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Journal 2008

September 14, 2008

The full moon has come out from behind wispy neon pink clouds and now dominates the eastern sky. The fireweed glows in the dusk due to how vividly scarlet it has turned. Each plant looks like the fireworks often used in large displays where the explosion causes a blossoming effect with the petals trickling down like diamonds in the night sky. There are patches where the huckleberry plants have turned red as well, although I can't decide whether it's caused by the sun or from being touched by frost. I have never seen bearberries such a deep, rich crimson. The fresh snow has made every line, crease and shadow on the mountains that much more vivid; the spot where the sun now sets seems miles from where it dipped out of sight in June.

The squirrels are busy decorating the pine trees with mushrooms; anywhere there are still berries one can find robins and grouse. Otherwise the only birdsong is that of the chickadees, the junkos and the occasional hawk. It seems that everyone else must be headed south.

Thursday saw me drive into Edmonton for a union meeting, but with it being so close to closing, even hot baths and showers weren't enough to make the trip worth more than if I had been able to stay here.

After so many cold, wet days, now that it's closing time, Indian summer has arrived. It was warm and sunny today, and that's supposed to continue until the end of the week. I'm sorry I won't be here to enjoy it.

Due to the wonderful weather, I spent nearly the entire day outside, closing up the gardens and packing up the little cold frame greenhouses. The poppies and the sweet peas seem to have resisted the frosts and continue to try to get as many blooms open as possible before they succumb to the cold.

As tomorrow is my last full day, I can procrastinate no longer -- I must get the windows washed.

This summer seems to be the balance to 2006 -- the summer of our big fire flap here. The two tiny little smouldering fires I got this year were a strong contrast to the 22 fires I called in two years ago. And yet, as towerfolk often told me when I was a greenhorn that these are the summers where lots of chores get done on the ground to balance the years when one seems to spend the entire time in the cupola.

I wish that meant that my permanent greenhouse was finished, that the woodstove was installed, some wood stacked beside it so that it would be perfectly dried when I pulled in next spring and walked right out there with my tomato plants and fired it up. But alas, my plans have changed, the partially finished greenhouse was sold a few weeks back. With any luck, the soil where it once stood will be dry enough so that I can finish raking it out.

I have made the difficult decison not to return to Coalspur next year. My heart is broken -- I thought this was the tower that would see me through to whenever my knees refused to climb one more rung on the ladder. But there has been no peace, no satisfaction of projects moving ahead, only the exhaustion from being at loggerheads with the office all summer. If negative energy were gold, I'd be on easy street.

Having to push rivers and move mountains was never in my plans when I decided to run away to the forest, it was what I had tried to escape from. Perhaps it's because I've stayed here too long that it's finally caught up to me. Perhaps I need to find a new place to hide. The good side is that when I write to all of you in the spring, it will be a new location that I will thoroughly enjoy describing to you.

A close second to how much I will miss Coalspur will be how much I miss my neighbouring towerfolk. This group has by far been the most accepting, had the best team spirit, and with whom I've developed the closest bonds. Perhaps that's what comes of events like Stephanie's disappearance -- it brings those who remain closer. I will miss Smokey's "I Hear Radio" program; the wise counselling of the more experienced towerfolk around me. I will miss the Sunset Trail, the familiar line of the mountains against the skyline, and, of couse, the huckleberries. I will always wonder how Annie has made out. I hope the next towerperson who lands here comes to love this place as much as I have.

This will be my last note for the season, as the phone company is turning off its analog service tomorrow, so I won't have a phone any longer. My faithful ol' bag phone that has followed me around since 2003 will be a dinosaur.

It's such a stunning evening out there, just before I came in to write this note to you I piled some wood into the firepit, and I am now off to watch the flames and the full moon for a while. If I'm lucky, perhaps an aurora will join us as well.

There was a trail that Ted and I used to walk in our first year here, but fallen trees from the winter had made it impossible for Ted to walk it since. So while he was asleep in the cabin late this afternoon, I walked it one last time by myself. I had forgotten how beautiful it was. Gosh, I'm gonna miss this place.

This is XMG 32, down for the season.


Coalspur Weather

Sep 14: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 7oC / Winds: SW 7 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 20% High / RH: 58% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze

Sep 14: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 17oC / Winds: N 6 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 100% High / RH: 25% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze

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September 7, 2008

No matter how hard the towerfolk of Alberta have tried to pool their energies and effect an Indian summer, as I look at the forecast for the next few days, it just doesn't look like it's going to happen. I was talking with to neighbouring lookouts from the next district the past couple of days, and they both leaving around the same time as I am. So it seems that the offices are seeing the same writing on the weather wall.

Thus the work of shutting down and packing has begun between the showers. The hardest part is taking the gardens apart. But I gritted my teeth and went out to the tomato plants yesterday, thanked them for being the best plants I've ever grown here, took off all the green tomatoes, and cut them down. The rest of that day and most of today was spent pickling them and making relish. But now, I swear! I will not can one more thing before I leave! (Speaking of pickling, last year I had home grown cucumbers, but no fresh dill; this year I have a fabulous full row of dill, but no cucumbers.) The hyssop has all been cut down as well, and is presently drying in the oven.

Wednesday night there was an end-of-season party at a nearby Forestry camp. Ted and I both went, and it was great to see my co-towerfolk face-to-face and find out what everyone will be doing over the winter. As for Ted, he parked himself under whoever had a plate in their hands, and more than once when I glanced over at him, I saw folks dropping bits of steak in front of him. There were lots of other dogs there, but none seemed to catch his fancy. So many were young retrievers, and he doesn't even attempt to keep up to them anymore. On our drive home, over two hours over dirt roads, we were followed by the most fabulous aurora that danced across the sky all the way home.

I've had company via telephone this week as well. A retired towerman, a 40+ (if I remember correctly) year veteran and the namesake of the tower long service award, got my phone number from someone and has called me a couple of times this week. He is very entertaining, and has told some really great stories from his days on the towers. He says he's cleaning out his library right now, and went through a few titles he thought I might be interested in (he has read my book) and has generously offered to send them out to the tower next spring.

The chipmunks are continuing their harvest as well. Today I startled one by the woodpile that they use as a safe haven while they run short forays into the surrounding plants. Today it was harvesting cured grasses. It would snip the long stem (probably around 18" high) off at ground level, and then ever so efficiently slide it through its hands and snip off shorter lengths until it worked its way to the seed head. This being the first year they have ventured into the yard from their little pueblo village out by where the road crests the hill, I have so enjoyed their company. And, unlike the pack rats, they have stayed away from the gardens while remaining so close to the cabin. Their antics have made me laugh many times.

My trip down the Sunset Trail tonight had me frighten two grouse just where the trail ends at the cutblock. There are just so many berries of every description this year -- blueberries, huckleberries, bunchberries, bearberries, raspberries, black gooseberries, red currants and elderberries -- that I don't think any resident of this forest, from bear to grouse, will have any reason not to have lots of weight on before the snows fly. Speaking of bears, I found another fresh pile of scat just yesterday, and it seems that the raspberries are not finished yet. Also, I was down at the gate the other day to pick up an old "Residence 1/4 Mile - No Shooting" sign that had been laying face down at the foot of the hill for the past couple of seasons, and there were fresh wolf tracks. I hadn't seen or heard any sign of wolves this season, other than the one pile of scat that is left on the same rock every spring. As for the sign, it is now installed where quadders using the secondary access from the northeast will see it. I'd been after my supervisor all summer to get a sign down there, but, as usual, it's always best just to do it oneself, and thus it is done.

It's a clear night tonight, and although the weather report on the radio has said there is a risk of frost (less than a warning) it is still 7oC in the yard well after dark. I can see a pale orange crescent moon making its way skyward beyond the pine trees ... I wonder if there might be another aurora tonight.

Smokey had a great "I Hear Radio" last night, there were lots of tunes played, including some really great renditions from the Unknown Singer. And Willmore Willie even radioed in from this platform in the Willmore Wilderness Area. He is such a character ...

But tonight it is quiet, and I suppose I should get a bit more knitting done tonight before I turn in. With just nine days to go, I don't have much more time to embrace all the quiet here, so best I go curl up on the couch for a while.

Until next week,


Coalspur Weather

Sep 7: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 3oC / Winds: W 7 km / Precip: 2.4 mm / Clouds: 40% Middle / RH: 93% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze

Sep 7: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 9oC / Winds: N 2 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 70% Middle 30% Low / RH: 63% / Visibility: 20 km/Haze and Fog

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August 31, 2008

I've just got to stop making more gardens! Every tarp, dog towel and tablecloth is strung over the gardens, both last night and tonight, as frost warnings have now officially been declared on the weather bands on the radio. Even though some of the eastern towers reported frost with their morning weather reports, somehow Coalspur managed to stay under the edge of cloud cover, and we avoided it. As it has been raining here off and on most of the afternoon, I thought that we may make it through tonight as well, but sunset showed clear skies to our northwest, so I'm taking no chances. Granite Flats got a few centimeters of snow yesterday and today, so I think I should consider myself lucky.

Of course, the sweet peas and the poppies are just hitting their peak. I tried some peony poppies this year, and I've really been enjoying them, but if I could just get a few more warm days, I have both purple and white ones just opening ...

The chipmunks that did such a good job of harvesting the dandelion seeds earlier in the summer are back to harvest the fireweed seeds. When I look out the kitchen window abd see the fireweed plants around the outhouse doing the cha-cha, I know they're hard at work. The fluff from these seeds is a bit different from the dandelions, thus when a chipmunk has the fluff stuffed in its mouth it looks ever such much like its wearing a Santa beard. I have been trying for that perfect picture to use on this year's Christmas card, but I don't think I've quite got it yet. However, I do have some nice pictures of one hanging like an acrobat from one of the slender flowerheads.

Otherwise, it's been a quiet week. Friends of the retired head ranger's from the village came up yesterday and picked a few huckleberries (under the pledge, of course, not to tell anyone else where they got them). They brought along their border collie, Bailey, which thrilled Ted to have a friend for the afternoon. When they finally got cold through, they came in for coffee and we had a lovely chat. Other than that pleasant afternoon visit, there have been a minimum of humans this week, although three quads came as far as the helipad this afternoon before turning to leave, and I saw hunters for the first time parked down below yesterday.

And so this brings me to the bad news for the week: the list of closing dates has come out. Unfortunately, I'm out of here early compared to the last two years. What with losing a week in the spring, I had hoped that they wouldn't trim the end as well, but ... ah well, c'est la vie. We had all hoped throughout the season that the late spring would have meant a long, warm autumn, but Mother Nature has different plans. And we must abide. Although it looks like there may be a few warm days next week, there's nothing in the long term forecast that shows any hope that they might reconsider. Even though the realist side of me knows that this has to happen, the romantic side of me dreams on. So the realist is now making lists of chores. Sixteen days isn't such a bad length of time to spread the work over.

The junco mothers have been busy all week giving their fledglings the last lessons on how to feed themselves, I quite enjoyed watching one youngster wrestle with the seedheads on the chickweed. Other than all the buzzing of the junco fledglings, it seems that the only other songbirds around right now are the kinglets. Although the kestrel has been quite vocal over the season, generally the hawks have been quiet, but the red tail who flew over today really had a lot to say -- and unfortunately, I couldn't translate.

So on this cold, wet, dreary evening, from my warm, comfortable little cabin, I'm looking out the window at just after 21:00 and it's dark already. It doesn't seem so long ago I was going to bed with light still coming through the window.

That toilet seat is going to be darned cold again tomorrow morning ...


Coalspur Weather

Aug 31: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 1.5oC / Winds: SE 6 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 70% Middle 20% Low / RH: 92% / Visibility: 20 km/Haze and Fog

Aug 31: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 6oC / Winds: N 2 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 70% Middle 30% Low / RH: 63% / Visibility: 20 km/Haze and Fog Precip for August: 72.2 mm

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August 26, 2008

It's getting dark so darned early these days. I closed up the gardens before I even had dinner tonight -- that just seems wrong.

But here I sit, waiting for the first stars to appear, a glass of Smokey's homemade wine beside me (with a healthy dose of ginger ale in it), and it's time I get a note off to you as I'm a couple of days late. But that's because I had family visit this past weekend!

My sister, her husband, their son (8 yrs), and his cousin (13 yrs), all arrived on Saturday. We had a lot of fun. The boys ended up sleeping out in the tent after putting it up themselves, they eached passed a weather report, we all went berry picking, coming back with enough wild raspberries for a full batch of jelly. While I sat in the cupola for a few hours on Sunday afternoon, they all hiked down to the ghost town below and took a look at the homes, and enjoyed the tracks on the mine road. Campfires both nights, finding Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper in the star strewn sky, and Sunday night I set the trap and had a pack rat for the boys to see before they left on Monday morning. So our last little adventure was driving the pack rat out to his new home, and then a little visit to the old trapper's cabin. And off they went to visit Jasper.

It was a hectic couple of days with four extra bodies in a tiny cabin, but I had lots of fun serving up lots of fresh baking, and it's always a treat to share the harvest of one's own garden.

I thought I was going to sit down and write to all of you last night, but oddly enough all that hostessing had me in bed with a good book before 20:00 last night, and it wasn't long before the book was closed and the Coleman lantern turned off.

Just before they all arrived, I had two mule deer in the yard, the first time this year. My regular doe brought a pal along, although this second one was having a bit more of a problem dealing with the biting flies as she had rubbed patches of fur off with all her itching. But both are carrying good weight, and they had a good feed on the fireweed around the yard. I had hoped they would return and show off in front of the boys, but they stayed clear of all the excitement.

The wild ox-eye daisies are just about done now; the wildflowers in general that live on the slope out to the helipad are starting to show a bit of golden tones among their leaves. In the gardens proper, the sweet peas are all in bloom and when it was warmer on Sunday, the base of the tower was awash in their fragrance. I've never grown poppies before, but planted two types, and both are now blooming. It's fun to go out in the morning and see the new blooms that have burst forth from their hard shells overnight.

I had read somewhere last year, that at this time of year one should crop off the tips of one's tomato plants so that they don't bloom any more and the plants can devote all their energies to growing the little green tomatoes they already have. I couldn't bring myself to do it last year, but I got the pruning shears today and did the deed. I'll let you know if the concept works.

As for the weather ... well, there is that hint of autumn in the air, and two neighbouring towers had frost in their remarks with their morning reports. Luckily, Coalspur remained under cloud cover, so my overnight low only got down to 4oC. I switched the radio over to the weather station late this afternoon, and the forecast for the next few days doesn't contain anything above 19oC (for town, which means around 16oC here), with only a high of 11oC for Saturday. Oh, I'm getting the feeling that phone call with closing dates won't be too far off now ...

I finished reading "Three Day Road" on Monday, and so I have started a volume of collected works by Grey Owl. Having said that, my thought leads me back to last week when I was so distressed about the work that the Firesmart crews had done around here. I found it poignant that I had framed a greeting card that a friend had given me over the winter and added it to my bedroom wall. It reads, "The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man. -- Author Unknown." Well, wasn't that prophetic. And so it was that I found the opening to Grey Owl's The Men of the Last Frontier equally interesting in that it opens with the Byron poem:

"I live not in myself, but I become Portion of that around me; and to me High mountains are a feeling, but the hum Of human cities torture; I can see Nothing to loathe in Nature, save to be A link reluctant in a fleshly chain, Class'd among creatures, when the soul can flee, And with the sky, the peak, the heaving plain Of ocean, or the stars, mingle, and not in vain."

It has come to that time in the season where, for some reason, I always end up feeling that I haven't been close enough to the woods; I haven't leaned my head on its chest and heard its heartbeat. And thus, I have this overwhelming desire to try my best of sit quietly and try to hear that heartbeat, until the inevitable phone call comes.


Coalspur Weather

Aug 26: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 4.5oC / Winds: W 4 km / Precip: 3.6 mm / Clouds: 80% Middle / RH: 93% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze

Aug 17: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 12.5oC / Winds: W 5 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 80% Cumulus / RH: 43% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze

Precip to date for August: 61.6 mm

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Aug 17, 2008

There is a large pale yellow moon climbing the skies outside the window beside the desk. It has slipped through long strings of clouds on it's ascent, but right now it's crisp and clear in a dark blue sky. The sunset tonight was magnificent, with lots of wispy cirrus clouds to catch all the vibrant colours as the sun disappeared behind the mountains.

It's been hot here since Wednesday, and I haven't had significant rain for a week. Pretty well all of us have been on high or extreme for the last four days, and we're on extreme again tomorrow. In the actual town of Edson, it's been over 30oC for several days, Coalspur hit a high of 29oC on Thursday.

Late this afternoon a nasty storm passed through -- an incredible amount of lightning and an underdraft of wind that really shook the cupola. Except for a concentrated area of rain directly under the storm, there was precious little precip and lots of dry strikes, and as tomorrow is supposed to be another 30oC day, I wouldn't be surprised if we get a few holdovers.

Even though I had tried my best, pleading and begging not to let the Firesmart crews come until after huckleberry season, the crews arrived on Monday. Three days filled with the sound of chainsaws (it's rather like having a tooth drilled for six hours a day) and the odour of 2-stroke fuel. Every time I looked out a window, I started to cry. One big slash pile is right in the huckleberries, close enough to the mature standing trees that when they light it, the trees closest to it will all be black on the side facing the yard. And it's beside the willow tree that seems to be what draws the deer into the yard. Even though my one little calypso orchid takes up less space than the palm of your hand, it's now under that pile. Another pile sits on the wildflower meadow I took pictures of just a short few weeks ago; a third has flattened a large patch of fireweed that the deer, and Annie when she visited last year, graze regularly. Large patches of huckleberries have been stomped on, trees dropped upon and/or dragged over them until they're flattened. So much for the best harvest ever.

My little junco friend was in the yard today, and as so much of the wildlife disappeared with all this commotion, and it wasn't until I saw her that I realized it had been a few days since last we'd crossed paths. That made me think of her nest, in a young spruce tree just on the edge of the yard and I spun around to affirm for myself that it was still there. But alas ... only a stump. I watched her for quite a while from the cupola today, and she is actually going into the slash pile. I find it hard to believe that her young could still be alive, unless perhaps they are near to fledging and could hold on to that tree for dear life as it fell to the ground, and then dragged over to the pile and thrown atop. I'll watch again tomorrow as well, and see if she continues. And then, of course, I keep wondering what I should do (if anything) about it, or just leave them be.

They even thinned across my beautiful, moss carpeted trails, where it was always shady, cool and quiet, and where Ted and I walked daily. I can't even bring myself to use them any longer. It looks like a war zone. And just a week before my family arrives.

The tower veterans who have been through a few rounds of this have become tough, yet they all admit to being upset the first time or two that their sites were thinned/cleared/slashed. I did a damned fine job of being upset if I do say so myself. I know that's it's just emotional, romantic ol' me becoming attached to the things that I find beautiful around me. But I guess I wouldn't be a romantic if I didn't appreciate those things that enhance my little corner of the world.

Thursday was my first day of peace and quiet again, and it was my greatest hope that I not see a human again for a while. Alas, right around last light (21:00hr), two drunks and their dog came in on a quad. They couldn't see me, as I was picking berries behind some trees, and I must admit it was a bit disconcerting when their first words were, "Look! The door is open!" They claimed to have come as they felt that I needed company and were, of course, quite proud that they'd found a way around the locked gate. I think I got it across how wrong they were with one strong "No!" and, as their dog valiantly tried to piss on everything in the yard, they tried to get their quad started. It took them a good few tries -- they had me quite worried that I was going to be stuck with them for longer than I was comfortable with -- but it eventually started and they were on their way, thank goodness.

So as is always my downfall, I contemplated what all the damage done this week and all the strong feelings it brought out, and what it all may mean in the grand scheme of things. I took those thoughts and went down the Sunset Trail last night to watch, well, exactly that. I don't ever remember being joined by any other creature in all the times I've done that over the past three seasons, but when I arrived at the little spot where I stand and watch, there was no thrush's song to greet me, only silence. A bit of movement caught my eye, and when I looked down, there was a grouse perched on a fallen log, pondering just what in the heck I was and what my intentions may be. It was a funny little bird -- standing up tall and stretching up its neck to see me from that perspective, and then crouching down to see if I looked different from that angle, all the while puffing up its feathers in case I might be frightened by that. And then the mule doe walked out from among the young cutblock pines, and stood quietly a few feet away, eyed me for a minute or two, then continued on her way to the yard. Two chipmunks appeared next, between the doe and the grouse, and sat contentedly and watched me for a while as well. We were a unique little group, we were. All wondering what the heck had happened to our world, and whether we could all just go about being ourselves again without any more interruptions. Oh, my animal neighbours, I hope so.

Between berry picking, jam making, and long shifts in the cupola, I don't think I've gotten to bed before midnight for days. And now, this week, I have a grant application due that means I'll be up late writing for a few more.

So I must say goodbye. I only picked half of a batch of berries tonight, and that's a good enough reason for me to defer that chore until tomorrow.

Until next week.

Coalspur Weather

Aug 17: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 16oC / Winds: SW 10 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 20% Middle / RH: 56% / Visibility: 30 km/Haze

Aug 17: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 25.5oC / Winds: E 10 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 40% Cumulus / RH: 44% / Visibility: 30 km/Haze

Precip to date for August: 15.6 mm

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August 10, 2008

It's a good thing I sit when I type, as that means that I'm in the same bent position -- just at a different angle -- as I am out picking huckleberries. Saves the time needed to straighten up.

I'm trying very hard to ignore the first hints that we're on the way to the last part of the summer, but all the signs are there. The earlier evenings means that the night sky is that much darker and seems to have so many more stars. The other night I couldn't believe how clear -- and how dense -- the Milky Way appeared. With that kind of a prelude, I'm certainly looking forward to watching the Perseides.

I have a pair of juncos that seem to have a nest in a small fir at the far side of the yard, just down a few feet from the far end of the vegetable garden. Just like the blackbird who used to walk with me behind the lawn mower and pick off the grasshoppers that would shoot out the back of the lawnmower to feed her ever-growing brood, the need to get enough food for her family has meant that she has had to give up her shyness and share the yard with Ted and I. They have this understated "tick" sound that they repeat and we get into long "tick" conversations as we go about our individual chores.

The pack rat relocation project continues, with an even dozen making the sad mistake of entering the trap. And that means that for every rat, I get to walk an hour round trip in an attempt to get it far enough away while trying to leave enough time for other chores. Knock on wood, there haven't been any recent raids on my garden.

There is lots of fresh bear scat around, but whichever ursa it may be continues to prefer its privacy, and that makes it and I the best neighbours. Perhaps it could have a talk with the pack rats ...

Three friends from the Courthouse in Calgary came up for a visit this weekend. They got off track on their way up and saw a lot of really pretty country in their wanderings, coming in today on a beautiful afternoon that saw us enjoy a great brunch out at the picnic table, a gentle breeze and lots of fair weather cumulus clouds sailing across the blue sky. It was great to see them again.

And as this letter is telling of the goings-on around my yard and brunch with friends, I had almost forgot to mention that I got my second fire of the season yesterday!! We continue to get so much lightning, but it's a sure-fire [pun intended] sign that the forest is staying hydrated as none of it seems to ignite anything. But, one bolt from Friday managed to start a little ground fire, and it got to the point where it was sending up a few puffs of smoke mid-afternoon on Saturday. Two crews in separate helicopters raced for it, with the crew in helicopter ALK first to arrive. The fire was just down below my ridge, about five kilometers from the tower, so it was easy enough to see and I tried to get a few pictures with the telephoto lens -- we'll see if anything is big enough to reproduce on the webshots page. So that's five detection messages and two fires to date for this year. Meanwhile, up in High Level, they have an 800 hectare fire that's been keeping the bird dogs and tanker groups busy, and they've apparently have a couple of multi-start days on top of that. Ah, our year will come around again ...

But this stiff and sore ol' fire tower observer is going to straighten up slowly now and wander over to the couch to do some knitting before it's time for bed.

This is XMG 32, down for the night.


Coalspur Weather

Aug 10: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 11oC / Winds: SW 6 km / Precip: 3 mm / Clouds: 20% Middle 10% Cumulus / RH: 54% / Visibility: 30 km/Haze

Aug 10: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 17oC / Winds: S 5 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 10% High 40% Cumulus / RH: 32% / Visibility: 40 km/Clear

Precip to date for August: 11.8 mm

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August 4, 2008

I've just returned from my eighth trip in these past few weeks and released the equivalent packrat. The first was a family of one adult and three teenagers; the second was an adult and two youngsters (a third youngster, unfortunately, found it's way into a water container, so it was relocated with a shovel and a heave over the edge of the hill), and now this young adult. I think the packrats are faring better than my gardens.

This last one was just too smart for it's own good. I set the trap two nights ago with a dried apricot and date, and a small piece of fresh pear. It got all the bait without tripping the trap. So I got a small plastic container and wired it to the back so that it couldn't stick it's little arms through and pull the bait to the side without entering the trap. It still got the bait. So the next dried date was wired into the plastic container, so that it would have to wrestle with it, and I finally won. Although I don't know how I should keep score anymore ... should I be counting missing plants, hikes, or dried fruit?

For a few brief moments this afternoon, I thought I was going to be able to tell you that I had my second fire of the season (a lot different from the 22 I had in 2006, eh?). But, alas, it turned out to be a smoky flarestack that some oil company had forgotten to inform us of ... Ah well, it was a bit of excitment in an otherwise quiet afternoon.

I haven't seen the doe lately, but the road grader came up the hill a few days back, so no doubt he's scared her off for now. She had started to get a bit too bold, as one morning I looked out and she was standing not 25 ft. from the cabin door, so it's probably best that she got a little fright.

During one of my packrat relocation hikes, on my way back, I turned the corner at the bottom of the hill to find that in the short time I'd been down the trail, a bear had deposited a fresh pile of scat! Not only that, it was full of not-yet-ripe huckleberries! And not even digested! What a waste ... I've decided that the bear that's around but never seen is probably Annie. My argument is that if it was a new bear, that it have been curious enough at some point to come into the yard. The fact that it is settled into the behaviour of skirting the yard indicates to me that it's familiar with the area, and the lack of curiosity shows that it's familiar with what goes on here at the tower. Whether I'm right or wrong, and for whatever reason it's adopted its behaviours, it has made the right choices, and via those choices hopefully it will become a wise old bear.

What with the geraniums being harvested by the packrats, and the ensuing upside-down flowerpots over the remnants of them, I wonder what the toad thinks of it all. The yarrow leaves that hide it's hole at the side of the stairs still look like they're pulled into the hole, so I'm assuming it's still here, although I've never seen it other than the first day when it was excavating.

Smokey's "I Hear Radio" program is a bit quieter than last year. It keeps going back to music, rather than some of the great discussions we got into last year. Smokey declared that July 25 was Tower Christmas, so there has been a flurry of small gifts crossing paths in the office. I'm still working on mine, which have a garden theme.

I picked the first of the huckleberries today, and the wild strawberries have finally ripened as well. In another week, any extra minutes will be spent picking and making jam. With a few extras for on top of my cereal, of course!

We're supposed to be looking at a few nice days here -- they're actually saying high 20s. I was saying to a fellow towerman the other day that the past few days have looked and smelled like September ... oh, say it ain't so ... we haven't had summer yet ...


Coalspur Weather

Aug 4: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 11oC / Winds: W 6 km / Precip: 2.4 mm / Clouds: 10% High 10% Middle / RH: 59% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze

Aug 4: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 18.5oC / Winds: N 3 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 70% Cumulus / RH: 41% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze

Precip for July: 75.6 mm

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July 27, 2008

Well, this is certainly the season for practicing patience. And it has so many applications -- waiting for a lawnmower that actually works, for enough of those rare warm days to accumulate so that the garden will grow, or for the berries to ripen.

There were actually several warm, dry, sunny days mid-week, but it all crashed again Friday night as the lightning, thunder and rain rolled in over the mountains. Across the valley and a bit south, I watched a fabulous bolt of lightning ignite a tree. The rain wasn't far behind it, and it looked like a fairly shallow curtain of rain, so I decided to wait and see if it would survive. It was unlikely that a helicopter could get in there anyway, what with all the lightning. After the rain had passed and the sun came back out, it gave two last little puffs, and that was that. It was drenched three more times the next day, and although I'll keep my eyes on it for another week, chances are that Mother Nature has done a thorough job of extinguishing it.

Darn ... that would have been my second fire of the season.

It would seem as though I test my own patience by the flowers I select for my garden. The dollar store inevitably has a packet of seeds called "hummingbird mix" or "cut flower mix" with no list of what seeds are contained within. I enjoy spreading the seed over a big pot in the greenhouse and watching the seedlings come up, trying to guess what they might be. Once they're in the garden and mature a bit more, then I get to see if my guesses were right, and, if it's a flower that comes in a variety of colours, then I have to wait for that as well. Last year I ended up with a pink baby's breath, lots of ...oh, name, name ... [large pale pink to white flowers with lacey leaves that is named after sea shells] and bachelor buttons. This year, so far, I have white baby's breath, poppies, a yellow daisy, and three who have yet to reveal what they are. And just like boiling kettles, standing over them does not make them grow or bloom faster. Thank heavens I have these things to remind me, over and over, that all good things are revealed in time, and that timing has nothing to do with what I want.

And further to the topic of flowers, a few morning's back I opened the door in the morning to find 3/4 of my geraniums had been mowed by a pack rat. The small consolation was that it had left a few nodes on each plant, so at least they'll grow back with time. What with all the things that have gone wrong this year, that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Once I started crying, I couldn't stop. I got out the tools and some old plywood, and covered the sloppy job the carpenter's did last year of blocking off underneath the gen shed from the rats (it only took them a few weeks to push it down). There is something healing that comes from sawing and hammering ... It made me cry even harder that the creature was probably under there, that it would die a slow and painful death, and that it's dead body would undoubtedly make the gen shed stink for weeks. Then I picked up all the mowed bits of geranium, pruned and powdered them, and set them in pots to grow. And all this time, while I was bawling and working away, the phone kept ringing ... the comms techs were coming, was that okay with me? ... the backcountry patrolman was coming with my mail, was that okay with me? ... The propane delivery truck was coming, would that be okay? Sure, I always love a crowd to look at my puffy face after bawling for a few hours ... What? No camera crew?

The ultimate irony was when I caught the offending animal the next day. After spending nine hours in the cupola on high hazard, I hiked for over an hour to release it. When I finally convinced it to leave the cage, it turned to me one last time, seemingly to inquire as to whether there might be one more piece of pear for the road?

The mule doe that appeared last week has now put the yard on her regular morning tour. I find myself wondering whether she's the doe I've seen on the road twice with a tiny fawn, and whether she's lost the fawn or whether it might be waiting for her outside of the yard. She was quite funny this morning, as I was out at the new greenhouse framing the back wall. Even with all the drilling and sawing going on, she came in and made her way around the edge, treating herself to willow and fireweed. It was a quiet morning, so I decided that her arrival was the perfect reason to take a break, and I must admit I quite enjoyed it. And that decision worked so well, that I decided I'd make another. I decided that if it started to rain and I didn't get that wall framed, that I'd bake. Needless to say, the wall isn't finished, and there are two loaves of zucchini bread on the kitchen counter.

I remember when I first came to Coalspur, that I found it difficult to sleep because I didn't have frogs to sing me to sleep, as I had enjoyed at Tamarack Tower. Fast forward to this year, when I first heard the boreal chorus frogs, albeit during the day, as that was the first I'd heard frogs since the summer of 2005. Even now, on most afternoons, those tiny little tree frogs are still singing from the edges of the yard. It's hard to believe all that noise can come from a frog about an inch long.

So the third and last thunderstorm of the day brought a cold front with it, there are no stars again tonight, and it's time for me to curl up with my book. Those wonderful cool breezes bring on the yawns so quickly ...

For those keeping count, the crews have managed to find a few "one tree wonders" over these past few lightning filled days, and the district just gave out fire number 93 this evening.

Until next week, my friends,


Coalspur Weather

Jul 27: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 11.5oC / Winds: SW 4 km / Precip: 4.4 mm / Clouds: 10% High 70% Middle / RH: 74% / Visibility: 35 km/Haze

Jun 27: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 15.5oC / Winds: NE 7 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 30% Middle 50% Low 20% Cumulus / RH: 64% / Visibility: 30 km/Haze

Precip to date for July: 64 mm

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July 22, 2008

Before anything else can happen ... I'm terrified to ask what might go wrong next ...

Since my last email to you on June 15, which was caused first by my new digital bag phone breaking followed by a fight with the phone company, then the wait to have my old analog bag phone sent up to me (yup, I'm back down to 1/2 dialup speed again), I was finally going to sit down last night and write to all of you ... and the generator wouldn't start.

Not that it hadn't been giving me grief for a while, but it went into total refusal mode.

But let's not dwell on the negative ...

I finally got The lawnmower returned after I sent it in to be fixed a few weeks back at the same time as the generator was swapped out.

The lawn had grown so long, and the time we were without a mower included the first big dandelion bloom of the year. The timing of the return of the mower was perfect as the chipmunks have been so efficient that I don't think there was a dandelion seed head left in the yard. And you'd be hard pressed to imagine just how many flowers can fit into this yard! The chipmunks become bolder and bolder with time, to the point where there would be mounds of dandelion fluff on the front step of the cabin, as well as the woodpiles all looking like they're covered in snow. As I watch the little fellows dodge around the piles of lumber that I have stacked in the yard for the greenhouse, it appears that they're taking the chickweed seeds now.

Unfortunately, the pine grosbeak only paid us one visit to indulge in the dandelions.

But now that the dandelion seed harvest is over, it's time to get the hayfield under control. I carefully cut around the sweet williams, but it sure does look nice to get everything even again. I can still enjoy the wildflowers on the slope down to the helipad as I never mow there. The indian paintbrush, butercups, ox-eye daisies, beardstongue, and various shades of purple vetches are just so wonderful, waving in a breeze with a full sun shining down on them. The buncherry flowers are persisting, the bearberries are starting to blush, the white wintergeen is at its best, and it looks like a bumper huckleberry crop.

The fire season remains quiet. I think they gave out fire number 83 today. Everyone is bored -- the crews, office staff, the pilots -- and the towerfolk. Joan, up on Granite Flats, picked up a nice little lightning holdover fire yesterday. She was looking at the smoke over a couple of ridges; I managed to give her a cross shot from a few puffs that came over a ridge. I was shocked when it turned out to be the exact location that both our bearings indicated, as we both figured we were shooting at drifting smoke. But we came out aces!

The flower garden is doing so well this year, I think I spend too much time out looking at it, but it's just so peaceful and lush this year. The lupin I added this year is now in bloom. I ended up planting a lot of poppies, which are just surging now. One variety I tried were peony poppies, the others from seeds a friend in Nova Scotia sent to me.

The nicest reaction that the garden has generated is that I believe it is starting to draw in the butterflies. I had always wondered why I had so many at Luna, just two towers south of here and 500 feet lower, and I have so few here. But the swallowtails, white admirals, fritillaries and tortoiseshells have now all arrived and it's wonderful to see them floating around the yard.

In the last message, I believe I mentioned a hummingbird moth (Hemaris thysbe). What an interesting creature! It quite liked the lilacs, and it's amazing how much it moves like a hummingbird - with a funny little fuzzy tail that reminds me more of a lobster's tail. It never seems to land, and thus had to follow it around for a while until I got a good look at it's head and convinced myself that it wasn't a hummingbird.

The Coalspur Tomato Festival has begun! I picked the fourth one yesterday, and there is now another ready. They make quite the feast spread out on top of a bed of fresh picked lettuces and spinaches (including majenta mountain spinach this year!). There is nothing that compares to picking one's own supper.

And my big project for this year -- the permanent greenhouse -- is coming together quite nicely. The trusses are now all up, and if I do say so myself, I did a fine job. No, not every cut was perfect, but I didn't recut or waste one single piece. I just finished framing the door when the generator gave up the ghost, so hopefully now the next few days I can get the framing on both the front and back walls completed. Not only can I imagine many happy plants filling it, I can see myself sitting out there at night in late August and September, on my chaise lounge, perhaps a bit of wood burning in the woodstove on a cool night, staring up at the auroras ....

But, it's after 23:00 now, and we were on high today (only the eighth day this season; one day on extreme) and again tomorrow, so I should bid you goodbye and get some shut-eye.

Cross your fingers that I'll still be connected by the weekend!


Coalspur Weather

Jul 21: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 15oC / Winds: N 11 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 20% Middle / RH: 47% / Visibility: 30 km/Haze

Jun 15: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 20.5oC / Winds: N 6 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 60% Middle / RH: 48% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze

Precip for June: 154.8 mm; to date for July: 47.2 mm

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June 22, 2008

Due to technical difficulties with communications equipment at the tower, the weekly journal will not be posted online until further notice.

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June 15, 2008

Given that there have been so few days that it's been comfortable to be outside at length, I find it difficult to believe that I am 38 days into the season. And no wonder I'm tired of being in the cabin!

But yesterday and today were both wonderful days ... yes, okay, a few intermittent showers, that big dip in the temperature when a cloud blocks the sun for those few minutes, but I have actually sat out in the lawn chair with a book in hand ... gotten a bit of sun on my face ... and fallen asleep, the radio playing quietly beside me. It felt darned good, I'll tell ya!

But in reality, it's not quite spring yet, even now. With all the rain lending itself to cloud-covered skies at night, at least I haven't had to worry about frosts, but overnight temperatures under 5oC aren't exactly what makes gardens grow. Thank heavens for pansies, their cherubic faces grow even in chilly temperatures and smile at me when I go out to visit the flower garden. I cut the most mature stem of lilacs to send up to Joan (who is still reporting snow with her weather reports) in an effort to bring a little bit of spring to her, I am still waiting for that first/next florette to open. The geraniums have hail freckles on their leaves; the liatris, still peeking from the earth, is trying to get up its courage extend past ground level. But the rhubarb ignores it all, and I'm hoping in the next week or two there will be the first potful on the stove.

The huckleberries are in full bloom, and it seems like there are lots of flowers, but alas, there have only been two days where it's been warm enough for the bees to move around. Hopefully with these cool temperatures the flowers will last for a while yet. The bunchberries are just starting to bloom, I can see a few flowers on the bearberry now, but the wild roses are just starting to unfurl their leaves.

I had mounded some straw onto the flower bed over the winter, and I'm still waiting to try and bag it when it's dry. I keep raking it and turning it over, and just when it's almost dry -- it rains again!

The robins decided that the fir tree just outside the door probably wasn't as private as they would have liked, although they still forage on the lawn and I can hear them singing in the evenings and when the rain stops. The past few mornings there have been a pair of chipping sparrows checking out that tree, but they don't seem convinced yet either. Ted and I seem to cross paths with the whisky-jack family daily now. I had a few dog cookie crumbs in my pocket and held them out for one of the youngsters, and although it was very curious, it never summoned up the courage to land on my hand.

With all this rain, the road is like an etch-a-sketch screen, where each rain erases any previous tracks and allows me to see who's currently moving around the hill. A few days ago, a lone elk strolled up and over the ridge, and today there was a set of very small deer tracks. Oddly enough, no adult set to go with it. When Ted and I take the trail that goes past the pack rat caves, a varied thrush gets quite upset and curses us. On yesterday's evening walk, a chipmunk set out in front of his pueblo and pondered Ted and I.

Smokey has led two fabulous "I Hear Radio" programs over the week that went on until bedtime. Lots of participants, lots of great music. We haven't had an evening of sharing memories yet, although one evening we all got sharing favorite wise sayings. We are such a philosophic bunch out here ...

On Friday and Saturday the crews and the fire centre ran a mock emergency. A couple of the towers had to go over to a different channel for the day so the participants could keep all their radio chatter to one channel. Sounds like they had a lot of fun.

I got the chance to drive into the village a couple of days ago, as my supervisor forgot to bring out the replacement computer with him when he delivered my groceries. It was nice to grab a lunch in the hotel again and catch up on some of the local news. My supervisor, who is also from Ontario and just started with Forestry over this past winter, was excited as he saw his first grizzly recently -- a big mom with two little cubs. Which reminded me I haven't seen any signs of Annie yet ...

The weather report is saying warm temperatures and pleasant days for almost all of this week, so I'm hoping that the floor of the new greenhouse will dry enough to finish levelling the dirt and I can get the floor laid. I'm looking forward to piecing together the shale in the corner where the wood stove will go. Once that's done, then I'll be ready to start working on the trusses next month.

So here's to those weather reports coming true!

This is XMG 32, clear.

Coalspur Weather

Jun 15: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 3oC / Winds: W 4 km / Precip: 3.8 mm / Clouds: 100% Middle / RH: 100% / Visibility: 35 km/Haze

Jun 15: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 10.5oC / Winds: N 3 km / Precip: 0 mm / Clouds: 80% Cumulus 10% Cu+ / RH: 53% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze

Precip to date for June: 133 mm

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June 8, 2008

I thought it was April that was supposed to be brimming with showers? Here at Coalspur, it has been raining steadily since June 1. In that time I've received 93.6 mm. Last year for the whole month of June I got around 136 mm, so perhaps I should send a short note to Mother Nature and tell her that she has almost filled her order. I had almost forgotten what the sun looked like, but for the first time this week it has managed to burn a hole through the clouds and there are actually shadows in the yard.

Suffice to say every water container in the yard is full. As the weather report says there is still more rain to come, I've undertaken to wash everything that might benefit from a cleaning so that the barrels can re-fill before this weather system wanders off. Other rainy day chores like baking and knitting have filled the long hours, and I've had lovely scented candles lit for days, their tiny flames adding a touch of brightness to the cabin.

Ted has gone into a light hibernation, he so hates being wet! He waits for a break between showers and dashed off to do whatever needs to be done and rushes right back in. I have two towels that I rotate and lay on top of his bed so that he can blot when he comes in. He hadn't had a bath since we arrived, but we managed one the other dayand he looks and smells so lovely right now!

Just yesterday I noticed the fir tree just outside the door moving, and it turns out there is a pair of robins trying to determine whether it will be a suitable site for a nest. It's nice to see them hopping around the yard, however already the sidewalks around that little tree have "plops" on them, and when I climbed the ladder just a short while ago, there are several plops on the roof. Yes, the same roof that the water slides down into my water barrel ... hmmm ... But we will see what happens. Although Dad was arranging so bits on the crux of a branch in preparation for nest building, something tells me that once they see how often the door opens and a hairless ape and its hairy sidekick walk back and forth, mere inches from them, they may change their minds.

Friday saw me dashing around the yard, less than a day after I planted out all the geraniums and marigolds, as the temperature dropped mid-day to 1.5oC and the rain changed to snow. Tarps flung everywhere; the plants that live on top of waterbarrels moved back to the greenhouse; the greenhouse heater lit again. I've had mainly single-digit temperatures along with all this wet and dullness, and while this has meant the lettuces, rhubarb and spinaches have surged ahead, everything else is in stasis.

But I shouldn't be complaining, as Joan up on Granite Flats has somewhere between one and two feet of snow (hard to measure because she said most of it was travelling horizontally). Her new heater, installed on the west wall of her cabin, gave her a run for her money as she spent her week trying valiantly to keep the pilot light burning. From my aspect, of course, all that new snow on the mountains is stunning and I can appreciate it so much more when I don't have to walk through it.

If the rain stops for long enough, it will be fun for Ted and I to take a walk down the road, now that it is soft and muddy, and see who's about these days. The water in the bird bath kept disappearing just before the rain started, so I have a funny feeling the mule deer are using it again. But to argue that same thought, I find it interesting that they never actually step in the flowerbed ... so perhaps I'm wrong.

Last night there was the most beautiful sunset -- a dark grey leaden sky with the tiniest slit just above the mountains, a brilliant orange fireball peaking through that crack, the only colour other than a touch of deep mauve in an otherwise muted landscape. It almost made all the rain worthwhile.

But I should go, as it's time for my weekly call to Mom. A reminder if any of you are interested in seeing the lightning and fire maps, the link is on the website links page. It seems that the numbers of fires given on our daily updates keep surging, so I'm presuming the north is still getting lightning. It was strange to hear on the news this morning that Fort McMurray was the warm spot for the province.

Coalspur Weather

Jun 8: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 4oC / Winds: W 6 km / Precip: 4.8 mm / Clouds: 30% Middle 70% Low / RH: 100% / Visibility: 40 km/Haze

Jun 8: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 7oC / Winds: N 6 km / Precip: 0.4 mm /Clouds: 10% Middle 90% Low / RH: 76% / Visibility: 15 km/Rain Showers & Haze

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June 3, 2008

It's dusk, the trees are still and there will be no stars before bedtime. The sidewalks are almost dry again after the showers of the afternoon. It was chilly out there around 19:00 with a partially clear sky. Hopefully the cloud cover will keep the frost away.

The big vegetable garden is now completed -- turned, smoothed, planted and seeded. I managed to get the chicken wire half up today, the rest will be done tomorow, then I won't have to worry about pack rat invasions any longer. Only two more flowerbeds to go, and I will be able to rest. Of course, as soon as I planted the tomatoes yesterday, I had a big hailstorm. Thank heavens I had gotten their little greenhouse up and over their heads!

There was an ungodly squawling down over the edge of the hill this morning. I was trying to figure out if something was killing something, or whether it might be raven fledglings. It was the oddest sound ... a higher note than what I remember of the raven's voices at Meridian. A few hours later I heard it again, so it must be ravens, as no predator would take that long to finish off its prey.

The birds have been vocal over these past few rainy days -- it brings out the best songs from the thrushes and warblers. Just as the rain stops, when the forest is at it's quietest, the flute-like song of the thrushes starts to float over the trees -- it's a lovely, peaceful moment.

The small plants that cover the floor of the forest are all sprouting now -- dewberry, heart leaved arnica -- although the huckleberry plants around the edge of the yard are still bare. No sign yet of the calypso orchid that I saw at the far edge of the yard last year -- but I'm waiting and watching!

Along with the rain and the hail, of course, we've had lots of lightning. Two days ago it was mostly distant thunder, yesterday I couldn't believe how many strikes there were so close to the tower -- the cabin shuddered several times. But it's so wet here right now that the chance of fire is slim.

Things in this district continue to be unsettled. I was just saying to someone the other day that this year is so different than last. I remember the different groups of visitors coming -- the film crew, the Assistant Deputy Minister, the tower auditors -- and I remember picnic tables full of people chatting, eating, laughing. I miss those days. But I shouldn't overlook mentioning that my current supervisor is a very sweet guy and we're getting along well.

The strange "why me?" moments continue. The comms techs came in here last Friday to tune up the equipment, and they ended up fracturing the screen on my laptop. Miraculously, it only took two days for me to get approval for Forestry to pay for the shipping to have a new one sent in. Then, last Sunday morning, I went into the village to mail some things, and while I was there I stopped in at a friend's place to say hi. Some neighbour of his also stopped to visit while I was just getting ready to leave. He asked several questions about the towers -- about Stephanie, what changes were being made, etc., and I answered each one. He said something about coming up, and I replied that there was a locked gate now and it would be quite the hike for him to walk up. So later that day, I received a call from the tower coordinator saying he'd received a call from this fellow complaining about my attitude! Imagine! Complaining to someone's boss about something that was said off-site and in a private residence! I called my friend and mentioned it, and he said that he'd call the tower coordinator and offer support.

While I think of it -- a mention to the fishermen out there -- I was talking with my tower neighbour, Smokey, recently. He was telling me that the rainbow trout he pulls out from around his tower are three feet long!

And speaking of Smokey, gosh we had a great "I Hear Radio" the other night! Lots of great music, Smokey played his guitar and sang for us, We heard a a tape of the young woman (who we affectionately call "The Singing Angel") who sits on a neighbouring tower by her grandmother who is also a towerwoman in the district -- it was a delight. And we had some laughs, which we all needed. It was great fun.

But it's getting late again, and yesterday went quite late as I worked on an assignment from one of my literacy students. I will cross my fingers that something more exciting than damp clothes and dirt under my fingernails will happen before the next note!


Coalspur Weather

Jun 3: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 9oC / Winds: NW 3 km / Precip: 21.2 mm / Clouds: 10% High 10% Middle / RH: 72% / Visibility: 35 km/Haze

May 25: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 12oC / Winds: SE 11 km / Precip: Trace /Clouds: 100% Middle / RH: 70% / Visibility: 30 km/Rain & Haze

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May 25, 2008

The fog mutes the colours of the trees surrounding the yard, their green seemingly having run onto the ground, now puddles of green brighten the yard itself as the grass begins to grow in patches. The few perennials that I managed to plant before the rain started ... which seems so long ago ... are all happy; the hyssop and the rhubarb are stretching upwards in leaps and bounds and the lilac buds grow larger by the day, even if the temperature is in the single digit range.

Since the rain started on the 20th, I have only called in one weather report that didn't have precipitation in it. The fog has been nearly constant, except for that afternoon when the rain stopped and Ted and I managed two walks before it all started again. On that day (we generally choose walks through the pine forest on wet days so that Ted only comes home with pine needles woven into his tummy hair, rather than mud) we found fresh bear scat on the edge of the west cutblock, a scant five minute walk away. Of course, that makes me wonder if it might be Annie ...

The birdsong that emanates from the fog seems to have something of a wistful edge to it, and each species seems to take its turn, there rarely being more than one song being sung at once. A robin sang evening vespers the other night, this morning there is a yellow-rumped warbler taking its turn. During the one afternoon that we had visibility, I watched two male yellow-rumped warblers compete for their Juliet. The fair Juliet, of course, sat coyly on a fir branch, pretending not to be concerned as she searched among the needles for a snack. The males had quite the time chasing each other from tree to tree and engaging in mid-air combat, while at the same time watching to be sure Juliet didn't leave the scene of the action.

Inside the cabin, I have been busy knitting a lace shawl. It has been one of those projects that is just such a delight to hold in one's hands that it's hard to put it down. The yarn is a 75% kid mohair/25% silk yarn that was hand spun by a woman who had a booth at the Calgary Farmer's Market, made with the fibers of her own goats. You can imagine how fine this yarn is by the fact that 20 grams contains 170 meters, and the entire shawl completed is less than 50 grams. It's like sitting with a spider web in your lap. It's the first of several projects that I have scheduled to go to charity auctions next winter. Now it's back to knitting the baby sweaters for a cousin's new twin girls.

Outside the cabin, the heater in the greenhouse has only been turned off on two afternoons, and only then for a few hours. That being said, with so many days of 100% humidity, not much has needed watering. Although nothing is growing quickly and only the sunflower seeds are sprounting, buds are opening and everything is generally happy. It's a wonderful break during a long, dull day to go out and surround oneself with the aromas and colours and have a quick chat while making sure everyone's needs are being met.

The forecast says that we have warm, sunny days arriving tomorrow with above average temperatures for the next two weeks. Do I dare to believe it? Finally I will be able to get the gardens turned over and the chicken-wire fences up! Both Ted and I will be looking very forward to getting out of the cabin.

So that's it for this week.

Oh yes, as for the thoughts on ark building ... thank heavens we live on high points of land! I understand Calgary, High River, Okotoks and other such places are all on flood alert. I wonder if I have enough soggy plywood around if needed ...

From the little cabin in the fog,

Coalspur Weather May 25: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 4oC / Winds: N 6 km / Precip: 32.8 mm / Clouds: Obscured / RH: 100% / Visibility: 0 km/Fog

May 25: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 4.5oC / Winds: NW 1 km / Precip: 5.2 mm / Clouds: Obscured / RH: 100% / Visibility: 0 km/Fog

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May 20, 2008

I had been waiting for things to start running smoothly before I wrote, for no other reason than to have some sense of serenity or accomplishment in this note, but alas, it is not to be and it's time that I buck up, set that aside, and get on with the writing!

The long weekend saw many fires across Alberta (even some requiring the evacuation of small communities), and that gave all the young men manning the crews and the new radio ops in the fire centre in this district lots of experience. I never managed to be involved in any, although the tower just north of me attempted to call one in, but the public beat him to it by a few minutes. And I could have had the cross short, darn it! The last one was yesterday evening when the towers north of town called in a large, black smoke that turned out to be a house fire. They sent a helicopter, and it was rather sad to hear the crew leader describe how the house was entirely engulfed.

I think it would be lax of me not to first address that when I wrote you last, I had two feet of snow. Just a mere seven days later, it was so horribly hot here that I was down to a tank top and shorts in the cupola. It brings back that chapter in the book that was titled "From Popsicle to French Fry." Here at Lovett I hit a high of 26oC on Sunday. Larry, on Stenhope Lookout, claimed that the snow around his cabin was making fizzling noises it was melting so fast. Ted just couldn't cope with it, and on Sunday I looked out of the cupola and found him asleep in the shadow of the truck with his chin stretched out on the last of a snowdrift that had been reduced to the size of a football. It was incredible to look up at the mountains throughout the day and watch the white disappear and the brown stone return to the faces. Even today, after all that heat, there is still one pond below me that has ice on it.

The long shifts in the cupola over the weekend brought so many beautiful images -- long staghorn cirrus clouds swirled across a vivid blue sky, the strange lenticular clouds that sail over the mountain peaks, the raptors and ravens cruising the winds, the changing skies that bring the storms that make their way over the valley to me -- and has again reminded me of why I am drawn to this place.

The first few bits of clover are pushing through the old, brown grass from last year and the rhubarb is just breaking ground. It's amazing how everything held it's breath through that last blast of winter, and how quickly the flora is now moving ahead. Last weekend the aspens were just grey patches in the forest, this week many of those stands are now a bright pale green as they leaf out. Even the lilacs are in a hurry. Their buds were tight-shut in the snow, and now they've unfurled enough to show which branches will be flowering.

Of course, the male birds are all singing their hearts out. This past week has seen Townsend's solitaires, yellow-rumped warblers, pine siskins, junkos, robins and grouse visit. And yes! Just today the male harrier did a long, beautiful swoop past the tower! They haven't been the only raptors, as there have also been red-tailed hawks, falcons and an osprey. And even though I haven't managed to find them in the binoculars, the beautiful flute-like song of the (hermit or swainson's) thrush, the varied thrush and the laugh of a woodpecker have found my ears.

I haven't seen a deer in the yard yet, but before the snow melted the signatures of both a deer and a coyote were left behind in the yard on different days. The coyote tracks dashed in long strides down the Sunset Trail, so I have a feeling it must have been at the edge of the yard when I came out of the cabin one morning and startled it.

I managed to dig out an area for the greenhouse early last week and get it up. Even though it was surrounded by snowpiles those first few days, it was never that cold and I think the plants were as happy as I was to move into their own home. The flowers all want out of their small trays; the baskets for the front of the cabin hang from the ceiling, I have 176 pellets or plugs seeded. It is just the most wonderful feeling to walk in their and have the geraniums, marigolds and pansies all smiling at me, and enjoy the warmth and fragrances while I tend to them all. I look at the sill and plate of the permanent greenhouse and imagine how wonderful it will be next spring when I just swing open the door, throw the first log into the woodstove, and lay everything out on the tables, no matter how much snow might be on the ground.

This fine evening ended a bit early when I lost visibility in all directions due to the rain, so I finished a pot of homemade chicken soup, complete with fresh picked parsley and -- of all things -- eggplant. I wasn't sure whether to try that or not, but it's really good! With hot chicken soup in my belly, the rain pattering on the roof and the trees swaying and grumbling in deep tones between themselves, it really is an excellent evening to just sit and relax.

I think I've talked myself into it ... until next week (at which time I will tell how wonderful it is that all the glitches have been unglitched),

Ted and I are off down the Sunset Trail.

Coalspur Weather

May 20: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 9oC / Winds: SW 1 km / Precip: 0 / Clouds: 80% Middle 20% Low / RH: 56% / Visibility: 35 km/Hazy

May 20: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 14oC / Winds: NE 4 km / Precip: 0 /Clouds: 100% Middle / RH: 50% / Visibility: 35 km/Hazy

18:00hr update: It's raining!

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May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day to all those to whom it applies!

Although things here aren't quite running smoothly yet, life is good. I am home again in paradise.

Thursday's snow has changed from the soft, fluffy texture that had me wading hip-deep to the hard, granular type as the warm temperatures of the last few days have their way with it. It was a bit challenging for a day, what with the snow sliding off the roof and falling from the trees. At this moment there's a soft rain falling.

Ted loves the snow best in the mornings as he can actually go further than the small area I cleared for him, as the snow beyond that is hard enough to hold his weight (lucky Ted!). Yesterday and today he's been working on a big meaty buffalo neck bone, and after he's done he slides like a seal on the surface to clean his beard -- both sides, of course.

The rain makes the birds happy, and I've been listening to a robin, warbler and chickadee sing their morning songs from the edges of the yard. Until the snow plough arrived, that is, and now there's only the sound of the engine straining to push the snow around and the beeping whenever he puts it in reverse.

The delay in getting the greenhouse up has meant that the cabin is a bit of a jungle. I was introduced to a fellow by a friend in the Stony Plain area who has a wonderful little greenhouse and prides himself on growing beautiful big tomato plants. So I have one Beefsteak and three Early Girls that are already in bloom, and the Girls already having small tomatoes on the grow. You know the gardening gods are with you when you manage to transport these tall fragile creatures wedged in the back of an SUV packed to the hilt and they arrive at the tower with only one broken leaf! A mouse who is still calling the cabin home dined on three of my eight yellow banana pepper seedlings already. The remaining have taken shelter on top of the fridge.

The Victoria Day weekend last year was a cold, wet, miserable affair (although that didn't seem to deter the campers), and the view out the window today would make one wonder if this year is going to be a repeat, but right now the forecast is calling for a steady rise all week to a crescendo of 26oC on Sunday. The trees will be wet enough, but that heat should be enough to dry out the cured grass, so there may be some potential for fires. No doubt we'll be in our cupolas for most of the days, and it will be nice to spend some days getting to know my embroidery again and staring out at all the fresh snow on the mountains.

On a sad note, there is gossip that we soon will have our front doors replaced with solid doors with peepholes and that there will be motion detector lights installed on all sides of the cabin. Sigh ... city people coming up with city solutions that don't apply at all to living in the bush. Oh, I hope it's not true. I fear they will turn these sites into forts. I come out here to get away from the fear and insecurities of the city -- it's disappointing to see it creep into this boreal heaven.

There has been no sign of Annie (the orphan bear cub who will be two years old now) on the way in, and, of course, I will wonder about her until she shows herself. For those of you who know of my attachment to harriers, it was a wonderful moment when I saw a male fly over on opening day. I think I saw the female on Friday when I was in the cupola setting up, but it was a bit too far away to be absolutely sure, but I think I saw a white rump. It was a strange year last, it being my first year without harriers. Of course, I'll have to be patient and wait to see if they were just migrating through or whether they intend to stay.

So for these first few days, Ted and I have been cocooning in the cabin, lots of music and getting ahead on knitting. It's been hard to finish unpacking as I've only been able to toss empty plastic bins out into the snow, I can't get stored items out of the gen shed to re-organize, and I will have to shuffle everything around again after the mouse traps arrive, after which I'll have to pull everything out and bleach the floors. But that's for another day.

Ah, I see the snow plough has successfully buried Ted's bone and blocked my way to the Stephenson screen.

Until next week, my friends, this is XMG 32, open for the season.

Coalspur Weather

May 11: Present weather (07:45hr): Temp: 1.5oC / Winds: NW 5 km / Precip: Trace of rain / Clouds: 100% Low / RH: 85% / Visibility: 35 km/Hazy

May 11: Present weather (13:15hr): Temp: 3oC / Winds: N 4 km / Precip: 0.2 /Clouds: 20% Middle 80% Low / RH: 86% / Visibility: 30 km/Hazy

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May 8, 2008

There was 50 cm (20") of snow by 13:15 weather ... looking out at the Explorer, the snow is up to the hatchback window; the wheels disappeared early this afternoon. It's still snowing at this point, so no sense in starting to shovel yet (with the garden spade). The snow keeps sliding off the roof and filling in the sidewalk anyways. To get to the outhouse, I have to break through a hip-deep drift.

I did dig out a small hole about 4' from the door for Ted to have somewhere to relieve himself. After all, the snow is deeper than he is tall now!

So much for the water barrel and the batteries coming! No one could get up that hill today.

It sure makes it peaceful with no radios. Back to knitting ...

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May 7, 2008

I pulled into the yard at around 15:30. It rained off-and-on all the way from Edson with lots of thunder and lightning. Still a few snowpiles in the yard, but lots of lawn showing ... or it was. Mother Nature did allow for enough time to unpack, but it's been snowing ever since. Big, fluffy wet flakes -- it's beautiful.

I've found the radio; the music is playing; I'm just sipping my first cup of tea.

The completion of the new heater project was never finished as promised, so the mice took advantage of that opportunity and moved in over the winter. Mouse turds galore!

Lots of water running off the roof, and it would have been nice if someone had brought me a water barrel. And someone forgot to bring the batteries that run the radios. So I'm hoping that both will arrive tomorrow, along with a small bottle of bleach to clean away the remnants of the mice. This gift of fresh snow is lovely as a source of water until things are functional.

So my philosophical question for tonight is: Can I declare myself open for the season with nonfunctioning radios? I'm thinkin' not. I was really scared that my supervisor wasn't going to let me stay because of that ... but the handheld is working and I've got my own bag phone.

Well, back to unpacking ...

This is XMG 32, glad to be home.

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