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Journal 2007

September 23, 2007

The forest continues to turn golden. The vibrant yellow leaves of the willows have now run like watercolour onto the ground, spreading onto the grasses as they cure. Mushrooms are now among the most vibrant species in the forest, and it's fun to see batches of them picked and turned upside down by the squirrels as they dry them for winter storage. There was a dusting of snow on the laundry hanging on the line this morning. I will probably call "DCC" (deciduous colour change) in the next day or so as the aspens around the tower have now caught up with their cousins at the lower elevations to the east.

To make her point on how she felt about the last of the tower closings in Clearwater district to the south, Mother Nature added thunder to the many small, intermittent storm clouds that sailed across the skies yesterday.

Josie, you would have been so thrilled with the visitors to the helipad yesterday! And I'm sorry that I've run out of film and wasn't able to take a picture. I have noticed a pair of deer tracks on the road recently, those of a doe and fawn. Late in the afternoon I headed out the door and ended up startling three does and the fawn. They stotted a few leaps, but then settled back down again. The fawn was very, very cute. I find it so interesting, as I've heard gunfire several times from just below my hill, how these animals seem to know that's it's safer to stay by the tower (I forget the exact measurement ... I think it's 400 meters ... that hunters have to stay clear of residences). They all looked the picture of health -- smooth, beautiful coats turning to that softer grey-brown for the winter, and all carrying good weight.

But I suppose I should backtrack and tell how I ended up still here writing to all of you this morning ...

Back nearer the beginning of the week, the radio room supevisor called me and started laying plans to have me take weather and scheds this weekend, as all the seasonal radio ops have now left and she didn't want to come in on the weekend. It wasn't until I was off the phone until I realized that would be difficult for me to do so considering I was closing on Friday. So I called her back, and we had a good chuckle about that, and she said she'd look into what their plans were for Coalspur. Lady Luck intervened, and she called back to say that they had decided to extend Coalspur for one more week, until September 28, due to how dry it is below me and to the east, and with so many campers and hunters in the woods right now. What can I say? Twist my arm ...

That being said, it hasn't been exceptionally warm, and neither has it been especially dry (although mid-week we heard that there had been a fire come up Helios and Vantage Peak, apparently started by hunters. By the time they found it, it was already a hectare in size). Even with the extra time from the extension, I haven't been working a whole lot on the greenhouse floor. Dirt is so much easier and lighter to move when it's dry, so I've been getting other chores done in the hopes that a perfect day will present itself and I'll be ready, shovel in hand and wheelbarrow at the ready, and I'll get a bit further ahead on that job. All of the pickling is now done, the windows have now all been cleaned (not my favorite job), and I have actually packed the first box. Several batches of newspapers have gone into the burn barrel, the summer's worth of mail has been sorted and filed, today I'll get a bit more of the vegetable garden turned under.

Once again, I've had to force myself to leave the tower and go into town a couple of times this week. Earlier in the week I noticed that the tank of propane that runs the tent heater in the greenhouse was almost empty (again!), so I made a fast run into the village to get it filled, picking up a few essentials to see me through the extra week. Then it was announced that there was going to be a going away party for our tower coordinator, after 34 years in Forestry, since the age of 19, he is leaving us to accept a new position in the oilpatch. I must admit the party was much fun, and there were six of us tower observers in attendance. Even though I had promised myself that I would leave early enough to make it home before dark, we only made it to the village before the last light of day disappeared. Luckily we had a brilliant half moon to guide us the rest of the way.

"I Hear Radio" had it's final show just before the latest round of towers closed on Friday. It was quite a bit of fun, the Singing Angel came on and graced us with a few songs, Smokey has now decided he's going to edit down the shows and make CDs for us all. That being said, as I've been the one recording weather and we're the only ones on the radios this weekend, we've had an extra bit of fun doing it.

Well, I've decided that if I continue to write it means that I'm procrastinating on chores. So I must say goodbye for now. Once again, I'll send out a quick note before closing.

This is XMG 32, clear.

Coalspur Weather

Sep. 23: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: -0.5 oC / Winds: NW 5 km / Precip: 0.6 mm, Trace of snow / Clouds: obscured / RH: 55% / Visibility: 0 km/Foggy

Sep. 22: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 6.5 oC / Winds: N 4 km / Precip: Trace of rain /Clouds: 300% Cumulus 60% Towering cumulus / RH: 63% / Visibility: 40/Hazy

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September 16, 2007

From the 2007 tower calendar:

"In 1938, Ron Linsdell took on the job of installing the first radios in towers. Assuming the role of a well dressed government worker complete with suit and tie, he hopped a train for Edson to meet the ranger who would take him to Lovett tower. Transportation from there on was by saddle horse through miles of bush. Ron survived the trip and the ranger's remarks about city attire. He went on to become one of the more independent, bush savvy and prominent radio technicians in the history of the radio branch."

Speaking of radios, it's chapel night with "I Hear Radio" and someone is holding their microphone up to their stereo as they play Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." So far Father Paddy O'Flannery, the Rev. L. Stokes and Smokey's personna-du-jour, "Benny Bindere Dundat," have all had their turns in the pulpit. As even more of us will be leaving this week, there is a certain poignancy to the sermons.

As it always seems to be at closing time, the weather is taunting us. It has gone back to being summer, if only for a few days, and we've all been enjoying every moment. It has been so warm and dry (yesterday I had a RH of 19%) that we've been on high hazard level now for two days (and again tomorrow, which makes it even more of a challenge to pack up). On Friday we were on moderate, and that was the first moderate shift I've sat since August 16; these past two days are the first I've been on high since August 7. A chilly front went through around suppertime today, and there is no serious precip in the forecast for the next few days. And as it's a new moon, the sky is filled with so many stars which Ted and I sat and enjoyed during another 'last,' that being a campfire the other night.

With the temperatures over 20oC, a few more tomatoes have managed to blush, including three yellow tomatoes. A yellow sunflower has joined the three red ones that managed to open first; the cosmos are trying their best to get a few last blooms in before the frost. And the sweet peas ... they are just stunning right now. I've been hesitating to start turning things under lest I get to stay a few extra days, but I just have to force myself to get going. So I think it's going to be the lettuces that get turned under first. I stripped all the green tomatoes off the cherry tomato "tree" a few days back and made pickles, then left the plant out to the frost so that once it wilted I could cut if off with less guilt. But both frosts that have occurred since went around it (truly) and it continues to do just fine out there.

The bird populations are waning along with the length of the days. I heard two robins having a conversation yesterday, the redtail hawk is still soaring around, small flocks of pine siskins occasionally fly by, I can hear chickadees and nuthatches chattering in the trees, but it is the grouse that are the most entertaining right now. One or two always seem to be out on the road these days and stand their ground until Ted and I are almost right up to them, at which time they cluck at us and fan their beautiful tails just before taking flight.

Brilliant yellow aspen now dot the forest, and what with the hazy visibility due to smoke from some mysterious far away fire, when you see them from the corner of your eye you keep thinking they're little smokes coming up. But when the sun is high at midday, they are just so beautiful to look at, they just glow. That being said, the 50% I need to be able to call "DCC" (deciduous colour change) hasn't occurred yet, although I think I will call "TGS" (transitional grass stage) tomorrow. Around the edge of the yard, the fireweed plants are deep, rich maroon, and there is the occasional bush ... they might be elderberries ... that has turned brilliant orange.

I'm very unmotivated to get closing chores done this year. I think I'm just so at home here that my subconscious doesn't see the need to leave "home." For the last several nights I've told myself I have to tackle the "paper wars" that are spread all over every surface here in the office, but so far I don't believe me.

Now with these past few days on high, I've given up that I will have the floor finished in the greenhouse. The plate and sill are now vinyl sided, I've added a narrow garden around the low end to help with the grading problem, and I've gotten most of the post holes filled. Edgar has stopped by and been a big help. But I'm short on enough soil to fill the inside floor to the bottom of the sill, which is where I'd like it to be when I start laying the timber and stone floor. That's okay, as I can get it from other spots on site, but that takes a lot of time, so it will just have to be finished in the spring.

Still no positive word on a winter job yet, but I keep plugging away at it. I'm also plugging away at trying to get book gigs, but it's slow going.

Well, here it is 10:30 again and the dishes still aren't done and I haven't started to tackle that paper thang, so I should sign off. You will all know if I close Friday as I'll send out one last note to you all.

If any of you would be interested in some hyssop seed, let me know. I finished cutting and drying all the hyssop, and knocked all the seed I could from the flowers, although a fair amount of chaff comes with them.

Coalspur Weather

Sep. 16: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 8oC / Winds: E 16 km / Precip: 0 / Clouds: 10% High / RH: 44% / Visibility: 40 km/Hazy

Sep. 16: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 16oC / Winds: NE 3 km / Precip: 0 /Clouds: 20% High 20% Middle / RH: 34% / Visibility: 40/Hazy

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September 9, 2007

I think tonight's sunset had to be the most stunning of the year. The colours were neon-like in their vibrancy, the wispy high clouds drew those colours in water colour-esque streaks across the whole western sky, a few deep navy-grey middle clouds for contrast and the jagged horizon of mountaintops in dark counterpoint. And it's amazing how the sun sets now in a completely different spot from just a month or so ago.

Thank you, Mother Nature, for that gorgeous bit of art. But if I may be so bold, could we just have one aurora before I leave?

The closing dates came out near the end of the week, basically a few towers every Friday. The highest elevation mountain lookouts closed last Friday; a few neighoburing towers close this coming Friday; then Anderson and I close on the 21st, with the final longest-season towers closing on the 28th. And that's it for another year!

Although the district south of us finally gave out fire number 100, we just managed to give out fire number 085 today. Fireweed tower spotted a little smoke that turned out to be a fire burning at the base of an aspen not far from her tower (no doubt a holdover from some lightning they had a few days ago), and I heard the helicopter head up to our northernmost tower to investigate another, but never heard whether it was actually a fire or not.

Smokey continues with his radio show off and on during the week. We all got singing the other night. I finally got my nerve up but thought one song was enough to torture everyone's ears. Smokey is so funny ... he changes his nickname every few shows. He was Ranger Bob for a while, then Dr. Zukoff, then last night he became Chopper and ran with a motorcycle theme. I thought there might be a chapel tonight, during which the Rev. L. Stokes, Father Paddy O'Flannery and whomever Smokey is that particular night have some fun, but so far there are no voices coming from the radio.

I actually had a few days in a row where I didn't get any precipitation, but it all fell apart on Thursday and I racked up another 9mm of rain since then. Yet today was probably around 20oC in town, and I think up here it may have maxed out at around 16-17oC with tomorrow supposed to be even warmer, so I'm trying to get ahead on the greenhouse and window cleaning, etc. Edgar found some vinyl siding in a dump today, and before he left we had a skirt of chicken wire below the sill to try to discourage the voles, so my next mission will be to hang the siding, finish the backfilling and get the floor leveled.

Mother Nature! Do you hear that? I need a few more nice days, please! Pretty please ....

I still haven't been able to come to terms with starting to turn any of the gardens under. I've had frosts the past two nights, but between tarps, newspaper and shopping bags, everything has made it through once again. I think the sweet peas are the most beautiful right now ... and the floers that have grown from a package of mixed seeds I got for 25 cents at the dollar store and cast around the birdbath in the spring are at their best. The cosmos have just started to bloom. I've always liked cosmos, but never thought they'd succeed up here. I must remember to bring some seedlings next year so they can mataure faster and I can enjoy them for longer. The very first Lemon Boy tomato was about half-ripe today, so I picked it and brought it in where it will finish ripening on a sunny windowsill. I'll probably give up and start picking all the green tomatoes and zucchinis early next week and get pickles made.

With so few precious days left, I managed convince myself to leave the tower and go into Edmonton for the union meeting. Just like when I went into town a few weeks ago and the bank machines weren't working and the shoe repair person was on vacation, upon checking in at the hotel the pop machine was empty, the coin slot was jammed in the dryer so I had wet laundry hung all over my room. The door into the motel closest to my room didn't like my entry card (and yet, when I went to leave the next morning, there was a homeless person sleeping in the stairwell. He didn't seem to have a problem getting through that door ...), and of course, the front desk gal claimed nothing could be fixed until the next morning after I'd have checked out. By the time I went for dinner, most restaurants were closing (most likely due to lack of staff), and when I gave up and walked to a gas station with the hope of just getting a pop and a bag of something-less-than-nutritious, even though all the lights were on, it was completely surrounded by fence and under renovations. And the homeless ... they're just wandering everywhere ... it's beyond sad, it breaks my heart. One fellow approached me for change, and ended up sitting down and having a good chat with Ted and petted him for a while. If only I had a magic wand ...

May I stay in the forest, please? The boom just isn't fun anymore.

The skies during the drive back to the tower after the meeting were filled with dramatic Alberta clouds. Huge cumuli, not towering like in the summer, but with tall, narrow stacks rising from them. There was lots of lightning, then wet snow, and after that it just kept raining off and on, interrupted by bright blue skies. At least the drive wasn't boring. Funny, when I saw the lightning, I went to reach for my handheld radio before realizing that I didn't have a firefinder to be able to give them a bearing, and I was probably in a white zone (outside the forest management area) anyways.

An old tower buddy who was on Whiskey-jack Lookout when I was at Luna (I subbed for him in my first season for a few days) stopped by on Saturday. We had a wonderful chat, I was able to show him the views and what Shandray Mountain looks like from this angle (Stenhope Lookout is on Shandray). He brought along pictures of Bill's memorial service, when his ashes were scattered at his tower, Brill, over the summer, as well as pictures from his trip to Australia last winter. Then I took him down below to the trout ponds and left him to fish. There were so many tracks down there -- elk, deer, coyotes, wolves and cougar. Everything four-footed seems to be active right now.

I've been put on moderate hazard level for tomorrow. The last time I was put on moderate was August 16, believe it or not. I did hear a bit of thunder yesterday ... I wonder if there might be another holdover out there yet. Nah, just wishful thinking.

So that's if for this week, gang. I must go and grab a bit of supper and get to bed as I'll get a good headstart in the morning to make the most of the good weather.


Coalspur Weather

Sep. 09: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 1.5oC / Winds: SW 16 km / Precip: 0.8 / Clouds: 40% High 40% Middle / RH: 77% / Visibility: 40 km/Hazy

Sep. 09: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 14oC / Winds: W 7 km / Precip: 0 /Clouds: 80% High / RH: 42% / Visibility: 40/Hazy

Precip for Aug.: 95.2 mm

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September 2, 2007

This afternoon I had four quads pull in, all four men riding them were dressed in cammo, with guns and a chain saw. Turns out they came the back way in, from the cutline where Ted and I occasionally walk. But they left via the road, so now there are four more quad tracks around the gate. Sigh ... (And when I called the duty officer to report it, I got the concerned answer of, "So?")

But the funny part was, not long after they'd been here, there were two mule deer does in my yard and, between looking over their shoulder to see where the hunters went, seemed to look at me and say, "Wow! Did you see those guys? We think we'll stay here for a while where it's safe." And they did. They roamed around the site for the next hour or so, sometimes down the road just a few feet nibbling the alders, sometimes in the yard eating the fireweed, and other times down on the helipad pruning the willows. They were quite funny.

Today was such a lovely day ... the temperature was perfect, just a gentle breeze, the colours and shadows all changing with the sun's southward shift. There is still a hint of smoke in the air which gives everything a blue-grey aura. I'm presuming that it's still coming up from Montana and southern BC. But even with that little bit of haze, I could still see oh-so far, and it was beautiful. Earlier in the week there was fresh snow on the mountains, and that cap of white, especially when the sun comes out, makes the mountains look so clean and fresh. The gold that has taken over the lower willow branches is making it's way slowly up the trees, and that yellow in turn makes the blue in the spruce more predominant. The ox-eye daisies and the yarrow flowers are succumbing to the brisk temperatures while the bunchberries and high bush cranberries are now are at their scarlet best. And speaking of vibrant colours, the moon has been stunning this week, it's waning almost-full face huge and orange as it rises in the evenings.

Mushrooms!! I can't believe all the mushrooms in the forest. Of course, all the August rain certainly gave them perfect growing conditions, but there are not only many, but so many varieties as well! Certainly the big orange/brown capped variety like in the picture from Tamarack, but also yellow, white and brown species as well. And yet I haven't seen any squirrels setting mushrooms out on the branches of trees yet ... although there is plenty of evidence of them eating (and shredding) the mushrooms, and with one variety in particular of pulling them up and piling them. One new variety to me, pestle-shaped coral (Clavariadelphus pistillaris) is particularly interesting. They are like little butter-yellow fingers sticking out of the moss and pine needles, usually in large groups.

Momma grey-jay still brings the family daily. Now their main mission is to fill themselves with grasshoppers, and that's just fine with me. But it's quite fun to watch as the youngsters, who are indistinguishable from the parents now, try to catch up with their prey who manage to keep one hop ahead. The chickadees seem more happy and excited these days; I watched an interesting little yellow ... I'm going to presume warbler, but it kept holding its tail up like a wren, which I know is silly ... today. Now that the warblers are in fall colours, it's just a whole new ballgame again trying to identify them. I've also startled both a varied thrush and a northern flicker over the week, my first sighting of a flicker this year and the first thrush I've seen in quite a while.

Besides the mulies, the other species with a sense of humor right now are the grouse. I'm not sure how many hens with sub-adult chicks are close to the cabin right now, but it seems every time we take a walk down the road, we have to stop to let a family cross. They always go through their little routine of standing up on their tippy-toes and stretching to see how tall they can make themselves and fan their tails, which is their most stunning feature. Then as soon as I move, they all go dashing off in all directions.

Although there have been a couple of days this week that I've sat in my cupola for a few hours, most of the week has been spent trying to get the greenhouse project moving forward. The digging, of course, has been the slowest and most painful. But with Edgar's help and his generous loan of a few tools, the sill and plate are now complete. I added a bit of concrete to the tops of the deckblocks, I'd like to add a chickenwire skirt to the bottom to deter the voles from tunneling under, and I'm toying with the idea of putting some sort of vinyl or aluminum siding over the wooden sill, but I'll have to see if I can find anything affordable. I'm hoping by next weekend I'll have those little jobs done, the post holes backfilled and the floor leveled.

In the meantime, I have to start scheduling closing chores. Fun things like cleaning the gen shed, windows, and maybe one last lawn mowing. Right now they are saying somewhere between Sept. 15 and 22, although a sudden hot Indian Summer would suit me just fine. I just don't wanna go home yet. And while I'm trying to treasure every moment from now until I leave, this coming week will be interrupted by a trip into Edmonton for a union meeting. I just know all that I'll be thinking about is getting back to the tower as quickly as possible.

That's about all my news for this week, folks. Hope everyone has had a great long weekend.

Coalspur Weather

Sep. 02: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 8.5oC / Winds: W 6 km / Precip: 0 / Clouds: 100% Middle / RH: 66% / Visibility: 40 km/Hazy

Sep. 02: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 15oC / Winds: N 6 km / Precip: 0 /Clouds: 10% High 80% Middle 10% Low / RH: 51% / Visibility: 40/Hazy

Precip for Aug.: 95.2 mm

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August 26, 2007

It's true -- the willows at the edge of the hill are turning gold; the clumps of fireweed at the edges of the yard are mottled gold and crimson; there's a nip to the morning air. And it continues to rain ...

The vegetables in my garden are heavy with fruit, but they need just a few days of sun and warmth to actually ripen them. But the worst case scenario is that I come back with lots of green tomato and zucchini pickles -- nothing needs to be wasted. I actually started pickling cucumbers and banana peppers this week, they make a colourful addition to the jars of jam on the counter.

Dreary or not, the sweet peas bravely open their vibrant flowers, and along with the yellow marigolds, they make the yard cheery despite the weather.

It's been a busy week as I've actually started the excavations for my permanent greenhouse. The sod has been lifted; the level of the floor found and the first three post holes dug. That, of course, has been the most challenging, hoping to avoid big rocks that will prevent me from getting the holes as deep as I'd like and the finicky detail work of levelling and squaring the posts.

Valerie arrived on Friday so we've been catching up on her life as a radio operator in the northeast as compared to what's going on in this district. She's here for a short forest reprieve before heading back for her fourth year of university. Ted is, of course, more than pleased to have a visitor once again, especially during this wet spell where we haven't been getting out for a lot of walks (his choice -- he hates being wet) and thus his days have been a tad on the boring side. Yesterday, the three of us dashed outside to enjoy some fresh air during a small break in the weather when we began to hear thumping coming out of the truck. Sigh ... yes, another pack rat in the front quarter panel. On top of that, Valerie's family's car was parked down on the helipad, even closer to the caves where the pack rats live. So we brought the truck back up to where I keep it when I wrap it in chicken wire, wrapped it all up again, brought her car to the far side of the site and transferred the containers of mothballs into her engine. I set the trap inside the chicken wire, and sure enough we had the quarter panel tenant this morning.

Edgar stopped in and took the pack rat for his weekly Sunday trip through the northwest to release at some spot far enough away where it won't bother anyone. I try to think of it as freshening up the genetics of some other pack rat population. This one was a mature adult, a bit different than the teenagers I usually catch.

During the few walks Ted and I have managed, we've been serenaded by chickadees who are now combining their summer and winter song, as well as a Wilson's warbler. A few days ago I kept hearing some scratching noises coming out of the woods on the far side of the yard, and couldn't figure out what was going on over there. Before long, two black-backed woodpeckers showed themselves on the trees right on the edge of the yard. Just like when I saw the black and white warbler at Meridian, identifying these two was interesting, as I had never even looked at the page in the guide book that contains those species. As they were gone before I could get my binoculars, and the guide book describes them as "uncommon." I'll leave the possibility open that they could have been three-toed woodpeckers, but as I've never seen either species before, it's still a new sighting for my list.

The mule doe that seems to be staying near the yard was by several times this week. The last time she was here I was in the cabin, Ted had started barking from where he was lying on the step and I went to the door to see who he was talking to. There she was getting ready to lean over the fence into the lettuce patch! Luckily, she believed Ted when he suggested that she move on. So I think it's time I start making her feel a little more uncomfortable being so close to humans, especially when there may be hunters up here after closing.

My supervisor and a forest officer from Edmonton are stopping by mid-week to see if we can work the quirks out of my visible area map, which is far from accurate. They sent me a new copy a week or so ago based on new spatial data, but it isn't a huge improvement over the old one. Due to the fact that my blind areas, which are created by the rises and hills around me and appear as shadows on the map, are all too long, I somehow think they haven't got my elevation right. Hopefully we can start next year with something more accurate.

As far as the anniversary of Stephanie's disappearance, one year ago today, towerfolk were watching their TVs on Friday as I understand both CBC and CTV had stories on their evening news about it.

So that's about all the news this week, what with so much of it being dreary. Of course, this weather is only making all of us a bit more pensive in regards to the list of closing dates that we hear is currently being drawn up. I'm holding my breath.

Coalspur Weather

Aug 26: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 5.5oC / Winds: NW 2 km / Precip: 2.2 / Clouds: 60% Middle 40% Low / RH: 81% / Visibility: 40 km/Variable/Rain Showers in Vicinity

Aug 25: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 10.5oC / Winds: SW 2 km / Precip: 4.6 /Clouds: 60% Middle 40% Low / RH: 94% / Visibility: 35 km/Rain Showers in Vicinity

Precip since Aug. 19: 28.8 mm

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August 19, 2007

It's yet another dreary, cool evening, and yet there are bits of happiness to be found in the yard. At this moment, a whole family of golden crowned kinglets are flitting around in the fir that's right outside my door. As per usual, you can tell which one is the mother as she's the smallest, dad can be told by the brilliant scarlet spot in the middle of the gold crest atop his head. They have this tiny, short, high-pitched peep that's repeated quickly. In both movement and sound, they are high speed. The geraniums and the marigolds in the garden in front of the cabin have now recovered from the pack rat and hail damage theysustained in July. The marigolds are all plain but vivd yellow, and with the soil darkened from the rain, they literally just glow out there; the geraniums are such a rich variety of reds and pinks.

I've been amazed at how the bees are attracted to the blooming hyssop. And with all the chilly weather right now, once the temperatures drop in the late afternoon, they are 'frozen' right to the flowers until the temperatures rise the next day. As my 'double yield' cucumbers are now flowering like mad in the big greenhouse, I go out in the chilly mornings, with gloves on, and collect up a handful of catatonic bees and put them in the nice warm greenhouse to make sure my cukes and peppers get pollinated.

And while I'm speaking of the 'double yield' cukes, I must make a quick mention about seeds that I got from www.cottagegardener.com this year. They are specialists in heritage seeds, and several of the varieties I got from them are truly outstanding! Their Forellenschluss red-freckled romaine lettuce is easy to grow as well as both tasty and very eyecatching on the plate, and the double yield cukes are amazing for the amount of flowers on them and how quickly the vines are growing. They're coming up with beautiful little cucumbers that I'm picking at about the 3-4" size for pickles. I've also been getting a great crop from their German chamomille.

I actually sat in my cupola on Thursday and Friday. It was a strange feeling to be up there again, and, as silly as it may seem, I had to get reacquainted with my embroidery. It seems like it's been so long since I worked on it.

Mid-week found me trying to get the yard mowed and the cabin straightened up, what with the impending arrival of the documentary film crew on Friday. That ended up being a wonderful experience! The two fellows from the film company were both the nicest fellows, their hometown being Winnipeg, brothers actually, the younger having had the experience of being a tree planter so he was quite familiar with all the finer points of the forest (and he already had purchased and read my book!). They were accompanied by someone from the Forestry office in Edmonton, whom I had not met before, and brought up here by a Forest Officer by the name of Bob. Those of you who were reading my notes from last summer would remember Bob as the fellow who came out to investigate the fire down below, that full day that had me call in five fires while trying to help out some bats who made the bad decision to try swimming in the rain barrel. They had escaped from the box that I thought I had them sealed in, so I had to warn Bob not to swat if he happened to hear or feel something fly by his ear.

Bob gave them their fall arrest system training session, and then they both went up in the cupola and I did my little talk with them up there. Unfortunately, the smoke from Montana and BC clouded the view. I had thought it a wonderful thing if I could have pointed out Stenhope Lookout but the mountain wasn't even visible even though on a clear day you can even see Larry's cabin.

Then we all sat around the picnic table for a while, with fresh baked soda bread, homemade cookies and huckleberry jam and Bob and I telling funny fire stories. Even the weather stayed nice for as long as they were here.

To end their visit, I took them down the hill to show them the old trapper's cabin, and bade them goodbye from there. When I got back up to the tower, I had just gotten the picnic put away and was halfway up the tower when I could hear engine noises coming up the hill. So I waited on the ladder, thinking it may be Bob coming back for something someone may have forgotten. But no, it was two quadders with big Cheshire cat smiles on their faces. So I came down, and asked them if they hadn't noticed the locked gate. "Oh sure," was their reply. I asked them how they got around it, and they said they just drove into the cutblock and circumvented it. Sigh ... As I was talking to them, I was trying to decide how I was going to get around to the back of their quads to see their license plates, and then I thought of a better idea... I continued to chat away with them for a few minutes, and then asked if they wanted to sign the guest book. I didn't figure they were bright enough to have pseudonyms ready, and sure enough, they happily signed the book. So I've given their names to Edgar, although I doubt if anything will come of it. As it turns out, after Edgar and I compared notes, they've been camping somewhere down below me, and they've been acting kinda weird (explaining it all would make this story far too long), so the cupola is locked in case they decide, after a few brewskis around their campfire at night, to dare each other to climb the cupola, and I've been locking the gen shed at night as well. But I really don't think that I'll have any further visits from them.

Smokey continues to run his I Hear Radio programs after the fire centre has shut down for the night (oooo! there was just a big bolt of lightning not too far away, but hidden behind the fog and rain), some nights the shows really catch fire and we all have a lot of fun, it would seem that other nights the towerfolk maintain their right to a quiet evening, although that leaves Smokey kinda struggling to light a fire that just never catches. One of the best nights this past week was when "Father Paddy O'Flannery" and "Ranger Gord" did a whole comedy routine, making good fun of our daily safety briefings. For their briefing, they clearly outlined all the potential hazards related to outhouses, including not lighting any matches while tooting. They had everyone in stitches ...

As the weather outside has continued to be less than summer-like, the indoor projects are being completed. I just sewed my last window ruffle today, and the sewing machine is now packed away until it gets put in the truck at the end of the season. And the knitting projects are coming along as well. With all the preparations and baking with the Friday visitors, it's not like there's been a whole lot of time to twiddle my thumbs.

Oh yes... and I almost forgot... I drove into town on Wednesday to attend a meeting with other gov't workers in regards to the offer that we're voting on for the new contract. While I was in town, I stopped at the western boot shop to get my sandals repaired -- only the shoemaker was away on vacation, and that person is the only one in town. I also stopped at the bank to get some cash, but alas, the machine was down and there was a long lineup of customers waiting to see the lone teller. Being in town just for a few short hours had my eyes bugging out, so I got the rest of my errands done quickly and hit the road. When I got back to the tower, I radioed Joan to let her know I was back, and told her how happy I was to be back at my little cabin where, unlike everything in the city, at least my trees still worked and hadn't left on vacation. It truly is the 'simple life' out here, and it does get addicting.

I spoke to a tower friend from down in Bow-Crow district (that covers the area from just north of Calgary to the Montana border) today. Their hot/dry weather continues. I felt so sorry for her as she cried through the first bit of our chat. Around three months straight on extreme hazard level (observing from 9am to 8pm every day). Even though family had visited and she did manage to get off her lookout for two days, it hasn't been enough to reduce the stress. She said that the thing that got on her nerves the most was the constant chattering of the radios -- and boy, can I identify with that! And now with all the smoke blowing in from just over their borders and visibility always bad, I can understand why she's feeling burnt out (pun unintended).

But it's time I should start thinking about supper, and I should dash out through the rain and get the greenhouses closed for the night. Fogged right in again ... There have been rumours of a long, warm autumn, (but it's hard to tell rumours from wishful thinking) and I had hoped a week ago that this cool spell that started at the beginning of August was merely a short delay and that summer would get back on track. But now those ugly thoughts of early closures are starting to rise in our minds. Gosh, I hope not ... I'm just not ready to leave yet.

And, as next weekend will see a full year since Stephanie was taken from us, please do take a quiet moment to remember her.

Coalspur Weather Aug 19: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 6.5oC / Winds: W 3 km / Precip: 4.0 / Clouds: Overcast / RH: 100% / Visibility: 5 km/Fog & Smoke

Aug 19: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 8oC / Winds: N 2 km / Precip: 0.2 /Clouds: Obscured / RH: 100% / Visibility: 0 km/Fog Precip since Aug. 12: 14.8 mm

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August 12, 2007

Mother Nature displays the most vivid contrasts, no matter which sense it addresses. Blue skies and deep green trees; the fragrance of firs and wildflowers versus the odors from the pack rat caves; the soft chrrrrs of the waxwings in comparison with the rattley caws of the ravens. The Alberta blue skies with dramatic horsetail clouds that were here a week or so ago have been replaced by the deep monotone greys of cold fog over these foothills.

After sending off my note last Monday, we had two more nice days, and then it has been cold and dreary ever since. Joan up on Granite Flats has even gotten snow, although that's not unheard of here in the mountains.

Although I didn't get any snow, I did spend a lot of time that same evening covering everything for the forecasted frost, and although it wasn't what I'd call a hard frost, there were definite white, crusty spots on the lawn the next morning. And then, of course, there was the time to dismantle all the coverings.

Although I have imagined myself curling up on the couch for a day, book and hot chocolate in hand, it hasn't happened. There is still so much to do, and each one of the asters that I pass in the yard or on our walks tells me that I have to plan well in order to get projects done before the season is over.

The huckleberry crop has far exceeded what I discovered last year. I now have a total of 37 jars, three batches of huckleberry and a batch of bumbleberry jam, lined up on the counter. And that's it -- I refuse to pick any more. That's enough canning until it's time to do the pickles.

As I'm typing, Smokey has started his daily evening show "I Hear Radio." So far we've heard Smokey give his opening greetings, followed by the Rev. L. Stokes give an evening sermon (yes, this is all in great fun). The other night Smokey held a little tower version of "Canadian Idol" that had some brave souls sing and compete for some scratch tickets. I must admit, it was his best show yet. We've also heard from Father Paddy O'Flannery, who always has some great Irish wisdoms to share with us. I think Rev. Stokes is now trying to get James Brown and his Hallelujiah Chorus to play over the radio ...

Yesterday, I got permission to go into the village, so we were off to the hotel for lunch. It was a nice afternoon, and on the way home I stopped at a random campsite. One thing's for sure, these random campers are definitely not zero-impact campers. But I came away with two wonderful wood boxes that will make great planters, and a roughly 4'x6' solid wood floor (2x4s strapped with 4x4s) that will be put to good use in my greenhouse. Edgar called today and said he found an old woodstove that just may be the ticket for the new greenhouse to save me purchasing one. Here's to scavenging!!

When Edgar arrived, he had with him this huge box from a book club down in Omaha, Nebraska that I spoke with last month. They had pre-downloaded my powerpoint presentation, and called me on speakerphone, and I did my presentation for them and we had a great little Q&A session. So they were kind and generous enough to send me a super-sized care package. What fun! Snacks, colouring books and pens, note pads, seeds, teas, cookies and toys for Ted, shower gels, and so much more. It was truly Christmas around here! I think my grocery bill for September is now half of what had been budgeted. Thank you, Ladies!

I've been picking away at my list of little projects to be completed. Another sweater should be completed tomorrow; once I send this note off, I'm going to try and get another window ruffle sewn. The rest of the week will be planned out for house cleaning and yardwork as I received a call on Friday asking if it would be okay for a film crew to come here this Friday. This has been quite the season for interesting visitors. First the Deputy Minister, and now a film crew. They are making some sort of film about the mountain pine beetle project, and want to do some footage as to what effect the MPB infestation will have on the towers. I must figure out the answer to that ... then, apparently, they may be interested in doing some sort of film on the towers themselves. So I guess I had better have everything neat for when they get here. So much for starting to dig the footings for the new greenhouse.

But speaking of that window ruffle, I guess I should get at it.

From my warm little cabin in the foothills with fresh homemade icecream cooling in the freezer,

This is XMG 32, down for the night.

Coalspur Weather

Aug 12: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 5.5oC / Winds: N 5 km / Precip: Trace / Clouds: Oscured / RH: 100% / Visibility: 0 km/Fog

Aug 12: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 7.5oC / Winds: N 3 km / Precip: 0 /Clouds: 100% Low / RH: 94% / Visibility: 1 km/Fog

Precip since Aug. 7: 34.5 mm

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August 6, 2007

It's happened again -- the page has turned, and the August chapter has begun. All the little signs were there that it was going to happen -- it's dark at bedtime now, the asters have started to bloom and the huckleberries are at their peak. I know that just as I'm sealing that last jar of huckleberry jam, the raspberries will be ripe.

But let's talk about Wednesday, because it was just so perfect. It was all there -- the sky was perfect blue with just a wisp of high cloud to make sure you realized how clear it was. The temperature and humidity were perfect, the breeze was too. When I came down from the cupola that night, I got the chores done and went out and started a campfire. I sat out until midnight under a star-strewn sky in my shorts, sandals and a sweatshirt and just enjoyed it all. And when I came in and snuggled into my bed, with the fresh night breeze blowing in my bedroom window, I had that wonderful aroma of smoke on me. I slept like a baby.

It's been an odd ol' long weekend, as they usually put us on high because of the number of campers out there and the additional risk, but of all things, it got cool and rained. So I've been on low for the whole weekend. It always takes a day or so to get used to that, but I'm so behind on everything because of the long spell in the cupola. And yet my long spell can't compare to that of the Bow-Crow towerfolk, who are in the midst of a very hot/dry spell (i.e., my FWI index is 3 for today; a very southern lookout had an FWI of 110 almost a week ago!) that has seen from Waterton to Longview closed to all campers. They said that the hazard there was worse than during the Lost Creek fire a few years ago. Another southern towerwoman has actually called 'transitional grass stage' as the grass in the general vicinity of her tower has cured. An Alaskan birddog and tanker group were stationed at the Rocky tanker base, and all vacation was cancelled for fire staff.

But with the hazard here being low, I got permission to go into town on Saturday, and got groceries and the first load of supplies to start building my permanent greenhouse. But like one other occasion when I went into town to do my own shopping this summer, before I'm even to the town limits, I want to go back. So I raced from store to store and hit the road as quickly as possible.

I had hoped to treat myself to a haircut while I was in town (the first time that would have happened since I've been towering), but I couldn't get an appointment. Thus, on Sunday, I sat down with the mirror and the scissors and hacked it back myself. Good thing I'm in the woods where I can't scare anyone ... I really need to practice more often.

By Sunday I had enough huckleberries for the first batch of jam, and everything went well. The first of the collection of bottles are stacked on the kitchen counter. Ted and I haven't been out for any long hikes this summer, so it's kinda nice just to go and lose ourselves in the cutblock for a while. Tonight we managed to stumble across a grouse family. The kids are almost adult size with the exception of needing a bit more length in their tail feathers.

The gardens, with the exception of a species or two, have recovered from the hail of two weeks ago. The snow peas need picking every other day, I keep trying to keep up with the lettuce, and I'm just a day or two from tomatoes Nos. 5 and 6. And I have squashes starting to grow! And cucumbers! Fresh chamomille is drying in the oven (it's the bonus to having a gas stove with a pilot light -- it's a nice warm place to dry herbs) and the basil is ready to be turned into pesto.

On a sad note, chatter on the radios spoke of yet another med-evac in the Rocky district. This time a girl, and I heard them mention that her injuries were due to another quad roll-over. This time 'in the Hummingbird' [area]. Of course nothing was said about her condition over the radios, but the crew that helped with the med-evac and the radio ops all seemed very drained once it was all over, so I somehow read bad news from that.

They've put me back up to high for tomorrow, but the weather forecasts are telling of rain again from Tuesday until Thursday, which would be a very nice thing as I haven't actually received enough rain yet to refill the water barrels. When I had all that rain back in mid-July, neither of my neighbouring towers, got anywhere close to what I got. Now over these past few days, they've received a lot more than I have (only 7.5 mm over four days).

Smokey has now started doing a radio show at around 9 p.m. each evening which seems to include some music and a valiant attempt to get 'listeners to call in.' I've been trying my best to participate, but there doesn't seem to be enough evening to donate much time.

But it's late once again, dishes still need to be washed, and I should get at it.

Until next week, This is ol' purple-fingers signing off,

Coalspur Weather

Aug 6: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 8.5oC / Winds: SW 9 km / Precip: 0.2 / Clouds: 20% Middle / RH: 88% / Visibility: 40 km/Hazy

Jul 22: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 19.5oC / Winds: SW 4 km / Precip: 0 /Clouds: 80% Cumulus / RH: 43% / Visibility: 40 km/Hazy

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July 30, 2007

With four straight days of extreme hazard level under my belt, I have seen some awesome storm cells grow, watched lots of lightning strikes in the distance, and started getting a decent tan. But an actual fire? Not yet. Although Anderson Tower got a sweet one today. And he deserves it, that's only the second smoke he's called in this year.

It has also given me a lot of time to look around and quietly enjoy my world here on the ridge. Even though the red-tailed hawks are spectacular to watch -- as they hover motionless at hundreds of feet in the air, intently staring at some small creature, then fold their wings and make that dramatic dive -- I still miss my harriers. Edgar brings news that fishermen down at Silkstone Lake, in addition to the sighting of probably the same cougar that was up here, have now seen a couple of grizzly cubs and two wolves as well. I had wondered where the wolves had gone. It's nice to know they aren't too far away.

As for those grizzly cubs, it is suspect that they are the same two that Edgar photographed about 25 km up the road from here. The story gets more and more interesting, as a week or so ago the village was having a few bear issues. Apparently they had two grizzly cubs (teenagers, most likely) that learned very quickly how to raid garbage containers. I guess they were creating quite the havoc in town. The general store became sort of "Bear Sighting Central" as the Fish & Wildlife officers were sent on a merry chase. The traps were set up, but last I heard anything they hadn't been caught. So makes you wonder if they haven't wandered their way down to the minesite now. Seeing as they've now learned how to be pests, I'm hoping they don't cross over the ridge as the cougar did and discover us up here.

The elusive wolf pack were on my mind earlier this week when, as Ted and I were doing our morning walk down the road a bit, two coyotes ran onto the road around 75 ft. in front of us and ran down the hill. That only added more proof that the wolves aren't nearby. But I had to chuckle, when Ted and I were on that same walk the next morning, a bunny was sitting in the middle of the road, right where the coyotes had dashed by the day before. I could almost hear it saying, "Ha, ha! They didn't get me!"

The bird populations seem to be made up of either fledglings or preoccupied parents searching for enough food to keep their almost-fledglings satisfied. The gray jay young have now taken on the head coloration of their parents, so I can't tell who's who any longer. I have this wonderful little flock of waxwings that seem to be staying close by, they are both so beautiful and sing such a delicate song. The young swallows are deep into their jet-flying practices, although not quite as adept as their parents yet.

But probably the most evident right now are the dragonflies. They are as thick as thieves and continue to do a great job of wiping out the mosquito population. It's neat in the evenings, when I'm out watering the gardens, I'll hear the hum of a mosquito around my ear, followed shortly after by that crisp paper-like crackle of a dragonfly that's probably the length of my hand zip by that same ear, snatching the mosquito in mid-flight.

The sweet williams that someone planted here many years ago are in full bloom; the Indian paintbrush is waning but the daisies have taken their place. The bunchberries and linnaea flowers are finished, but the snake's rattle is at it's best right now. I'm starting to see a few ripe huckleberries around, but I'm not getting a good feeling that there will be enough for jam -- not that I'm going to give up that idea so soon!

As for the War of the Pack Rats, the fellow that's continuing to live under the gen shed is still free, and I'm down around half a pear for my efforts. I'm trying a new strategy tonight where I've tried to block its access to the sides of the trap, where it reaches in and pulls the pear slice to the side and manages to dine without paying the price. Knock on wood, the chicken wire around the truck is working and there are no fresh signs of the engine being converted to condos.

This particular day ended on a bit of a magical note ... For each day of hot weather, the atmosphere generally gets that little bit more hazy, making it more difficult to spot smokes as the hazard increases. So thus it was today that most towers reported 25-30 km visibility (perfect is 40 km). Just when the heat was almost intolerable, this wonderful cool breeze started to blow, and as the storm cells disappeared on their eastern journey, it was almost like someone opened the sheer curtains -- perfect visibility returned just in time for those long shadows and pink-tinged highlights on the vivid green forest. The full moon has been sitting low in the sky this month, and although I can see it peeking at us between the trees, there just hasn't seemed to be the time to climb the ladder and look it straight in the face.

And for a little bedtime story to end this diatribe, as it is bedtime here in the foothills, I will end with this story of a little bit of history that arrived in the mail:

Back at the beginning of the season, a friend and co-worker told me that I would be hearing from a woman who needed a sweater knit for her son. She had bought the wool, but had found that her arthritis was bothering her too much to complete it. Interestingly, it wasn't someone that was a personal friend of my friend's -- she had just had a conversation with this woman who worked in a store in her neighbourhood.

This woman, Veronica, did indeed call me, and made the leap of faith to leave a bag of expensive yarn in the yard at the condo. Along with the wool and the pattern, there was a very dear letter complete with all the measurements I had asked for, as well as pictures of her son with his two toddler-sized sons.

I duly completed the sweater and sent it on its way, hoping that I had met her expectations that it would both fit and the style would appeal to her son.

I was quite surprised to receive a small parcel a few weeks later, with Veronica's distinct handwriting on it. When I opened it, I found a single little white cotton ankle sock, with a bit of red stitching, including a cross-stitched monogram. When Edgar looked at it, he wondered if it hadn't been knit from sugar bag threads, which he says was done "back in the old days." And there was this note:

"Dear Sharon,

Thank you for the wonderful sweater for Erik ... Because you are a knitter, I am sending you this sock. I received it some months ago with other items I can frame. There is an awful lot going on on this sock.

It was made by my father's older sister, Cato, born in 1888. She made this in 1902.

I have known her. We connected. The things she could make with her hands were impeccable and beautiful but she had a mind that was never mined. She was a woman, had to find a man. I think the church found her a gentle widower. I think she was happy with him. She lived to 103 and always wrote to the editor of her newspaper to give a piece of her mind.

Greetings and thanks, Veronica."

What a very, very special surprise. And to be given away to someone whom Veronica has never seen. And she's right, Cato was an impeccable knitter. Several young towerwomen have for some reason or another decided this was the summer for them to learn how to knit socks. I've heard them lament how they still haven't managed to figure out the task of turning a heel. They should see how it was done in 1902.

Time is marching on. I can't accept that there's less than two months left until closing ... it just can't be true.

Coalspur Weather

Jul 22: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 14.5oC / Winds: E 12 km / Precip: 0 / Clouds: 30% High, 50% Middle / RH: 76% / Visibility: 30 km/Hazy Jul 22: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 21.5oC / Winds: N 5 km / Precip: 0 /Clouds: 10% High, 80% Cumulus / RH: 59% / Visibility: 35 km/Clear

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July 22, 2007

After long hot, muggy days with ten kilometer visibility and the ensuing hail/thunderstorms, true Alberta weather has returned. There have been two perfect summer days in a row -- mid-twenties temperatures, stunning clear blue skies with fluffy cumulus clouds punctuated by dramatic horsetails and lenticular clouds for variety.

The day after I wrote the last note to you, I had one more hailstorm. The gardens had done their best through the first two, but the third was the worst and ... what can I say ... if one were to think in a Greek or Roman mythological way, I think there was some jealous garden goddess who thought my gardens were just too perfect. I ended up getting 41.2 mm of rain in 45 minutes and enough hail to almost turn the yard white. When I came down, the path to the rain gauge was ankle-deep in water with floating ice pellets. I decided the best thing was to get rid of my shoes, but my feet were numb in seconds. I guess the good part is that since it's still mid-July, most of the plants (hopefully, since August is the usual hail month) have time to recover their beauty.

My Ontario friends made the trip up to Granite Flats on Friday, and I was so happy that we had great visibility so that they were able to enjoy the vistas. They went up in Joan's cupola (which is only nine rungs up the wall of her cabin) and she showed them the firefinder and her maps.

When they returned, Smokey on Orlando Tower chatted with Josie, the 12 year old, on the radio and encouraged her to read the weather the next morning, and he would tape it for her. So she got her nerve up and did it, with Joan introducing her as our special weather reader, the Junior Fire Ranger. As a thank you for the tape, Josie did a lovely drawing of the tower and cabin here. To get the perspective right, she went out and sat at the picnic table (she has a great eye for that). While she was sketching, she looked up to find a mule deer standing right beside the table looking at her! What a wonderful moment to end a week's adventure in the Rockies.

And Josie, I have to tell you that I think that deer must have come back again after we were in bed, because the next morning the bird bath was empty!

The dragonflies have arrived in full force and seem to grow by the day. There is such a flock out there that I swear they've gotten the mosquito population under control in just two days, thank heavens! It's so interesting to watch them dart around the yard.

For the second season I've found myself wondering why the lack of chickadees up here, and that question has popped back in my mind as I heard one the other day and realized how long it has been since I heard that wonderful call. I spied a varied thrush this morning with nesting materials in her beak, so I presume that the trilling I'm hearing along with the grass in her beak means that they must be preparing to get a second family.

I got yet another fire in the neighbouring district this week -- a little grass fire about 33 kilometers away. It all got very confusing as there was a fire permit nearby that had only been passed to the closest towers with a description of "machine piled brush piles along six kilometers of pipeline" with only one quartersection for a location. Hmmm.... so it was a bit of a mystery in which direction from that one point the six kilometers extended, but this ended up not being part of that permit and it got a fire number. Not that the neighbouring office was happy about it, they had to question their nearest towers as to why they didn't see it (even though it was at the bottom of the blind side of a big ridge from them. I think that's a darn good reason) and sent patrols out over that same area the next day.

While my friend was being a dear and preparing supper on their last night, and I was still up in the tower, the inevitable happened -- I had a late smoke come up. I couldn't decide whether to call it or not as it wasn't going anywhere in a hurry and the day was cooling off. I ended up calling the office and leaving it up to the Duty Officer, who made the decision to dispatch a helicopter. Turned out it was a campfire, and when the guardian checked in with the campers the next day, apparently the campers had pulled up the green grass from along the creek where they had made camp and put it on the fire to deliberately create a lot of smoke to get rid of the mosquitoes. So no fire number for that one.

That total of 80 mm of rain over three days only garnered me one day on the ground. They're saying showers again by Tuesday, so hopefully I'll get a chance to actually hoe and pull some weeds out of the garden.

But as for tonight, it's now 22:00 and I still haven't had my supper and we're on high hazard level again tomorrow.

I just looked out and the sky has turned brilliant pink ... time to run down the Sunset Trail amd enjoy.

So this is XMG 32, down for the night.

Coalspur Weather

Jul 22: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 14oC / Winds: S 11 km / Precip: 0 / Clouds: 70% Middle / RH: 54% / Visibility: 40 km/Clear Jul 22: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 24.5oC / Winds: W 9 km / Precip: 0 /Clouds: 20% High 40% Middle / RH: 38% / Visibility: 40 km/Clear

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July 17, 2007

I gave up early, about an hour ago, and came down from the cupola after sitting through another huge thunderstorm. Although yesterday's and today's storm had a lot in common including both rain and hail, today's wasn't nearly as exciting as yesterday's. Perhaps that was due to the forest already being soggy.

But the weather certainly is strange, and my tower neighbours and I have mentioned that several times throughout the season -- strange clouds, skies and colours. And so many towers and lookouts taking direct lightning hits as well. The tower north of me had two hits yesterday. Even though I can only see that tower on a clear day, I saw a lightning bolt just about on the right bearing and teased him about it over the radio before finding out that it had indeed hit his tower!

Yesterday's storm saw the lookout ~30 km to my SW get no precip, the tower northwest of here by ~35 km get around 2mm; the lookout south by ~35 km get ~5mm, and the tower far to my east by ~90km get nothing. I got 22.4 mm. I keep hoping that all these storms will blow away this heat spell that's been making things uncomfortable for a few days, but so far the only thing that the storms have accomplished is high humidity.

The good part is that all the water containers are full again. The gardens were just so dry that I couldn't bring myself to close up the greenhouses and tarp the open plots when I saw the storms coming yesterday, so everything but the tomato plants got pelted with hail. But now that everything is wet, I made sure I covered the beds before the storm arrived and good thing, as the hailstones were bigger today than yesterday.

A bit of excitement came after Ted and I took the truck just down the road a few hundred feet to install a little bridge I had made. Our path through the woods that runs from the yard to the road just before the edge of the hill crosses a ditch at the bottom end and it was a bit of a leap for Ted, but now we can cross easily. I hadn't run the truck in a few weeks, and when I brought the truck back up and went to park it in the same place again, lo and behold, there was another dead pack rat! So I shut off the truck and opened the hood and couldn't believe what I found underneath. The rats had made a complete home under the hood -- a nest snuggled just in front of the spark plugs, with marigolds stored on top of the battery, a different species of plant dried and stacked closer to the firewall on the same side ... and, of all things, dog turds stashed everywhere. After emptying all the food stashes and nesting materials, I ended up with one chewed spark plug cable, some missing insulation and some woven cover off of something low in the engine that I've yet to figure out.

I got some buckets of bleach and washed everything I could (gosh, pack rat pee stinks!), and I was just about to wrap the truck in chicken wire when something started thumping around in the passenger's side front quarter panel -- turns out that Ted and I had a secret guest when we went down to complete our little construction project. But some banging, thumping, kicking and yelling, along with the bleach water encouraged it to leave, and as soon as I was sure the critter was gone, I wrapped the truck up. Edgar was nice enough to get me a new spark plug wire in town and install it, so I'm back up to six cylinders again. Three containers of mothballs now live in my engine.

I finally got the trap baited right and caught the second critter on Sunday, which meant that my Ontario friends who had arrived for a visit were given a project assignment as soon as they arrived, taking it for a long walk and releasing it as I was on extreme and didn't have time to do it.

Murphy's Law says long cupola assignments will happen when you have friends coming to visit. Calgary friends arrived on Saturday and stared at me up in the cupola until I came down at 8pm. It was wonderful of them to barbecue up a steak dinner and we even ate outside on the picnic table (although I must admit the mosquitoes made it a bit of a challenge).

Yesterday I managed to be on low-moderate for the day, so I asked the Duty Officer for permission to take my Ontario friends for a bit of a tour. After visiting the two old trapper's cabins at the base of the hill, yet another adventure began when I got the truck stuck. We were lucky enough that someone wasn't far away and was able to get us un-stuck. So not to ruin the day, we set out investigating some old buildings and such, but it was less than an hour when I had to bid them goodbye to get back to the tower so that I could do weather and be in my cupola for 14:00. So I pointed the way to a few more sights as well as the trout ponds and off they went. With the truck in motion again, I arrived back at the tower at 13:10 and (ta da!) I was ready to pass my weather at 13:15 (I'm the seventh tower). My friends had stories about seeing cougar prints on the road and managed a deer sighting as well.

By the end of the day they'd survived their first foothills thunderstorm in a tin-roofed cabin and taken lots of pictures of the hail. It sure was nice when I came out of the cupola to a prepared meal, including steak and fresh chard from the garden!

They are off on Icefields Parkway adventure (Banff, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and Jasper) today. There have been so many weather warnings on the radio, I hope they find some clear weather to be able to see the mountains.

Ted, of course, has been thrilled with all the company.

As for fires, I managed to get one on Friday, which became fire number 054. As it was a very hot day, it ended up qualifying for a bird dog and tanker, but it only took the crews a few hours to extinguish it. I wasn't exactly accurate getting the distance right on that one, I thought it was about 27 km away when it was only 21 km.

Then later Saturday afternoon, I spotted something a long way out to my east. At that time, there was a huge storm cell hanging over that area which made everything underneath dark blue with very little contrast. But there was this little white smudge coming up from behind a small ridge that just wouldn't go away. The other confusing part was because it was under a storm cell, there is usually an underdraft which lends to things being blown in odd directions. I put the crosshairs from the scope on it to see if it was moving so I could tell myself it was road dust, but darn it, it didn't move. I wasn't feeling particularly confident about it, even less so because estimating a distance with little contrast is difficult, but after some pondering decided to call it in. They sent several helicopters to chase it, but when they didn't find anything right away all but one helicopter was called off. The best part was that the remaining helicopter had Frank on board. Don't ask me why, but Frank seems to have the magic ability to find my vaguest smokes. I managed to pick up the glint of the helicopter when they arrived in the general area and let Frank know right away that if he was over my estimated location, then I had undershot it. It wasn't too many minutes later when I heard those glorious words over the radio: "Found it!" Sweet. So I was awarded fire number 059 by the next district (yup,it was over the line in the neighbouring district by just a kilometer or so. Even sweeter.).

But it's getting late, and it's been a busy week, so I will sign off for this week and get myself a bite to eat.

Here's to good weather wherever you are!


Coalspur Weather

Jul 17: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 14oC / Winds: E 3 km / Precip: 22.4 / Clouds: 100% Low / RH: 95% / Visibility: 15 km/Haze Jul 17: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 22.5oC / Winds: E 16 km / Precip: 0 /Clouds: 10% High 90% Middle / RH: 73% / Visibility: 15 km/Haze A late afternoon storm added another 21.2 mm

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July 8, 2007

It's been the strangest ol' day today ... not quite warm enough, not quite sunny enough and far too many mosquitos (enough with that already! It's time for them to go away). But I got the last half of the lawn cut and the laundry is on the line, so all was not lost. I've got my fingers crossed that it will rain tonight as they are predicting and the laundry will be treated to what towerfolk refer to as a "free rinse."

We had quite the thunderstorms late Friday evening and thus I've spent the weekend on the ground. Gosh, they just handed out fire number 051 today (probably a campfire). In comparison to last year, on July 5 they gave a fire that I called in number 181 and on July 17 I called in fire 207. The nickname for this forest, "the asbestos forest," seems to fit once again.

For those who received this letter last year, perhaps you remember my mention of a little orphan bear cub that came into the yard? It was such a sad little thing. At that time it looked so forlorn, with a very dull coat and quite listless. It was probably about the same length as Ted, but, of course, taller, I'd say fifty pounds max. I didn't hold out much hope that it would get through it's first winter. But early in the season I saw a single bear cub down below on the road, about the right size for this to be its second summer. It looked grand -- carrying good spring weight, a bright and shiny coat, and thankfully quite shy.

Well, on Monday I was going out to the garden, and who should I see just a few feet beyond, grazing in my fireweed, but the cub! I have decided to call it Annie (just as when I named the moose calf at Meridian Elliot, which could be changed to Eleanor if I was able to answer that question, I can change Annie to Andy if we continue to be neighbours and I figure it out), for obvious reasons. I never saw her head as she was munching and the fireweed is getting tall. All I saw was the sun shining off her back, covered in that stunning coat of hers. I dashed into the house to grab my camera, as I could get great pictures at about 30 ft distance, but by the time I switched to my telephoto lens and put a new film in, when I got back to the yard she was gone. Darn! Hopefully there will be another opportunity before the season is over.

We actually had a few hot days this week. I don't think I've ever called 18oC at 07:30 before ... and it was 27oC by 13:00. By the time Thursday was over, Coalspur hit a max of 31oC. How do you people down there cope with those kind of temperatures? Joan was roasting up at Granite Flats, 2000 ft. higher than Coalspur, with a max of 26.5oC. I'll tellya, the fire indices sure take a giant step forward on days like this. And we all want a fire so badly, leading to a few detection messages sent in for smoky flarestacks and such things. The tower north of me has this one particular flarestack that's just the smokiest thing with light coloured smoke unlike the typical black smoke they emit. He finally called it in. I gave him a cross shot on it and I was certain as well that it was a fire, as were the helicopter and crew that responded, until they were right over it. Oh well.

The only other excitement this week was the pack rat overcoming its dislike of the flavour of geraniums and marigolds. It came one night and cut a bunch of lilac shoots (which I don't care about) and topped it off with a few marigold flowers. I could live with that, and I was hoping that another mouthful of marigold would remind it how awful they taste. But I was really surprised a few days later when it came and took away the "hay" when it was dry. I couldn't imagine that it carried the hay all the way from the garden, across the lawn and the road, and off through the woods over to the caves where they live. Uh oh ... but I could imagine that it wuld have carried them the few feet to the gen shed. When I went out the door this morning, there was a neat little pile of lilac shoots topped with about a half dozen geranium flower heads and even more marigold flowers. So I left a message for Edgar, and he dropped me off a live trap today. Guess we're just going to have to put chicken wire up to prevent access under the gen shed. Here we go again with the "War of the Pack Rats." Luckily they haven't found a way over the chicken wire around my vegetable gardens, knock on wood.

So that's it for this week! A whole lotta sitting in the cupola, and a big zippo for fires. But it was actually nice to sit and embroider again for a few days. For all the time we've been on the ground this season, it was a nice change of pace.

I have visitors next weekend! Here's to the rain and the mosquitos going away for those few days.

This is XMG 32, down for the night. S.

Coalspur Weather Jul 08: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 8.5oC / Winds: S 8 km / Precip: 0 / Clouds: 90% High 10% Middle / RH: 77% / Visibility: 30 km/Haze Jul 08: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 18oC / Winds: S 5 km / Precip: 0 /Clouds: 70% Cumulus 10% High 10% Middle / RH: 48% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze Precip for the week: 7.2 mm

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July 1, 2007

On Canada Day last year, I picked my first tomato. I just knew from this year's cool wet spring that wasn't going to happen again. But this year for Canada Day, my book made the first page of the Toronto Star book section (pg. 5 of the Idea section). The Canada Books page to be specific, top of the column. Although I can't quote the whole thing, I do remember my sister saying the reporter described it as "true Canadiana." Yippee!

That first tomato of the summer was replaced with so many other firsts: the first blossom of so many wildflowers -- wild rose, white wintergreen, alpine speedwell, and linnaea. How did they all know today was special? The meadow by the helipad is covered in every conceivable colour of Indian paintbrush from lemon yellow to vivid red; the bunchberry flowers are at their peak as well as the wild lily of the valley. And my Canada Day feast was a big pile of fresh steamed chard from the garden, my first of the season.

A chinook cloud hung doggedly over the mountains to the west for most of the day, making it a bit cool. I finally lit my first campfire of the season to get rid of a bit of old wood and warm myself up. The cloud finally broke up late in the afternoon, making it was rather pleasant when I came down from the cupola this evening.

Both last night's and tonight's sky was stunning, with a neon orange moon rising from the east, a Venus-Saturn conjuction hanging in the western sky, and, after being shaken about in the cupola by high winds yesterday, nary a breeze.

The helicopter carrying the safety audit team landed here on Wednesday. They were all in a good mood, I had fresh zucchini bread just coming out of the oven, and all went well. Thomas, who was the towerman here at Coalspur for a few years back in the late 80's, was with them and it was interesting to watch him look around the site. After all the cleaning, straightening up an baking during the past two weeks in preparation for official visits, once the helicopter flew away, I just sat in the yard and knit for a day or two.

Since the last generator swap, I had kept joking that this latest generator was possessed by demons. Tapping and knocking kept emanating from it even when it was turned off. Then at the beginning of the week, the battery died. I didn't feel the need to call for help as everyone was stressed out with the impending safety audit. I had a set of jumper cables with me, so I just jumped the generator to the car batteries that run the radios. But Thomas had made a trip into my gen shed, and sure enough, the devils were trying to hammer their way out as he stood there. Turns out it's a dysfunctional solanoid. Suffice to say, my original generator was back from a visit to the mechanic with a new governor spring, so there has been yet another generator swap. Oh, I so hope this is the last generator problem for the season ...

No new animal sightings to report, although there is a bear making a scat statement on the road and Ted did bark at the door long after dark the other night. I believe I have a blackpoll warbler about. Of course, he only sings and reveals himself when I don't have the binoculars with me. But I'll surprise him one of these days! I see that a pack rat came to check out the flower garden this week as he cut a nice little pile of lilac shoots and topped it off with two marigold flowers.

I hear there are 'thousands' of campers out there. They must be a brave lot, What with the steady rainfall over the past month. The guardians are ticketing the quadders now for infractions like missing head and tail lights, license plates, insurance, etc., so I have no doubt they've been busy with that project. Knock on wood, I haven't had a single vehicle pull in all weekend.

They've put us back up on high again for tomorrow, so I should sign off and get ready for bed. Other than forecasting a 30% chance of rain for Monday and Tuesday, they're claiming it's going to warm up and stay dry for the rest of the week. I think my gardens would like that. Towerfolk have been stating lately that we're kinda tired of being in our cabins on the ground so much this spring, and the fire crews are definitely wanting a bit of excitement. (Also note I haven't made any references so far this year as to running low on water.)

Hope everyone had a fantabulous day today.

Here's to your 140th birthday, Canada! You're looking great.

Coalspur Weather Jul 01: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 8.5oC / Winds: SW 12 km / Precip: 0 / Clouds: 70% High 10% Cumulus / RH: 50% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze Jul 01: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 15oC / Winds: SW 3 km / Precip: 0 /Clouds: 70% Middle 10% Cumulus / RH: 39% / Visibility: 40 km/Clear Total precip for June: 136.2 mm (Last year: 107.8 mm)

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June 24, 2007

As I look at my shivering tomato plants, the abundant flowers on the berry plants and other flowering plants around the site, one remembers that there's one thing that Nature isn't, and that is repetitive.

Ted and I made our way down to the huge patch of raspberries in the cutblock on the east side of our ridge and it was amazing the reduction in the population of plants this year. Not that I'm going to have a problem getting the berries I need for jam, but where the plants were thick all the way to the path last year, this year the plants seem to start fifty feet or so up the slope. Such is the gradual and constant evolution of a forest.

The pine stand that surrounds the cabin grew from a fire in the 1920's or 30's, and thus they are all pretty well 80 years of age now. Little spruce trees from two to twelve feet tall, lay in wait as the pines start to fall, at which time they'll bolt and fill the those spaces. When I look at all the broken and downed trees from last autumn's heavy first snow, I sense that transition from a young pine forest to a mature spruce forest. And when Ted and I visit the incredibly old spruce stands below us, I know that they're only a fire away from the next part of the cycle, when the high temperatures of the fire will release the pine seeds, and a fresh pine forest will begin again.

Flocks of pine siskins are staying here on the hill, which I don't remember noticing last year, but they chatter away happily and I'm glad to have them. I'm trying not to mow my lawn right now as so many of my dandelions have turned to seed and they feed upon them, but if they don't hurry I'll have to get that job done. While we're on the topic of birds, I spotted an orange crowned warbler this week, adding to my sighting of a Wilson's warbler a few weeks back.

The change in weather -- from last year's hot and dry to this year's cool and wet -- has white wintergreen blooming in places I never noticed last year. The calypso and white bog orchids fit in that category as well. And all the berries -- black gooseberries, blueberries, huckleberries, raspberries and strawberries not only have more blooms, but much larger blooms as well. Yet, seemingly rebellious of that trend, I find the Labrador tea is carrying fewer flowers than last year. As it succeeds on the muskeg, you'd think it would like wet feet.

One other major change from last year is the disappearance of my harriers. For the first time in my tower career, I do not have a pair of harriers nearby. Those of you who have been reading these notes since I started know that I have often felt that harriers are my "animal guide," and it was somehow a sign of good luck that they were always near my towers. I still haven't decided what this means. They have been replaced by a large and beautiful red-tailed hawk whose soaring skills are breathtaking, but I still long to see the grey ghostly male harrier cruising among the trees.

Also missing is the wolf pack that I assumed travelled with the elk herd down on the minesite below. And with the lack of wolves, I would have expected to see signs of coyotes as I did last year when the wolves moved further away, but they aren't here either. Ted and the wolves or coyotes had regular scat contests on the road last season, but I haven't seen a single pile of scat around the site. But that could be because ...

This week I saw my first cougar. Ted and I were returning to the cabin after our evening walk, and Ted, as is his habit, walked up the last little bit of slope and collaped on the first patio stone in front of the generator shed. I had already reached the cabin door, and I turned to him to ask him to keep coming, as the mosquitoes would catch up to him if he laid there and then he'd end up bringing them into the cabin. As I was encouraging him, what should walk out from behind the spruce trees at the corner of the gen shed, but a full grown cougar! I'm not sure how long it had been following us. With Ted lagging behind as we returned uphill on the road, it would have had sufficient opportunity to take Ted if it had wanted. I have the funny feeling it was just trying to figure out what the heck Ted was. It was quite healthy looking, carried good weight and a beautiful coat, but much darker than I expected. It sauntered across the driveway and off across the helipad, disappearing down the embankment.

As soon as I was sure that it was just going to mosie on it's way, I dashed into the cabin for my camera, but at best I only got a fleeting glimpse of its face among the fireweed and willows on film. As for Ted, he never did see it or seem to know it was around. But since then, Ted seems to be very aware that something is lurking about and has taken on a new territorial marking regimen and stays very close to the cabin. That being said, no matter how much I chide at him, he won't stay close while we're walking, lagging further and further behind as we go.

Edgar stopped in this morning for a tea and showed me the most beautiful picture of two grizzly bears that he took on the road between the tower and the village. He also told me a local fellow who had been fishing at a trout pond below had spotted a cougar, so we're figuring it's the same animal. I really don't believe the cougar will end up spending that much time up here, as the whitetails and elk below have calves and fawns now, where all I have up here is the occasional mule deer and a moose, so hunting would be much more successful below.

Speaking of the trout ponds, I must end this week's note with a funny human story. On Friday morning, I had a pre-arranged book club presentation with a group in Omaha, Nebraska. I had been hoping that we wouldn't be interrupted, but about three quarters of the way through, the other phone rang (I have a personal phone as well sa the forestry phone). Luckily it was something that could be put off until later in the day, and then I returned to the presentation phone call. Not long after that -- I can't believe this happened -- someone knocked at the door. What were the chances? Three fishermen were looking for a back way into the trout ponds. So I signed off with the group in Omaha, and then went out, yup ... you guessed it ... in my nightgown and bedhead ... and gave the fellows the directions they needed.

Forward now to later that afternoon ... I could hear a big truck coming down the road below, and sure enough, it was the propane truck! It rumbled up the hill, the driver gave me a wave as I sat in the cupola, and proceeded to do fill the tank. We got into a 'sign language' conversation where he was wondering if the pig that was brought last week needed filling as well. After gesturing back at him, I decided I might as well just go down there and speak with him. I thought he understood that, and, after all, I was in full view coming down the ladder. He was on the east side of the tank, leaning back against the tank with his hands in his coverall pockets, and I was approaching from the west. Just before I came into his view, he glanced over his shoulder up at the cupola, which I figured meant that he didn't realize I was standing right behind him and I didn't want to startle him. So I came around and into his view slowly ... only to find he was taking a piss. He jumped when he finally saw me, and did up his fly so quickly I couldn't figure out how he didn't snag himself in the process or water his boots. He was soooo embarassed and went on and on apologizing. It was just too funny!

The cool wet weather continues. There was a lot of lightning again today, but the forest is just too wet to care.

What's in store for this week, you ask? Major safety audit. Fun, fun, fun ... so I must go and study my Emergency Response Plan. Be still my heart.

From a vibrant, green and lush Coalspur Tower, this is XMG 32, down for the night.

P.S. I must also add -- I heard Luna report this week that her tower took a direct lightning strike! Oh, and Granite Flats got snow this morning!

Coalspur Weather Jun 24: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 5oC / Winds: S 12 km / Precip: Trace / Clouds: 10% High 90% Middle / RH: 74% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze Jun 23: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 13oC / Winds: SW 9 km / Precip: 0 /Clouds: 90% Cumulus / RH: 32% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze

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June 18, 2007

Did I close last week's letter by hoping that things would be glitch-free? Silly me.

Well, the first crew that arrived and tried to buoy up my concrete stairs failed, mostly because they didn't have the tools they needed. My supervisor called me and said he was sending them back the next day and that I was to make them stay until the job was done.

They were exported north to fight some big fires up there that same night.

So the other fire crew that had come up for a couple of days before the exported crew came back and finished the job, with more tools in hand, in the pouring rain, and did a great job. Ted and I both had to get used to having level stairs again, as we tripped over our own toes the first few days until we got used to them.

The HAC crew managed to get everything finished and still have time to rev up their chainsaws for a short while. Their first-year member, Joe, was grinning ear to ear in the pouring rain, chainsaw in hand, off down the trail with his crew to clear a few more downed trees for me. I made a short comment about office jobs, he replied he couldn't even imagine it, that this kind of work is what makes him happy. And even though soggy around the edges, that tall, fit young man had roses in his cheeks and a twinkle in his eye. Bravo, Joe.

Since the last letter, another 48 mm of rain has fallen. (I realize that those of you in Calgary think that's paltry.) While the first few days were fun, enough is enough and I want some sun again, please! But that same rain has made the yard so much different than it was last year -- calypso orchids in the yard, white bog orchids on the hill, white wintergreen coming up everywhere, and the beautiful vibrant green, soft, lush mosses that cover the ground in the woods are in their glory. Even the birds seem to be happier. I have my fingers crossed that it will make the blueberries and huckleberries more prolific as well, as they're both in bloom right now.

By Wednesday there wasn't enough propane left in the tank to run the generator. As you know, I need to run the generator for three hours every evening to replenish the car batteries that keep the radios running. We had already come to the conclusion that the dregs at the bottom of the tank were what gummed up and inevitably stopped my generator the previous week, meaning that it had to be swapped out and sent to be fixed. But no matter how many calls the logistics staff have made to the propane supplier, the truck has never arrived.

So, I called and left a message for the tower coordinator that my generator wouldn't run any longer. He called back and asked me if my appliances were still running, and I told him yes. So he decided it wasn't lack of propane, it was generator problems again.

So they came up here with a replacement generator and a replacement battery (not a car battery, the smaller 12V battery that starts the generator). They looked at my generator and couldn't see anything wrong with it, then went out and banged on the tank with a wrench. The tank responded with an amazing echo. They accepted the fact that I had no propane (Thank you!)

So they decided to damn the torpedoes, and decided to ship a fly-in type of propane pig by hotshot. The truck arrived at the bottom of my hill in the pouring rain ... a two wheel drive truck with bald tires ... but he did bring chains. Unfortunately, the only thing the chains did was help him burrow into the mud faster. So the hotshot took the tank back to town.

The next day, they had a helicopter come down from the beetle base to sling the tank in. I was fogged in solid. But around mid-day a small window opened up to my southeast, and thank goodness he was a game pilot! He managed to get it in, the handyman was on site to modify the connections so that the pig could be connected ... and the generator still wouldn't work.

This little spring on the governor was broken ...

So the handyman drove all the way back to town and returned with a replacement generator ...

And -- Ta Da! -- by Sunday afternoon, I was finally able to run a generator again. Let's hear a round of applause for those two car batteries that held up for all that time and kept me on the air!

The handyman even made the switch to the new propane tank without any of the pilot lights in the cabin going out. Sometimes, things do go right. (A neighbouring tower had been going through exactly the same adventure, and he ended up with an airlock in the line to his refrigerator, and it was several days before they managed to get his fridge re-lit.)

So with the handyman on his way with my old generator that will need to be sent out to be fixed, that left me to get things ready for the Assistant Deputy Minister's visit today. Some fresh zucchini bread made, then a break in the weather and a bit of a breeze allowed me to get a good part of the lawn cut, and I was up until midnight dusting and mopping and such things. The weather was even good enough this morning that I could take my first shower since the stall had been moved.

Why the ADM was coming continued to be a huge mystery, with folks thinking that it could be the book, the 22 fires I had last year, or the hullabaloo I'm putting up about the payroll problems, etc., etc. It turned out to be just one of the infrequent excursions to look over the geography that's he's responsible for. He brought two young city fellows with him as well as the big boss from this district. Both young men were from Edmonton. It was one of those 'trial by fire' days for both, and I think the ADM was kinda enjoying that. The first fellow was obviously challenged by being in a helicopter as you could see the Gravol patch behind his ear (hey, I can identify with that problem!). He was also scared to climb, but clenched his teeth and went for it. For his pain, he did thoroughly enjoy the view from the cupola, and nicely enough some new storm cells moved in from over the mountains and the thunder started to rumble. He was even more scared to go down the ladder, but he remained brave. The second fellow handled the climb better, and although I think he appreciated everything he saw from the cupola (including lightning, I let him take the bearing for my first strike report), he wasn't awed by it like the other fellow was. But once we were all on the ground again they needed to be on their way, so I just sent a loaf of zucchini bread with them to add to their lunches. I heard the helicopter making calls the rest of the day as they zipped here and there throughout the district. I hope that patch held up ...

I totally forgot to keep track of time while I was hostessing in the cupola, and as the helicopter rose from the helipad, I checked my watch, and low and behold I had twenty minutes before I was due on the air with CBC Radio Saskatchewan. They had called earlier in the morning to go over the questions they were going to ask me, so I was ready to rumble. I was by the radio when it rang, and the ten minute interview went off without a hitch. They had some interesting questions to ask, so it made it fun.

So, please! Whoever it is in charge of writing the script of my life, could you please try to keep me off the crises list for at least a week? I've kept my sense of humour, believed that if I waited long enough, things would get fixed ... I haven't even growled at anyone and sent fresh herbs to the cook at Anderson fire base. I'd just like a few quiet, sunny, warm days to settle myself down.

In the meantime, one of the mountaintop lookouts in the district took direct lightning hits twice this week, one of which fried that generator. (And when that happens, specialists have to go in and check all the grounding wires thoroughly.) So the tower coordinator and the handyman were in the north end of the district today on yet another generator mission.

This is XMM 32, looking out at a blue sky right now. How nice to see it again.

Place your bets ... The propane pig should last around 7-8 weeks. Will the propane truck arrive by then?

Coalspur Weather Jun 18: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 7oC / Winds: SW 7 km / Precip: 0.6mm / Clouds: 10% HIgh 10% Middle / RH: 82% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze Jun 12: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 7oC / Winds: S 4 km / Precip: 2.0mm / Clouds: 90% Low 10% Cumulus / RH: 88% / Visibility: 35 km/Rain showers and haze

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June 5, 2007

I can see the trees at the edge of my yard waving to and fro through the fog; thunder and lightning crash and flash at some unknown, but short, distance. The rain is pattering on the steel roof, I have hot tea at my side and my cabin is dry and warm. Ted waited a few minutes too long to make a run to relieve himself, now he's drying out on a towel.

What a difference from the past week, which has seen me on slow roast daily in my cupola! When you take into account that it's generally 2-3 degrees warmer in town (and conversely, that Joan at Granite Flats [at 7,000 ft.] is generally 2-ish degrees cooler than here at Coalspur [4,846 ft.]), since May 31 I've had daily high temperatures from 22.5 to 25oC! Wasn't it just a week or so ago that I had 15cm of snow?

Although many plants have surged ahead with the warmth, my lawn (which I insist is not a lawn, or I'd start trying to improve it or something silly like that -- let's call it a clearing), with the exception of the dandelions, is still brown. Most of my lettuces that I planted as seed have broken ground (ahhh! You should see my selections this year! A red-freckled Hungarian romaine, red loose leaf, red oak leaf, buttercrunch, regular romaine, arugula and corn salad! It will be a feast in a few weeks!) and I have tomatoes on the beefsteak plants already. I planted my little Tiny Tim tomato plant in the greenhouse, and I just noticed the other day that the side facing the wall of the greenhouse is covered in little yellow flowers, where the side that faces into the greenhouse doesn't look like it's changed a whole lot since I transplanted it. And ... although one can never say for sure that fruit set can be precisely correlated to flowering ... there seems to be lots of flowers on the wild blueberry and huckleberry plants.

The mule deer have been back to visit several times. They're at that interesting stage where they're both curious and intensely shy. I think I got some good pictures of them the other day, perhaps one will be good enough for this year's Christmas card. The yellow-rumped warblers continue to sing, so apparently not all have found their true loves yet. We had a special surprise concert by a Wilson's warbler who sang to us from a tree at the side of the road, right at the crest of the big hill one lovely morning. The pair of robins that have been here since we arrived continue to stalk the insects in the clearing and sing their evening songs, so hopefully they are here to stay for the season. The thrushes, both Swainson's and varied thrush are here, as they were last year. We've also have a Townsend's Solitaire here for a few weeks now. Most conspicuous in their absence, much to my dismay, are the harriers. There is, however, a red tail hawk that has apparently taken up residence over these hills and I delight in watching him sail around on the updrafts. I must admit, however, that I keep trying to find a white rump on its back, no matter how red the tail is, to prove to myself that it's really the female harrier. Perhaps the harriers are just busy right now sitting on their nest.

I went out to move the truck a few days back, and noticed something lying in the grass just beside the passenger's door. It turned out to be a dead pack rat! I was rather surprised ... the side facing up had been drooled on, but the downside was dry ... no broken skin or blood. I also checked for singed lips in case it was taste-testing the wiring in the truck, but no signs of that either. I asked Ted if he had anything to do with it, but he refused to answer. He was playing it very cool, "Oh ... what's that? Hmm... wonder how that got there ...", but I caught him going and checking on it later that evening. Although he enjoyed getting to know his feral hunter side while we were at Connaught, he hasn't ever taken an interest in hunting again. I left it where it was for one night, hoping that something would come along and make good use of it, but it was still there in the morning, so I got the shovel and heaved it over the cliff. Ted followed me when he saw me go for the shovel, and then out to the cliff bringing with him a new interest in the situation, and was thus quite upset when I heaved it. But he still admits to nothing as far as it's death goes. I took pictures of it so that you can all see what one actually looks like. I must admit, when they're alive they're much cuter, but still this will give you a clearer idea of how big they are and how different they are from regular rats.

My last wildlife note ... Edgar has now decided that the family of bears below me are grizzlies. Not sure why he made that decision, but until I actually see them I can't add anything to the discussion.

As for my reason for being here, forest fires, it's been a funny ol' week. Along with the incredibly hot, dry weather, we had intermittent lightning that had us all on the lookout for holdover fires. One day I went downstairs to do weather and grab lunch, and sure enough, Jim at Yarrow tower called a smoke around 20 km to my north. Damn! But this is why we stagger our lunches. That one (as we say) was rolling in no time and the tankers arrived quickly. They had it boxed in once, but it ran over one of the lines, so they added a few more tanker loads. The crews battled it for the rest of the day, I could see it make runs into new timber from the edges until early evening.

The very next day, I was down for weather and lunch, and I heard an industry helicopter calling in a smoke from the coal mine below me. Sigh ... As it was in an old cutblock, it didn't take much for the crews to have it under control.

There was a bit of confusion surrounding the dispatches for the fire, and the industry helicopter beating me to the punch. I called the office this morning and plead my case for getting a 'true assist' on it, which, when I explained the situation, they relented and gave to me.

Interesting to note, apparently there is a 3,000+ hectare fire northwest of Fort McMurray right now. It was on the news this morning that there had been an accident where a firefighter (probably a crew leader or some such designation) driving a quad (ATV) was leading a couple of bulldozers through the bush. One bulldozer driver lost track of her and ended up running her over. As they were on true muskeg, the woman and the quad actually sunk far enough into the muskeg that she came out of it with only a broken arm and a bit of damage to one ear. I think she used up her miracle card that day. Good thing she was carrying it.

Well, I think that's about all the reading you need to endure for this week. It's supposed to rain now for most of the week, so I think I'm just going to enjoy the down time. Go ahead, dare me.

Oh, one final image ... the lilacs at the front of the cabin are blooming this year. With this lifestyle of mine, probably the last time I saw and smelled lilacs in bloom was 2001. They're divine.

Coalspur Weather

Jun 5: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 14.5oC / Winds: W 10 km / Precip: 0 / Clouds: 30% High; 70% Middle / RH: 67% / Visibility: 30 km/Smoky

Jun 5: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 12oC / Winds: NW 4 km / Precip: Trace /Clouds: 100% Low / RH: 84% / Visibility: 25 km/Smoky and Hazy

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June 3, 2007

After five days on high hazard followed by today at extreme, I'm feeling just a tad glazed over. It's been a hectic week, and I'd rather wait until we (hopefully) get the rain that's predicted on Tuesday before I sit down and write a better letter than I could write tonight.

So please stand by ... XMM 32, clear.

Coalspur Weather

Jun 3 : Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 12.5oC / Winds: S 12km / Precip: 0 / Clouds: 40% High / RH: 70% / Visibility: 25 km/Hazy

Jun 3: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 22.5oC / Winds: E 10km / Clouds: 30% High; 70% Cumulus / RH: 29% / Visibility: 30 km/Hazy

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May 27, 2007

After a high of 22.5oC on the 17th; exactly one week later I had a high of 1oC and about 15 cm of snow on the ground. Good thing I didn't plant the garden, huh? I'll say it was good planning, but it was probably just good luck.

It went down to -4oC overnight on that same chilly day, so I added the Coleman lantern (propane model) in the greenhouse to support the tent heater, to make sure everything in there was happy. Just to prove what a difference a year makes, last year a full barbecue-size tank of propane lasted both spring and fall; the morning after that frosty night the tank was empty -- in just three weeks! So I made my first trip into the village to get it refilled, leaving the Coleman lantern to do all the work until I could get back. I bought a few groceries at the General Store, it's very quaint with handmade crocheted slippers in a glass case near the cash register and an old non-functional cooler filled with hand sewn cushions, hats, scarves, etc. I met Edgar there and went to the hotel for some lunch. I must admit, it was a real treat to sit down and order food that someone else made (that being said, I've tried to convince myself three times now to go into town, and I can't make myself do it). And so early in the season! I'm spoiled ... And it's true, while the hotel isn't posh by any stretch of the imagination, the food was very good, including the recommended fries. By the time I got back, the snow had melted on the hill and I must admit it was a bit of a greasy scramble to get back up to the tower site. By the time I reached the middle, I wasn't sure if we were going to make it, but then we managed to get a grip on something and made it up the rest of the way.

It was a good thing I enjoyed a peaceful day on the couch, knitting in hand, on that snowy day, as it seemed to be hectic all week. The retired head forest ranger stopped in, bringing me more rhubarb plants and friends with him. We all had a nice chat, they took some seeds away with them and bought a book. The couple that came with them were also residents of the village and had never been to a tower before, so it was neat to see the expressions on their faces.

Edgar returned the day after lunch with a picnic table in the back of his truck. Some campers had pinched it from a campground for use in their random campsite. He couldn't be bothered to take it all the way to where it belonged, so he brought it to Coalspur, as the picnic table here is in pretty sad shape. In fact, the worst bits of that one are now in the fire pit. The following day he chauffeured my very pregnant supervisor out for a visit. We had a nice chat and she was kind enough to bring me a fresh newspaper!

They apparently passed a mama bear with two cubs just below my hill on their way out. Edgar described the cubs as two little fluffballs that, together, wouldn't add up to one Ted. That's tiny! So of course everyone is speculating as to whether they're grizzlies or not. I guess the Mom is quite big, but really mottled in colour, and the cubs are black. Edgar votes that it's a black bear; my supervisor and the Petrocan operator who checks the gas plant at the bottom of the hill both vote for grizzly. It's been a very beary week, as I passed a young bear on the road (just below my hill as well) going each way when I went into the village. I keep wondering if he's not that pathetic little thing I saw last year that I named Annie, although I didn't hold hopes that it would live through this past winter as it was pretty dull-coated and listless. This one has quite a lovely coat and was carrying good spring weight even though he was probably just a bit taller than knee-high on me ... probably around 75-100 lbs. Now as long as he/she doesn't get between Mama and the cubs ...

The quietest visitors of the week were the three mule deer who were in the yard when I got up in the morning. I startled them and they ran off behind some trees. When I returned from the outhouse, they were all peeking at me, trying to decide if I was a menace of not. It's funny, the winter I lived in Elkford, BC, there were so many mule deer running all over town, walking down the streets, grazing on peoples' lawns and not the least bit frightened of humans. But both at Aurora and here, mulies seem to be so shy.

So between all these goings-on, I stuck to my primary objective which was to get the gardens under control. Seeing as they disappeared under the snow for a day or so, suffice to say I'm behind on that, but things are gradually coming together. The weather channel on the radio says it's supposed to be 29oC on Wednesday ... I think we've covered three seasons now, haven't we? Once again comparing years, I finally called DLO (deciduous leaf out) today; last year I reported it on May 11.

As for that prediction of stinky-hot for Wednesday, we had thunderstorms today and a big bolt struck at the bottom of the hill (seems like there's lots going on down there these days). Perhaps a hold-over fire? Stay tuned, friends ...

But the moon is already high in the sky; the clouds are just starting to turn pink ... it's time to get the water on the stove to do dishes, and for Ted and I to saunter down the Sunset Trail and watch the sun sink behind the snow covered Rockies.

Until next week, XMM 32, clear.

Coalspur Weather

May 27: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 8oC / Winds: W 7km / Precip: 0 / Clouds: 10% High; 90% Middle / RH: 65% / Visibility: 40 km/Hazy

May 17: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 8oC / Winds: W 13km / Clouds: 10% Middle; 90% Low / RH: 71% / Visibility: 40 km/Hazy/Rain/Lightning

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May 07, 2007

It's so good to be home again. This past winter, amidst a booming Calgary, urban life was especially tiring. It was sheer luck that my supervisor moved up my opening date so that I could escape before the transit strike started.

As always, the packing and travelling to the tower has been tiring, but this year it was easier as I have my own vehicle this year. This allowed me to bother less friends and also a few less packing-and-unpackings before arriving at Coalspur. Although the big hill into the tower was clear of snow, the last few hundred yards to the cabin was blocked by snowdrifts. So while I was getting my groceries, the plow arrived and cleared the path for us to get in by mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Thursday, just after lunch, the rain started, turning to snow around suppertime. It was still coming down when I went to bed on Friday. As the temperature rose intermittently above freezing, the volume of snow actually went down over time even though flakes flew continuously.

Between the last village and the tower, we passed lots of whitetails and mule deer but found no tracks here in the yard. I haven't alked to the south path yet to see whether there are fresh tracks where I found the cougar prints last September. The new snow told that the pack rats (bushy-tailed wood rats) ventured across the road during the night to check out the gen shed -- unfortunately, there were no returning tracks. So far no signs that they've managed to get into the shed as they did last year.

Right now every available flat space in the cabin is filled with plants. As soon as the last of the snow melts in the yard, I'm looking forward to getting the greenhouse set up and moving all the plants outside so that I can have room to move. I brought 50 peat pellets, thinking that amount was more than enough, and yet within a couple of hours they were all seeded and I wished I had brought more. As it will be a few weeks yet before I can get seedlings into the ground, the next few days I'll have to repot the plants that came in six-packs to larger pots, as most are root-bound already.

Equipment is being upgraded again. The comms tech was here when I arrived and ran me through how to use the new radios. The new radios have a few new features like a priority base channel when using scan and auto-dial in cases of emergency (straight to the Edmonton call centre). On Monday, they will be bringing a new fridge (yay!) and the faithful old space heater will be swapped for a new wall-mounted type. Although my first response is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" (I've never yet had a problem with a space heater at any cabin), these new wall-mounted types have better venting to further reduce carbon monoxide hazard, and I will regain the space that the old free-standing one took up. Because of the weather, the locked gate at the bottom of the hill hasn't been installed yet (but soon).

But enough of the technical stuff ... 'Nesting' projects like starting a grouping of paintings or sketches from former Coalspur towerfolk has begun and my supervisor has approved of the permanent greenhouse plans I brought with me. What an incredible sense of settling that gives me. It will have a corrugated fibreglass roof, but just plastic sheeting on the sides so I can take the plastic off in the summer and yet keep the hail off the permanent residents. I'm going to put a little airtight stove in it so that I can fire it up as soon as I arrive and move all the bedding plants into it right away. What with all the pines that snapped in last September's snow, I will have enough firewood to last for seasons. Which reminds me of yet another project I need to add to the list -- so many of the paths that Ted and I take daily are blocked with fallen trees, although I will have to start slowly until the ol' muscles come up to speed.

It was a wonderful feeling when I climbed the tower for the first time on Thursday, taking the scope and binoculars up with me. To look out on the mountains and see again the ridge where Granite Flats sits (I can't see the cabin right now as the ridge is still covered in snow and the cabin is white) and the big black spot that was last year's FWF 138. For all the times over the winter when I would sit at my desk in the office and close my eyes, imagining I was doing an observation and looking out onto 'my' landscape, it is exactly how I left it, and it feels wonderful to be back among 'my' trees again. The cabins in the ghost town don't seem any the worse for wear after bearing another winter's snow.

At first I thought that I had arrived before the birds, but I can hear a thrush out there, and a robin sang all day yesterday. Another bird that whose song I recognize ... but darned if I can remember what species it is and I haven't found my binoculars yet ... is also sitting in the treetops singing for a mate. The pansies I planted in the garden last season that survived the constant trimming of the pack rats have already begun to grow again along with the chives. I wonder if the lilacs will bloom this year, after I thinned out so much of the suckering last year.

But I should go -- it wasn't until late yesterday when I went to check the water barrel that collects the rain from the gen shed roof and discovered the spigot was open. What a waste! So I must go and fill it with snow, as it is supposed to be warm today and much of it will melt. Then I'd like to get going on clearing the paths.

XMM 32, open for the 2007 fire season at 02-May 19:25; clear.

Coalspur Weather May 6: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 0.5oC / Winds: S 8km / Precip: 0 / Clouds: 100% High / RH: 58% / Visibility: 40 km/Hazy May 5: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 3.5oC / Winds: W 20km Gusting 36km / Clouds: 50% High 20% Middle / RH: 65% / Visibility: 40 km/Clear Present snow on ground: ~9 cm and melting fast!

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