Monday, January 26, 2009

A Great Way To Make a Point

Slap a decal on your loonie to simulate the effects of an oil spill. With the push on by the federal Conservatives to run tankers up and down the West Coast it is only a matter of time until one of these big balloons full of oil gets punctured by a West Coast rock.
They are offered for a donation to the Dogwood Initiative.

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Away from the city...why?

Our plan for the weekend was to watch our friend's daughter dance in Mill Bay, but that got cancelled at the last minute. So on the spur of the moment, we decided to go up-Island anyway.
We left about 1:30 and headed north, van loaded with a mish-mash of equipment and etc. Leaving things until the last minute always leads to poor planning. But having a Kia Sedona van, we were able to just dump a lot of stuff in and hope for the best.
The day was calm but overcast, and we stopped at the viewpoint on the Malahat to check out the view over Saanich Inlet. The last time we were here, we were over a major fog bank, looking down on rippling fields of pearl grey. Quite beautiful, but not really what you'd call a view. Saturday was clear, letting us see a lot more than a few mountain tops poking up through the fog.

Seananus Island and Brentwood Bay

It is interesting to see places we've kayaked from an overhead vantage. I got a terrific look at Saanich Inlet and Cowichan Bay from my seat the last time I flew into Victoria.

Saanich Inlet northeast from the viewpoint

This time it was the beauty of a quiet winter's day. While storms are way more frequent during the winter, many of the days rival the summer for quiet perfection. And as an added bonus, there are a lot fewer people out most winter days.
We pulled in at Mill Bay and stopped at Rusticana Coffee (805a Deloume Road, Mill Bay) both so I could get a coffee and so we could pick up another dozen eggs. The last time we were here we got some local free range eggs and they were terrific. When I opened the carton, it was clear the eggs had never been washed, and when I tried to crack one on the side of a bowl, it took two tries to get the shell and membrane to split. The yolks were well-coloured and stood high, so these really were gold-standard eggs. Regretfully, they didn't have any more on hand, but at least they hadn't run out of coffee. Then it was down to the boat launch and out with the kayaks.

Boat launch, Mill Bay

We were here about a week back because I wanted to check out a sailboat for sale (not going to happen, for many varied and good reasons. Not this boat, anyway). Today, the water was again glass-flat, the weather superb. This time I wasn't paddling Paula's inflatable (she was using it), but I'd loaded the Pamlico 100 for the weekend. Somehow the idea of lifting the touring boats on top of the van just wasn't appealing.

I've been reading Robert Morris' book on kayaks Building Skin-On-Frame Boats over the past couple of weeks (just dipping in and out--not reading straight through. The writing is clear and accessible, and the book is terrific, so I don't want to leave any inadvertent impression that its taking me forever to get through it!) and he shows how to build a couple of recovery and retrieval kayaks--one of which is almost identical to the Pam. Robert is the owner of Brewery Creek Boats in Vancouver, and his shop is definitely a stop on my next visit across the Strait.
So back in Mill Bay, just as we were getting ready to launch, this fellow popped up not ten metres off the shore:

Mill Bay seal

He (an assumption, I know, but there you go...) cruised slowly by, having a good long look at us before ducking under and going back to hunting. Having destroyed three cameras in the last 18 months by taking them kayaking with me, I (wisely, I think) decided to leave the camera behind and just be in the moment, rather than spending too much time worrying about the next shot.
It seems that the further up-Island you go, the further back in time you travel. As we paddled across the bay, we saw a couple of seals splaching away, chasing something or other. And then the heads started popping up around us, checking out who we were and just what did we think we were up to? Not just one or two seals, either. Nor the half dozen we sometimes get out around Discovery Island. At times we were surrounded by a dozen seals in Mill Bay. Once you begin to reduce the population pressure on the natural world, which happens as you go north on the island, the more the natural world seems to repopulate. And Mill Bay is not that far out of Victoria--leaving me wondering just how amazingly full of life the coast was even fifty years ago.
Once we got the opening of the bay in to Saanich Inlet, we could see that the glass-flat water stretched out north, south, and east of us as far as we could see. The water was flat enough that you could get into real trouble, lured ever outward into this Suspended World.
It seems that we weren't the only ones out at Mill Bay on saturday. As the light started to go, we pulled back in after a nice but not too-long paddle and saw another kayak crossing out at the opening to the bay. We strongly suspect it was Richard, returning to his van. He was too far away to recognize, and we were fixated on going back to Rusticana for one of their meringues (which are lovely, BTW), so we didn't hook up with him for dinner.
After loading up, we headed toward Nanaimo, where we spent the night at a (gasp!) motel. This is quite unusual for us, as we usually camp or stay with friends when we travel, but it turns out that this was our decadent weekend (meaning we slept indoors, alone, and with a tv. For us, that's decadence!). The next morning, after a quick fuelling stop at Tim Horton's, we parked in Maffeo Park and took a look around.
Maffeo--pronounced maff-eh-oh, not maff-ee-oh, as I quickly learned--is quite a bit smaller than I thought. From the local maps, I expected something about a quarter the size of Beacon Hill Park, but Maffeo is about the size of a city block once you include the parking lots. Very nice, and connected to an extensive sea-walk, there's even an artificial lagoon.

Artificial lagoon, Maffeo Park, Nanaimo

Under the bridge there's a wall to keep the lagoon from draining, and along the sides are pumps and waterfalls to keep the water circulating. At the near end is a beach, the whole thing is meant for kids to swim in, but it looks like a great place (near the washrooms) to practise recoveries.
Down by the bridge is  where we chose to put in. This may not be the most convenient on a busy summer's day, but on a quiet winter's morning it was really quite decent.

Steps to the water's edge, Maffeo Park

The steps down to the water are broad and are really well set up for launching. You carry your boat down and put it in the water (woohoo rec boats!) and then just step in as you would at the pool.
Again, I had a mistaken idea as to how far it would be from the launch to Newcastle Island, but the actual paddle was less than 10 minutes across protected water. This is a perfect newbie paddle: you go to someplace, across what looks like real water, but you're never far from help and the waters are very sheltered. And there's a cool destination--Newcastle has trails, camping and picnic areas and gives every impression of being a great place to explore.
This launch point is next to the Newcastle Island ferry dock (that would be it just past the steps above), but the ferry is small and easy to avoid. There are also a tonne of pleasure boats in the area to keep track of, and you have to know where the seaplanes land and take-off (at the right-hand end of the bridge in the first photo), but all of these are things that can be dealt with.

Sea plane heading out for take-off

We made good time over to Newcastle and passed between it and Protection with no trouble (it was, after all, a quiet winter's day). It was not as perfect a day as Saturday had been, but we carried on out around the outside edge of Newcastle. Here the ferries get bigger:

Ferry north of Newcastle Island, Nanaimo

The wake from the ferry is pretty much just fun, although you have to remember to pull your kayak out of the water far enough that it won't grab your boat and take it away (says the man who had that happen on Moresby Island...).
We made it about a third the way around the island  to Kanaka Bay

Kanaka Bay, Newcastle Island

when we noticed the snow was now obscuring Harmac, to the south of us. We neither wanted to paddle through a snow squall, nor drive over the Malahat in a snowstorm, so we turned around and headed back to Maffeo Park. The paddle back, a bit of a breeze came up, and that's really when I missed having my paddling gloves--which were sitting safe at home in my chest of drawers. Last minute decisions make for bad planning, no suprise there. And there would have been worse things to forget--my wetsuit  or fleece underwear, for example.
The snow squall stayed south of us, thankfully, although it was plenty cold. And as we drove home we found that the snow fell about five kilometres south of where we were and stopped about Ladysmith, so the Malahat was clear and dry on the drive home. We even stopped in at the Cobble Hill Farmer's Market on the way back, which is where we picked up some more free-range eggs. All in all, a great weekend.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Why Am I Laughing?

No, seriously. This isn't as funny as my laughter would indicate. But something about this video just cracked me up. Okay, the Jack Black cameo was funny, and so is Newt Gingrich (not something I ever thought I'd say). Ah well, check it out. It's from Funny or Die.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Germany, Busting the Curve

Yeah boy, this is culture jamming at its best. Pictures of Britney and others on subway ads are being plastered with large-size Photoshop menus--just to point out the true source of the pictures. This is just begging for copycats the world over....

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Rick Warren uber alles

From Alternet comes this piece about Rick Warren, the guy tapped to deliver the invocation at Obama's inauguration:

In Bruce Wilson's video, on April 17, 2005 Rick Warren tells 30,000 of his followers at a rally in Angel Stadium, right next to Disneyland, that he had been given a vision, a three point plan for the next 25 years:

Seig heil, baby.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Harper's Index on the Bush Years

From Alternet:

Harper's has released a retrospective of the Bush years Harper's Index that is both hilarious and saddening. Here's just a taste:

Estimated percentage by which Social Security benefits would have declined if Bush’s privatization plan had passed: –15

Estimated total calories members of Congress burned giving Bush’s 2002 State of the Union standing ovations: 22,000

Percentage change since 2002 in the number of U.S. teens using illegal drugs: –9

Percentage change in the number of adults in their fifties doing so: +121

Number of White House officials in 2006 and 2007 authorized to discuss pending criminal cases with the DOJ: 711

Number of Clinton officials ever authorized to do so: 4

Percentage of the amendments in the Bill of Rights that are violated by the USA PATRIOT Act, according to the ACLU: 50

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Year's Resolution

I thought that I'd try and make a resolution that I might be able to stick to this year. So I looked at my list of holds at the library (bless the GVPL and all public libraries and those who work in them), and found that I'd let my hold list creep up to thirty items. Now sure, four are media holds and one is for a book that is missing, but still, some of these books have been waiting the better part of a year for me to read them.
So that's my resolution for this year; to read my way through all the books on my hold list before adding any more to it. It's the last part that's going to be the most difficult--I regularly cruise the "new additions" listings at the library's website and add them to my holds in order to keep as much of my reading as current as possible. Many of the books I read over the last year had been published in the previous or current year--something that has been rare over my reading life.
So my last book of 2008 was Margaret Atwood's Payback : debt and the shadow side of wealth, her Massey Lecture from last year. A terrific read, really, exploring our attitudes (both the current societal and the deeper long-term cultural) toward debt and lending. And it could not be more relevant, coming as it did just as the current economic hoo-rah came to the attention of the general public.
So for 2009, the first book I'm currently reading off my holds list is Twinkie, deconstructed : my journey to discover how the ingredients found in processed foods are grown, mined (yes, mined), and manipulated into what America eats. It's interesting, but the author, Steve Ettlinger, is no Michael Pollen (btw, check out the Bill Moyers interview with Pollen. It's available for free download And if you haven't read Pollen's Open Letter to the Farmer in Chief, you really should).
Ettlinger's writing isn't as clear or deep as Pollan's, although his idea, to track the ingredients list of an iconic American food, is a very good one. He is a bit lazy when it comes to questioning the ingredients list, however. When it comes to High Fructose Corn Syrup, he doesn't do much more than suggest that there is some controversy about the use of HFCS in the American diet. So far, at least, this is not a compelling or involving read.
Unlike, say, the book my daughter insisted I read: Smile When You're Lying: confessions of a rougue travel writer by Chuck Thompson.This is just a lot of fun to read. It's not going to change the world, but hopefully it will add a little much-needed balance to our perceptions of those lovely puff-pieces on exotic destinations in magazines and newspapers. This is a book that was worth the couple of hours I invested in it.

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Books and Reviews 2008

These are the books I felt it worth mentioning that I read during the last quarter of 2008.

The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900

Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent
Review of Tar Sands

Philosophy of Science: A VSI
Review of Philosophy of Science: A VSI

The Elements of Library Research
Review of "Elements"

The Age of American Unreason

The No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization

Fundamentalism: A VSI

Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Perserving Changed the World

Climate Solutions: A Citizen's Guide
Climate Solutions: A Citizen's Guide (pdf link)

Human Rights: A VSI

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition

Social and Cultural Anthropology: A VSI

Globalization: A VSI

Democracy: A VSI

Terrorism: A Very Short Introduction
Review of Terrorism: A VSI

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Traditions

Well, just one actually. And this is only the third year of it, so maybe not even tradition yet. But what the heck, it was time for my annual polar bear dip.
It's not that New Year's Day is the only time I find myself in the ocean, it's just that it's about the only time I do it in a bathing suit instead of a wetsuit and/or paddle gear. Pretty typically, this is what I do:

Doing the "hero" pose in Caddy Bay, New Year's 2009

I head out into the bay and pose for a shot, then I duck under the water (way colder once your head goes under!) and then get the heck out. After all, by this point my testicles are firmly tucked up under my chin.... But it seems that this new tradition is infectious, too:

Paula in Cadboro Bay, New Year's Day 2009

This year Paula decided to give it a try--well, she was waist deep before I took this picture, but the whole "ducking under" thing just wasn't on.
But this year I added a little spin to things. Rather than the "duck under" bit, I thought I'd try a swim. When you're trying to understand hypothermia, this sort of thing really helps.