Monday, November 20, 2017

Fort Langley National Historic Site

On one of the days when our grandchildren were in school and daycare, Mrs. F.G. and I headed out to visit Fort Langley, a National Historic Site down the Fraser River.  I ended up being really impressed, and learned a lot about the early settlement history of B.C.  Warning, this is a picture heavy post; if you're not interested in a bit of history, come back tomorrow.

There's a small visitor centre that consists mainly of a gift shop and washrooms through which you enter.  Notice the 'Welcome' in three languages.

This mural was on the outside of the building, and I thought it actually captured rather well the atmosphere of fur traders arriving on a supply boat, and the native encampment across the river.  West coast tribes built houses of planks split from large cedar logs just as in this illustration.

The first building we stopped at was the cooperage.  This fort developed a large farm on the flatlands of the Fraser Valley, and barrels were used for exporting grain and other products - as far away as Hawaii and Alaska.

They certainly had a good display of barrels, and later we saw a young student (one of many school groups visiting that day), trying her hand at cutting a barrel stave with a draw knife.

This fort was originally built in 1827, so what you're seeing today are reproduction buildings, about 10 of them, along with the surrounding stockade.  But they are really well done in my opinion.

There are live demonstrations with appropriate period dress.  We listened for awhile to these blacksmiths explain what sort of tools would be made here and how.

Our conversation with this fur trader turned more to his (real) life back home in Ontario.

I learned the most about the fur trade.  Pelts of all kinds came into the fort, in exchange for trade goods brought from England by the Hudson's Bay Company.

The famous Hudson's Bay blankets were popular.  You can still buy them today.

Mrs. F.G. had a close look at this bolt of cloth, and regretted she didn't have a pair of scissors to surreptitiously cut off a yard or so!

A surprising range of goods were traded, from guns to grain, from axe handles to fancy dishes.

In return the furs were baled up tight and shipped back across the continent and on to England,

where a lot of them were made into the famous beaver hats, made out of felted beaver furs.

There was of course a 'big house' where the Chief Trader lived, in a fair degree of luxury I might say, for such an isolated outpost of Britain.  The United States and the British governments were arguing during the mid-1800's as to where the eventual boundary should go in the area known as the 'Oregon Country'.

At this time the Oregon Country included much of present-day Oregon, Washington and southern British Columbia.  The British argued that the 42nd parallel should be the border; the U.S. that "54-40" should be the border.  After Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific at the mouth of the Columbia, and Simon Fraser reached the mouth of the Fraser, the final compromise was the 49th parallel.  During the years following this decision, gold was discovered in the Fraser Valley.  Thirty thousand men descended on Fort Langley!  In response, Governor James Douglas declared the establishment of the Colony of British Columbia at Fort Langley.  So this in a very real way was where British Columbia started.

One of the Chief Traders, James Murray Yale.  Yale is a town up the Fraser River today.  I learned a good deal about the fur trade out here, and early B.C. history visiting this fort.  This post of course leaves out the entire 10,000+ years of native history that preceded it, but that is another fascinating story, or perhaps several.

The village of Fort Langley is also interesting, though rather a yuppy sort of place.  A bead store, clothing boutiques, restaurants, antiques, but not much that would actually be useful if you lived there - like a hardware or grocery store!  Never-the-less we had a pleasant wander around, and chuckled at the name of this store!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

In Search of the Giant Douglas Fir

My son-in-law and grandson wanted to take me to see the giant Douglas Fir they had found.  It was a dreary day, and getting late, but we headed out to Cultus Lake Provincial Park to try and find the trail.

It wasn't a long walk, but it was uphill all the way.

I lagged along at the back, while my son-in-law hunted for the right trail.  There weren't any signs after the one at the start.

We were often walking over a carpet of Bigleaf Maple leaves - huge!'
This giant Douglas Fir was actually located on a short trail out of a campground - now shut for the winter.  So we were walking up campground roads until we were nearly there.

For the first time I had the feeling that I was really in the rainforest.  I've seen the moss on the trees, but this was spooky with moss, and with huge tall trees all around - and it was raining.

Then we saw it in the distance up the slope, definitely a huge tree!  Sorry for the raindrops on the camera lens!

A short distance up an unsigned footpath, through the spooky rainforest, and there we were.

This was the biggest living tree I have ever seen.  I know the Redwoods and Sequoias can outdo it, but this was amazing to all of us.  That's my grandson, with his umbrella.  Gives you some perspective on the size.

I forget that at the 49th parallel, it gets dark a lot earlier.  Suddenly it was getting dark, and I tried a flash to show up the tree.  It showed up the raindrops more!  But we had successfully found the giant Douglas Fir, one of the largest left in B.C.  A memorable adventure.  And by the way, our daughter and son-in-law are doing a great job of making their kids into outdoor kids!  Energy to burn, and never a complaint about the hiking.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Rainforest Adventures

We didn't go off on any great new adventures on this visit out west.  I'm not sure November is the best time to go - the sun was scarce!  But we did get down some local trails and find some new things to see and had a good time with the grandchildren.  My 7 year old grandson now leaves me behind on the trails!

We started with the Clayburn Creek Trail, which we've walked before.  The trail is wide, with a gentle grade, and easy to walk.  In fact you might not recognize it as a former railway bed down through the ravine beside the creek.

A narrow gauge mining railway once ran here, bringing clay down from the quarry on top of the hill to the large brick factory in the village of Clayburn, now a small corner within Abbotsford.

It's amazing how the forest has recovered, with big trees, lots of ferns, and the tumbling creek.  The moss immediately reminds me that this is very much a rainforest.

Officially, most of this forest in the lower coastal B.C. is Western Hemlock Forest, and there are lots of big Hemlock along the trail.

There is also a lot of Western Red Cedar, and

Sword Fern grows all over the steep slopes, staying green all winter.

At the end of our walk, we came to those crazy Auguston Steps, a 350 step challenge to take us back up to the subdivision.  In spite of the challenge, these are among the most comfortable steps I have ever walked.  Someone spaced them just right!  All of this is a loop you can walk from our daughter's home in about 45 minutes.  And guess who was first up the stairs!?

Friday, November 17, 2017

Christmas Early!

While we were out west, we gave our kids their family Christmas present a little early, a bird feeder.  It was a hit, and immediately successful in bringing birds into the yard.  Warning - a bunch of blurry bird pictures follow.  I had a lot of trouble with my auto-focus in the dim grey light.

We started talking about birds because they'd been seeing a Varied Thrush, a beautiful orange and black bird of the Pacific coast which I had never seen before.  It was coming to eat the berries off the Yew shrubs.

We got them the same kind of squirrel-proof feeder that we've had, on a tall stand.  And immediately the Oregon Juncos moved in.  Much like our Junco, but brown where ours are grey.

A Towhee soon joined them.

But the Juncos just stayed around all the time we were there.  Normally ground feeders, they did flutter up to the feeder enough to knock down seeds for the other Juncos.

Of course there was a visiting Chickadee.

I think this was a pair of Purple Finch, mostly brown but with red on the male's head..

But the highlight for us was the kids.  Our grandson spotted the first birds arriving, and several times a day they'd go and watch from the window - our grandson with his toy spyglass, and our grand-daughter with her 'toilet-paper roll' binoculars!  We thought our Christmas gift was a success.

 Linking to:

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Slow Flights

We made it home again last night, at about 2 in the morning, after an accumulated 5 hours of flights delays in Abbotsford and Edmonton.  It eventually became a comedy of errors, but we made it.  (It was winter in Edmonton, with snow and -16°C or 3°F).

We had three glimpses of the ground, here in Abbotsford before entering the cloud layer, in Edmonton and then in Toronto as we descended from the clouds.  A total of about three minutes.  And then it rained all the way home, a two hour drive at midnight.  Thank goodness traffic was light at that hour after we got away from Toronto.  That's Sumas Mountain, one of the low foothills (covered with great mountain bike trails), just NE of Abbotsford.

We got home to continuing rain, and no leaves left on the trees.  I'm going to have to do some raking - after the next 48 hours of rain stops!  We've flown various places in the past, quite a few flights if I count them up, and I can't remember a delay, a redirect, or an emergency in 30 years.  On the last three flights with Westjet we've had all three.

But we did try upgrading to 'Economy Plus', which only cost about $150.00, and gave us priority boarding, free food (and great service), more legroom and an empty seat made into a little table between us.  We will never fly again without doing that!  It made a painful flight quite tolerable.  I think many people don't put the cost of this sort of 'extra' in perspective.  With two flights, and a rental car for the week, the trip cost us a bit over $1500.00.  To add 10% to make the flights enjoyable in my opinion is worth it.  And it makes us much more likely to go back to see our daughter and the family sooner rather than later.

More soon, once I sort my photos out.

P.S.  The rain has turned to snow.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Remembrance Day

We attended the Remembrance Day service at our grandson's school on Friday, and were really impressed.  It's an elementary school, from Kindergarten to Grade 6, and the service was pretty well all done by the students.  It included poetry, music and a bit of history.

Even more impressive was the behaviour of the young students.  Teachers had obviously impressed on them the importance of silence and no clapping as a mark of respect for the remembrance service.  Picture a gym with four hundred 5 to 12 year olds and they're all quiet!  For an hour!  It was really well done.

Of course it included the poem 'In Flanders Fields', written by the Canadian doctor from Guelph, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.  When our children were young they went to John McCrae School, and we lived just around the corner from the John McCrae house, now a museum, in Guelph. Ontario.  So our kids learned the famous poem early.

If you saw these young students honouring Remembrance Day, you would not worry about the enormous contribution of veterans ever being forgotten.  They will never forget.

Remembrance Day varies among different countries.  It is celebrated especially in Canada, Australia, France and Belgium, and a number of other countries on Nov. 11th.  In the U.S. Nov. 11th is Veterans Day, while Memorial Day in May honours those who actually died in military service.  In the UK, Nov. 11th is Armistice Day, and the nearest Sunday is Remembrance Day, the more important celebration.  In New Zealand ANZAC Day is celebrated in April.  In my experience, Remembrance Day ceremonies have been getting greater attention in recent years - which is a good thing.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

'Sauntering' down the Trail

We're off on a week long blogging break, but I'll leave you with a short article I wrote yesterday for our local Bruce Trail Club newsletter.  It's on 'sauntering', walking slowly, observing, stopping to look and meditating as you go - rather than 'hiking'.  A bit different from my usual posts, but hope you enjoy it.

I’m here to put in a good word for the benefits of ‘sauntering’ the Bruce Trail.  I know many of you are ‘hikers’, but walking slowly, stopping often, and observing even the ordinary things you’re passing on the trail can be a memorable experience too.  Even a short walk quickly gets filled with things of interest.

John Muir is often mistakenly given credit as the source of this idea.  In an oft-quoted reference, Albert Palmer, a member of the Sierra Club who hiked with Muir, reported a conversation with the great conservationist in which Muir declared: “People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike!”  Muir had gone on to say that ‘we ought to saunter through the mountains reverently’, as if we were on a “pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Indeed, the mountains are our Holy Land”.

 The Bighead River in Trout Hollow where John Muir lived and worked, 1864-66.

In fact, the credit for the use of the word in this context should go not to Muir, but to Henry David Thoreau, whose writings Muir had undoubtedly read.  Over a decade before Muir began his locally celebrated time in Trout Hollow, on the outskirts of Meaford, Thoreau first delivered his famous lecture Walking, later published as an essay.  Thoreau claimed to “speak a word for nature”, and went on to write:

“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la SainteTerre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander.”

 Muir loved the mountains; Thoreau loved the woods.

For Thoreau, and for Muir, a walk in the woods or the mountains was a spiritual experience.  All through their writings you find descriptions that emphasize this.  And they spent a lot of their effort in getting others to recognize the beauty of nature.

I think it was my mother who instilled this in me.  Endlessly curious and interested, she started taking us for walks in the woods as early as I can remember.  A walk with a young child is by nature a slow process, as children are distracted by everything they see.  And I think I’ve been distracted ever since. 

When I saunter the Bruce Trail I’m first drawn to the trees which compose the forest I’m walking through.  From planted White Pine to majestic Sugar Maples, we’re surrounded by living, growing things.  Those leaves in the canopy aren’t just fluttering bits of green, they’re tiny little factories generating sugars which are the fuel for life, and oxygen that we depend on to breathe.  On every walk you are surrounded by a living, pulsing group of other organisms – in other words, a natural  ecosystem.

For years I’ve taught people to recognize trees, and thereby to recognize the type of forest they are walking through.  Somehow, knowing the other beings I’m sharing my walk with connects me to the nature around me more deeply.  Nowadays I talk to the trees, and sometime I hug them, feeling a oneness with the forest.

 One of my Sugar Maple friends, ready to hug me back.

Of course there are many more things to notice along the trail than trees.  From rocks to butterflies, from frogs to ferns, there are many more reasons to stop and look than I have time for.  I take note of the exposed layers of the rocks, trying to understand where they fit in the Niagara Escarpment sequence.  I snap pictures of plants, insects, amphibians, hoping to identify them later on if I can’t already do so.  I make mental notes of what I’m seeing just so that I can remember the experience, and perhaps write about it.  

Long ago I developed a personal interest in ferns.  I think it came from early trips up the Bruce Peninsula first with my mother, and later on my own.  As a teenager I had the chance to wander the trails at Dorcas Bay in the company of great naturalists like Fred Bodsworth and Mac Kirk.  I read Sherwood Fox’s The Bruce Beckons, and then I started out to find the ferns he described.  His description of the hunt to find Hart’s Tongue Fern still resonates with me, and now I know that it grows throughout the valley on talus slopes along the trail.

 Hart’s Tongue Fern on the trail, just east of the 7th Line.

The change of seasons adds an entire new dimension to ‘sauntering’ down the trail.  From the bright greens of spring through the birds of early summer, to the fall colours and then the white blanket that lets me get out the snowshoes, the constant change makes it worthwhile to saunter the same trail again and again.  Even the changing weather brings new experiences.

In the winter you get a sense that the forest is sleeping, which in a very real sense it is.  Photosynthesis has stopped, leaves have fallen, many animals are hibernating.  The pace of life slows and you have to listen more carefully.  But there is still plenty of beauty to be found along the trail.

The Anonymous but beautiful waterfall south of Johnson’s Sideroad.

Both Thoreau and Muir claimed over 150 years ago that being in nature is a spiritual experience.  The walking, the fresh air, and the other life around you all contribute to feeling better, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  Their message is reflected in today’s idea of ‘forest therapy’ or ‘forest bathing’.  And it’s reflected in the concern for nature deficit syndrome among today’s children.

As Richard Louv writes, there is “a growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.”  Scientific evidence is accumulating that simply being outdoors in nature is good for you.  I think most Bruce Trail users know that intuitively.

Referred to in Japanese as ‘Shinrin-Yoku’, it is "the medicine of simply being in the forest".  It reflects a belief that “a slow, deliberate, meditative walk in the woods can offer a host of mental, emotional and physical benefits”.  Sounds like ‘sauntering down the trail’ to me, and I urge you to try it.