Monday, June 29, 2015

Fire on the Mountain, Sheep in the Hills!

This is the fifth and final part of "Oh the Places we've been and the Critters we Saw", about the recent road trip Mitzi and I took to visit our favourite places, people, and critters on the BC mainland.  We left our readers up in Lillooet, as we prepared for the three hour drive back to our campsite near Hope.  And what an adventure that return trip was!

I was only about fifteen minutes along the winding road back to camp .  Suddenly, I was seeing mountain sheep flying and leaping in front of me - up the steep slope below me, over the barrier along the edge of the road, across the road and up the steep slope above me.  In the course of  just a few miles, I must have seen a couple of dozen of them. There was no traffic on the road, so I slowed to a crawl, knowing my little Honda Fit would be no match for a flying mountain sheep.  Then one polite sheep halted almost mid bounce on the other side of the barrier, so I stopped the car and rolled down the passenger window to grab a photo.

To my surprise, he stepped right up to the barrier and from a distance of about three feet, peered in the open window.

Next he turned sideways to offer me a profile shot, before stepping slowly over the barrier, crossing in front of the car and bounding up into the hills.  I was on a natural high.

You don't plan to add a convict number to
this photo, do you?

But it didn't take long to temper that high.  Driving south, I could see a significant haze rising from the valley and drifting around the mountain tops.  Heat? Pollution?  Smoke?  Was there a forest fire blocking my route back to camp?   At the first opportunity, I pulled over to get a better look.
Haze? Smog?  Smoke?

Still hard to tell, so I continued on my way.  But the further south I drove, the more sure I was that a forest fire was burning in the valley below, and quickly spreading up the mountains on the other side,  fueled by our very dry forests and hastened on by a very brisk wind.

Strong wind blowing smoke up valley

The road I was travelling was in no danger as the valley was wide and the fire heading north west to my south. But I couldn't resist frequent stops to check on its progress, to watch this beautiful though horrific display of nature's power.

By the time I was half way back to camp, I realized my lonely road was the perfect vantage point for shooting the fire - and so did the media, as I was met at each stop by one or more news crews and their videographers - CTV, Global, CBC, Shaw, as well as still photographers for local and provincial newspapers. Other than the occasional local resident, it was just them and me, shoulder to shoulder.  That was thrill number two of the trip back to camp.

Watching news crews at work

As if the thrill of taking photographs along side the "real photographers" wasn't enough, a helicopter suddenly appears through the smoke, almost at eye-level to us, and began its job of dumping water on the flames then turning and going back down to the river below to grab another belly load of water and coming back again - and again - and again - and again. Thrill number three.

I watched, mesmerized, as trees candled into flame, as trucks began to arrive on scene below, as hillsides lit up with fire and heavy smoke turned black then gold as it drifted across the sun.

Trees candling - going up like matchsticks

Forest ablaze

The speed at which that human-caused fire spread is emblazoned in my mind.  I later learned that the Cisco Road Fire, which was about four hectares at the time I saw the first signs of smoke, and spread to nearly sixty during the hour or two I watched it, was 1200 hectares by the next morning.  Today, three weeks after it began, it covers over 2000 hectares and is 70% contained.

There will, sadly, be many more fires like this over the summer.  All fires are tragic - for the wildlife, for the environment, and often for humans too.  None make me angrier than those caused by discarded cigarettes or careless campers - and we are seeing a lot of those this year.

With that in mind, Mitzi and I headed back to camp with our friends Ann and Ken where we spent the evening reading or playing cards instead of singing songs round a fire.  Mitzi did amazingly well at camping, even sleeping in the tent without complaint - but I confess she practically kissed the floor when we returned to my friends' home in the Fraser Valley a few days later.

Ah did not! Ah just reclaimed mah
favourite chair!

The day after our return to Ann's and Ken's, I spent a morning re-connecting with Keaghan, my late friend Bonnie's Irish Wolfhound who now lives with his new family in the Fraser Valley.  We all went for a walk in the woods with an assortment of other dogs too.

Keaghan and his new fur sister Keevagh

Kieran, Keaghan and Keevagh

And after nearly two weeks relying on our friends' hospitality, it was time to head back to the island.  Ann and Ken, with whom I'd stayed, were still smiling - or perhaps they were very happy to see me go!

Can we stop smiling now?
Is she really leaving?

And so it is back to island life, where the weather is hot and the days are slow.  If you've enjoyed the photographs in this series, please check back on Wednesday, Canada Day, for my annual tribute to my beautiful country, showcasing some of my favourite shots of the past twelve months.  I think you'll like it.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

On the Road to .....Somewhere Great

In Part Four of  "Oh the Places we've Been and the Critters we Saw", Mitzi and I head up the Fraser Canyon to Lillooet, a drive of about three hours from where we were camping with our friends just north of Hope. Our goal was to spend the afternoon with our friends Del and Mark, and their dogs King, Lady May and Princess Mollydawg, who visited Eddie and I at our campsite two years ago.

At Lytton, Mitzi and I turned onto Highway 12, a route I'd not taken but which I knew had one very winding, steep single lane section, the result of a rock slide a few years ago.  It also had several places where the risk of slides was sufficient that no stopping was allowed. There are tall bare or sparsely treed slopes rising on one side of the road, and dropping to the river valley below on the other.  In winter, it isn't a road the average driver in the average car wants to take, but in summer I was willing and eager to experience it.  It was definitely worth it! The views across the valley were amazing, the road had virtually no traffic, and the feeling was of being on top of the world.

A small slide had just occured  which crews were clearing up, resulting in a delay of perhaps twenty minutes while machinery was blocking the road.  Even the delay was fantastic - the young flagger, perhaps around twenty,  was excitedly looking up at the slope beside us, and then motioned for me to roll down my window.  "There's a cougar up there, chasing a family of mountain sheep!" he said, and invited me to get out for a look.  The cougar - and the mountain sheep - had disappeared behind one of the craggy rocks by then, though we saw a couple more mountain sheep while we waited.  And while we waited, he entertained me with stories from his First Nations heritage, of the animals and birds in that area, the changes his band was seeing, the environmental impact of climate change.  It was the shortest twenty minute traffic delay I've ever known.  (On the return trip, I saw lots of mountain sheep and got some great photos of them which will be in tomorrow's post).

I continued on my way, enjoying every moment of the drive, stopping very briefly where permitted to take a photo or two or three.  I took the photo below as I was leaving Lillooet on the return trip, but now is a good time to show you the road I traveled - the fine white line cutting through the bare mountain side:

We arrived safely at Del and Mark's, and set up the x-pen in the shade for Ms. Mitzi.  Del brought King, Lady May and Mollydawg out one by one to meet her.  Mollydawg was most inquisitive and the most excited about having a visitor come to visit her - HER - and really wanted to say hello.

Mitzi was not interested in being social and retreated to her crate, so we let her sulk rest while I photographed the dogs and chatted with their humans.

King was easy to photograph, and my only difficulty is deciding which of about twelve favourite shots to post.

King is my favourite Turtle Gardens Rescue dog (but don't tell the others),  the sweetest, most benevolent leader of any pack I've ever met.  I love him to bits, and it is clear Del does too.  And King adores Del:

Princess Mollydawg was confined to the deck for awhile, but posed nicely while trying to tell us she REALLY wanted to go meet that little fluffy thing I brought with me.

Lady May was willing to sit for a few photos, but she was far more interested in chasing the ball, ball, ball, ball.


After a delicious lunch, we decided to try for a photo of all three.  An exercise in futility, thanks to the irrepressible Princess Mollydawg.  It went something like this:

Everyone say CHEESE!

Mollydawg:  Cheese?  Did someone say cheese?  Where? Over there?

King:  Molly, you get back here!

Molly:  Pssst,  King, there's a cat behind you!
King:  Wha.....where?
Mollydawg:  BWHAHAHAHA!  Made ya look!

King:  I'm gonna tell Mom
Mollydawg:  Pffttttt!

Mollydawg:  I hate this!

Itchy back!

You suck, Auntie Jean!

Oops, sorry mom.  Sorry. 

Oh boy! Bribes - er, treats - that's more like it! 

Lady May:  Not sure why she's getting any.
She was the one who kept wrecking the shot! 

That's the best we can do - -
even for treats.

Time for a rest!

Can we go back to the campsite now?

And so we said our goodbyes and headed back to camp......and that return trip is another story in itself.  See you tomorrow!

Thanks for a great day, Del, Mark, King, Mollydawg and Lady May!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

I Hope You Like Horses (and dogs)!

This is the third of a series of posts about the vacation Mitzi and I took this month (AKA "Oh the Places we Went and the Critters we Saw!").  On this day, I again left Mitzi in the care of my friends and went out to Yarrow, BC to spend time with my friend and former colleague, Luanne.  I won't lie - as much as I wanted to catch up with Luanne, I really wanted to photograph her horses.  I love the colours and textures of horses - their muscle definition, their amazing eyes, their wonderful noses and that soft, soft spot just under their chin.  Of course, as Luanne is also a dog lover, I photographed her dogs as well.  So....I hope you like horses and dogs, because this post is all about them.

Luanne has three horses:  Haven, Lofn, and Avatar.  It was a hot day, so they were mostly hanging out in their stalls, Haven in the nearest one which also happened to be the darkest one - which meant that we kind of whistled right past him and only when I got home did I realize I'd forgotten to go back and photograph him in better lighting!  So here is my one and only photo of Haven:

Well, I hope you come back and correct your oversight!

Next is Lofn, a not-very-tall horse who makes up in personality what she lacks in size.  Her name means loving and gentle, and that she is.  Such a sweet little girl.

Are you going to come visit me?

I'm very photogenic, you know!

C'mon, quit nattering and get over here!

Yum...I really just wanted some hay.

Last, but my very favourite to photograph, was Avatar.  Avatar has the most strikingly white-blonde mane you can imagine.  The lighting and the wood in her stall, in contrast to the brilliant sun streaming through the door, made it look orange in some shots (that's Avatar's photo at the top of this post), but even with orange hair sticking up all over, Avatar is one very photogenic horse.

Avatar chowing down

Did you want something, camera lady?

Avatar's amazing mane

After I met the horses, we went through the fence to the back yard and stood underneath a weeping willow tree - itself an amazingly peaceful experience that feels spiritual in the sanctuary it provides.  As we were standing there talking quietly, Avatar came out of his stall, silently trotted across the field, and peered at us over the fence and through the leaves.  The backlight from the sun created an almost ghostly apparition:

What are you doing in there, mom?
And who is that lady with the thing in front of her face?

We were joined under the tree by Brea-ach the yellow lab.  Brea-ach means golden light of energy and inspiration, and her looks, her personality, happy lab face, and ever-wagging tail reminded me so much of my Emma.  Brea-ach posed for me for a while and then wandered off to find something more interesting to do - like chomp on a stick.

Photo-schmoto.  Sticks are much more fun. 

Sadie kept us in sight as we walked around the property, checking out the flowers and trees and birds.  But mostly, Sadie found places to lie in the shade and keep an eye on us.  I particularly like the second shot here because, while cluttered from a composition point of view, I love the symmetry of the shovels, the splash of colour from the orangey-brown planter, the paraphernalia so typically found in many a farms' small sheds.

The samoyeds found the heat a bit much, with the younger one (whose name I've forgotten, having not had a chance to photograph her) staying well under a parked truck in the shade of some trees.  The older one, Siku, thought trucks were a good place to park her butt too, resulting in this little series:

Siku!  Look out!
There's a truck about to run over you!

Huh?  What? A truck?

Very funny, Auntie Jean!

Even Siku had a good laugh about that:

Humans are weird. 

A couple more shots of the property, and it was time to leave.

Every time I visit Luanne and her little bit of heaven along the Vedder River, with her horses and her dogs and her wonderful solitude, and hear about the rides she's been doing, I wish I had fallen in love with horses much sooner and steered my life that way.  But I didn't, and it is what it is, so I shall live out my trail-riding, horse-loving fantasies through Luanne and visit her critter crew every chance I get.

Thanks, my friend, for another amazing day!