Wednesday, March 31, 2021

International Shipping Chaos


With the Ever Given getting stuck in the Suez Canal and holding up nearly 400 ships, my interest in the complexities of global shipping has peaked.  It started when our daughter got her job in charge of shipping with a fruit processing company in B.C.  Her company routinely imported or exported fruit and fruit products to and from Chile, New Zealand, Australia, and occasionally Europe (before the pandemic).  Now it's anything but routine!

The Ever Given** being freed in the Suez Canal.

I've learned from her a tiny bit about the complexities involved, and all the paperwork needed.  A slightly different set of rules in the U.S. (for example about food safety) can hold up a shipment for weeks before it gets trucked on to Canada.  Imagine sitting at a desk in B.C. arranging a shipment of something from eastern Europe, across Europe by train, across the Atlantic by ship, across the U.S. by rail and across the border by truck.  And each step requires its own paperwork.  Add the pandemic to this mix and as I said it's anything but routine!  The Ever Given getting stuck in the Suez Canal is just another blip in the mess.

I should say before I try to explain what I've been reading, that almost all consumer goods are shipped in containers these days - 20 or 40' foot steel boxes (with some small variations) that can be transferred from ships to trains to trucks interchangeably.  Containers have totally revolutionized modern shipping.

As some of the articles I've now read have described it, there's a 'perfect storm' of problems coming together to cause chaos in global shipping at the moment.  Shipping costs are soaring.  One company in Europe reported paying $14,000.00 for a container shipment compared to $2000.00 just 6 months ago!  Eventually these costs will get passed on to consumers.

To try and explain this, let's use an example.  Suppose you buy a new exercise bike (or laptop or car or camera, etc.) from your local store.  The store has to order it from their supplier who orders it from the manufacturer in China (most consumer goods come from China these days).  That factory is also dependent on parts to build the bike, and the factory that builds the electronic components is shut for two weeks because of the virus.  

Eventually the parts arrive and the bike gets put together, ready to be shipped.  But they can't get a container because those are sitting empty somewhere else in the world.  China starts sending ships to the U.S. to simply pick up empty containers, which of course costs more.  Then your bike gets packed in a container and trucked to the port (85% of consumer goods are shipped by boat to their destination).  Let's hope you get lucky and there are no delays in getting it on the next ship sailing for your port, probably Vancouver in Canada.

Containers sitting at a Chinese port.

But once the ship arrives in Vancouver it finds a traffic jam of ships waiting to be unloaded, all floating in Burrard Inlet waiting their turn.  It might be that some dockworkers are off ill, or forced to quarantine for two weeks, or off for an extended time to oversee their children doing online learning.  So the container terminal is facing a variety of delays.  Then once your bike does get unloaded the store has to arrange transport from the terminal in Vancouver to your local store.  It's easy to see how delays accumulate along this chain and retailers are left with unhappy customers.

And we haven't talked yet about the paperwork.  At every step of this supply chain there is a cost, from manufacturing through trucking to dock fees and shipping, to dock fees and trucking at the other end of the trip.  Each needs a piece of paper.  That's to say nothing yet about customs declarations and fees, and all the other paperwork that might be required, such as food safety certificates, and concerns over human rights, environmental sustainability, etc.   And have I mentioned language differences? 

Now add to this two more dimensions, different products and different jurisdictions.  Oranges in Florida and apples in Chile face different rules on both counts, and jurisdictions have a habit of changing their rules abruptly.  You can see how this multiplies the complexity quickly.  There are of course short-cuts.  The simplest is to hire a freight forwarder, who arranges all this, or part of this, for you, a very common practice.  It's still complex enough and changeable enough to leave our daughter frustrated a lot of the time!

In the case of the shipments our daughter typically arranges, refrigeration is often involved, so the container needs to be plugged in when it's sitting at the container terminal, but there are only so many available spots that allow for that.  It's not a simple matter of a factory making your exercise bike, and you buying it!

Thanks for sticking with me if you've actually read this far.  I hope I've shown you a few of the complexities involved in modern shipping.  Tomorrow I'll tackle the 'big picture' of this topic, and look at the impact the pandemic has had.

** You may be confused over the ship's name.  The ship is the Ever Given.  The large lettering of Evergreen on the side of the ship is the Taiwanese company that operates it, one of a fleet of nearly 40 ships.  Over half of the ships have names starting with the word 'Ever', including Ever Goods, Ever Giant, and this one, Ever Given.  You can see the name on the bow of the ship below.  This is one of the new 'Ultra Large' class of container ships.

Monday, March 29, 2021


I had a long and detailed post all written and my computer took it away - nothing!

I also spent an hour on the phone trying to get a Covid vaccination appointment only to learn that all spots within an hour's drive were fully booked.

Not a good start to the week!!!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Schoolhouses and Churches

After hearing the Sandhill Cranes and seeing the Skunk Cabbage we headed north, up the sideroad towards home.  We were on the 9th Line for a couple of concessions, a road which we rarely drive.  It was an interesting sideroad to drive up, and we spotted both an old schoolhouse and a struggling rural church along the way.

Right off we drove along this beautiful row of Sugar Maples.  I was surprised there were no sap buckets hanging from them.

The farm itself looked like a prosperous one, perhaps owned by a non-farmer.  Who else would have a tennis court out in front of the barn?

This is the Temple Hill United Church, standing alone at a rural crossroads.  I looked it up and discovered it's not really struggling at all; it seems to be a thriving small community with lots of children in attendance, a rarity in any church these days.  The ladies of Temple Hill Church have a reputation as one of the best non-profit catering service around!

We also passed one of the larger old rural schoolhouses, probably with two classrooms.  Like most others it's now a residence.

Then it was down over my favourite viewpoint where the 7th Line crosses the Niagara Excarpment.

Past one of many old barns, this one apparently unused.

Finally up over 'Minniehill' and another view, very similar to the one above.  The bluff in the distance is a mid-level layer of the escarpment, on top of which sits the Meaford army base.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Sandhills and Skunk Cabbage

Returning now to our Sunday afternoon drive, we turned left at the end of the Lower Valley Road and headed up Bowles Hill and then up the 7th Line.  We were going hunting for Sandhill Cranes and Skunk Cabbage and we kept an eye on all the fields as we drove along.

We crossed the Beaver River first, which we had been following since the start of the Lower Valley Road.

We soon came to the little patch of wetland where we knew Skunk Cabbage could be found.  A  little snow left here.

Can you see them - little green and purple spikes just up out of the ground 2 or 3 inches?

Here are a couple of photos from a few years ago, back in the days when I could get out of the car and into the wetland to get closer shots.

The protective outer purple shell enclosing the flowers is called the 'spathe', and the inner fat stem bearing the tiny yellow flowers is the 'spadix', certainly unusual as flowers go!
We kept on down the gravel road, at this point stopping with the windows down to listen for Sandhill Cranes.  We've heard them here before.

Around the corner and north we came to the uppermost stretch of Wodehouse Creek.  It rises in a huge spring 200 yards to the west of this bridge.  To the east it flows into the huge Wodehouse Marsh.

Immediately to the north we stopped to listen again.  This is the very first spot where I heard them in Ontario.  After a moment or two, lo and behold, out of the shrubby swamp came their haunting cries, probably a pair, already preparing to nest.  Their call is very unusual, said to resemble a bugle and instantly recognizable once you've heard it.

Here's a photo from 2 or 3 years ago to show you the size of the cranes.  They are more commonly seen in the west; I first saw them in Vancouver.  But they've been spreading east and are more frequently seen in this area now.  We do see thousands when they migrate in huge flocks back south in the fall.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Rainy Day

It's a rainy day here, and back to being quite cold, though just above freezing.  We face a rollercoaster of weather, typical for late March, with alternating days of sun and rain, up to a high of +15°C Tuesday and down to -5 on Thursday.  Eventually it will taper off to +10 or 12° starting a week from now, the first week of April.

It's been raining all morning, heavily at times, and it's supposed to be raining for awhile yet.  The immediate threat of a dry spring is over!

At least our patio is getting well washed, as well as the roads and sidewalks.

One brave Goldfinch was out at the feeder, looking a little damp, and blurry through the wet window.

The windows were streaky with raindrops hitting them and then running down the glass.  But it provided some really interesting patterns, especially against the board and batten end of the shed.

But looking out through the screen door it was all water dprplets.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Lower Valley Road - Crowds!

We left Lake Eugenia and headed over to the Lower Valley Road, one of our favourite roads through the valley.  It's forested on both sides for a distance of about 7 miles, with steep slopes coming down each side, and the river is close beside you among the trees.  It crisscrosses the road under you twice.  The Bruce Trail runs along the top of those slopes and much of the first half  of this area public land, an undeveloped provincial park.

We headed down the first short straight stretch over a couple of the small feeder streams.

Around a couple of bends and then past Hogg's Falls.  You can't see it from the road, and the picture below required walking down a short steep slope and then climbing down a 20 foot short cliff, luckily with spots you can rest your feet.

We were both shocked to discover cars parked along the road (unsafely) and the small parking lot jammed full!  I've never before seen more than half a dozen cars here and there were at least 25!  I can't imagine how busy the falls must be; there's only one place where a person can stand to get a good view without climbing down that short cliff.  If this is a reflection of day trippers trying to get out in the country I shudder to think what crowds we're going to have around all the beauty spots along the trail this summer!

I was so surprised I failed to get a picture of the parked cars, but we did enjoy our drive down the rest of Lower Valley Road.  This is the river curving under the road on one of those crisscrosses.

And this is the river crossing back to the other side.  I've climbed up the slope along here to find the trail and another small waterfall up there.

There are a few more bends and a few isolated homes or chalets as you drive north.

Then there's a long straight stretch where two sideroads cross - both come down the slope at a long slant with a sharp dog's-leg and leave even me feeling nervous!

Around the final bend and you can see the powerhouse where most of the water in the Beaver River has been diverted to generate hydro.  There used to be 8 small houses along in the woods on the right, and my cousin lived there as a very young child while her dad was an engineer at the power plant.  Now it's all run by distant computers and the houses have been moved, mostly to Flesherton.

This is the end of the Lower Valley Road, which we've driven many times, just for the enjoyment of it!

At the end of the road we join Grey Road 30, just where a nice house with a large pond sits on the corner.  The small decorative water wheel on the right actually does turn for 2 or 3 days each spring when the tiny tributary it sits on is running full.  The white object on the water, behind the post is a resident Mute Swan.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Stumps and First Flowers

Looking the opposite direction at Lake Eugenia from the swans we saw yesterday, you're looking at a confined shallower area beyond the causeway.  For whatever reason they didn't clear the stumps in this part of the lake as completely as on the other side.  Although they're all underwater in the summer, during the spring drawdown it's just a sea of stumps!

Across the sea of stumps.

You can trace the channel of the old river in this picture.

If I wasn't stuck in my wheelchair inside the car on a busy road I could spend all day photographing reflections here.


Meanwhile, back here at the ranch the warmth has encouraged the first flowers to bloom, tiny dwarf Iris in a brilliant royal blue.  I loved these, the first spring flowers at our former home, so Mrs. F.G. ordered some bulbs and planted them last fall.  Now I'll always have them to enjoy here too,  They're in the small strip of scree garden right beside the front sidewalk where I can look down on them.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Swans on Lake Eugenia

 Jusrt over a week ago I shared a five-year-old post of the Tundra Swans on Lake Eugenia.  Yesterday was a glorious warm sunny day (today is even warmer) so we figured we'd go for a drive and check them out ourselves.  We've seen several posts showing them on the lake.

We were pleased to see that the swans were still there, at least a few of them, but the lake had been drained to its low spring level to make room for water storage in case of any spring floods.  After the torrential rains and flooding of Apr. 1, 2016, they're being extra careful.

The little island was high and dry and the nearby ice had all gone out.  As a result the swans were all a long distance away.

These were about the best shots I got.  Plenty of Canada Geese too, but very few distant ducks.

Most of the Canada Geese we're seeing now have paired up and are beginning to think about nesting.

Just in case you're wanting a better view of these migrating Tundra Swan here's my best picture from the past, also reposted 10 days ago.


Saturday, March 20, 2021

First Ride of the Year!

 Well, it's official.  For me the Happy Season has arrived.  Got out for a ride today and racked up 2.7 km.  Not much, but the streets beyond our own haven't yet been cleaned.  Sat in the sun for awhile after and loved it!  Now hopefully a bit more than 6 months of being able to get out nearly every day.

The first Grackle (blue head, light beak) I've seen was perched on a wire above this cedar hedge.  I expect it's looking to nest there.

At the other end of the street another house is under construction.  As usual they're building the roof directly on the foundation and will lift it off before building the main house.  Then the big crane will come back to lift the roof on.

There are only 3 further lots left by my count.  It looks like this will be the next one built judging by the number of stakes.

And at the end of the street there's still a big pile of dirty snow.

Doesn't look like much, but these are three dwarf Iris leaves emerging right outside the front door.  I put in my request last fall and Mrs. F.G. ordered the bulbs and got them in.  One of my favourite spring garden flowers.