Sunday, 31 August 2008

"The seatbelt light is ON!"

Hola Amigos!

We have arrived in Quitos, Ecuador, after a long but not very eventful journey. We flew Air Crappyda, so this is somewhat surprising. Still, they didn’t disappoint us completely. Once we got to Toronto, we switched planes to fly to Bogota, Columbia. Boarding went as planned and then we sat......and sat.....and sat......It got hotter and hotter and hotter........Eventually, the captain's voice came on, informing us of a very small technical problem. I hate it when they lie like that. Very small technical problems do not require very large sledgehammers down the hold - you could hear all the hammering going on. 30 minutes later, the captain admitted to an overheating problem in the hold that was requiring maintenance to pull up panels to try and find the problem It was at this point that I muttered “Well, at least they could turn the entertainment system on” Two minutes later, a flight attendant announced that they were turning on the entertainment system. Excellent, except our screens did not work. No problem, we could move seats, but no, we couldn’t sit together and no, I couldn’t have a window seats. Crap. More muttering “She could at least ask if anyone will move to allow us to sit together” Lo and behold, she does and we are moved to seats, together, by the window.

We finally take off, 1.5 hours late, which is going to make it very tight for our next connection to Quito, even with tail winds to speed us on our way. As we close in on Quito and as the clock ticks down, we asked a flight attendant about getting our connection. No problem, they will make an announcement when we get nearer. Well, they do make a very vague announcement about someone helping us when we disembark (now, where have I heard that one before?). Since we are sitting right at the back of the plane, I mutter something about letting off connecting passengers first. I know, you are not going to believe this, but two seconds later we get an announcement requesting non-connecting passengers to stay in their seats to allow connecting passengers off first. At this point, I am considering a full body search, since I have obviously been bugged. Since we are landing in Bogotá, I may even get one!

So, we now come to the most amusing part of the flight. You know the bit, just after landing, where they request you to stay in your seats until the plane has come to a full stop and the seat belt lights have been switched off? Well, they made that announcement, and as soon as we touched down, about a dozen people leapt out of their seats and started grabbing their bags, coats etc. A flight attendant came running out and requested, very politely (she is Canadian, after all) that everyone remain in their seats. Everyone ignores her. She then turns into the flight attendant from a give up smoking ad, the one where she comes out and screams at the passengers that “The seat belt light is on!” That ad always cracks me up, since that is what I would be like all the time if I were a flight attendant, which is why I am not. Anyway, the people did finally sit down and until we reached the gate. At this point, everyone leapt out of their seats again. Apparently, everyone has another flight to catch, except for one nice gentleman sitting in front of us. He let us go before him – well, he had just come back from Victoria on Vancouver Island, so some Canadian-ness must have rubbed off on him.

Next, through Columbia security. Mr. DBM and I get split up – him down the Senor aisle, me down the Senora aisle. All is going well until the woman wanding me and patting me down says something to me – in Spanish. My blood runs cold. What did she say? I don’t know! So, here it is, the perfect time for me to use one of the only two Spanish phrases that I know – “no hablo Espanol” or “No entiendo” Perfect opportunity, and what do I do? I just stare at her, like some complete idiot, like the most stupid person in the world. She repeats herself. I stand and stare. Eventually, she gives me a very scornful look and starts on the next person. I grab my bags and run, find Mr. DBM and cling onto him and tell him to never, ever to leave me on my own again. I am off to a fine start, world traveller that I am.

We do make it to our connection, and, after a short flight and the smoothest deplaning, immigration, customs, luggage retrieval and taxi to our hotel ever, we sink into our beds. Mr. DBM falls into a deep and snorey sleep. Me, I am up half the night with a headache, tingling extremities and a couple of bouts of throwing up. In the morning..........

Me: “I threw up a couple of times last night, my head hurts and have tingling toes.”

Mr. DBM: “Well, it could be due to you being tired, the altitude medication that we are on or just the altitude.”

Me: “Did you say it was my attitude?”

Mr. DBM: “There is no room for humour on this trip!”

So starts our 4 month South American Odyssey. Tomorrow we have big plans for doing nothing, interspersed by napping and avoiding all elevation gain or exercise, except the stairs to our room – we can’t avoid those. Next time, I am requesting a ground level room. Still, all this sitting around doing nothing has given us the idea of opening up oxygen bars for all the tourists in cities above 7000ft. “O2 to Go - we fulfill all your oxygen needs.”

PS. It just took 3 hours to post this damn post, since the keyboard has a peculiar layout, I couldn't log on and it kept giving me lots of helpful hints about what I was doing wrong in Spanish. It didn't help that half the symbols on the keyboard have rubbed off. Mierda - thanks English Mum!

Friday, 29 August 2008

I'm so tired - I think I need a holiday.

The problem is, it is going on holiday that has made me so tired. We have spent the day getting ready for our big South American Odyssey. Our bags are finally packed, although this took far longer than it should have done, since no matter what we did, we always ended up with one bag that weighed more than 50lbs. Odd really, we would take 5 lbs out of one bag and put it into another and the first bag would then lose 3lbs and the other bag gain 6lbs? Excuse my language, but WTF? In the end, we just went and found bigger bags and that seemed to solve our mass inconsistencies. Mr. DBM has shaved his head, ears and nose, I haven't shaved anything, because I couldn't be bothered. The house is stocked up with cat food, cat treats, tuna and catnip and the house sitter has read and been tested on the DBM household operation manual - put together by Mr. DBM. The cats have been defleaed and recollared, the plants watered and the toilets cleaned. Is there anything we have forgotten?

We leave for the airport in two hours. We fly from here to Toronto, which is obviously in the wrong direction for South America, but hell, we are talking Air Canada here. At least they are still flying, unlike Zoom. From Toronto, we head to Bogota in Columbia, pick up a few drug dealers, and then head for Quito, Ecuador, before finally making it to Cuzco in Peru. First activity - Spanish School. This will not be good - I suck at languages. But, it is probably not a bad idea to learn something other than "no hablo Espagnol" and "no entiendo" - who knows how long it will be before Mr. DBM gets sick of the sight of me, llamas or natives in silly wool hats and leaves me to fend for myself. After Spanish School, we are going to attempt the Inca Trail. Really looking forward to the altitude sickness.

I shall try to keep you up-to-date with our travels, but no guarantees. Hope you don't miss my witty posts and comments too much, and we will be back at Christmas. Now, do we have our tickets? Our passports? Other Important Pieces of Paper - Mr. DBM has lots of those.....

So, this is it - Au revoir, no......Auf Wiedersehen, no, that's not right either........Sayonara????.........oh crap, I am in big trouble aren't I?

Here we go - Adiós, amigos!

P.S. Does anyone know what crap is in Spanish?

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

A Trip into the Wild, Wet West.

A few of you may have been wondering what has happened to me over the last couple of weeks. Well, I have been busy. I know, I am supposed to be on holiday, but last year, I volunteered to help out on a biology field trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island. It sounded like a good idea at the time............

The following is a post that I have written for my university about the trip. I was going to write a separate, not quite so sensible post for my personal blog, but then I thought, why? That would just be a lot more effort. So, here is the post. I should warn you that it is quite long. It was supposed to be written as a daily thing, but I was always much too busy to write it while I was there, so you are now getting it all in one big chunk.


This year, the Biology Department at my University has ventured out into the wilds of British Columbia. We have left the fertile green fields of the Fraser Valley behind us. We have travelled beyond the concrete jungle and urban sprawl that is Metro Vancouver. The green and restless waters of the Georgia Strait were no barrier to us and the wooded valleys and mountain passes could not prevent us from reaching our ultimate destination. Even the well stocked shelves of a Nanaimo supermarket only managed to briefly distract us from our ultimate destination. We have traded concrete and steel, tarmac and fumes for crashing waves and screeching gulls, towering trees and fresh, salt-tanged air. We have arrived at the wild, wet........I mean west.......coast of Vancouver Island. We are now doing what biologist love to do most – immersing ourselves in sand, sea, mud and moss and marvelling at the beauty that surrounds us, bowled over by the rich and diverse life and questioning the forces that shape the landscapes and the assemblages of life that we find here.

Our first morning saw us heading to the mudflats. Oh yes, biologists really know how to live it up! As we came through the trees dripping with moss, lichens and water, we caught our first glimpse of the mud. It stretched out before us, apparently lifeless, inviting us onto its sticky, sucking, sinking surface. The more intrepid students ran onto the mud with glee, only to be stopped in their tracts as boots were left behind and feet were gripped by the oozing, stinking mud. Hmmmmm, getting around on this stuff might be a bit trickier than we thought. Still, there was work to be done, life to be found. Just one spadeful of mud soon revealed that the mud was not as lifeless as it first appeared. Many invertebrate animals, such as clams, worms, shrimps and crabs, make a living processing mud and sand particles for the food, such as detritus, diatoms and bacteria contained within or by preying on such mud-processing organisms.

One such animal is the goddess worm, Nephtys.
This segmented worm has the uncanny ability to invert its mouth and throat. It uses this proboscis to capture small prey, such as small worms, crustacea and molluscs. Other worms, such as the blood worm, can also do this and they also have venom glands at the base of their jaws that can inject a neurotoxin. All mud-lovers and worm handlers, you have been warned!

As the morning passed and the mists lifted, we all got muddier, we all ended up with mud on our faces, in our hair and over our clothes. And we all loved it! Some of our more entrepreneurial students are now planning a new field trip / spa experience for the more wealthy students of UFV!
“ Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for cooling the blood............”

The next day, we were heading for the beach. Sand, sun and surf! Did we have our beach towels and volleyball? Our sunscreen and surf boards? Oh no, we had our buckets and tape measures, our guidebooks and cameras - we were there to work. This time, we were investigating the life on the rocky shore. Now, you would think that this would be a very hard place to live. Crashing waves, the rhythmic influx and retreat of the tides, one minute wet, the next dry. Let’s face it, you are always living on the edge, between a rock and a hard a place. Once again, our students soon discovered an abundance of life in this seemingly hostile environment. In fact, the closer to the turbulent edge they got, the more life they found. In amongst the rock weed, kelp and surfgrass, they uncovered a diverse assemblage of invertebrate life, including sponges, ribbon worms, chitons, limpets, periwinkles, mussels, sea squirts, barnacles and crabs. We also found colourful green surf anemones and the gloriously coloured purple and orange ochre starfish. One of these starfish was busy having breakfast when we arrived. Here is another organism that can turn its stomach inside out in order to ingest its food. In this case, the starfish is trying to open a mussel with its very strong tubefeet. These feet are hydraulically powered and can exert quite a force. Once the mussel has been opened, the starfish will slip its stomach into the shell, release digestive enzymes and absorb the resulting molluscan soup. Yum.

One of the more bizarre animals found was the rockweed isopod, Idotea wosnesenskii, a large crustacean that clings onto seaweed with its hook-like claws. A harmless creature that spends its life grazing on the algae, depending on its colouration to blend in with the seaweed to avoid predators.

Another fascinating creature, a sea lemon, was found in one of the many rockpools that provide a sanctuary to those creatures that are not able to survive long out in the open as the tide recedes. The sea lemon is a nudibranch, a type of marine mollusc that has lost its shell, in much the same way as land slugs have. This had led to their common name of sea slugs. Now, don’t let the name fool you. Sea slugs are amongst the most beautiful animals of the sea. Many are brightly coloured, reds, oranges and yellows, more like butterflies of the sea than slugs. As with most things in nature, there are reasons behind these bright colours. Rather than being an advert for a tasty snack, they warn predators of hidden dangers lurking within. You see, these little slugs have a few tricks up their sleeves. Some of them dine on sea anemones, which are themselves protected by stinging cells that shoot poison-tipped barbs into the bodies of potential predators. Some sea slugs have a mechanism for preventing the firing of these barbs and so can dine with impunity on the now tasty anemones. Even more sneaky is the sea slugs ability to then make use of the anemone’s stinging cells by collecting them in fleshy processes that it then uses to protect itself. Cunning, uh? Other sea slugs, like the sea lemon, dine on sponges. In this case, their yellow colour acts as camouflage against the yellow sponge that they consume.

The third day was another early morning start, since the tide waits for no man, woman or biologist. This day also saw us reacquainting ourselves with the mud. Now, after the first mud encrusting day, we decided that there must be an easier way to cross the mudflats without sinking up to our waists. We brainstormed ideas and finally settled on a type of “mud shoe”, something similar to a snow shoe, but with a quick release mechanism in case it did get sucked down into the mud. We wouldn’t want anyone to be trapped in the mud with the tide coming in, now would we? Disappointingly, no one had any mud shoes handy, so we had to go back to the run-as-fast-as-you-can-before-sinking method. One of the students, with particularly large feet, did develop a mud skating method, which worked very well for him. The rest of us, however, soon became mired in the mud, again. Still, if you are looking for a good work out, I can highly recommend mud running.

The salt marsh is another environment that sits between land and sea and any organism living here has adapted to survive in this ever changing environment. At the lowest points of the marsh, few plants are tough enough to survive, but as you move away from the water’s edge and up towards solid land, more plants can colonise the marsh and diversity increases. We saw a progression from arrow grass and glasswort to more complex communities with a higher diversity of plants, including sweet gale, sitka spruce, angelica and purple asters. The glasswort may be of interest to the more culinary inclined. Apparently, it is highly edible. Steam it in the microwave and then coat with butter; I am told that it should taste like young spinach stems or asparagus.

The animal life on the salt marsh is much harder to find compared to the rocky shore, but while beating our way through the undergrowth, we did find ourselves a lovely specimen of Ariolimax sp. One of our braver students was encouraged to give it a lick to see if the rumours about it harbouring chemicals with anaesthetic qualities were true. Apparently they are – her tongue went numb and almost stopped her talking for a while. Note the almost! We have tried to find out what the chemical is, but to no avail, so if anyone could enlighten us, we would be most grateful. Oh yes, and for those of you wondering, our student just licked a banana slug!

During the time on the marsh, many of us were struck by its peace and serenity. The only sound that we could hear was the plaintive whistles of a pair of osprey as they circled overhead. OK, so there was the sound of the bear crashing through the undergrowth, just the other side of the mudflat. He did venture out for a very short period of time, but on seeing (or smelling) the mass of humans on the marsh, he bid a hasty retreat back into the bushes.

Day four was a wet one, a very wet one. Still, we were going out to explore the rainforest, so it seemed appropriate. On this day, we were paying special attention to the fungi, lichens and mosses of the forests, since they so often get overlooked. While we were out, we marvelled at the old trees with their knobbed and gnarled stems, their old dead branches pointing up into the canopy. These old trees provide so many habitats for other organisms. They are often festooned with mosses, dripping with lichens. Ferns grow along branches and many small shrubs get a good start up off the forest floor. As the old trunks begin to rot, holes will provide homes to many small mammals and birds. This is not just a dead tree, but a condominium of life and a very important part of a mature forest ecosystem.

Now, please don’t ever think that biologists are all work and no play. Oh no, us biologists know how to have a good time. And our play day was a trip to Hot Springs Cove, approximately one hour north of Tofino. To get there, you have to bundle up inside a very flattering, bright orange survival suit and a lovely vivid yellow rain slicker. You then don a woolly black toque and after admiring yourself in the mirror – you are, after all, now the height of West Coast fashion - and wishing you had used the toilet before you donned the suit, you all pile into a very fast-looking boat with two extremely large engines. You can guess what comes next – lots of crashing through waves, being bumped around like a bingo ball in its tumbler and a lot of screaming from the front of the boat. On the way up to the hot springs we did stop to admire the eagles and oooh and ahh over a waterfall. Once we reached Hot Springs Cove, we had a 2km walk through a majestic old growth forest, with trees so large that our whole group could not encircle the trunk with our arms. The moss was green and luxuriant, lichens festooned the trees and the sun backlit the ferns as they nestled beneath the trees. A magical place. The Springs themselves were hot and smelly, and soon all the students were soaking up their warmth. Wallace, UFVs very own pacific giant salamander, basked in the sun on the rocks surrounding the cove, admiring the view, listening to the waves crashing onto the rocks and soaking up the calm and tranquility of this wonderful place.

The boat trip back was even more exciting, as we headed out into the open ocean, looking for whales, sea otters, sea lions and puffins. Some of us were lucky enough to see all of these creatures. There was much shouting and screaming, clapping and laughing every time a whale appeared. The woo-hoos sounded out as a humpback whale left the water for a few seconds in the air, before its huge, barnacle- encrusted body came crashing back down into the water, throwing up sheets of spray. To many people, whale watching seems an odd thing to do. Hours of sitting around in a boat for a few seconds of excitement as the whale appears and then disappears. But trust me, the feeling you get just seeing those majestic creatures makes up for all the time bumping around in the boat, clinging on to the railing for dear life and hoping your lunch does not make a second appearance. It is excitement, it is awe-inspiring, it is a bubbling happiness from deep within and it is a feeling that I wouldn’t want to miss. Why a big hulk of blubbery flesh should invoke such feelings, I cannot say. But the whales just make you happy, that is all there is to it. I am sure the puffins would have had the same effect on me, but since I didn’t see them, I shall have to go back another time to test that hypothesis.

On our final day, we went in search of shorebirds and then we took two hours to walk an 800m trail – is this a world record in slowness, one has to wonder? On the beach, we saw semi-palmated plovers and western sand pipers. Both of these birds have long slender bills that they use to probe the sand for small invertebrates. On the rocky shore, we saw a group of very vociferous oystercatchers, high pitched “wheeps”, sounding almost like a small child squealing. The stout red beaks of these birds are used to open mussels and clams to get at the tasty mollusc inside. The shoreline and mudflats of Clayoquot Sound provides vital feeding grounds for many migrating shorebirds as they pass along the British Columbian coastline on their annual migrations from north to south and back again. Individual birds may only be here for a few days, but in that time, they need to eat as much as possible to fuel the days of flying that lie ahead.

As for our record-breaking walk through along the 800m long Shoreline Bog Trail, affectionately known as the broccoli forest, due to the stunted, mishapen trees, well, it was very interesting, OK? The tortured, twisted shapes of the trees and the diverse assemblage of plants present caught our imaginations. The bog develops due to the sphagnum moss. This is an extraordinary plant. It has specialised cells that are able to store water and this gives the moss the ability to hold 16-18 times its own mass of water. Such absorbency draws the water table up, so creating the bog. Another effect that the sphagnum has on the bog is to acidify the waters. This prevents many bacteria from flourishing here and so nutrient cycling is very slow. The bog becomes a hard place to live, due to water logging and lack of nutrients. This means that some special adaptations are required to survive here. One of the most interesting is the sundew. This plant has a surprise up its leaves for any passing insect. An insect that is attracted to the brightly coloured leaves will end up being ensnared in their deadly, sticky embrace. By trapping and eating these insects, the plant overcomes the lack of nutrients in the soil and so flourishes in the bog.

So, here ends our biological foray out to the west coast of Vancouver Island. We are all very tired, a little damp, and most of us are probably ready to snuggle down in our own beds for a good night’s sleep. It has been hard work, no doubt about that, but we have had many new experiences, we have laughed, but not cried. We have made new friends and built upon old friendships. These are experiences that none of us will forget in a hurry, experiences that we will treasure. And hopefully, some of us may even have learned something. I will finish with a very large wave........

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Furry Felines and Mesmerising Mantids

So, I am sitting here, watching the Olympics, hoping, beyond hope, that I might catch a glimpse of any competitor other than a Canadian. Now, just as an aside, that really bugs me. I don't care whether you are a Canadian, American, or Outer Mongolian, surely anyone who is interested in watching any kind of sport is interested in all the competitors, not just the ones that they are supporting? What is the point of seeing just one nation's competitors and not their competition? How can you judge how well they are doing if you have nothing to compare them to? Even if I were supporting the Canadians, I would like to see the best of the other countries. And, let's be honest, here is another example of why I will never be truly Canadian. Firstly, I don't like TimBits and secondly, I still root for the British.

Back to the plot - sitting watching the Olympics - when I hear what I think is the sound of a fire engine, just as it is starting up its siren. A deep whine rising in strength and volume, to a loud, rumbling wail. No, wait, it is not a siren at all, it is someone's weed wacker. Nope, the sound is emanating from inside the house. What the .............ah, now that I have levered myself off the sofa, I have pinpointed the sound - it is Tess, my sweet, furry, bundle of fluff, imitating a cross between a fire engine siren and a weed wacker. That can only mean one thing - another cat. Yep, there it is, beating a hasty retreat down the garden path. We seem to be getting quite a few feline visitors recently. That might have something to do with the fact that half the neighbourhood cats are now addicted to our little patch of catnip and so turn up every day, craving their daily fix. Neither Tess nor Willow appreciate this - they do not make very good pushers - apparently their patch of nip is not for sale!

On the Tess and catnip front, my little Tessie had a bit of trip yesterday. Mr. DBM had supplied her with her daily dose. She likes to pounce on it and then roll around on it before eating it. Unfortunately for her, on this occasion it got stuck in her belly fur, right where she couldn't quite reach it. So, much rolling over and over and over ensued. Mr. DBM thought she was having a fit. I just couldn't stop laughing. Tess was not amused and had to go for a nap after all that activity.

Back onto the sofa......................screeeeech, scrabble, yowwwlll, scrtchhhhhhh, scrttchhhhh, scrttchhhhh, whoooooosh, swish, thump, thump! Now what!?! Can't I get a minutes peace and quiet to marvel how badly the Canadian Olympians are doing? I prise myself off the sofa again and, yep, it is that demented cat again. Tess. This time, she has snorted half the container of catnip, which was on the table. She went to lay down, missed the table and fell off. In the process of falling off, she scrabbled around a lot, grabbed onto the table runner and and pulled 80% of it off the table. Luckily for her, the 20% on which my lovely fruit bowl sits stayed on the table, just.
I think perhaps she needs to lay off the catnip for a while - a little detox program might be in order.

As for my other feline friend, Willow, well she has found herself a new game to play. She seems to have gotten bored with the running from the back door to the front door game and has moved on to the catch, release, catch and release game. This involves her finding some poor, unfortunate rodent and bringing it home. To begin with, they would arrive back here, sans head, but she has since discovered it is far more fun to bring them home alive and kicking. She can then release them and sit back and enjoy the spectacle that is me, running around with a tupperware container, trying to catch the poor little bugger. Yes, I know, I could just leave them, but then Willow would be straight back out again, and after her second catch, there is no release. So, I have to perform the second catch. I then trundle off to the creek that runs down the back of the house to perform the release. If the owls living in the woods behind my house were smart, they would just sit around waiting for me to show up with my tupperware container:

"Ooooh, here comes lunch."
"Excellent - I quite fancy shrew today, what about you?"
"Well, I am hoping for a nice fat vole, but a field mouse would do."

Great game, huh? No? Well, I have tried to explain this to Willow, but, well, she is a cat, isn't she? And that means that she catches mice and ignores anything and everything that I say, except tuna - she never ignores that.

After all that hunting, Willow needs to have a nap too - at least she earns hers, unlike her sister! You know the saying "Let sleeping dogs lie"? Well, trust me, it needs to be applied to cats too. She may look all cute and cuddly, but you just try and stroke her tummy when she is all stretched out like that. Don't say I didn't warn you.................

Just as a contrast to all things cute and furry, let me introduce you to my newest pet - a praying mantis. OK, so even I can't claim this pet to be cute, but it really is quite fascinating and definitely mesmirising. Just look into those eyes...................

Saturday, 9 August 2008

I Must Be Doing Something Right.

The other day, we were driving along one of those roads where you have cars parked on both sides and only enough room for one car to actually pass down the road at a time. Now, these roads are not particularly common around here, since most roads are wide enough for my Mum to drive a bus down. This may explain why some people do not understand the need for some courtesy and decent manners while driving such a road. So, Mr. DBM is driving. He sees another car coming the other way and he very politely moves over into a space by the side of the road and lets the other driver through. The other driver passes by while Mr. DBM waits patiently. The other driver does not say thank you. No nod of the head, no little wave, no smile, not even a lift of one small finger. Nothing, nada, bupkiss, zilch in the way of a thank you. That really bugs me. Here are some of the responses that I have used in such a situation:

  • Small conversation with myself, that goes along the lines of:
    Me: "Thank you!"
    Me: "You're welcome!"

  • The lifting and waving of one middle finger. Not a lot of effort, but much satisfaction. Unfortunately, this response is usually wasted on the ill-mannered driver, since they generally haven't got a clue about good manners or that they might have offended in any way whatsoever.

  • Shouting: "Would it kill you to say thank you?"

  • Mr. DBM's favourite - much head shaking and muttering under the breath of "I hate people, I really hate people."

Now, this lack of manners seems to be spreading like a bad case of Ebola out here. People not saying thank you if you hold a door open for them or letting a door close right in your face. Then you have the family of four filling the whole width of the pavement, none of whom will move over to allow you to pass them without beating a path through the undergrowth. How about moving over to one side of an escalator so that other people can walk down the other side? Or letting people off a bus before getting on, rather than trying to push through the people getting off so that they can get on first and beat the elderly lady with walking frame to the last seat? My personal favourite is the driver that sits in the fast lane doing exactly the speed limit - move over dammit! See, now even I am losing my patience and my good manners. Apparently, common courtesy, much like common sense, is becoming very rare indeed. And that is a real shame, since it takes so little effort to do someone a favour and even less to say thank you in return.

So, what has all this got to do with the title of my post? Well, recently my talent and flair for blogging finally got noticed and I received a couple of blogging awards. The first one came from Jay, over at The Depp Effect. She most generously bestowed upon my unworthy head the Arte y Pico Award. Then, the very funny and talented Drowsey Monkey passed the kick ass award along to me. I was very touched by both of these awards, since neither one of them was given to me by my Mum or any other relative or close friend. You see, these are people that I have never physically met before. My only interactions with them have been via blogs. And that is one of the reasons that I am still writing my blog and reading other people's blogs. There are all sorts of people out there living in this hectic, crazy, ever-changing world of ours. Some of them will never like, some of them we will tolerate. Others, we will love with all of our hearts and some we will just click with, be friends with and share a little laughter with. That is what writing this blog is all about. Sure, sometimes I may slip in a little, just a little, bit of edumacational stuff, usually biological in nature, but most of the time I just write about what has struck me as being odd or different about a day, what has touched me, what has annoyed me or what has put a smile on my face. That is also why I read other people's blog, since we all see the world through different eyes.

So, although I have said thank you to Jay and Drowsey privately, I wanted to make sure that my manners were up to scratch and that everyone hears my very big and heartfelt THANK YOU to the two of you for my awards - I must be doing something right after all.

P.S. I know that I am supposed to pass these awards along to someone else now, but I haven't quite got around to that yet..............sorry!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Is This Torture Ever Going to End?

This last weekend was a long one. I am not referring to long in the tedious sense, but long in the extra day off work sense. Monday was British Columbia Day, and B.C. just turned 150 - still a spring chicken in province / country years then. And how do Mr. DBM and I spend our long weekends? To be honest, we like to hunker down in our nice cool basement and avoid sitting in a sweltering car with sweat dripping down our backs for hours on end while we wait to get on a ferry / cross a border / get over a bridge / wait for them to tarmac a road, put in a sewage pipe or otherwise generally disrupt traffic by digging up a major road on a long weekend. But, that really would have been a waste of a glorious day, so we decided to find a hike relatively close to home which did not involve crossing bridges, borders or travelling on roads decorated with bright orange cones. We also had to consider the difficulty of getting to a trail head without a four wheel drive vehicle with a four foot clearance. Hmmmmmm, our choices were somewhat limited, but after much trawling through the hiking guide books and ruling out hike after hike due to access difficulties, we had our winner - Elk Mountain it is!

Now, I love to hike. I love to be in the great outdoors, to immerse myself in nature, to marvel at the flora and the fauna, to smile when I hear the little chirping squirrels and to wonder when the next bear might leap out of the bush and scalp me. Luckily for us, most of the bears are terrorising the urban sprawl that is West and North Vancouver and parts of Coquitlam, scrabbling around in people's garbage and eating food left out for other wildlife - "well, officer, that food was meant for the birds and squirrels, not the bears." Unfortunately, the bears are not aware of this faunal discrimination and many end up getting shot after visiting too many gardens or the local Safeway. But that, dear reader, is an entirely different rant, so let's get back to the hike. Here are a couple of excerpts from the hiking guide:

  • "expect a nice open forest of second growth hemlock which is refreshingly cool in the summer."
  • "friendly uphill grade"
  • "gently gains elevation"
Now, the first quote was accurate. In fact, it was actually cold in the forest. In the middle of summer, with temperatures in the Valley soaring into the high 20s, low 30s Celsius, in the forest you could actually see your breath it was that chilly.

The second and third quotes - not so accurate. In fact, I am very curious as to what the terms "friendly" and "gentle" mean to the author, since the slope was about as friendly as a US immigration officer towards a Middle Eastern man wearing a shalwar, kameez and headscarf at the Canadian border on a long weekend and about as gentle a slope as the men's downhill ski run at the next Winter Olympics (which are being held in Vancouver / Whistler, just in case you are wondering). It is the kind of slope that threatens to tear tendons and rip muscles if you try and place your foot flat while standing up straight. Imagine you are a woman who has worn 4" heels all your adult life and you now have to place your feet flat on the ground - that is the kind of strain that this slope places on your calf muscles and tendons (for all of you that have never worn 4" heels - I said imagine - that is what I am doing, since 4" heels have never graced my feet). Sp up this godforsaken trail I trudge, head down, concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other, time after time after time. As I trudge, the same thoughts keep running through my head:
  • "Bugger, bugger, bugger."
  • "Crap, crap, crap"
  • "F*#k, f*#k, f*#k."
  • "Are we nearly there yet?"
  • "What the hell am I doing, I could be sitting in my garden at home, with a cool drink and a good book."
  • "Why am I doing this?"
  • "This is supposed to be fun - it isn't."
  • "How long have we been hiking for?"
  • "Is this torture ever going to end?"
Time has a funny habit of running at different speeds depending on circumstances. It seems that it almost stands still at times, and hiking up a "gentle and friendly" slope is one of those times. After about an hour of hiking, I ask Mr. DBM how long we have been hiking for. He tells me about 10 minutes. What? You are joking, aren't you? How could it possibly be only 10 minutes? Is your watch broken? Has it stopped completely? Have we gone through a time warp? Are you just playing a cruel joke on me? Are you nuts? Nope, we really have only been hiking 10 minutes..............Repeat the first three phrases above, over and over again...........

Of course, this is the easy part of the trail. The trail guides give the following description for the second half:
  • "After the hour mark you'll hit the good steep stuff."
  • ".............before it starts to steepen. The last few hundred metres are the steepest, about 35 degrees replete with some stairs."
So, there's something to look forward to. I am barely dragging my arse up the easy part, how on earth am I going to survive the good steep stuff - and what is good about it? But survive it I do and we finally break out of the forest and into.........

...........the answer to my question - why am I doing this?

A glorious, magnificent, almost transcendental place. You are bathed in light, a cool breeze embraces you and caresses you as it trips across the mountain top on its way into the wooded valley below. You draw in a lungful of cool, fresh, air and you feel free, alive and at peace. A freedom from all your cares and worries. A freedom from the rat race that is still running down in the Valley. You can see the cars as they hurry along the highway, full of hot, sweating individuals stressing over the traffic of the Long Weekend. But up here, there is no traffic, no fumes, no road rage or stress. Instead, the views grab your attention from every direction. Which way should I look first? The valley as it stretches out towards the sea, with the Mighty Fraser River nearing its journey's end? Or the mountains as they stand to attention, all lined up, right in front of you - there is Mount Baker, right there, you can almost pluck a handful of snow off its glistening flanks and make a snowball. But then the meadows plea for your attention. The colour, the vibrancy, the full frontal assault of all your senses. Instead of the monotonous drone of traffic on the highway, you hear and feel the vibrating splendour of thousands of bees, all intent on their task of collecting pollen and nectar from the flowers that surround you.

Instead of honking horns or police sirens, you hear the cheerful, chirping squeak of the squirrels hiding in the undergrowth. A butterfly rests briefly on a bright yellow flower and time stands still.

See, time is doing funny things again, because the next thing you know, it is time to start on back down that most odious of paths, back down to the traffic, the noise, the grime of everyday life. So, now can you see why I put myself through all that torture? Why, every week, I ask Mr. DBM what hike we are going to do next? Wouldn't you, just for that one moment when time freezes in a moment of true bliss?

Sunday, 3 August 2008


  1. Another human foot in a running shoe has just washed ashore - this time on the coast of Washington State. Is this one of theirs, or should B.C. be asking for its foot back?
  2. Another bizarre and tragic story from Washington State - a boy of ten has shot a woman dead. She was bending down to put something into her rucksack and he, thinking she was a bear, shot and killed her. What the hell is a ten year old doing with a high powered rifle? Apparently, it is allowed, if the child is accompanied by an adult. It reminds me of my time in Utah, living through a hunting season out in the boonies - I was given a bright orange vest and told NOT to venture outside without it. The week before a woman was shot dead in her garden, mistaken for a deer and a teenager shot and killed his father, by mistake. Still, I suppose we have to admit that the boy is a good shot.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

What Would Jesus do?

Now, here is a very important question that I think we all need to sit down and ponder for a good long time - where is the sarcasm button on this computer? I really could use one.........

This was the headline in a few of the local newspapers this week, as well as a couple of the provincial ones. And what was the burning question that we should be pondering? What tricky little moral dilemma could the Son of God be facing if he were alive today? Perhaps the pressing issue of world hunger, that five loaves and two fishes really can't solve? How about the end of the world as we know it, due to soaring food prices, fuel costs and global warming - that really is a bit of a niggling little problem right now, is it not? Or, maybe, just maybe, he will be worrying his long-haired and bearded head about despot leaders that are sucking up their country's wealth while its people are left to starve and suffer in terrified silence? Perhaps he is even just a little curious about the puzzling mystery surrounding the feet that keep washing up on Beautiful British Columbia's coastline?

So, the moral dilemma of the 21st century is...........

.........would Jesus go to the rodeo?

Yes, people, this is the question. What would Jesus do?

After I had finished laughing at the absurdity of the question, I realised that it was actually quite an annoying and insulting question. What relevance does Jesus - a Jewish man who lived two thousand years ago in the Middle East - have with any of the decisions that I make today in my life? I really am quite tired of the implications that anyone that does not follow some kind of religion, be it Christianity, Judaism, the Islamic faith, Buddhism, Hinduism etc etc has no moral guidance and therefore no moral values. Well, I was bought up in a Christian family and dutifully attended Sunday school and church as a child. I was even baptised as a teenager - although I now realise that this was more for the sake of having some friends than for any real belief in God or Jesus, but that is another story in itself. My parents did a fine job of teaching me right from wrong. I also believe that you don't need to be taught moral values, since most of the time you just know what is right and what is wrong. So, I don't need some guy with a flowing beard and white dress in sandals (with or without socks?) telling me what I should or shouldn't be doing.

So, I don't give two hoots what Jesus would do when it comes to going to a rodeo or not. I can, however, tell you my personal views on rodeos - and given that I live in the Rodeo Capital of British Columbia, I must obviously know what I am talking about, right? Here goes:

  • Rodeos inflict unnecessary cruelty to many of the animals involved. Take calf roping, where a calf has to be roped and tied in as short atime as possible. A rope is looped around the calf - that is running, terrified, for its life - yanked to a halt and then flung to the ground and tied up. This has resulted in calf deaths and injuries, such as broken legs.
  • Rodeos involve people walking around looking like idiots in very large cowboy hats, cowboy boots, chaps and ridiculously large belt buckles. I guess the saving grace is the fact that at least they wear jeans under their chaps, unlike at the annual pride parade *shudder*.

  • What is the point of sitting on a really angry bull for 6.6 seconds versus 7.9 seconds?

  • Many bulls are teased and tormented before being released to ensure that they give a good performance.

So, would Jesus go to a rodeo? You can answer that question, if you want to. Would I go to a rodeo? I did once, when I was living in Utah, and I hated seeing the animals being treated so poorly and I left half way through. So, no, I would not and I do not support rodeos. I will say that many of the skills used by cowboys are skills that they need on their ranches in order to make a living and I don't have a problem with showcasing these skills as they would be used on a ranch. However, when roping a calf on a ranch, it does not have to be done in as fast a time as possible and so more care can be taken to ensure the safety of a calf. It all comes down to the fact that ranching provides food and is a way of life for many people, whereas the rodeo is purely for entertainment and I don't think that any animal should be put in harm's way just for the sake of amusing a long weekend crowd of city slickers.