Adventures

Where Does the Time Go?

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MarleyTime flies by so quickly! Sorry I haven’t been blogging. I have been writing a lot, but I’ve been working on my next books instead of blogging.
So let me tell you what’s new and what hasn’t changed! We are still loving being on the farm. The work doesn’t feel like work; it feels like I get to play outside, making improvements or doing things for the well-being of our animals. We have 4 alpacas now, but instead of a baby from Uki as we were expecting, we got another yearling female from our friends at the nearby alpaca farm. We needed a buddy for Daisy when she was being weaned, so she wouldn’t be alone, and that’s when we got Marley. She’s toffee-brown and always smiling! When it was time to give her back, we realized we were pretty attached to her. So, we asked if we could keep her and they said yes! Yay!

But as often happens in life, this happy occasion followed a time of sorrow. Only 10 days after Uki had her baby, Allie, the baby died unexpectedly. We don’t know what was wrong with Allie or why she died. We simply found her very weak one morning and she passed away shortly after. It was so sad! We cried and cried! Allie and UkiThe worst part was thinking about taking her body away to bury her — would her momma understand, or would she blame us forever for taking her baby away? Argh, I tortured myself with this for a few hours, but there was no delaying her burial. Of course, Uki spit at us, but she seemed to have figured out Allie was dead and so she did not blame us (at least she did not seem to hold a grudge). It was a hard time for us, to say the least.

A month later or so, we came home to find my dad’s horse, Sassy, in distress in the bush. Splash, her faithful sidekick (who doesn’t kick, thankfully!) came and found me and led me to where Sassy was laying. We took a blanket out to her, and a tarp to keep the rain off, and through much cajoling and coaxing, we managed to get her to walk to the barn. Whew! Now she could dry out, warm up, have some water and recover! Allie and familyShe had scrapes and bruises on both sides of her head, and unfortunately, she did not recover from them. She died overnight and again, we were faced with the task of burying one of our farm family members. Sigh. We love Sassy. What a great horse she was! My dad rode her lots over the years and he misses her too. (Sassy is the brown horse in the photo below.)
We still have Splash and I make sure I don’t underestimate her intelligence any more. She’s one smart horse! We just have to decide now how to take care of her better — get her a companion, or send her to spend the winter with her previous herdmates.
Splash, Sassy and Fozzie

imageSince it’s starting to get colder out and we got a pile of snow the other day, we decided it was time to move the chickens from the outdoor “chicken tractor” or mobile home that I’d made — a coop with no floor, which we move along the grass every few days (photo at right) — to their winter kiekelbood. It has a heat lamp and a nice roost for them, so I’m sure they are happy about it. When I was getting it ready for them, Wade, the male kitten from last summer, went in there, caught a mouse in 5 seconds flat and started crunching it down! Yikes! I guess he likes mouse on the menu!
We still have lots of cats. Although we went a month without seeing the two more adventurous ones, Xena and Gabrielle, they came back yesterday! Xena had gobs of snow in her fur, so it looks like she had come a ways, maybe across the field, to come home! It was SO very nice to see them. Wade and Beautiful, the other two kittens, are buds and tend to stay around home. If I’m out working on a fence or whatever, they are often nearby.
I’ve really been noticing how smart our animals are, and that has inspired one of the books I’m working on. It’s all about intelligence. Intelligence is everywhere, in different forms for different animals. Even when people do things that seem “dumb,” they aren’t. They just have a motivation we don’t understand, or something deep-seated or subconscious is going on.
Other projects completed and accomplishments I’m rather proud of: We hooked up chains to a well-built calf shelter and dragged it a ways so that it could serve as an alpaca shelter in a corral. Then, we had to fix the corral fence. I hooked up the post-pounder, pounded 3 posts one evening after work, and nailed boards on another day. After a few other minor repairs, the corral is ready for… more alpacas! We are going to get two males so that Fozzie has some buddies. (Fozzie is the black alpaca in the photo above.) He’s separated from the girls most of the time, you know. Darn hormones!๐Ÿ™‚
We have quite a few rickety fences, and I used to feel overwhelmed about it all, but I have found that I really enjoy pounding posts! It’s very therapeutic. I fixed a particularly problematic fence post last week. It held the hinges for a gate that we use all the time, and the post had rotted off at the base. So the gate was very wobbly and it took a certain technique to open or close it. I started by freeing the post from the fence wires, and then unscrewed the hinges from the post. I got a new post — a nice, straight one! — and drilled holes in it to install the hinges. That was a several-step process and I’ll spare you the details! Once it was ready, I pounded it in a foot over from the old hole and reinstalled the gate! Success!
Other successes — we sold our house in High Level! Finally. It was on the market for 2 years! It is such a relief to sell it. This frees up mental space, money and the hassles having tenants. We are so grateful to our real estate agent!
So then we had a little money to play with! I found a natural gas pick up truck for sale, so on our way for vacation (which was long overdue), we went to Calgary and bought it. Since there’s a refueling station right beside my work, it’s very convenient. I’ll have to blog about this more, perhaps… it’s a pretty unique vehicle!
For our holidays, we went to BC to visit friends. We stopped in Calgary and crashed a good friend’s thanksgiving dinner, then went to Golden. We stayed there one night, unexpectedly, because the highway was closed. The next day, we saw friends in Armstrong who run a greenhouse, and the next, we connected with a friend in Vernon. So good to see him — we are kindred spirits! Then, we spent a couple of days in Kelowna visiting other friends and doing a few touristy things, including the Myra Canyon Trestle Trail. Loved that! We have my family to thank for making the holiday possible! One of my cousins, her husband and daughter did our chores for us, along with my parents — two times per day! But we knew our animals would be well-cared-for, which is so important.
When we got back, we had a minor crisis when our sewer tank was filling too quickly and we could not figure out where the water was coming from. We realized that it was ground water leaking in (like a small underground river!) because the water table is way too high this year, and there seems to be a small hole in the wall of the tank. So, I rented a pump, hauled it out behind the dugout and set it all up to pump into a creek which leads to the second dugout. Now, the water level in the main dugout is much lower and therefore the water table should drop too. Repairs will follow; hopefully it will all go smoothly.
That’s the fun of living on a farm! In the city, you never have to think about where your sewage goes! But you also have neighbours, sirens, traffic and such to deal with. We really do have space, quiet and nature all around us. Not to mention our animal friends to keep us company!
This winter, I’m going to keep working on my latest books. Rather than publish one large book and try to stitch several themes into one, I decided to write several small books on different topics. The first one is done, and I’m working on the second one and getting lots of ideas for the third! It’s been really fun writing again. I kind of had to put it on hold while I was training for my new job. The first three books will be (working titles):
– It All Belongs: The Law of Attraction and How the Universe Works
– Animal, Vegetable and Mineral: Intelligence is Everywhere
– Illness and Wellness: Attitudes That Make the Difference
So stay tuned for more on the new books when they are finished! Take care, everyone. Do something you enjoy today. Tell someone you love them. Smile at strangers! Be kind to yourself.

Roof Walking

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I felt like a bit of an astronaut a few days ago. Darren and I were doing some much-needed roofing on the main barn. When my grandpa built it in 1957 or so, they used wooden shingles. Can you imagine nailing one shingle down at a time? Over the years the wooden shingles have been drying out and getting smaller and smaller as they age, so the roof leaks. My dad started replacing the roof with tin, which is a fantastic roofing material, but he didn’t quite finish.

We have two panels 3 feet wide to do, plus three small areas that are odd shapes. Earlier in the summer, I went up and did a little work removing the last of the wooden shingles, but it’s unnerving. Because it’s so high, and so steep, it’s really hard to work. There are no good hand/foot holds, and when you constantly feel like you’re going to slip off, you can’t really do anything. Plus, with nowhere to brace yourself, you can’t really put any muscle into anything you do!

So, my safety-bear of a husband attached 2 solid anchor points by installing heavy-duty hooks from the inside of the hayloft. Once we had those, he googled how to make a rope safety harness and bought rope. So, now, we have a way to anchor ourselves so that we don’t have to worry about falling to our deaths. Don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but it would be quite a fall…

view from roof

The other night we finally got the perfect night to go up there and install those last pieces, so we set about cutting them and getting everything ready. Ladder, check. Ropes, check. Extension cord, check (we were using an electric drill/screwdriver). Special grippy footwear (Vibrams), check. One at a time, we climbed the ladder with our small pieces of tin, drill and harnesses — with tool belts attached. We clicked into our safety lines, but we couldn’t just walk around up there — the roof was too slippery even with the grippy footwear, so we switched to bare feet. How odd to be safety-minded in bare feet! No steel-toed footwear here! But the sweat on our feet was the best grip-enhancer of all. So, we got to work.

barn-roof

We installed a small, simple piece easily enough, and then moved on to a harder one that required one of us to go onto the very top part of the roof. Darren climbed up there, checking out the 2 small patch-pieces that needed to be added, and then a thought occurred to me: we only have one ladder. What if we somehow knocked it down? We’d be stuck on the roof! Neither one of us had our phones! So, for all our planning, and safety, we had forgotten a pretty major one. So, I put my Vibrams back on and went to get a back-up ladder. It was just around the corner, leading into the hayloft. So, with the second ladder in place, we decided to try install a big piece of tin.

Unfortunately, the last piece my Dad had installed had a gash in it, so we had to take that one off and install one of our newly-cut pieces in its place. So, we’ll have to cut one more another day. I climbed down again and got the piece, which we had washed earlier to get the spruce needles and general grime off. The piece was just over 3 feet wide by 99″ long (8’3″) and although it was not overly heavy, it was awkward. I managed to carry it in one hand and go up the ladder. Once on the roof, I got to put it down while Darren positioned himself. When he was ready, I had to bring the piece over to the upper roof and lift it up about chest-high, so we could slide it into position. This sounds so easy but was in reality so hard! I needed to use both hands, and each of my feet were only gripping onto one screw of the roof I was standing on!

the barn-2

A few minutes later, when I was standing on the upper ladder (sorry to confuse you, there are a a lot of ladders involved!), giving direction and encouragement to Darren, it hit me: this is like spacewalking. Astronauts on a spacewalk are tethered to the vehicle they emerged from; we were tethered, too. All an astronaut’s tools are tethered to them; ours were all attached to our tool belts or tied to the roof itself. Astronauts have no friction in space, and so they have to grip with their hands or have their feet anchored in order to apply muscle; same for us. Astronauts have to plan every move carefully and work in teams; so did we.

Now, I can’t say I have a more profound thing to say than this: It was cool, for an little while on a roof, to play astronaut. In another time, another life, I might have been one… but the top of the roof will have to do for me!

Home on the Farm

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So, I’m finally going to update you, my lovely readers, on what is going on with me and my husband on the farm! Thanks for your patience!
This year, my parents decided to move off the farm and into town to officially retire. This is a huge step for them — they’ve lived in this one place for all their married life, which is over 40 years. My dad didn’t want to be one of those old farmers who just doesn’t know when to quit, so he has been downsizing for a few years and this year, they were ready to make the big move.
So, my husband and I decided to take over. Although I love the North, moving back to the farm I grew up had such appeal to me, I just couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
So, we did it! We packed up all our possessions, loaded them into the biggest truck that UHAUL rents, and moved south. What an insane week that was! It took two trips, seven days (with one rest day in the middle) and I think we logged something like 3200 km on that UHAUL!!
uhaul nearly full
We put our house on the market — our real estate agent came by to take photos WHILE we were starting to pack! She did an amazing job staging our home! For as long as this link works, you can see our listing here.
I don’t know how we accumulated so much stuff. It’s crazy. And we don’t need most of it, by far. I am seriously wanting to declutter and so as we unpacked, I started making up boxes of things to give away — I know, it seems like we did it in reverse, but my parents were anxious to move and not have the house on the farm empty for more than a couple of days. So, we moved in haste! Not the recommended way to move! On the first trip, we got away a bit later than planned — those last few things always take longer to load than you think — so we drove all night to get to our new home. We figured we might as well just git ‘er done!
Has living on the farm affected me yet, other than the pleasant rural slang? I don’t think so. I went through a frustrating stage where I couldn’t find anything. I went through an overjoyed stage, where I was like a kid playing on the yard! So glad for some time off, some sunshine (October was so lovely!), and so glad to be with my honey again!
Main barnThings have settled in a bit, and although I am still very grateful to be here, regular doses of reality keep me grounded. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have dreams! I have SO many ideas for things we can do on the farm! I want to convert one (or 2?) of the buildings here into a greenhouse, and fix fences and get some sheep to “mow” the grass, and maybe get some ducks and some more chickens (I only have two at the moment)…๐Ÿ™‚ There is a main barn, several graineries and other small buildings, and a milk house, garage, and large shop space all with wood stoves, and corrals and fences all over the place. I could go in a hundred different directions, but here’s what I think is the biggest, best idea:

I want to turn the farm into a “care farm.”

I want to have animals and a greenhouse that people can visit when they are not feeling well and they need to reconnect with nature. They might be fighting an illness or facing death, or recovering from a stressful incident. The farm will be a place they can go for a walk, see the sheep, cows, and chickens — maybe even rabbits!! — and enjoy the outdoors. Although this is the dream, I don’t have a detailed plan, so I’m really excited to see how it all unfolds!
Contact me if you’re interested in finding out more, or if you have an idea or a desire to help!
(Click for larger version of photos below.)
overview looking west
looking west in corral
big machinery
dugout
The bush behind the house
Sunset field

Adventures in the Cold

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Happy New Year! So, we have passed solstice and swapped out our old calendars, so Old Man Winter has seen fit to hit us with a vengeance! He has been a little hard on us lately, dishing out temperatures as low as -43 C. We had a snappy little cold snap that lasted several days (see below). For those who don’t know, that kind of cold — anything approaching -40 — is extremely hard on vehicles and machinery.

Temperatures in Fort Simpson over the last week
Temperatures in Fort Simpson over the last week

Our fun began when we noticed how rough the car was starting, despite being plugged in. Let me offer an explanation for my southern friends and followers: “Plugging in a vehicle” actually means plugging in a heater of some sort — usually an engine block heater — which gobbles up electricity in order to attempt to keep the vehicle “warm.” I know I’m overusing “quotes” and I don’t care! “Warm” is a relative thing. When it’s well below zero, the oil which is meant to lubricate the engine and allow it to turn freely and not grind itself into pieces gets really thick. When it’s -40C, it’s most jello than liquid. This makes the engine very slow to turn over and your battery has to work extra hard to get it to turn over enough times to start. it’s a blast, really, to count how many times the engine will roll over before starting — I think the record for my car is 12 times. But it started! So, back to the story.

It was about -25C or so, and although the car had been plugged in, it sounded really rough starting. This led us to think there might be something wrong with the block heater. The obvious weak points are the power cord, plug in, and extension cord, but these all checked out fine. Since my husband is such a snazzy, smart guy, he tested the resistance in the circuit — seemed fine, but this isn’t an indicator of power flowing, just that there is no clear break in it somewhere. A further test was needed, to check how much current was flowing. I helped by holding ends of wires from the multimeter (a device for testing circuits) to the extension cord end and the block heater plug… not the kind of thing you should EVER try to do if you don’t know what you’re doing! Suffice it to say, we discovered that the block heater must be dead.

Drat. Well, what can you do? Start finding out how to get a new one, or look into buying an oil pan heater instead. Oil pan heaters are easier to install than block heaters, and apparently work just as well, or even better, since they heat the oil directly and keep it from becoming jello. Mmmm! 10W-30 jello, my favourite! (Just kidding!)

Long story somewhat shortened, we couldn’t get one very easily. We would have had to buy it over the phone from Yellowknife and get it shipped in by plane, or get a friend in High Level to buy one and then find someone driving north who could bring it. We brainstormed what to do… and then I remembered that I have a buddy heater! It had belonged to Peace Air, before they went out of business, and it’s a great little heater. Pilots put these heaters inside the engine cowlings on planes to keep the engines warm, and they produce quite a bit of heat for their size — not as intense as a hair dryer, but not far off. The best part of all is that they are meant to operate outside, for hours, unsupervised. Perfect.

So, the trick was to figure out how to get the heat to the engine. We quickly figured it would work pretty slick to slide the heater under the car and put cardboard around the bottom of the car to keep the heat in. Well, when we got to it, we ended up making use of the plentiful firewood and piling snow around the car on the sides. We tried to position the heater directly under the oil pan, and considering that the it’s not quite as cold out (only -25C) and there isn’t much space below the car to heat, I think it’s going to work!

So, that’s just one of many adventures we had over the Christmas season! The others involve repairing a block heater plug in -25C (wearing gloves as much as possible!), a malfunctioning defrost heater (or any sort of internal heat), and a truck that wouldn’t start. It might be the starter solenoid, or the starter, or maybe it just couldn’t face the -40’s.

~

This blog post is dedicated to my friend Jim, and ALL the men and women who maintain our winter roads — grader operators, plow truck drivers, sanding truck drivers, and all the other operators! You rock. I know you work hard to keep our roads passable, and believe me, we “regular motorists” appreciate it! Take care out there.

Flying in the North

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As usual, I am having adventures faster than I can blog about them, and I can’t believe it’s the end of November! Time really does fly…

Peeking over the pilot's shoulder before take-off
Peeking over the pilot’s shoulder before take-off

I’ve been doing some traveling lately, and, since I live up north now, it’s always an adventure. I have to remind myself that most people never have the opportunity (some might say trial!) of flying on small planes with small airlines or charter companies in the North. In my lifetime, so far, I have flown from as far east as Moncton, NB to Victoria, BC in the west (with major airlines), and now I can say as far north as Norman Wells and Deline, NWT in aircraft ranging from Twin Otters, to Cessna 172’s.

Air travel in the North is unlike anywhere else in the world! The differences really struck me on the way home from Edmonton when I went down in October. In Edmonton, you check in at the airline of your flight, get your boarding pass and baggage tags, and proceed through security as usual. Everyone is familiar with this procedure — empty your pockets, put your bags in the bins and everything is x-rayed. In Canada, you have to show your boarding pass to go through security (so friends or family not traveling with you can’t continue on), although in the US, I understand that non-passengers can go right up to the gates. At least that’s how it used to be (pre-9-11). Everything is secure, all IDs are checked, and when it’s time, you walk down the passageway to the plane. You barely even see the plane as you step onto it.

Now for the Northern experience! Arriving in Yellowknife is straightforward enough, since the major air lines — First Air and Canadian North, for example — use the main terminal building. Connecting flights using air carriers other than the big players are in their own buildings on the airfield, but are quite far away. I was flying on Air Tindi (a Discovery Air company) to connect to Fort Simpson, so I caught a cab over to the Air Tindi building. I’ve been through Yellowknife four times now, and if I don’t have much luggage, I just walk. With just a back pack, it’s a nice walk! At least, I thought it was, but I realize I might be strange!

Waiting area at Air Tindi
Waiting area at Air Tindi

Once I got to Air Tindi, I just had to smile as “the Northern way” of doing things showed itself again! I had several hours before my flight, so I asked if I could leave my bags there while I go explore Yellowknife. The ticket agent (there was only one) said, “sure! Where you going? Just put the tag on it and leave it over there.” So, my stuff sat along the wall of the waiting area for the day and when I returned to check in, I just put it on the scale and we were done. No showing ID (she asked for my name), no security, no fancy-sticker-baggage-tag, no fuss!

...And there's our plane!
…And there’s our plane!

When it was time to board, the pilot, clipboard in hand, said “okay, everybody going to Fort Simpson, we’re ready.” No intercom announcements, no flight number, just the destination.๐Ÿ™‚ We followed him out the door, walked to the plane, and climbed in. No numbered gates, no enclosed walkways, and I got a really good look at the plane before going up the stairs/ladder! The safety briefing consists of the pilot, sitting at the back, explaining where everything is: exits, fire extinguisher, first aid kit and survival gear. You’d better know how to put the seatbelt on, because he doesn’t go over that. In the Caravan, there is even a shoulder belt, although it’s not springy, so it can be a bit uncomfortable. As we approached Fort Simpson, I could see the runway and approach lights — by looking out the front windshield. (I couldn’t get a picture, because I didn’t want any light from my camera to disturb the pilot.)๐Ÿ™‚

Looking down at the land outside of Yellowknife, in early October
Looking down at the land outside of Yellowknife, in early October

I love flying with these small northern companies! Just last week, I made another trip, this one to Deline, a smaller community quite a bit farther North (65 12 40 N 123 26 11 W). This time, the flight out of Fort Simpson was on a Twin Otter, because there were lots of passengers. The lady checking people in for the flight is a friend of mine and after weighing all my bags (even my carry-on), she politely but point-blank asked me what I weigh! She said she had to know because they were near capacity. Awesome. I estimated.

I have never been on a flight where the pilot was standing at the door (near the ladder into the aircraft) handing out ear plugs! Oh man! I decided to take a pair and I wasn’t sorry I did. The flight itself was uneventful, although my right arm got pretty cold where it was touching the wall of the aircraft. I tried not to touch it, but the fold-down bench I was sharing with a broad-shouldered guy didn’t give me much room to work with. When we landed in YK, I transferred from Air Tindi to North Wright, a 5-minute walk, pulling luggage through a centimetre of snow along the airport’s access road. Again, I left my luggage while I went to visit a friend of mine, came back later and checked in, got a cab downtown where I found a drug store, grocery store and book store. It was a nice bit of shopping.๐Ÿ™‚

Beech 1900 (B190) at Deline (don't mind all the reflections)
Beech 1900 (B190) at Deline (don’t mind all the reflections)

At North Wright, they don’t ask what you weigh. They make you get right on up on the scale when the luggage is done. Turns out my estimate had been low by 15 lbs! It’s the skidoo boots, I’m sure. Getting on the plane was pretty similar to at Air Tindi — but this plane was bigger (a Beech 1900) and had two pilots. So, they led us out across the apron, and we climbed in, where everyone has the pleasure of both a window and an aisle seat.๐Ÿ™‚

On descent into Deline, we had all sorts of turbulence, which the pilots had warned us about. What a roller coaster ride! I’m sure even a Boeing 727 would have bounced around in that, although probably not quite as, er, suddenly. When we landed, the luggage was unloaded onto a cart that the pilots (with the help of a ground crew guy) just pulled out to the plane. When they had all the luggage, they just pulled the cart over near the airport’s chain-link fence where there was a gap for people to go through. At Air Tindi, when you arrive in Fort Simpson, they put all the bags into the back of their pick up truck and the ticket agent/ground crew/luggage handler (this is all one person) just drives it around to the parking lot where she takes them off and you just grab whatever’s yours. No fancy baggage system, no baggage carousels, minimal waiting!

This is how you get your luggage in YK (at North Wright).
This is how you get your luggage in YK (at North Wright).

So, that’s a taste of flying with small airlines in the North. You have to watch how things are unfolding and just follow along, because they assume you know how it’s going to go. There is complementary coffee, personal service, and your pilot will help you in and out of the plane. I’ll have to blog sometime about what it’s like to fly in even smaller planes with Simpson Air.๐Ÿ™‚

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It Might be Time for a Change

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A few months ago, on one of my little adventures in the bush, I had an experience that I just can’t forget. I had decided to go for a walk to explore the bush along the edge of a clearing. The clearing was roughly square-shaped, and I walked along one full edge, intent on checking out the corner, which had some vague interest for me. As I walked, I was pleased to find an abundance of wild strawberries growing in the clearing! I stopped to pick a few, savouring their intense flavour. Along the way, I came across a little pile of cut firewood; someone was obviously going to come back for that some day. The bush was pretty thick, but to be honest, I wasn’t looking into it much. I was distracted by the strawberries.

As I got close to the corner, I could see that there was a little opening in the trees where a couple of them that had fallen down in a wind. With one more step, a flurry of activity erupted from the bush. Grouse — local people call them “chickens” — flew every which way, as though with that one step into the bush I had tripped an invisible laser-alarm, and they could not sit still. I hadn’t seen any of them until they all moved — their camouflage is excellent — and after they flew away only one remained.

This one, lone bird did the strangest thing, this thing that I cannot shake the memory of. It was crouched on the ground, among the fallen leaves, again invisible against the background. It shuffled forward and I could see it again, and it made the strangest sound — exactly like a puppy whimpering. It did it again, a little shuffle and a distinctive whimper. I couldn’t believe how much it sounded like a puppy. It did it a third time, which allowed me to reassure myself that’s exactly what I was hearing.

How strange, I thought, and then realized that there must be a nest of young ones nearby, not yet able to fly away to safety. I was pretty sure I knew where it was — to my left, behind a log and near the point I had seen all the adults fly away from. I was very tempted to walk over and take a look, but the pitiful display of this lone grouse made me hesitate and ultimately change my mind. It had intentionally stayed behind when the others flew away to sacrifice itself to this strange, upright predator. It drew attention to itself with its cries and movement, making sure I could both see and hear it, the pathetic whimper as if to say “eat me, I’m weak and defenseless — an easy meal.” I just couldn’t satisfy my curiosity — to find the nest and see the little ones — after what this adult bird had done for its young.

But not just for its young; for all the young that were in nests nearby. I knew from the number of adults that there must be at least three nests, and this one stayed behind to save the young of them all. You know, all around the world we see incredible acts of sacrifice by people for their children, but not as often for others’ children. I, for one, had never seen such a display first hand, of an animal so willing to die that it would call out to the predator to ensure its strategy of misdirection and ultimately, its sacrifice, would be successful.

There is not much I can say. It was humbling. That grouse showed intelligence, compassion and courage. And it’s just a bird, with a brain no larger than half a walnut. I guess courage, compassion and intelligence don’t have anything to do with brain size, but it does make me wonder if I have been letting myself off easy, not demanding much of myself lately. My idea of an act of courage these days is to go into a crowded room where I don’t know anyone. Compassion consists of smiling respectfully at strangers, whatever state they are in (i.e. sober or not, poor or not), and my intelligence has been primarily engaged in knitting and dreaming up floor plans for tiny houses. I think it might be time for another challenge. I think it might be time for an extreme compassion adventure! It might even be time for a sacrifice, and damn it, I had better not complain, because I’m pretty sure I won’t be whimpering on the ground, hoping the predator will eat me instead of the children nearby. Wow.

I took this photo of a spruce grouse in winter as it crossed our front yard and driveway.
I took this photo of a spruce grouse in winter as it crossed our front yard and driveway.

Three Important Things You Should Know About Your Vehicle (But Probably Don’t)

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Following in the tradition of blogs everywhere, I have a classic* three-point post today with some interesting and helpful things I learned about my car recently. The first one nearly stopped me in my tracks.

1. Vapour lock: don’t be a victim!

I was part-way through a road trip on a hot day. I had been driving for a few hours when I stopped to get gas. Much to my surprise, after I was all fuelled up, my car wouldn’t start! It tried really hard, turning over and over, coughing and making sounds I’d never heard it make before (of a sputtering sort). But, try as it might, it just wouldn’t start. So, a lady who had come to fill up her truck drove over to the cardlock owner to get some help. I had to wait a while, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t want to be a pest and go bug the guy who was going to help me, so I just putzed around, checking my oil, picking dead bugs out of the front and whatnot.

After about 15 minutes, Mike (not a mechanic, just a regular guy) drove up and we discussed the problem. He suggested that my fuel injectors might be clogged, and that’s why it wouldn’t start. I decided to turn it over so he could have a listen and see if that sounded like the problem. Right before turning the key, I joked, “maybe it will start, just because you’re here!”

Mechanics across the nation know what’s going to happen next — my car started. It wasn’t pretty, but it coughed to life. And the fuel injectors weren’t to blame. A mechanically-minded friend explained it to me later that night — on a hot day, the gasoline in your engine and fuel line becomes vapour and then when you stop, the liquid gas can’t get to the engine. The fuel pump tries to move it, but it can’t, so it just coughs. It is vapour locked. The only solution is to let the engine cool down a bit (which happened as I waited for Mike) so the vapour condenses, and then it will start.

The rest of the story? After my car started, I went to the local mechanic shop, explained things to the mechanic, and got some fuel injector cleaner (I left the car running the whole time, just in case it decided to die again). After driving another 4 hours or so, I stopped to get gas again. I left the car running (which I NEVER do, not even in winter, so it felt very strange), and as I poured the first litre in, the engine coughed and very nearly died again! I was mystified! I added a little more and again, it nearly stopped. So, I said to myself, forget this! I still have half a tank — enough to get home. Once I heard the explanation, it made sense — the cold gas wasn’t mixing well with the hot, vapourous gas, and the car wasn’t able to compensate for the change. Your vehicle has to mix air and gas at a certain ratio for combustion to occur, otherwise, nada. Or should I say “no va?”

2. Don’t brake over bumps.

I helped my friend Michelle move at the beginning of July, and as we were driving out for a second load, I learned something new about brakes. Two of the other people helping Michelle worked at a mechanic shop, and I was yammering on about how I’m getting pretty good at driving on all sorts of gravel roads — loose gravel, packed gravel, washboardy, pot-holey, whatever. I can just tap the brakes and then cruise over most spots easily.

All of a sudden, Karen said “At least you’re doing it right! You’d think people would know that you shouldn’t brake when you’re going over a bump! It wears your brakes unevenly and causes them to wear quicker overall.”

Well, I quietly sat there nodding, but truth be told, I didn’t know that. It was just instinct to me to brake before a bump and then cruise over it, and luckily for me, I had been doing it right. When you brake, it causes your suspension to compress, which makes the brakes wear much worse.

So, now you know: if you are coming up to a bump in the road you need to slow down for — be it a pot-hole, uneven bridge deck, construction, or whatever — slow down first, but when you get to the bump, let off the brakes.

3. Don’t Pass the Pilot Truck.

It happened last year on Hwy 35 near Steen River, and last week on Hwy 1, well, in the middle of nowhere: pilot trucks were put into effect to guide drivers through areas where forest fires were burning near the road. I thought it was just to make sure no one decided to go joy-riding on a quad trail — someone in danger of being charged and convicted under Darwin’s Law — or to make sure people didn’t speed when passing wildland fire fighters. Well, I was wrong.

Last week, driving back to Fort Simpson, I decided to drive through an area where the Department of Transportation had been using pilot trucks the day before. There were no piloting vehicles or road workers around — it was too early in the morning — and as far as I knew, the road was open. As I went by a small fire burning about five feet into the bushes on one side of the road, I noticed a wide, pink stripe across the highway — the mark left by a tanker aircraft who’d dropped his load of fire-retardant on the fire! Now, that made sense — you wouldn’t want to accidentally drive by when that happened! You’d get red, frothy gunk all over your vehicle! But then again, why not just close the road altogether? Why do we need pilot trucks to drive through areas with forest fires burning?

smoky drive
I was telling my story of driving by the fire to a friend, Mickey, who works for the DoT. He “tusk-tusk-tusked” at me, waggled his finger, and explained. The real reason for pilot trucks, he said, is because if your car ingests an ember from a flame into the air filter and catches on fire, you would be stranded with a burning car in an active fire zone! Aaahโ€ฆ now, that would be bad. The pilot truck is there to make sure everyone gets through okay.

So, if you are tempted to pass a pilot truck, or drive through an area with a lot of ash where a pilot truck hasn’t been established yet, just be aware that besides risking a hefty fine, you’re betting that your vehicle won’t catch on fire! Not sure what the odds are on that bet, but I’m not willing to take the chance!

*Ain’t it concise, informative and story-oriented?๐Ÿ™‚