Wednesday, November 29, 2006

This is what we usually associate with winters on Vancouver Island - grey skies, lots of rain (especially this year - we've broken the all time precipitation total for November...), and the occasional rainbow. Posted by Picasa
This was our first hint that things were about to go terribly wrong - snow flurries on Sunday morning, right as I was about to head off to Vancouver for a meeting later that afternoon... Posted by Picasa
When it started to stick... I decided to take my big truck (1-ton, 4X4, dually... lotsa' power!) Posted by Picasa
Arrived home well after midnight in full blizzard conditions - cars off the road everywhere, major ferry delays, roads closed... and no power at home! Posted by Picasa
All our pampass grass had snapped, the bamboo was flattened, tons of tree branches (and a few trees) snapped off and scattered around.... and still it snowed! The temperatures plunged well below zero.... Posted by Picasa
By the next morning, the snow was well over my boots, the horses' water was frozen solid (so I began the winter schlepp with lots of hot water), and the slush on the roads had frozen into solid ice. Posted by Picasa
The patio furniture... looking most peculiar! Posted by Picasa
The sun fountain down at the pond... Posted by Picasa
One of our lovely aspen trees... two of them survived, one snapped... Posted by Picasa
A very confused Tony asking, "Why is my water lumpy?" I put his blanket on right after this photo was taken... Posted by Picasa
The sticky snow stuck to everything, even my fences! Posted by Picasa
Emma in her new Shedrow blanket, bravely drinking from the spring.... This soon froze solid. Posted by Picasa
There's an old pigeon shed in there somewhere! Posted by Picasa
Well, you probably get the idea! The power came back on about 18 hours later... but we only just got our phones and Internet back! (it's now late on Wednesday...) There are still plenty of people without power... It is FINALLY starting to warm up, but as I type this, it is snowing/sleeting again and there is another heavy snowfall warning in effect. The radio is promising that it will continue to warm up overnight and that rain will start... I cannot believe that I am actually hoping for rain to wash away this terrible mess! Yikes! Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

  I haven't been doing much blogging at the moment as I'm working at hyperspeed to finish up the changes to the Racetrack manuscript (received lots of comments from the editor, Ann Featherstone on Sunday night, which goes to show I am not the only one who works ridiculous hours!) Part of what I'm doing is filling in a few photo gaps (tricky, actually, as the Mac computer where the photos are all stored died on Friday... but that's the subject of another blog entry entirely...). I do have some duplicate photos on this laptop, including this one of a cheeky foal photographed stealing my notebook at Windfields Farm in Ontario. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

And the winner is...
Have you always wondered how books get onto shortlists for the various book awards? Well, in the case of the Cybils [ ], cyber-savvy readers nominate titles for the long lists. Then, blogger-types read all the nominees and create short-lists. And then, panels of booky bloggers select the winners. As a judge in the picture book category, I am very curious how this is all going to pan out. I believe nominations are still open, so if you have a favourite picture book (there are two categories, non-fiction and fiction), YA novel, fantasy or sci-fi title, middle grade novel, graphic novel, etc. that you just love - here's your chance to help it get on a prize list.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ever seen a dog picking raspberries? This is Gus up in Winlaw, helping himself to a snack... Note that I've been busy retro-posting some entries from my recent road trip. You'll need to click on the archives for October to see the entries and photos... Sorry about that. Such are the perils of no access to the Internet while travelling! Posted by Picasa
After showing students some not-very-good rocket ship drawings in my childhood notebooks, students from Fruitvale Elementary School sent some suggestions for improved illustrations. I sure like these a lot better than my efforts! Thank you for sending these along, Mr. Calder!

Monday, November 06, 2006

In my talks to students in schools, I usually talk about how much I like writing in restaurants and coffee shops. Big-eared, nosy people like me never tire of eavesdropping… Here are some notes taken during a certain recent book tour…

Overheard in a BC Café

Indulged in another road trip favourite, a tasty Reuben sandwich while making some
notes about my day for later typing into the blog. Kept getting distracted, though, by the raucus group of ‘these-could-only-be-Canadians’ chatting away at the next table.

Here are a few snippets from said conversations,
“So there are these six lights floating there by the side of the road…” and he says, “What the hell is that?”

“Three moose!”


"Yeah - their eyes were shining like flying saucers! They looked like they were floating at the side of the road."

“Man, you don’t want them suckers running out in front of you.”

“Yeah, truck killers, man.”

This is followed by one tale after another of trucks, tractors, four-by-fours, and flatbeds getting stuck in places where such vehicles were never meant to be … buried in mud over the axels, tipped over in huge holes, sunk in rivers, stuck in trees… These tales are told in two parts.

Part A: How the vehicle came to be stuck in the first place – while the owner was hunting bear out of season, or popping wheelies to dump a load of lumber off a flat-bed truck, or taking a shortcut during flood season, or some such…

Part B – How the stuck vehicle was pushed/pulled, or winched out of trouble.

These are simultaneously cautionary Canadian tales and outright bragging. “Well, ya think that’s bad – you know that old tractor I had at my Dad’s place? Well, this one time when we had to pull these fence posts out in that wet area down by the gully…”

This series of exchanges then moves on to a really wild series of stories involving various domestic pets and their run-ins with grizzly bears, vicious squirrels, raccoons, birds, and packrats. The latter not only mess with domestics, they also steal things, and, apparently, enjoy eating distributor wires, copper caps and all…

At which point I had to force myself to finish up my instant decaf, close my notebook, and head back to my cozy room.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Tinytown, BC

I don’t mean to embarrass anyone so I’ve changed some identifying details, but yes, this really did happen during a recent book tour…

After arriving in Tinytown, BC in the dark, pulled off the highway and into the gas station to ask for directions to 4th Avenue. Understand that Tinytown is a town with a grand total of perhaps a dozen roads. The town is so small it isn’t included in any of the regional guidebooks I’ve picked up. The poor quality of the map printed from the Internet by the librarian is so fuzzy that I can’t read a single street name.

I don’t figure this is too much of a problem because surely, in a town so small, everyone must know everyone and directions should be easy to come by, especially at the local gas station. The young woman behind the counter sells me two AAA batteries (for the IPOD transmitter) and some masking tape (display materials repair) and we have this conversation.

“I was wondering if you could give me some directions.”

She looks shocked, like I have slapped her or asked a rude question she wasn’t expecting.

Undeterred, I press on. “Could you please tell me where 4th Avenue is?”

She looks at me blankly as if to say, “Our streets are numbered?” This look is followed by a shrug. “No. Sorry. I don’t know any of the street names.”

Thinking I will have to drive around in the dark (there aren’t any streetlights in Tinytown) I decide to narrow my search area.

“Is there more to the town? Or is it just the streets behind the gas station?” I might not be able to read the names of the streets, but the fuzzy map doesn’t indicate anything like an East and a West Tinytown.

Another blank look is followed by, “Yeah. I guess. Except there’s a 9th over there…” She waves her arm toward the pitch darkness on the other side of the highway and looks pleased that she has remembered this. “Yeah – over behind the old church. Well where the church used to be – they pulled it down.”

“I see.” (I’m not quite sure how it will help to know that there was once a landmark and make a mental note to keep an eye out for rubble piles… perhaps with a lopsided cross sticking out of the top.)

“Ok, I’ll drive around on this side of the highway first and then I’ll check over there.”

“Oh, wait!” she says, calling me back as I turn to leave. “There’s a map stuck in the window. You have to go outside and look in. It’s stuck to the glass.”
“Excellent! That should help.”

Oustide I peer at the very basic map, hand drawn in the window. Tinytown's four slightly bigger streets run perpendicular to the highway. These are crossed by the five avenues running the other way. Second is right behind the gas station. Fourth is two blocks beyond that.

Thinking that the gas station was probably on one of the four bigger roads but not certain which, I guess it might be Main. To confirm, I go back inside.

“Is this road right here Main?”

Blank look.

“The road right here –“ I point outside and wave my hand from side to side so she knows which one I mean – “Do you know what it’s called?”

“Ah – no, sorry.”

“That’s ok – don’t worry about it. And, thanks for the batteries.”

I wonder if maybe there are no street signs (since there are no street lights, they would be hard to see… ), but then I hop into the car, turn out of the gas station, look up at a sign which clearly says, “Main.” Now knowing for sure where I am, I drive the two blocks to the B&B with no trouble despite the fact that houses do not seem to have visible numbers here.

The oddest part about all of this is that a bit later while I am perusing the historical notes in the front of the menu at “The Local Café,” I read that the old church was demolished in the early 1990s. Which means that if the helpful gas station attendant remembered the church, she could not have been a newcomer… Wow. Just wow. How could this be possible?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Living on balmy Vancouver Island, I rarely get into my car to find... hmmm... the world has disappeared! I don't actually own one of those brush/scraper combo thingies, but luckily, I found one in the back seat of the rental car. Turns out, I used it quite a lot this week! Posted by Picasa
It's not every day that I am invited into a gorgeous reference room in a restored heritage building, to sit at a grand dining table decked out with fine linens, to share a catered private lunch with four young authors. These writers won a contest with the prize, "Lunch and conversation with Nikki Tate" (in the special secret room upstairs in the libarary...). And boy, did we chat! We shared our thoughts about writing, getting ideas, keeping journals, writing fantasy and science fiction, non-fiction, and more... I came away so inspired by all the great ideas that the prize-winners shared with me! It was pretty cool. In this photo, we were perusing a scrapbook about the library renovation project... taking a break from all the fine food and heady conversation. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Snow coming down hard during my stop at Skookumchuk.... Read on for more details... Posted by Picasa
"My only regret is, I didn't pee in Skookumchuk."
This, clearly, is going to be the quote that I remember from this trip!

So, here's what happened. After driving a couple of hours north of Cranbrook, gave two talks - the first one in Edgewater at the Elementary school and the second at a school in Invermere. Both talks went smoothly (they sure do raise nice children up here in the Kootenays...) and it looked like I was going to make the return trip to Cranbrook well before dark.

All was going fine until it started to snow about ten minutes south of Invermere. And not just a little snow, but major, whipping around, dense clouds of blowing snow. Blizzard-like, in fact. I wasn't too worried - the road was blowing fairly clear, the snow was dry, and it wasn't really accumulating in the driving lanes. I figured I was better off to try to make good time and get back to town than be too wimpy and West-coastish and slow down to a crawl... it hardly seemed necessary, anyway.

Doing long distances in tight time frames means I'm pretty good at monitoring both my time and my gas tank - fitting in a fill-up time isn't always easy, and when I left Invermere I figured I had enough gas left to make it to Cranbrook just fine. But then it started snowing harder and I thought, “Hmmmm… what if there’s an accident or something and I wind up having to sit in my car… it would really suck if I couldn’t let the engine run and keep warm… I guess maybe I should stop at the next station and fill up, just in case.”

Not too long after that I saw a sign, “Skookumchuk Gas. 2KM” Alas, the Skookumchuk gas bar is at the bottom of a very long hill, which, apparently, gets very, very slippery when it has been snowing. Though I began to brake way up the hill, there was no way I could get stopped in time to cross the highway – there was fish-tailing, juddering anti-lock brakes, me pumping the brakes gently, more fish-tailing… ooops – there goes the gas station… Managed to turn off to the right and get out of traffic, turned around, crossed the highway, and filled the tank feeling very proud of myself for having the foresight to do so since I could see it might take a little longer than planned to get back.

I was back on the road after only a few minutes, made the long, slow turn on the far side of Skookumchuk and headed up the hill on the other side of town only to see a pair of tire tracks veering out of my lane, across the road, over the other edge of the road… leading to an upside-down truck of some sort, literally standing on its roof. I put on my emergency flashers, grabbed my cell phone, pulled over as far as I could while dialing 911, and then sprinted across the road. I got to the vehicle just about as I got through to emergency services and then there was this strange, three-way conversation… I’ll put the emergency dispatcher in square brackets…

“A truck has just flipped off the road – we probably need an ambulance.”

“I’m in here!” (This was a shakey woman’s voice.)

“How many people are in the car with you?”

[Do you need fire, ambulance, or police?]

“Ambulance, I’m pretty sure. The truck is upside-down.”

“I’m fine. I don’t need an ambulance.”

[Can you tell what kind of injuries?]

“No idea. I can’t see anyone yet.” (I’m squatting in the ditch, trying to see into the window. Is there anyone else in the car with you?”

[How many people are in the vehicle.]

“No, I’m on my own. Oh my God, my husband is going to kill me.”

“Are you hurt?”

“I’m trying to find my cell phone.” (there’s lots of rustling and I can hear someone moving around in the truck)

“Are you hurt at all? I’ve got the emergency people on the line…”

“I’m just fine. I’m trying to call-“

“It’s ok – I’ve got the 911 people on the phone.”

“I need to call my husband – Oh my God, my husband is going to kill me! The new truck… “

[So, do you need an ambulance?]

“I’m not sure. I still can’t see her. I’ll go around to the other side of the truck.”

Crouching down at the other window, I can see a woman groveling around on the dome light that is now below the front seat (which is impossibly upside-down, seatbelt dangling), looking for something.”

“It’s ok, you can use my phone.”

[How old is the victim?]

I’m thinking, but don’t say – ‘good, grief. Who cares?’ But relay this question.

From the tone of the reply I sense the woman in the truck is also under-impressed. “I am 52.”

By this time a couple of other people have stopped and two men are standing by, ready to help.

“Do you think you can crawl out?”

[No! She should not leave the vehicle.]

“She actually seems to be ok – her truck is upside down and it’s freezing. It’s snowing pretty hard…. She seems to be coming out….”

Which she did, struggling out through the window the woman said, “I don’t think I can stand up. I’ve got very bad arthritis in my knees.”

One of the men put a car mat (that had fallen out into the snow) down and then the other man stepped forward and they helped the woman to her feet.

[I need to talk to her. Can you give her the phone?]

The woman takes the phone and reassures the 911 dispatcher that she seems fine, except that her husband is going to kill her because she has destroyed the new truck and that, no, she most certainly does not need an ambulance. At which point she hung up the cell phone and looked around at her rescuers, a little dazed.

“Do you need anything out of the truck?”

“My cell phone. My car charger. Purse. That plastic bag.”

One of the men helped her pull all that out of the truck and then I said, “Why don’t you come and sit with me in my car where it’s warm and we’ll wait here for the police.”

The other men left and I took the woman to the car, still running (no worries, I had a full tank of gas) on the other side of the road.

Once inside, my poor passenger turned to me and said, “You know what the worst part of this is?”

I was guessing her husband, but no.

“I have to pee so badly I can hardly stand it. You know, I was thinking, I should stop and pee at Skookumchuk, but then when I saw it, I thought, nah – I can make it Wasa. Boy, do I ever regret not stopping to pee at Skookumchuk.”

She then proceeded to call various relatives. Each conversation went something like this:

“Now don’t worry – I’m fine – but I’ve flipped the truck and it’s in the ditch just past Skookumchuk and oh, my God I wish I’d stopped to pee there! You know how I was saying that earlier when I was telling you on the cell phone that I was driving back to Cranbrook and I said, I was probably going to have to stop and pee? Well, I should have stopped to pee because you would not believe how bad I have to pee. I should have peed at Skookumchuk.”

While all this is going on, I’m scanning the road for possible police assistance, trucks that might run into us, bushes that might be useful…

Between phonecalls, I asked if the 911 woman had actually mentioned that the police had been dispatched. My passenger looked blank. “I don’t know. I know they aren’t sending an ambulance.”

I called 911 again. “Hi,” I said, thinking, What is the code for bursting bladder emergency??? but then added, “I’m just calling to confirm that the police are on the way…” Indeed, an officer had been dispatched from Kimberley, nearly an hour away! I had my doubts this poor cross-legged woman beside me was going to make it.

A couple of sanding trucks came by. Several more vehicles, all of which I had to wave on… Several people suggested we move up to the top of the hill to a nearby cross road which, after a while, we did. Alas, the cross road led to a sawmill so now the vehicles that were trying to get around us were laden logging trucks!!!

All the while, the cell phone was buzzing as my passenger called her relatives back, updating them on her status, her concerns that her husband really was going to kill her, and the state of her bladder.

A while later, one of the sanding trucks returned to tell us the police were at the crash site and we should head on back down the hill. How the police sneaked past us, I have no idea… I must have been distracted by some looming truck grill in my rear view mirror… Anyway, I drove her back down the hill, she was helped into the police truck by a very lovely RCMP officer, and about an hour after I’d first pulled in, I found myself turning around in the Skookumchuk gas bar.

The next hour or so to Cranbrook was some of the worst driving I have endured for many, many years. Icy, slushy, blasting snow whirling around, two tracks through the slushy mess on the road… Yuck! Saw two more vehicles in ditches (did not stop… there are limits… they were covered with snow and I trust they had all been dealt with)… various abandoned vehicles at the sides of the road... Even these nutty Kootenay drivers were moving along very slowly.

FINALLY made it back to the hotel…. Now, off to hit the HOT shower and then downstairs to get a bite to eat. Oh, I can hardly wait to cross the pass over to Fernie tomorrow morning. Methinks there’s a good chance the road will be closed and though I feel truly terrible for the people who might be coming to see me there, I really hope you all understand and forgive me. Call me up in the spring and I’ll come back… Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Before I head down to the hotel restaurant for a bite to eat, I'll post this photo of this cute little guy. He was hanging out in the memorial gardens in New Denver. I popped in briefly and nearly froze to death as a wicked storm was brewing... The squirrel, who should have been curled up in a nest somewhere, sucking on stored nuts, was clinging to this swaying branch, moving very slowly like the blood was thickening in his veins as he watched me. His sluggish, pre-hibernation stupor was great for taking photos, though... Posted by Picasa
My hotel desk in Castlegar last night... trying to answer the questions, 'Where am I going next? Where have I already been?" Feels like I've been everywhere, man and this is only Wednesday! I arrived this evening in Cranbrook after talks earlier today in Fruitvale and Castlegar. Tuesday was Midway and Trail... and Monday was Kaslo and Nelson (grab a map... have a look at the various mountain passes I've traversed....) Tomorrow morning, my first talk is actually way up in Radium, but the librarian who has kindly organized this trip for me was sensitive enough to realize that if I survived the trip from Fruitvale to Cranbrook in one piece it might be nice to stop, eat, and sleep before travelling on. As it was, after the road from Salmo to here had been closed for several hours to clear away a nasty accident, the trip over the pass was not too bad - some icy patches but basically clear. Only saw one moose at the side of the road and he was a young one at that, so I probably could have won the argument had he foolishly darted out in front of the car.

I had planned to blog daily (Dani has inspired me!) but troubles with Internet connections have plagued me all week. I have kept a notebook (oh how quaint is that???), but now need to type those entries in and upload them, a task that will have to wait until after I have had something to eat and, perhaps, sleep for a week. Posted by Picasa