drying up so that gardens could be properly worked. Much of my garden soil was actually mud. I would dig it and let it lie a couple of days and then dig it and let it dry. I was fortunate to get 5 barrels of shavings to work in as my soil is heavy clay because of a sewer line replacement a few years ago.

     So with the start of November being pleasant, I'm holding my breath hoping that we don't have nasty weather coming our way for the remainder of the month. Our Novembers are usually a time when temperatures get colder and we can have very cold nights. It's also the time when we can receive snow that stays with us.