Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A poem

I was asked to compose a poem about...I can't remember what it was supposed to be about. Anyway I hope you like it. Its kinda depressing though...

How can I start this poem? So hard to concentrate.
But I must, it is past the due date.
Oh look I’ve begun. I’m 90% done!

Hmm…how would I describe me?
My life is as series of mountains and valleys.
Mountains of focus and determination.
Valleys of despair and procrastination.

My feet are bound by two shackles
One a set of conventions and rules
One of another kind, a shackle of the mind.

My one goal in life is to be free
I’m not lazy, stupid or crazy.
I just have this demon in my head.
“Did you even listen to what I just said?”
It’s not my fault, what you’re saying is boring.
I’d rather be outside exploring

Punishments, late slips and due days
These are the western ways in which I was raised.
Some days are bright and some are grey
Like it or not, you are with me to stay

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Wolf Quest: Part II (the revenge)

It is surprisingly difficult to convince friends that amazingly epic camping trips to beautiful wilderness paradises with the promise of shenanigans are fun and worthwhile things to do.

Such was the case once again, until I mustered 4 companions at the last minute for this epic quest. Aziza and Faustine (my charming French friends) and Erin and John (two of my best colleagues).

Mom and Mark graciously lent me the Mazda in the name of revenge. I had to find another wolf to photograph.

Here is one girl who would not miss out on a quest
It only took 5 minutes for the first shenanigans to take place. I was instructing my passengers to place their beverages in the appropriate vessels to avoid spillage, when we were flagged down by a ride-check at 3 pm on a Thursday. Alright, nothing to worry about. "Afternoon. Have you been drinking today?" "No sir." "Then why do I smell liquor in the vehicle?" "S**t," I thought. "Putin," thought Aziza. Just before being pulled over, it turns out that John had spilled his juice in the back seat like a little baby, permeating the cabin with a fruity odour that could have been mistaken for alcohol.

My cool tone evaporated more quickly than the juice as the officer grilled me harder and harder with questions, interrupting me so I couldn't even finish a sentence, as they do. "Actually, we just came from a barbeque..." was the best I came up with. "Can I get you to step out of the vehicle sir."

Suffice it to say, I think I maintained my composure pretty well overall. He gave me a quick Breathalyzer and we were on our way.
Hey remember that time...
Next we were forestalled by the forces of nature itself. A forest fire had resulted in a roadblock on the only highway to Tofino. The prospects of our quest looked grim, but we remembered the wise words of Aragorn: "there is always hope." We stopped at a local tavern for information and we found out about a detour. Quest resumed!

We drove into the dark. Having found clandestine camping, it was then that my companions realized two things about me:

1) That the trips I "organize" are not the most structured, and
2) That they are consequently full of unforseen cool stuff, like that cool beach we camped on

Two western screech owls called in the forest but I was too tired to go hunting for this BC lifer with my headlamp that night.

On Vargas, our first order was to gather some drinking water. Armed with my new SteriPen Ultra (which is awesome!), John and I ventured into the drought-stricken woods to find whatever enclave still sheltered water. We found a dark-watered slough - it would have to do. According to the SteriPen website, you can treat nasty water around the world, even in a Nepalese ditch or Amazon jungle water, so I fully trusted in its UV capabilities. But could it filter even the dark spells of Mirkwood forest? Even as we discussed this possibility we noticed my water bottle was full of swimming copepods. I reassured John and Erin that the brownish tinge of the water was simply tannins from the decaying sphagnum, little different than those present in fine wines. As for the copepods, we filtered them through my t-shirt before the girls were the wiser.
"Don't worry, it's just the tannins."
The modern gentleman bushranger

You can keep your fancy ales,
You can drink them by the flagon,

But the only brew for the brave and true...

..Comes from the Green Dragon!!"

- Merry and Pipin

We lived like savages, sustaining ourselves on local herbs and a mysterious green dragon drink, sipped ceremoniously from a sacred clam shell. We played barbaric beach games and released our primal rage in uncontrolled howls to the gods.

One time, we took a wander down a mysterious trail that led to a secret cove. I ventured ahead, and beheld this beautiful scene all to myself...or so I thought. Two beautiful naked maidens appeared, warming their bodies by a fire. I was fully taken by surprise. They spotted me, and I did not know what I should do. With my large camera lens I had a strong instinct to not look like a pervert, so I simply kept on walking, pretending I didn't see them, although I probably should have just waived.

Our final morning was my last chance to look for the wolf, of which we had only seen tracks thus far. Amazingly, as I peeped out my tent door at 4:45 am, I could already see a wolf about 100 m away, trotting down the beach! I roused my companions and made sure they all had a look at it, at least to say they saw it. John poked his head out of his tent. "It looks like a little dog." I followed it down the beach, waiting for enough light for my camera to be able to capture it from a distance. For a while, it laid down and I sat and watched it. I was glad to be joined by Faustine an Aziza. We shared binocular views for quite a while. Then, from a distance, we watched our friend saunter right through our camp! Good thing we stored our food properly.

Deserted by Legolas and Gimli, I tracked this beast alone. Its tracks led me to the same cove where we had first met 2 months before. I took a picture. It heard the shutter and was spooked. I followed it to the next beach and then it was gone.

Wolf Quest: Part I

Greetings fellow travelers.

It has been one year since I last had an adventure worthy of sharing with you. The following is a tale of revenge, and I think you will like it.

Our tale begins not in a car full of mountain-bound adventurers grooving to Bob Marley and sustaining themselves on twilight bean dinners. Nor does it begin in a backcountry parking lot at dawn, nor an airport or even the pouring over of maps and ebird checklists in the study a'la Bilbo Baggins...

It begins, of all unlikely places, in a high school classroom in Surrey, a desolate wasteland where fate had me doing a practicum to become a teacher. Right now you are either thinking:

a) Tim, why would you want to have a career slaving away for meagre wages? or
b) Truly you chose a noble and righteous calling to foster the growth of our youth; the satisfaction of doing your work must be reward enough in itself.

a) It is the only way I know how to live
b) Yes, totally.

Within the vast sea of boringness that is Surrey is a diamond in the rough: a certain Secondary School where I had the good fortune of doing my teaching practicum. But despite all the fun times that was, I yearned for the adventure I had not had in over a year. I had a plan to go to Utah.

As the late winter sun set out of the window of my classroom and I was about to call it a day, I received a phone call: "Engage Education." "Crud," I thought. The decision I had been putting off for weeks...I had been invited to attend an interview event in London - presumably my best hope of getting a full-time job by September. I answered the phone and realized I had to make a decision right then and there.Will it be epic Utah roadtrip, or take a free trip to London to find a job?

A chameleon blending into my environment
In London, it is customary to wear expensive clothes to school, whilst in Canada, it is acceptable to teach in flip flops. Presumably performance is not proportional to appearance over here. Nonetheless, I do look 'rather fetching' in this coal grey suit (the words of Steve Pike). Who would have thought I will only be making 47,000?

Listen to me! A typical teacher, always the focus of attention so I have become obsessed with narcissistic rambling about my job and myself. No wonder I have a blog (maybe I should start a teaching blog...).

Back to my tale! I was able to scrounge up 5 days off so without hesitation, I went to Tofino with my mom, the only true companion who would accompany me on this quest...a wolf (and whale) quest.

We arrived at Pacific Rim late at night and pulled into a parking lot to have a stretch and breathe in the cool rainforest air. Not seconds after stepping out of the car, we heard the faint but unmistakable sound...of a wolf howl in the night. So eerie it was. Inspired to start our search at dawn, we made camp next to the Tofino cemetery where we would not be disturbed.

Our dawn rise was rewarded. At the end of Sharpe Road we heard another wolf howl before even exiting the car! A short walk to the viewing platform and a scope across the mudflat revealed a beautiful black wolf howling in the morning mist. It was mom's first wolf and I think I was even more excited than she was. Tofino was living up to its wolfy reputation.

Then to Vargas Island, known for at least one wolf attack that I've heard of. It seems folks had been feeding them for a long time. Luckily there is much more awareness now with signs and a food locker and what not, so we had nothing to fear.
Even this mud-soaked trek brought a smile to mom's face
I had forgotten to mention to mom that there was a 5 km hike involved, which was basically through a trench covered in waterlogged brush...woops. She was concerned about how her knee would fare on this mud-soaked trek. My concern, however, laid with the great burden she brought with her on this short excursion. I did not think an entire pantry could be packed into one backpack, but I was proven wrong. She will admit that I sherpa'd both bags for a bit, but even so, I commend the endurance and determination with which she tackled this hike. I mean, there were parts where the trail was a slippery log over a slough, or basically a ditch. Ultimately, she reminded me of the most important thing to pack on a camping trip: a positive attitude.

When we reached the beach, we found a paradise all to ourselves.

We found a soccer ball!

At dawn we explored the tidal pools, which were full of neat things.

My real hunt was for the notorious Vargas Island wolf pack. At 7 am, as I climbed along the rocky coastline, I heard a wolf howl. I carefully crept nearer to catch a glimpse of the creature...

Before I was mentally prepared, there it was standing atop a small hillock, casually howling. I set up my scope for amazing views. But it was a bittersweet moment as my Lumix finally gave up on life. My trusted camera for so long, the years of raging had taken their toll on the old girl and she lasted only 5 seconds before going to rest for the last time. So this phone pic is the only evidence I have of that amazing encounter:


We celebrated mother's day with a whale watching trip (pricey, but gotta try everything at least once). Nothing in life compares with beholding a majestic whale, and we had amazing views of 3 greys, which was a lifer for me, so we were pretty happy with the zodiak excursion (unlike one unfortunate sailor, who spend half the trip chumming over the side). I was secretly hoping her spew would attract some shearwaters. Grey Whales are pretty unique in that they feed in shallow waters by dredging up sand from the bottom and then filtering out the plankton through their baleen. I figured since this is a nature blog I had to add at least one nature fact so there you go.

Mom's camera would have to make due to capture this grey whale
It was an amazing trip and maybe the last quality time I'd spend with my dear mom before moving to London. Little did I expect that it would awaken a new dark passenger within me. To say this about my intimate encounter with that stunning wolf does the beast little justice, but a dark unsatisfied feeling set in when I walked away without a photo. In that moment I had become a photographer, one who is no longer satisfied with enjoying beautiful moments but must capture them on photograph in order to brag to others what awesome stuff one saw. I called Steve; I had a few questions to ask him.

Continued in Part II

Monday, August 25, 2014

Murphys Point

This summer I worked at Murphys Point. For the past 4 months I have squeezed every ounce of my interpretive juice for the park to keep my Jedi Master pleased. Now, with the end of August in sight and almost certainly my final summer of being a park naturalist, I have reached a shameful and unforgivable conclusion: I have hardly spent a single full day exploring the park. 

Therefore, I dedicated my last day off to a bio-blitz, no, bio-blitzkrieg if you will, of the park. Here is a photo-rich account of what you find when you get off your ass and into the field with your net and camera for some good old-fashioned Geeking! (yes, I said it).

My quest began at the McParlan House. Cardinal Flowers heralded my arrival as I crossed the drawbridge to the Rat Snake fortress...

Cardinal Flower
The Black Rat Snake peeps from his lair
I then journeyed toward the Silver Queen Mine, careful not to disturb the water, as it was guarded by a perilous patch of Water Hemlock.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta Sp.)
Though not the same plant that killed Socrates, it is nevertheless extremely poisonous! I will think twice next time I consider corrupting the minds of youth or acting "impious."

The perils were not yet over, for the parth was guarded by a fearsome beast. We did battle.

Eastern Milksnake
The Silver Queen Mine is famous for its minerals, but it is also rich in botanical curiosities. A close study of the plants in this underground garden was long overdue.

"The air doesn't smell so far down here"
Rock polypody (Polypodium virginiana)
The Liverwort Marchantia polymorpha with umbrella-like gametophores, female ova-producing structures (it gets more complicated than that).
I returned to the office library for a Gandalf-like consultation of field guides, complete with the blowing of dust from the covers (ok, a small exaggeration). But on the return, a real treasure awaited. The Gray (?) Comma has eluded me for years, because they are so easily startled. This time, they returned. And in greater numbers. In fact, the very sweat of my labour lured in my reward.

Gray Comma

Friday, August 15, 2014

Quest for the Mountain Mistrel

Adventures are getting harder and harder to come by these days, but God be thanked for old friends with wheels. Our spirits percolated with excitement as the worthy Golf whisked us from Ottawa to the nearest mountain. Mt. Marcy was our destination, the highest peak of the Adirondacks at 5,343 ft. We could do no less. This spectacular mountain wilderness just happens to be the dwelling of a particularly rare and beautiful bird. Chantal, being no fool, already suspected there must be an ulterior motive for this quest. Birders know of which bird I speak. 

The summit is in view
"Only recently considered a separate species from the Gray-cheeked Thrush, the Bicknell's Thrush has one of the most restricted breeding and wintering ranges of any North American Bird." ( 

The route was 30 km to the summit and back, a light stroll for a fit young man and woman. But we were off to a rocky start even before our boots struck the trail. Chantal was asked to work Saturday morning, which delayed us, but more importantly, we were set back a whole 15 minutes because I forgot to write down directions. I received much scolding due to this, and my rusty gear-shifting abilities in the Golf. 

By the time we had reached the trail head, it was nigh 7 o'clock. "Plenty of time to reach camp" I reassured. As the sun went down, I lighted the way with my beaming positivity, but my companion was starting to have doubts, about the hiking in darkness thing and uncertainty of how far ahead the nearest campsite lay. "That's why we have headlamps." That she had hiked to Cape Scot on northern Vancouver Island solo was my best argument for us to carry on. It helped little. Despite my positivity and expert nocturnal guiding skills, she had lost complete confidence in me. Nevertheless, withstanding a couple hours of scolding was a small price to pay for a chance to witness the melodic minstrel. When I had received a 10 minute ultimatum (I'm not sure what the threat was, we were in the wilderness) we suddenly saw a glimmer of light and heard the faint sound of hearty banter - it was the Adirondack Mountain Lodge! From the wilderness to the company of fellow hikers, my companion's spirits soared and I was relieved. The friendly Innkepper Dom even leant us a bear barrel. We were offered a room (for free!) by a group that had rented the whole place, which I would have given them some money for of course, had not Chantal resolved to continue to the next camp site. We had knocked off 7 km, 23 were left for tomorrow. 

The stunted forest where dwelleth the mountain mistrel
With a new day came a new vigour in our step as we sped to the summit. Well, occasionally I sped a little too far ahead. A couple more scoldings for nostalgia's sake. Then we entered the mountain monastery of stunted black spruce, and no sooner had we noted the change in habitat, we heard it. Yes, that was definitely it: the song of the Bicknell's. I gazed in reverence for a full 3 seconds at the mountain mistrel. Seizing a once-in-a-lifetime moment, I attempted to secure a second view, so that I could further reinforce this moment in memory. However, my old companion hastened: "I know how this goes, you'll be here for 2 hours..." Then I realized: "Nothing worth doing in life takes 3 seconds." 

Lapland Rosebay
To wrap up this tale, we rejoiced at the summit with celebratory beers, viewed alpine wildflowers, took a customary AvThat! shot, sped down the mountain with a vengeance, and were back in Ottawa with a 24 pack of Yuengling Lager and hearty memories with a great friend. 

As an endnote, here is a great program they have going in the Adirondacks:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Songkran festival

Songkran: a five day water festival of epic proportions in Thailand, the worlds greatest country. The city of Chiang Mai is about 1 million. During Songkran it doubles. Travelers have made a pilgrimage from all corners of our earth to this sacred Buddhist festival to celebrate life by taking the week off for a five-day water battle of epic proportions. Little photographic evidence was captured during the mayhem, below is all I have.

Most of the stuff that happened was WAY TOO EPIC for this blog anyway. 

Hoi An and the clay flutes

Hoi An, a city that may have up to 500 tailors, and nearly every visitor increases their swag at least a little while they're here. I wasn't that keen on shopping but I happened to spy this coat I liked on the wall, so the girl sized me up right then and there and by the next day I was feelin fly.

We even rocked out to Gangnam style in the shop while she showed me pictures of her little kid. Reasons why I love Vietnamese people!

Pleased with my success, I pondered "in a place where I can get pretty much anything I want custom made, what is one thing I've always wanted?" Obviously Team Zissou fake adidas shoes.

Now let me tell ye a tale.

One night in Hoi An I was feeling alone. Traveling solo and all that, but I knew there is only one way to fix this problem. You must overcome your inhibitions and full on talk to some strangers and see what happens. Of course, alot of the time they are lamoes and you never talk to them again. But other times...

I decided to chill at the "eating and drinking area", my favourite place in Hoi An. There I encountered a group travelers - and I could sense the force was strong with them. I worked up the courage and sat down with them and it turned out they were pretty cool and we hit it off - by then the beer was flowing and many good times laid ahead!

The crew

One night, a lady came selling these clay animals that are flutes. After 3 evenings of trying to sell them to us without success, Dave from Holland finally said "I'll buy all of them!" 

If ever we were in need, we would simply blow our flute and our companions would rush to our aid.

That night we all went out to the Why Not Bar and many flute-choruses were heard through the night in celebration of this great life. 
This is how Germans party