Monday, 16 November 2015

A View from the Road: Summer Colours, Textures and Stories

One of the things I learned while traveling last year was to really observe the details around me.  Everything was new and different and I was taking photos by the hundreds.  Thanks to the advice of my fellow travelers, many of those photos provided great memories of where we had been.  I’ve been working at keeping that sense of awe and wonder as I travel my home roads.  On the way to and from work, I’ve been stopping to take photos of interesting things, and even discovering bits that I had never noticed before.

My road is Highway 2 in Northern Alberta running from my home in Grimshaw for sixty kilometres south and west to Fairview where I have worked most of the last 35 years.   Allowing for a few years of part time, that is still about 850,000 kilometres.  The railway which was built in the late 1920s took the shortest line between Grimshaw and Fairview, but the road which came after generally followed the range and township lines with curves built for modern traffic to keep to speed rather than stopping to see what is new.

Summer in Northern Alberta is beautiful, green and warm enough to leave the coat and socks at home.  The sun rises long before I do and is already high in the northeastern sky.  It travels in a circle to set in the northwest long after I am in bed.  The land has been farmed for less than one hundred years; when we arrived there were still fields having the trees cut and piled for burning in order to open new land.  Before that, explorers passed through, but mainly stayed near the rivers. The stories the old timers tell of arriving here and working to make a life for their families is fascinating.

These pictures were all taken with my Canon Powershot camera – the same one that took almost 17,000 photos in our year of travel.  It’s a bit battered and temperamental but happy to be back to a reliable Canadian power source. The only editing I did to these photos was to auto adjust brightness and contrast and to crop for the best view. I will treasure the advice of a fellow traveler, Mark, who told me to “just take the picture, don’t zoom in, if you wait, you’ll miss your chance”.  I set myself the restriction that photos had to be taken from the road – walking a few steps from where I parked the car was OK, but driving down an interesting side road wasn’t.

Complete gear - camera, case, extra battery,
new tripod and piece of dicem for slippery situations.
My license to take photos (for Sabah anyway)

Starting at my Back Door...

It was an atrocious summer - tent caterpillars devouring the early leaves, no rain and a plague of grasshoppers - but this little fellow on the back door was just so photogenic and follows in the path of the many bugs who had their photos taken on our year of travel.

Blinking Light

In the 1980s, my children traveled with me to attend daycare and we got in the habit of counting the way home by the small towns – Fairview, Bluesky, Whitelaw, Brownvale, Berwyn, Blinking Light, and finally Grimshaw.  Yes, the blinking light at the last turn north to Grimshaw was as important as all the rest of the place names.

The Battle on the Sixth Meridian

About half way on the journey, I pass 118 degrees west.  Surveyors also call it the sixth meridian (so land east of this line has a land description that starts with “west of the fifth” and land west of this line is “west of the sixth”).  Check here if you are curious about townships, ranges, sections and quarters.  The sixth is also the border between two municipal districts and the site of an interesting bit of border one upmanship.  Some years ago, the MD of Fairview erected this sign – blue letters on a white background the shape of the district.  Only when I stopped to take this photo did I discover how unique it was – two pieces of metal with the lettering hand cut out of the front piece.  Then, not to be outdone, the MD of Peace erected their sign directly across the road – multicoloured, professionally made AND with the date of its incorporation.  Next, MD of Fairview added its incorporation date (two years earlier), and the wheat stalk.  The last piece, so far, was the addition of “Lac Cardinal country”, the original name of the Provincial Park near Grimshaw.  This line is also the boundary between two phone numbers, school bus routes and which public health office comes to visit you at home.  Our very own Great Divide.

An interesting bit of wood by the signs.  Colour and texture.

Relics and Old Buildings.  

Old buildings fascinate me.  Weathered wood and metal have fantastic patterns and textures that often make me think about quilt patterns. I wonder, too, what it was like to live in these tiny homes with so much distance between neighbours.  The stories these buildings could tell. 

"The Haunted House".  I first heard about this from the
hospital dietitian who lived here.  Cal had the story confirmed by
the boys on his basketball team.  Of course it is haunted.
I had to take it as a black and white photo.

Modern art.  My shadow taking a photo of a group of old
buildings.  Amazing how much my little camera will zoom in
(see below).

The Waterhole Post Office.  On the road, but south of Fairview.
Built in 1911.  I've always smiled when I see the roof to protect
the old building (which continues to return to the earth).
In Viet Nam, at My Son, they were doing the same thing
to protect a damaged 8th century temple before they could
restore it.

I watched the farmer bring these old vehicles into the tiny field by the road in early summer.  At first it looked like tidying up all these wrecks from other parts of the farm (many farms have a burial yard for no longer working machinery).  But day by day, a sense of order and display became apparent.  Things got grouped, then moved from back to front and adjusted just so.  The funny thing is that when I was talking about this at work a co-worker laughed at me – this had been happening for years and of course it was proud display not just storage.  “Just you watch the portable mill machinery in the back corner – some days there is wood positioned to be cut and then other days there is nothing”.

Modern (and not so) Art

You can find interesting shapes and colours anywhere you look.

You find the most interesting things on the lawn.

When we first moved here, the sign was freshly painted.  I
wonder if the honey is still for sale?

Coming into Fairview. This land is reclaimed from the
railway after the line was closed. Little blue Vibe in the
background having made another successful trip from

I have no idea what is down this old road, but the
fence fascinates me.

Little blue Vibe waiting patiently for me to take yet one more

I innocently mentioned to an older farmer that I had noticed
a tractor pulling a tank and got an intense explanation that
he was applying anhydrous and it needed to be cold to do so,
as well as the fact that he thought this was a stupid thing to do.
I've learned the art of asking leading questions even if
I'm a townie.

New condominiums going up where the arena used to be.
Shape and texture is everywhere.

Bugs and Beasties. 

Here’s some of the critters that live along the road. Along the curve at  Whitelaw, there's a huge pasture of domestic bison.  This llama is in the same field, and I've wondered whether he is there to protect the herd (surely bison can protect themselves) or whether he actually thinks he is a bison?

I was totally astounded at the quality of these photos.  I saw this large family of deer as moving black dots at the back of a large field.  In the spirit of  "if you don't take the picture, you don't know if it will work", I aimed, zoomed in as much as my camera would let me, held my breath and took a few photos. These deer were almost a km away from me.

Hundreds of Colours of Green (with a touch of yellow and purple). 

 Will Ferguson, in Road Trip Rwanda, described the colours of the tropical forest as “paint by numbers with every colour being green” and that is also how the view from the road is during summer.  Everything is rushing to grow in the long hours of daylight and has their own special shade of green.

I have no idea what this is, but this small field has been growing
these plants for as long as I can remember.

Stopping to take photos of the border war signs, I discovered
these flowers taking over the road.

I stopped to take a picture of this beautiful dugout one
early morning and discovered a family of ducks out
for a swim.

This weed is annoying and irritating in my garden, but growing
in the cracks of the sidewalk at work, it is quite beautiful.

The railway right of way.  From Golden Meadow to Fairview,
the road ran beside the railway line.  Even though the line has been
removed, the bed is still there as are the old fences.

Just a wet ditch in town...

I had no idea what was growing in all the fields this year
until I got out to take a photo.  Peas/beans/lentils of some kind
(townie speak).  Major export to India according to the noon
farm show.  I wondered if I was actually eating Alberta
lentils when we were in India.

Every morning as I passed Berwyn, there would be people on this
path.  What a beautiful place for a morning walk, especially
when the flowers were in bloom.

Magic markings on the grass near the library.

Memories along the way

This structure is part of the flood diversion system aimed to let the spring run off get down the hill to the Peace River but leave the fertile soil where it belongs.  For most of the time, you wonder what these deep ditches and metal fence things are.  But there's been a few years when the water is pouring off the fields, down the ditches and over the top of the dams.  Also the years when we are pumping water out of the basement.

This is the corner where the old white horse used to spend his day.  He's long gone, but still you can get directions from old timers to turn at the old white horse.  I figured I was almost a local the first time I got those directions and knew where I needed to turn.  We now have modern signs for the range roads and township roads, but most directions are still given by well known landmarks.  When talking about the horse, I also learned that the reason for the careful pile of rocks at the corner was from when the land was originally cleared - after cutting down the trees by hand and dragging them into piles to dry and then be burned, farm families would then need to remove all the rocks before a crop could be planted.  Now, of course, you have big machines, but in the early days it was by hand and you didn't move the rocks any farther than you needed to.  I remember reading once that the advantage of homesteading in the north was that you had an abundance of trees to build your home from, but that the disadvantage was that you had an abundance of trees (and rocks) that needed to be removed before you could plant your crop.

Here's another landmark for directions.  When we first moved here, there was no sign, and the bridge over the river is easy to miss.  I have no idea who Mr. Leith is, but everybody knows where the Little Burnt River is.  I stopped for the first time ever to take these pictures - when you look over the bridge it is a lovely little stream, even at the end of a very dry summer.

If you want to read about the settlement of the Waterhole area, check it out here.  It's hard to believe what it must have been like to walk 25 kilometers up from the Peace River and decide to settle here. Almost twenty years before the railway came past and even longer before the highway.

My memory of this pasture is from the 1980s when a family of pigs lived here.  Every spring and summer I would watch tiny piglets grow into teenagers (running around and getting into mischief) and then into adults who would disappear to become meat for someone's table.

In and Around Fairview

My road includes a bit of a diversion into Fairview College to work out as well as walking from the parking lot into the building.  Amazing what you find when you make a point of looking.

Magic fairies (the Palliative Care Committee)
 create this garden outside the front door of the hospital
 every year. This year has an older couple
 sitting on a park bench.

Even nasty thistle can be beautiful if you catch it right.

The turfgrass program developed a three hole golf
course at the College just over the rise from the gym.  Another reason
to take a few minutes and walk away from the parking lot.

Crow on the light standard at work,
Coming through the back alley.  Memories of Tonka trucks
with Kier and Timmy.
I know this is with serious intent, but what else would you
call the place where you park your shopping cart?

End of Summer

When does summer end and fall begin?  When school starts, or the farmers start their harvest?  Or maybe when you realize that it is time to trade the sandals for socks and shoes?  

One of the signs for me is when the outdoor pool closes in late August and the pool is drained.  I stopped to take photos of the process and found myself smiling at the water being pumped out of the pool and into the drain on the deck.  There’s a big tap that pours cold water into the pool, and despite swimming in and hanging around the pool (meaning I should have known better), I thought there was some sort of plug in the bottom that you pulled to let the water drain...

Next up, fall.

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