Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Lunch - Curry, Testosterone and Methane Digesters

Dear Ed,

Hope you are feeling better every day!

Never let it be said that the Lizard Lake Newts and the Seattle Old Boys aren't on the leading edge of environmentalism, sustainability, and green technology!

After viewing several Youtube videos on methane digesters and biogas systems the Executive Board of the Lizard Lake Newts Rugby Football Club decided to install an experimental biogas processing plant. Any gas produced would be used to help heat the Lodge and provide energy for cooking. Studies showed that the wind wasn't sufficient enough year round at the lake to produce enough electricity consistently to offset the cost.

Denis, during a phone conference on stress issues, commented that he had observed, on numerous occasions visiting the Lodge, that there was indeed enough hot air produced in the Old Boys Lounge to turn a wind vane and produce more than enough power. He also observed that there was sufficient methane produce down in the U-35 lounge, that if captured, would provide for all of the kitchen requirements.

Out here in western Canada they are a rugged and proud group of individualists. They choose not to participate in being a bilingual nation. So trying to interpret the animation about methane production that was narrated in French was a bit cumbersome. So cumbersome in fact that they decided to elicit support from the Seattle RFC Old Boys. Specifically those with experience in construction, pipe fitting, stress analysis and plumbing.

Well, that was right up the alley for Denis who worked the stress issues, Ray and Jim D. who worked the plumbing issues, Burt for the pipefitting, Jim Bob and Drifty for construction problems, Ken for project management and Marianne for scuba requirements with backup from the Wanker who flew in from Norway.

The team assembled up at Lizard Lake over the US Memorial Day weekend to construct a biomass digester capable of supporting all of the Lodges' energy needs for the next century. They would also assembly a carbon sequestration system to bury excess carbon dioxide deep beneath the waters of Lizard Lake.

Construction went fairly smooth, except Ray convinced the executive board to install a 5000 gallon tank instead of the 500 gallon tank from the original proposal and to tie the septic system in with the digester and sequestration system.

The only real problems came after the surveyor made a mistake that put the sequestration pipe too close to several pilings on the dock. That was solved by cutting a fairly significant v in the pilings for the pipe to run through. It was approved by the board because the stress numbers were 1.5 times higher than projected maximum load of 6 people on the dock.

So, over the course of the long US holiday weekend, the crew from Seattle managed to get the bulk of the project laid out, dug, assembled, welded and generally put together except for some minor details like connecting the fittings at critical junctions and crossovers, setting various pressure relief valves, and final buy-off by local and province inspectors.

All seemed to be going fine. By the end of the summer special tests were conducted that showed a small amount of methane was being produce, but not in the quantity that was expected.

"Oh well," was the executive board response, "it probably needs some tweaking, we can wait until the holidays when Seattle Old Boys visit for the Ice Queen weekend!"


Christmas Eve had arrived at last. The Lodge looked fantastic! The corp of moms, aunts, cousins, sisters, grandmas and friends worked hard to get it decorated.

Husbands spent hours cutting boughs to be woven into pine scented garlands that were hung from fireplace mantles, support beams, doorways and around porch railings. Lights were strung, mistletoe hung, bells were rung, and all was right in the world of Lizard Lake and the Lodge.

Putting the festivities and failures of the previous night behind them - the cobweb fires, axes through clubhouse doors, infidelities, deep fat fried duck feet, and old friendships renewed - everyone from the Seattle Old Boys and the Lizard Lake Newts Rugby Football Club were looking forward to the Christmas Eve all-you-can-eat curry lunch, and later, the crowning of the Ice Queen.

Many more guests had arrived, Old Boys from locales around the world - Norway, Australia, England, Florida, California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington.

Colin and Jennifer arrived early to begin cooking their South African curry. Ken and Jennifer puppadoms, naans, Denis and Pam a pork vidaloo, Alex, Diane, Jim, Burt, Nordmark, Gordon from England, Greg from Florida, Marianne from Connecticut, Ray, Peggy. Others began prepping for Masalas, Rogan Josh, Goanese curry, fish, lamb, pork, beef and vegetable curries.

Spices - saffron, cumin, ginger, cardamon, paprika, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, split peas- were laid out beside piles of sliced onions, garlic, tomatoes, fennel, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, okra, spinach, potatoes.

Relishes and chutneys, raisins, mint, cucumber, yogurt, coconut, mangos, banana, and peaches plated and ready to be served.

And chili peppers. Chilies! Green and red. Hot little devils!

And this was the start of a major problem.

A problem because of all the friendship, goodwill, glad tidings and general sense of well being that was stewing in the kitchen.

A problem because mimosas, screw drivers, bloody marys, gin and tonics, Pimms, and beer consumed prior to and during the job of tasting and re-seasoning the dishes, resulted in a sudden and exponential increase in the intensity of flavors and the use of more, and more, and more of those little green and red devils.

"Not hot enough," bellowed one old boy!

"More garlic," roared another!

"Moooooore gin!," yelled another!

More chilies, more ginger, more curry powder in this dish, more fenugreek in that dish, saffron here, mace there, more garlic, more chilies, chilies, chilies!!!!!

And it was never enough, because testosterone fueled and ruled the kitchen this day! The leathery taste buds of these Old Boys ruled. There was little logic, no feminine touch, no feminine intuition, no control over the cooks by those who must be obeyed. It became a competition, a competition at its worst!

It was mayhem, culinary mayhem.

Chilies tossed around and into dishes emulating a Malthusian growth curve!

And Sarge, sitting in the background - somber the last 16 hours and quite sober- just smiled like the Cheshire cat.

And then it was announced that lunch was served!

And Ed -for now that's all I got!



P.S. Harold and Vic also send their regards!



Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Storytellers, Indiscretions, and Hoses Eh?

Dear Ed,

Hope all is well and you are feeling a little better!

Greetings from Lizard Lake and the Lodge!

When Jim Bob stuck his head through the door and looked around he really didn't see anything all that much out of the ordinary.  He stepped inside.

There was a large group standing over by the bar and it looked kinda like Charlie was telling another of his stories about past games, or trips, or adventures, or events that many of the listeners were participants.

Nearer the door was a smaller cluster of people who had concerned looks on their faces as they hovered over two people that appeared to have fainted.

"Hey help me!  I'm stuck."

They all turned around to see Burt with his head sticking out from the hole in the door.

Mary walked over, unhooked Burt's collar from a jagged piece of wood, pushed his head back through the door, then walked away - muttering "idiots" to herself.

Burt stepped in, saw that Carol and Archie had fainted, and shouted "Stand back I'm a paramedic," and proceeded to initiate mouth to mouth resuscitation on Carol.

Denis, who had come downstairs with the rest of the Old Boy's Party left behind, shouted out "does this mean Burt, that you as a paramedic just jumped out of an airplane to get here?  You arrived by parachute?"

Jack, Carol's husband started tapping Burt on the shoulder, "Hey, hey, knock it off she only fainted you putz!"

"Oh, hi Burt!"

Everyone turned to see Carol open her eyes. She had a sly smile on her face.

Burt stepped back, Jim threw his arm over Burt's shoulder and asked, "hey, ya wanna beer?"

Archie soon revived and it seemed that everything was slowly returning to normal.

Well almost.

See, it turns out that Carol, feeling ignored again by Jack who was over at the Lodge, had spent the previous evening cuddling and watching an old movie with Archie at the Meadowlark Motel 20 miles south on Farm to Market Road.  It was a rerun of a Freddie Kruger movie.  And when Jim Bob's axe split the door open, both Archie and Carol passed out from sheer fright overload.

Jack after seeing Carol revived walked back to the bar to get a refill, but Rose, Archie's wife just stood there with a perplexed look on her face.

Rose, who has a PhD in Qualitative Statistics, and whose mind never stops, began calculating what the odds were for two random individuals to faint over the sight of an axe coming through a door.

Pete who was observing all of the events, saw Rose with that faraway look she gets when she runs numbers and he watched as she began looking back and forth between Archie and Carol.

"Oh-oh this can't be good," he muttered!

He slipped up next to Rose in time to hear her murmuring:

"..... two random events, A and B are said to be statistically independent if the conditional probability of A, given B, coincides with the unconditional probability of A........ the pairwise independence of the events Ai and Aj for all i does..... not equal j(i,j=1,2,......n) does not imply that the events Ai,......An are jointly independent."

Pete just muttered to himself, "Oh-oh this really can't be good!

At that moment Captain Greg burst through the door, both hands gripping the nozzle of a high pressure hose.  Behind him a couple of the old boys were hanging on with all the strength they could muster.

"Now, Captain, now can we turn the water on?" 

Bodies went diving everywhere, people were screaming "No, no the fires out, stop don't do anything!"

Captain Greg with a perplexed, perhaps disappointed look on his face slowly lowered his nozzle and ordered his crew of volunteers to back up.

"Slowly Boys, I don't want this thing going off. No sudden moves lets just ease our way back out the door. Easy fellas easy!"

After safely retiring the hose from the bar, Captain Greg came back in to fill out his report.

"Alright what happened, anyone, step up now quickly," Captain Greg questioned!

"Well Greg," Mary responded rather sarcastically.  "Charlie was being El Flamo again and he caught some cobwebs on fire and it started to spread."

"Someone called the Mounties, but by the time you showed up a couple of the moms put the fire out by shaking several liters of soda water and spraying it out."

"I have a special announcement!"

Everyone turned to see Sarge standing at the base of the stairs that led up to the Old Boys Lounge.

"You are all invited upstairs to enjoy a delightful treat and a round of libations," shouted Sarge.

The fire was forgotten,  and Sarge was nearly trampled by U-35s rushing up the stairs for a free drink.

After everyone arrived upstairs, drinks were passed around, and a toast was offered for the celebration and crowning of the Ice Queen that was to happen tomorrow - Christmas Eve.

Sarge then stepped forward and lifted a table cloth of a several mounds of what appeared to be something deep fried and bellowed out, "my friends I offer you my latest culinary masterpiece - Sarge's Deep Fat Fried Duck Feet!"

A collective, yet quiet groan rippled through the crowd.

No one stepped forward.

And then everyone looked over at the potluck table and saw a curious sight.  A strange rather slender, odd looking man was spotted picking his way through the remains of the leftovers. Rather unkempt looking he had a long beard and was wearing a rather outdated trench coat. Old but clean.

No one could really tell who it was. Then Carol stepped forward to introduce herself. The odd little man turned to her and in a voice that belied his stature bellowed out, "Hello luv, my name is Johnny!"

Everyone surrounded him, "Johnny what the heck are you doing here?", someone asked.

"Why I hitched-hiked up to the Lodge to see my God-Daughter crowned Ice Queen tomorrow!"

The Seattle Old Boys were shocked and happy, Johnny hadn't been seen in years.

"Ahem," Sarge coughed politely.

And with that everyone walked over and grabbed a duck foot.  They collectively bit into the web, silently groaned, and covered their mouths to keep from wretching.  Sarge was shocked. Humiliated. And what was worse Johnny yelled out, "Sarge these are delicious - I love how you used the combination of cardamon and oregano!"

Sarge was devastated, not only did his peers appear to not like his creation, but his chance to tweak the recipe, adjust the process, and go global was just ruined because his two secret spices were blurted out to everyone.

A booming voice from over by the bar was heard to say "All the Old Boys know that duck feet are best served steamed. What was he thinking?"

Another voice answered, "I won't let another bit of his food pass my lips until it rains frogs!"

And Ed, that's all I got for now!



Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Night of Flogging, Glugging and Glogging

Dear Ed,

Hope all is well and you are feeling better.

Greetings from Lizard Lake and the Lodge!

Well, it has been an interesting week up here at the Lodge.  The volunteer fire department had to be called to extinguish a small fire down in the U-35 bar in the basement.

It could have been a lot worse tho!

Sarge was bar tending the Friday night potluck in the upstairs Old Boys Club (technically the Over 35 Club), day dreaming about someday being recognized as a bon vivant - perhaps becoming the next "cuisinart of Lizard Lake Lodge!" 

A few months back, the Seattle Old Boys - to show their appreciation for all of the duck hunts that Sarge had been on as their guide, took him down to the International District where he was amazed at the amount of cooked meats on display.

Geese, chickens, his beloved ducks, bbq pork all glistening with a sheen of grease, were hanging from stainless steel meat hooks in store front windows. 

He was stunned at the variety of dishes listed on menus taped to the entrances: crispy aromatic duck, szechuan spicy pork in birds nest, chicken without sexual life, husband and wife lung - beef and ox tripe in chili sauce, bean cured made by pock marked woman, jelly fish, spicy tendon pigs tripe, pig intestine in hot spicy sauce, deep fried chicken feet!

Deep Fried Chicken Feet?


Somewhere in the deep recesses of his brain, an almost reptilian response happened, a synapse closed, a connection made, a light went on. An idea formed, a quest was started, an adventure begun, an addiction for perfection was formulated - because sitting back in the Lodge's freezer, double bagged and wrapped in aluminum foil, were hundreds of pairs of perfectly matched duck feet.

And he knew what he had to do.

And he would introduce his master recipe at the Old Boys potluck.

To be honored, to be respected, to be thanked by these fellow Canadians for his defense of Saskatchewan.  He would be accepted. A member of the group.

When Sarge arrived back at The Lodge he became a man possessed!  He tested different flours, he tested different cooking oils, different temperatures and times to deep fry those duck feet.

He tried dozens of herbs and spices, different combinations, different ratios all to achieve the perfect combination and process to create the perfect dish.  His creation. After hundreds of trials he finally settled on his two secret spices that would be the basis for his expansion across the globe - cardamon and oregano.  The magic spices, the magic words that would never again be spoken aloud or written down.

Sarge's Deep Fat Fried Duck Feet.

The night of the unveiling Sarge was anxious, nervous.  

The band was playing, well actually not a band, it was really a quintet but a couple of the members were out sick for the evening so that left just the accordianist, the clarinet player, and the tuba player.

After chartering a small bus some of the Seattle Old Boys had come up for the weekend along with their wives and a few of the U-35 set.  Denis, Alex and Ken were hanging out over by the bar slowly sipping on their single malts and trying to avoid the glaring looks from their wives. 

Alex noticed the wives suddenly huddle together and in unison glance over at them. "Oh-oh, this can't be good," he commented.

In short order, the wives had the Old Boys out on the dance floor, wearing new clogs, and attempting a dance that Pam had been wanting to try - a fusion of line dancing and clogging. 

Denis later referred to it as  "flogging." 

Pam commented that they were organizing a winter party with dancing, spiced wine and a new form of computer social networking. 

Denis would later refer to that as a night of "Flogging, Glugging and Glogging."

Part way through the flogging, some of the Old Boys noticed that their feet seemed warm, that they were beginning to sweat.  At first they attributed it to the new shoes, perhaps they were better insulated to ward off the cold of a Lizard Lake winter.

But no, they were definetely getting hotter. It was as if someone suddenly had installed radiant heat and turned the boiler up on high!

Sarge, over at the bar, was just turning on the fryer to warm up the oil for the duck feet introduction when the phone rang.

It was Marge the Mountie dispatcher, calling to tell the Lodge that a phone call had been received about a fire.  Sarge, not able to hear all of what she said, and not wanting to admit that the shotgun blasts had taken a toll on his hearing, yelled back at her "I'll send the boys over in a jiffy."

About the same time a whole bunch of vibrating pagers went off startling the heck out of a few of the Old Boys who could still feel vibrations.  So the few that actually felt the call for help, along with Sarge, rousted up all of the volunteer fire fighting Old Boys who weren't suffering from the effects of too much Guinness or single malts, or too many trips through the potluck line.

The Lizard Lake Lodge Old Boys, along with a few of the Old Boys from Seattle looking for an adventure, piled onto the chartered bus and took off for the station.

A couple of the fellows who needed to pee quickly followed.

At the station Captain Greg had the pumper already running, warmed up, and ready to go by the time the Boys arrived.  They quickly jumped on to any available perch and Captain Greg roared out of the station with horn blaring, lights flashing and siren wailing.  

The Boys hung on, steely eyes tearing up from the cold, lips and cheeks flapping from the speed of the trip, not a word was said.  There was no need!  Adrenaline coursed through veins, time seemed to slow down, thoughts clarified. These were rugby players ready to leap into action, save women and children and score the winning try.  Game won.

Twenty-five minutes after the initial call, the pumper, loaded with hoses, ladders, water and wild eyed Old Boys arrived at the back of the structure.  Followed a few minutes later by the chartered bus bringing 4 or 5 Old Boys who had stopped to pee at the station.

Jim Bob lept from the pumper, fire axe in hand, ran up to the door, swung as hard as he could, and nearly split the door in two. He bashed and yanked at the split,  opening a hole large enough to stick his head through.  What he saw would haunt him the rest of the evening.

He had just burst open the door to the U-35 Club.

And Ed - For now that's all I got from Lizard Lake.



Saturday, December 20, 2008

Duck hunting, searching for the elusive mallard

Dear Ed,

Hope all is well and you are feeling a little better! 

Greetings from Lizard Lake and the Lodge!  

Well, as you can see, Sarge came with us from the Lodge to play in the tournament.

You may have guessed already that Sarge was in the Canadian Army.  After a number of years he realized that he hadn't once shot his weapon in anger or in defense of Saskatchewan. In fact, he barely shot it at all at the firing range because of the bad ammo the army bought on the cheap from some young weapons supplier down in Florida.

So he retired and settled in up at Lizard Lake.

Something you need to understand about Sarge is his passion for duck hunting.  He is some kind of duck hunting fool. He could be out there morning, noon, or night on the end of that old dock Drifty built.

He provided the Lodge with an unlimited supply of ducks for the Old Boys dinners, for the 1st or 2nd 15's drink-ups and even for the unders games.  We just told them it was hamburgers and they ate them.

He cooked duck burgers for the unders, duck chili for the 1st team, sweet and sour duck for the 2nd team, and all the leftovers went in the freezer for the start of some interesting potluck dish by those who must be obeyed.

The problem began a few year ago after the club (out of appreciation for all the meat he supplied the Lodge) built a nice blind for Sarge out on the end of the dock.  He spent even more time down there blasting away.

He blasted away so much, and was so proficient at it that I think he got just a little too complacent.

We stopped sending the lads down there after the corp of moms rebelled over the safety of their kids.  The Old Boys stopped visiting after they startled him and two of them came back looking like a lawyer on a Dick Cheney quail hunt.

But all good things must come to an end and it happened to Sarge for awhile.  Either the ducks got fewer or they got smarter, but they stopped visiting the lake.

Sarge was despondent and Vic, Harold and I felt terrible seeing a grown man in such a sorry state.  So we put our collective heads together and came up with a scheme to attract more ducks back to the Lodge.

Harold found some decoys on the mantle at one of the Old Boys, we screwed them to the top of our logging helmets, held them on with chin straps and then dressed in wool clothing.

See we figured that the ducks might be fooled if they saw decoys moving around, back and forth, bobbing up and down instead of those old ones just sitting there.

The next day Sarge tied some free weights (from the Old Boys workout room - they don't use them anyway) around our ankles and we proceeded to walk out in front of the dock.

And son-of-a-gun the tactic worked.  The ducks started coming back.

But then another problem developed.  We could only stay under water so long and it became a necessity, a fact of life that we surface.  But then we scared off the ducks!

And we couldn't figure out a solution!

Until Tommy came up from Seattle and solved the problem for us!

That's all I got from Lizard Lake, Ed!



Seattle Rugby Club

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Styles of Rugby

Dear Ed,

The lads up at the lodge wanted to wish you the best and hope you have a speedy recovery.  You may recall that when you were up here it was just a club house.  But, after many of the boys got married, well things sorta changed.  We started opening up on Friday nights and had those potlucks, and well, then we had those dances.

Now I'm not saying it wasn't for the better, no I guess I wouldn't say that.

But pretty soon the gals had us come down to the clubhouse on Sunday mornings to sorta clean up after the 1st and 2nd 15's hosted the visitors from down south and it became a lodge.

More from Lizard Lake Later.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

To Ed in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Best wishes to you and the family during this rough stretch.  I will think many fine thoughts for you. 

We will always be team mates and although we don't chat on a regular basis, when we do get together its as if we just stepped off the pitch at Greenlake, Brockton Oval, Steamboat Springs, the Superbowl Day game in Miami, the Bahamas, the Jamaican Army game or at the Mardi Gras Tournament those many years ago.

One highlight I'll never forget was at the Edmonton Rugby Festival.  In your giving, sharing and creative ways you helped turn a 6'4" thickheaded and churlish prop into a well deserved speechless (well maybe there was some whimpering) 6'4, 260lb smurf, and all it took was a gentle shove.

I'll nurse a single malt on this side of the pond as long as you do the same on your side when you can.

Cheers Ed!


Merry Christmas Baby

Try not to tap your feet!



Monday, December 15, 2008

Sub-Alpine Fir

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Snow Falls

Part 1.

The snow falls.  

For western Washington it is a relatively big event. In the lowlands of Puget Sound a snow storm happens, maybe, a couple of times a season. Some years not at all.

You would think that we could be just a bit more sophisticated over something as trivial as a storm, but out here in the 4th corner folks are serious about the weather. Ten years ago and just 45 miles east of here, on a shoulder of Mt. Shuksan, a snow gauge measured over 1100 inches of snowfall. A world record for 1 years total!

The snow accumulated so deep that the Mt. Baker Ski Area had to bulldoze a path under some of the lifts so skiers could ride the chairs safely.

That many climbers, hikers and skiers become obsessed with the weather is understandable. On the same day skiers may encounter fresh powder, high winds, patches of sun breaks, rain, sleet and bitter cold. For added protection, some skiers routinely carry a folded up garbage bag with a head and arm holes already cut out. 

In the high Cascades, I have been caught in snowstorms every month of the year.  

We have been conditioned to carry the "10 Essentials" (maps, compass, first-aid kit, matches, fire starter, flashlight/headlamp, sunglasses, extra clothing,  extra food and water, knife) virtually anywhere we carry a backpack. 

In the winter we carry expanded versions of the ten essentials in the back of our cars. 

Napoleon Dynamite carries tater tots in his pockets, we carry waterproof matches, swiss army knives, and rain gear.

Many out here are fishers - commercial and sport. Every waterfront city of any size has a memorial to local fishers that have died on the waters here, out in the Pacific or up in Alaska.

We also have the Douglas Fir and other shallow rooted trees. In the forests each tree serves as a buffer for it's neighbor from the wind. As housing developments spread into 2nd or 3rd growth timber areas, many trees were left isolated from other trees. Without that protection, the wind quickly knocks over single trees and smaller stands onto houses, cars, streets and power lines.

And that causes power outages!

Mt Shuksan from Mt Baker Ski Area

Well, the good news is Baker opens tomorrow.  Bad news is that it is like herding cats getting rugrat #1 organized.  Last years ski pants, "where are they Dad?", goggles, glove liners, Cat Crap® to keep goggles from fogging up - all is getting organized.  Kits will be organized eventually so all they have to do is grab the gear bag and go each week.

Finally old enough to sort through everything and find "stuff" by himself.  He'll get ready, he's learning responsibility.  

Gotta leave he needs to upload some tunes to the Ipod.  Rocking below the face of Shuksan,  how good can it get!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Waiting for Snow V 2.0

Snow?  Tonight?!  Better stock up on the essentials, milk, cocoa, marshmallows.

Rugrat one and two want it to snow desperately!  I overhear them discussing possible school closing on Monday.

Posturing as "cool, unfazed" teens who have seen it all, they still can't help but sneak glances outside to see if it has started. If they notice me, they won't look but their thumbs get hyperactive sending text messages around town, "has it started yet?"


The kid inside wants to wake up to a fresh, untouched blanket of white and the promise of new adventures. I want to hear that muffled sound of silence; see my neighbor glide up the middle of the street on his cross county ski's; load up that ancient toboggan and shoot down the driveway.

But sadly reality sets in, you wonder if your aging parent is going to make it out of the nursing home and back into assisted living, if your 401K is going to come back or will you be working until 67 or older.

She who must be obeyed yells out, "are you going to forget the milk - do I have to go get it?"

Sometimes it would be great to hangout with some buddies, throw a few snowballs at cars going by, drink hot chocolate again and laugh so hard (at something dumb you did or said), that melted marshmallow shoots out your nose.

Guess I better head down the hill for the milk.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Favorite Places: The Columbia River Gorge

Snow in New Orleans?  Shivering in Florida? Temperatures dropping across the nation!  

Up here in the fourth corner we are expecting high winds, a cold front dropping down from Canada and Alaska, and a moisture laden storm system moving in from the Pacific.

It all adds up to a couple of feet of snow in the Cascades, and as much as 6 inches here in the lowlands.

So why a windsurfing photo?  

Well, I thought this was as good a time as any to remember that in a little over a week the sun reverses course for 6 months, days start to get longer and eventually warmer.

This is also a message for someone special. 

Home will always be out here in the west for you. 

You won't forget the sense of place you absorbed over the years at favorite places like the Gorge, Multnomah Falls, Mt. Hood, the High Desert and the Coast.  


Where you were born.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Nature of Snow Geese

The action is continuous. Pre-dawn to well after sunset.   Five thousand Snow Geese, Chen caerulescens, slowly leapfrogging across 80 acres of winter wheat, each one chattering incessantly nuh -nuh- nuh -nuh.  Snow Goose babble? Snow Goose psycho-babble?

Geese in the back of the "pack" are tired of feeding where so many have already fed and where so many droppings were, well, dropped! They leap to the air, flap wings to gain air speed and height and then glide to the leading edge.  But satisfaction is short lived as others quickly land in front. The geese arrive from every direction, they take off in every direction.

It would be an air traffic controllers worst nightmare to attempt to sort out all of the comings and goings.

But geese seem to figure it out much more efficiently and agreeably than we humans do with all of our technology, written history and egos.

Still, I can see that they must believe in the goose equivalent of the old adage that "it is always greener on the other side of the fence."  

I watched a flock of 3000 early one Sunday morning as they waddled slowly towards me, ripping the wheat out by the roots.  They fed on both sides of a small drainage ditch.  I chuckled as dozens at a time leapt, flapped and landed on the other side just as an equal number took off and landed where the first group had just vacated.  Over the span of an hour it continued non-stop until the flock was within 10 yards of where I sat.

A Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis, sat atop a nearby telephone pole. 

This raptor version of Dennis the Menace, placidly sat watching for 45 minutes before suddenly jumping from the perch, going into a shallow dive and leveling out just inches above the flock. Startled geese on either side of his flight path erupted violently but quickly calmed down when they saw the threat glide past.

It was a goose version of the wave or  geese getting goosed.

The hawk finished his first pass, soared up, stalled, performed a wing tip roll, and provoked a new line through the field.

He had no intention of attacking.  

The hawk did it because it could.  

This was its nature.

Another day, I sat for 90 minutes waiting for the geese to waddle in my direction.  I thought my timing might be perfect for the image I had pre-visualized.  Sun dropping below low clouds, dozens of geese silhouettes as they flew in from the bay for their evening graze. Thousands in the foreground.

Minutes before the sun emerges, a car pulls up, two doors fly open and loudly slam shut, two children run up to the fence yelling, jumping up and down.

5000 geese fly off to the safety of the bay.

The mother stopped to teach her children respect for wildlife. 

The happy and excited children rush to see the geese,  it was their nature.

Saturday dawn, I pull into a turnoff adjacent to the hunting club fields.  A fish and wildlife agent has just finished picking up the carcasses of 125 geese, carefully placing them in the bed of his pickup.  A person or persons, vandals, drove out on the field during the night and opened fire on the hapless geese. A wanton act.

A wanton waste.

Responsible hunters in this area do much to provide habitat for the snow geese. They plant fields that provide food all winter for the birds, long after the hunting season has closed. They teach hunting ethics and safety to young and new hunters.

Watch a lab retrieving a bird from the inter-tidal marsh and you will see the classic image of man and animal working together.  It becomes art in the same manner that fly-fishing is art.

Humans have history.  We have knowledge.  

The American Bison almost went extinct.  The east coast cod fishery almost went extinct.  Puget Sound and west coast salmon runs are endangered.  Poor forestry practices have destroyed habitat. 

Years ago federal troops were sent to Yellowstone because poachers were quickly eradicating the wildlife.

Today in the east, the coal industry is destroying forests, valleys, mountaintops - the landscape.

For profit, for fun, or out of cruelty, it doesn't matter what the motive is,  if we as humans don't learn from our mistakes and do a better job of protecting the natural resources of this earth, all species will suffer - but especially the human species.

The vandals drove into that field late at night and like cowards slaughtered 125 Snow Geese.....

                              ......  because it was their nature.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Waiting for Snow

Well! We are still waiting for snow up at our local mountain - the Mt Baker Ski area.  Season passes were purchased weeks ago, equipment checked, boots fitted, everything tried on by the kids to see if it still fits.

This is the time that drives skiers and snowboarders crazy, when your favorite mountain is opening later than anticipated.  The diehards have read and reread the ski and snow boarding magazines for months. The ski area hosted its annual video festival, Warren Miller ski movies were shown for the 395 time as mature adults yelled, screamed, catcalled, or chanted woo woo woo over skiing movie stars as they fling themselves head first, backwards, head over heels from cliff faces in Alaska, Iceland, Banff Island or Whistler-Blackcomb.

Favorite trails,  Al's in Taos, KT22 at Squaw Valley, The Nose at Stowe, Corbett's Couloir in Jackson Hole, the back country at Baker, or any steep line up at Bugaboo Lodge, have all been run and rerun in our dreams, at work, during sermons at church and in eighth grade algebra classes around the country, always beneath an azure blue sky.

Parents and kids alike have run thousands of slalom gates over the summer on their bikes, in kayaks, walking through crowds, running down hills, or around furniture while running the vacuum.

If you are on the golf course and see someone walking down a steep hill and they are moving left then right and back left again - yeah maybe they are trying to keep from slipping - but if they are a skier or boarder, nah they're making turns up in 7th Heaven or in a favorite back bowl at Vail.  

Watch someone on a trampoline, if suddenly they start hopping from one side to another instead of up and down - they are in the bumps on Exhibition at Sun Valley or dropping under the Thunder Lift at Teton Village.  They are in the zone.........

Watch your co-workers, watch someone in a crowd, watch someone parked in traffic on the freeway.  If they start tapping their finger or tapping their foot in any sense of rhythm, up down, left right, to and fro, hither and yon, rest assured they are not sitting on I5 or at the opera or in their tiny little cubicle. 

They are in the mountains.  

They are skiing..............

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Oyster Boats at Rest, Late Fall Storm, Samish Bay

Padilla Bay National Estuary & Oil Refineries

Located just a few miles south of Bellingham, Chuckanut, and Samish Bay - Padilla Bay is a gem of the National Estuaries system. What seems odd though is the ability of the estuary and oil refineries to coexist.  There is cooperation on all sides to prevent spills.

We all understand the importance of having enough energy to fuel our auto based economy but the risk is always present for a major spill that could have a devastating effect on Puget Sound, the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Straits of Georgia, San Juan Islands and Canadian Gulf Islands.

The City of Bellingham, and Skagit and Whatcom counties sit between the metropolitan cities of Vancouver, British Columbia and Seattle, Washington. Oil arrives by ship primarily from Alaska but also by pipeline from the oil sand regions of Alberta. After refining, the product is shipped by pipeline to Seattle and Portland, Oregon.  Gasoline is then trucked back here for delivery to local gas stations.  We typically pay a few cents a gallon higher because of the added shipping costs and the marketing plan of the oil companies. (Fewer brands of gas - less competition)

Bellingham and Whatcom County have consistently been rated as having the cleanest air in the USA for an area of this size/population.

That almost changed under the Bush administration, when it was suggested that this area be turned into another Houston, by dramatically increasing the size and number of refineries.  Ted Stevens, former Senator from Alaska also was an advocate for more refineries and the use of larger and more frequent ship deliveries to these refineries.

Understanding national and global issues is important so we can have a better understanding of the effect on the local economy.

An example: to keep the oil flowing from the north slope it is suggested that there are local people involved in the design and fabrication of very large refrigeration units that will be barged to the north slope.  Global warming has been affecting the perma frost and to support the drilling and pumping operations there is a requirement to drill into and then freeze the ground beneath these operations.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Jackson Hole Tram

After 40 years of continuous service, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort made the decision to dismantle their aging 61 passenger tram.  For many, it was a shock.  Not just for the local citizens of western Wyoming, but also for the hundreds of thousands of guests that rode this iconic lift and skied or fantasized skiing the 4,139 vertical feet, the deep powder, Corbett's Couloir, the Hobacks after a big storm or their own secret powder stashes.

The Kemmerer family, in the interests of public safety, made the decision to dismantle the tram without knowing if there would be a replacement.

To help in the healing process the resort asked past and present guests to submit memories of the Jackson Hole Tram for their website.  

Finally, after months of uncertainty, emotional outpourings of grief by young boarders, aging ski bums, diehard skiers, the family and the board of directors of JHMR made the commitment to self finance a replacement tram.

After two years of construction, the new 101 passenger, $25,000,000 tram opens on December 20th.

Below are the words I submitted.

The Jackson Hole Tram

Dawn, Snake River overlook: I had arrived from Puget Sound 36 hours earlier after crossing Teton Pass just before it closed for plowing and avalanche control. The fog flowed and ebbed; first north then south.  Clouds tailed off of the summit of the Grand Teton.  The fog lifted as first light hit the summits of the Teton Range.  Golden yellows blended to magentas and pink, mauves faded to blue.

A moose and her yearling crossed the flats along the river.

I photographed the image, packed my view camera and headed back to Teton Village and my skis.

All day we rode the tram. Forty-three inches of fresh, light, dry powder changes you.  It etches into your memories.  Inside the tram it was quieter than usual, everyone reveling in their thoughts of snow billowing over ski tips, knees, shoulders and head.  We pondered each secret stash, and turns and our lines through favorite aspen groves. Synapses closed, wrapping around the scent of inhaled snow.

That afternoon I followed a single track down Sublette Ridge. The rope was gone from Alta Chute - open for the first time that year!

I flew off the crest and floated into an elevator shaft filled with down. Three turns, ten, forgetting to breathe!  At the bottom I paused gasping!  A quiet hum, I looked up and saw the tram on its last run.......

My knees ache most of the time now and I take longer to loosen up.  In mountain cafes I linger, my fingers basking in the warmth from steaming mugs of coffee.  And once in awhile on my local mountain, I'll find a patch of powder, make just the right turn, get just the right lift and my memories fill me.

I remember the colors of dawn light on the Teton Range, the scent of freshly fallen snow, perfect turns down Alta Chute and that bright red tram set against the deep, deep blue of the western Wyoming sky.


Lummi Net Poles, Bellingham Bay

Lummi Nation fishers attach short nets to these poles planted close to shore.  Salmon migrating into Bellingham Bay from the Straits of Georgia, hug the shoreline as they work their way into the Nooksack River delta.

A low fog diffuses the sun and its reflection.