Tornado ’87

1 06 2013

When I was 16, I had an Italian buddy I used to fish with. We haunted a small glacial esker 40 minuets west of Edmonton called Lake  Chickacoo where brook trout were reportedly regularly stocked. Our repeated unsuccessful attempts at catching fish in this lake were exasperated by my claim that as a kid, I came out here and ended up eating a lot of fresh caught bbq’d trout.

This is not that story. Rather, this is a recollection of that day. And a short piece on my surprising compulsion to chase violent thunderstorms.

Back to ’87.

My Buddy Steve and I are heading west on the Yellowhead Highway. I just got off work and was anxious to apply some fishing techniques recently gleaned from a somewhat crusty reliable source.

He had a fishy smell.

As we sped past the old CFRN station, I noticed dark green and pitch black rolling low-level clouds ghosting through the top halves of power poles. The sky was a leaden grey popped up in places with streaks of black. A hazy hue of foreboding lay across the landscape.

Immediately after commenting to my buddy Steve on the bizarre meteorological observations, we were hit hard by a hail storm supreme. As we pulled under the fortunately right – in – front – of – us overpass, we gingerly jockeyed for position with all the the other vehicles with the same self preservation instinct.

A number of folk were out of their cars. looking upward and Eastward. Steve and I were anxious to get fishing.

We were both 16.

That evening was the best evening either of us ever had on that miserable pot hole. Neither of us caught and landed a fish, but brother, did we ever get a lot of takers! Maybe 2 apiece!

Such was the early history of trout fishing in Edmonton’s surrounding area according to me.

When we arrived back in Edmonton, we heard the news. It came as both a shock and later a fascination. Even at 16, I still felt a deep pain in my heart for my fellow community citizens who lost so much. Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt added to the inquiry formation, which then evolved into not only a deep respect and understanding, but an enhanced curiosity into tornado evolution.

Last summer I chased a few storms. Here are some of the photos.ImageImageImage



Thanks Chris

20 05 2010

Andrew and I decided to bag a peak on Tuesday. Rather, Andrew wanted to bag a peak, and he just ended up convincing me to accompany him.

Our initial objective was Prairie Mountain, however as we neared the parking area, both of us noticed that the winter gate had been opened (they do this every year on May 16th, but each year I seem to forget). We both agreed Nihahi ridge, further to the west was in order, even if the thunderheads were building overhead and all the food we had between us was a tube of Pringles sour cream and onion chips.

We didn’t hit the trail head parking lot  until 2pm or so, and had a lengthy stroll through the Little Elbow campground before reaching the actual trail head. 2/3 of the way in, I spotted a dude with a hundred liter pack and a full beard approaching from the west.

Dumbfounded, as this gentleman had the appearance of someone who has been in the bush a while, I stopped and asked him if he had just forgotten something in the car, and simply neglected hygiene for a week or so (the winter gate some 15km east had JUST beent opened).

Chris then went on to elaborate about getting dropped off at the gate in mid February….how the whole area is vacant of humans until now, how he had been tracking cougars, and had stashes of supplies scattered throughout the wilderness. His pack held 50 lbs of library books that needed to be returned, hence the walk-out.

Since I’ve spent a lot of time back where Chris had been living, I asked a few rudimentary questions that quickly verified him as genuine, as opposed to “Crazy bush-man lunatic with an extremely accessible  axe”.

Andrew and I decided to offer sociables to this mountain-man, and found our trip extended another 40 minutes as we sat at one of the campground’s picnic tables and  had Chris blow our minds.

This guy has gotten to know all the local cats, including conservation officers. He shared stories of both unnecessary harassment and enlightened law enforcement practices.  He had been fairly mobile, moving from one place to the next and experimenting with local cuisine. Apparently, rice and certain insects (roasted) is a fine back-country dish.

As Chris described his travels and disclosed solid information on wild berry crops, I thought about my life – long aspiration to be “Bush Man”. This guy was the literal example of the kind of life I’ve dreamed about. Then I thought of my bed. And I realized that unlike Chris, I have 2 kids that I’m crazy about and no wealthy relatives to fund my chronic unemployment.

Inevitably, we exchanged numbers  and went on our way.

Andrew and I reached the summit ridge of Nihahi amid hurricane force winds, and on our way back down, I sincerely found myself appreciating everything that I have. Which at that point included a half full tube of Pringles.

Road Rage

13 05 2010

I recently gave my 14-year-old son his second driving lesson. It was so uneventful (except for a turn at an intersection that almost ended up in the ditch) that I think I’m soon going to have a chauffeur. What have I done?

The outing recalled our first driving lesson together on those same country roads.

It all started out so innocently. Little drive out to Chestemere, little treat from Tim’s. Maybe, just maybe launch some of the fireworks I just happened to have sitting in my trunk. Kids like fireworks. They like them so much in fact, they are willing to stand on a deserted country road and feed an entire extended family of mosquitoes while dear old dad struggles with a way to make the fireworks stand up straight. Not complaining I might add.

Country roads also happen to be rife with kids as young as ten powering high performance motor vehicles. We all remember the You tube video that got a Quebec dad busted as his 10-year-old son got the family SUV up to 75 KM per hour while said family sat in the backseat swilling maple syrup and listening to Celine Dion completely disregarding Quebec’s seat belt law. Not that they were doing anything wrong…ok, except maybe the Celine Dion.

I learned pretty quick during this little adventure is that my son has no aversion to speed but requires much more training regarding turning at intersections.  I also learned that my daughter will not be riding along on subsequent lessons. Even when Coleman was inching along at a paltry 20km/hr, she had to be restrained from bolting from the vehicle. Those kids are pretty close, but she doesn’t trust him one bit behind the wheel of even a go-cart.

Fortunately, we only had to almost hit the ditch once in order for the lesson to end, much to the relief of our back seat passenger who was seriously close to a total nervous breakdown.

The things we learn as parents.

I fully intend to get Coleman out again on those country roads for another lesson. First I have to call my insurance broker.

New study: “Deadbeat dad’s were unheard of among dinosaurs”

12 02 2010

Calgary, AB –  Top dinosaur researcher, Calgary Zoo Name-Tag Obscured Lady in Khakis Who Conducts Guided Interpretative Tours in Prehistoric Park spoke to an audience of Dino-centric schoolchildren and adults today on the merits of dinosaur parenting skills.

“Dinosaurs actually were very good parents, being very responsible and taking really good care of their babies.”  Dr. Czntolikwcgtipp said to the impressionable crowd who responded with a collective “Awwww”.

The Dinosaur and dino-related specialist then went on to describe how certain dinosaurs “…use their front claws to pull themselves along the ground…” and that certain species “..hunted prey in packs, just like wolves and lions…”.

The audience’s attention however was quickly taken over by the life-size animatronic Allosaurus which suddenly began moving and emitting dino-like sounds.

Yes, this actually happened.

And to be honest, a strangely familiar feeling crept up my spine and set off the BS detector with glaring clarity.

I have no issues whatsoever about suspiciously qualified park interpreters purporting  education to the mostly under 14 crowd at attractions like the zoo. I’ve followed along on several such tours, but the quality of information dissected has always been supported by observation and empirical evidence.

Does a bear shit in the woods? Yes, it has been observed and enough empirical evidence has been documented to support a positive response to this question (hate to be the field biologist whose specialized discipline is large omnivore scatology).

Does a bear use an available Leporidae, like an arctic hare or white tailed jackrabbit to wipe it’s ass? No. No amount of observation on any member of the Ursidae family has  supported the assumption of this said practice. Furthermore, no amount of empirical evidence has been documented to qualify a positive reply.

No matter how many times I heard that joke when I was 10, rabbits and hares around the world can breath a sigh of relief knowing they will not have to worry about cleaning bear shit off their fur.

Herein lies my issue. I have a problem with theories, guesses, assumptions, and beliefs being represented as facts to kids.

Kids are impressionable little sponges that readily soak up information. The weight of what they encounter often is influenced by the representation of “authority”. Parents, teachers, interpreters, television presenters, and the like.

A lot of what kids accept as fact at that early age, however they are influenced, forms the foundation of their beliefs. My sister still laughs about the methodology behind a certain elbow injury I sustained as a child immediately after watching Christopher Reeves as Superman.

My point is, you and I know that anyone can be an “expert”, in just about any discipline. All you need is 14.55 an hour, an official-looking uniform, and a name-tag. Our kids don’t know that, and maybe it is our jobs as parents to point that out.

It may just save some of us the confusion when our kids tell us they are going over to so & so’s house to play “dinosaur”.

Stealth Skiing

28 12 2009

I think I have discovered an exciting new activity – late night x – country skiing. It’s a pretty simple concept. Either get hopelessly lost while exploring a new area or overestimate one’s performance when getting a late start and by default x-country skiing in the dark is an inevitability.

I have a friend however who’s first date with his now long-term relationship girlfriend (not married but almost) was an intentional outing on skinny skis under a moon – lit night. Yes it sounded romantic but it also sounded pathological when I first heard of it.

My ski/scramble buddy Andrew and I found ourselves in the position of a return trip in West Bragg Creek recently after we had a late start. Our entire darkened  return was downhill…adding to the merriment. I bent a pole on a spectacular yard sale. The city of Calgary was a reddish/gold glow to the East, appearing warm and inviting from our heights in the foothills. At the end of the trail, I couldn’t stop smirking. We ran into someone looking for a group of skiers who, apparently, do this all the time and were just heading out. Madness begets even greater madness.

Andrew and I hit up Shaganappi golf course shortly after…and were getting our skis on just as the sun was setting. Enough ambient light illuminated the tracks for us to ski without serious injury.

We almost skied Hawkridge at night, but arrived too late (we searched for it over 90 minutes..Blackberry crash killed my mobile browser and Andrew has a heavy foot) as I had obligations not at all concerned with such foolishness.  We did return however the next morning…and had a wonderful time skiing in -25c temperatures.  As a side note – when we left Calgary, the temp was -18c. Hawkridge is only 5 minutes from Calgary’s deep south-west. Andrew’s truck thermometer AND the ski lodge thermometer registered -25c. We skied for 90 minutes, scraped the ice off our eyeballs, and saw the temperature hadn’t budged.  It warmed up just as we were getting back to town. The average temperature we noted while driving through town was – 18c. The highest temperature we observed was -15c. A ten degree temperature difference from city to just outside of town. Urban Heat Island Effect is not significant say those who also speak of “simple physics” when expounding on AGW theory ?

Anyway, tonight we went back to Shaganappi. We got there around 23:30 and skied till 1:15. This time I brought a headlamp. It was amazing…. a completely surreal experience and I have much more confidence skiing at night now that I can see the trail and any hazards. My pain allowance is now significantly increased.

However since going full-out at 1 AM means my body wont let me sleep immediately after…here I am at my computer. It’s now 4:21.


31 08 2009

Nature_Flowers_Yellow_rose_petals___Flowers_008379_On Wednesday July 22, 2009 at approximately 9:30 am, I headed to the Palliative Care ward of the Grey Nuns hospital in Edmonton. Bob, my mom’s fiancé and partner for the last 10 years had been at the hospital all night. He was spending his nights in my mom’s room since she had been moved to that facility almost 2 weeks earlier. Bob, my sisters, nieces, brother-in-law Mike, and I had just been through a weekend that all of us wished dearly we could forget. Today would be a peaceful, yet tearful day I thought as I rode the elevator to the 4th floor.

I met Bob, and we chatted for a little bit. We went downstairs to grab a couple of coffees. Bob looked like hell. He was going home briefly to shower and change while I stayed with my mom who was at this point in a coma.

On the prior Friday, I was visiting my friend Gareth and sipping on a beer in his garage at about 11:30 at night when my sister Monica phoned. She told me that mom’s condition was dire, and that the doctor had told her to gather family together because things didn’t look well. I headed home, grabbed some clothes and left Calgary around 1 am. I arrived early Saturday morning to find my mom in terrible shape. She was highly medicated and restless.

That entire day was like a nightmare. To be there and witness my mother in unimaginable anguish constantly crying out for help, trying desperately to get out of bed and go home. Her feet and legs had swollen up as a result of her kidneys and liver shutting down, all the fluids in her body settling at their lowest point. She barely had the strength to open her eyes yet wanted so badly to leave that place. She never accepted the fact that cancer was killing her.

As her heartbreaking struggle continued into the evening, a violent thunderstorm moved into the city with a fierce plough wind uprooting trees and causing the most wide spread storm damage the city has seen since the tornado of 1987.  Throughout the day, we all tried to calm her down and reassure her that we were with her. The drugs she was on made her delusional, hallucinating and speaking nonsense for much of the time, however she would fleetingly become lucid every so often. At one such time, I was alone with her and told her that I loved her. She responded in a voice hat sounded so much like her former self, “I love you son”. I never cried like that before.

We made a decision late that night to have a powerful sedative administered that would put her into a coma, relieving her of the pain that was wreaking havoc on her entire body. At 1 am early Sunday morning, she finally slept.

The next day she barely moved. Her heart was still beating strongly and she was breathing normally. Although it was heart wrenching to know that we would no longer be able to communicate with her, we all thought that at least she would no longer be in pain. The next day, Monday, was different. When I arrived in the morning, she looked as though she was coming out of the coma. The amount of sedative they were giving to her was increased on an hourly basis, yet she was moving and a number of times tried to speak. Her face would grimace and contort in pain, and several times it appeared that she was trying to lift her head. It was early evening when the doctors decided to switch her pain medication back to morphine, as the new drug it seemed was not working any more and she had enough sedative in her body to knock out the entire ward. With the switch in pain medication, she finally calmed down and rested.

Tuesday was fairly uneventful. She was still breathing normally, but towards the end of the day, it had slowed a little. Our family was emotionally and physically exhausted. The previous few days had all seemed to be blended into one long bad experience. My mom was so afraid of being alone, we all wanted to make sure that someone was with her at all times.

So on Wednesday, July 22ndwhen I arrived at the hospital to relieve Bob, I patiently sat with my mom, speaking to her sometimes and holding her hand even though I was unsure if she could hear me. At 11:50, a nurse came in to take her temperature. She tried twice, but my mom was so cold that she couldn’t register a reading. Bewildered, she left the room and I walked over to my mom to express my astonishment. “Mom”, I told her, “I can’t believe it. You’re so strong mom. You can’t even register a temperature but you’re still breathing. Your heart is still beating.” I broke down and cried as I told her “You don’t have to fight anymore mom. We are all going to be okay. You don’t have to keep fighting. I love you mom”. As the last word trailed off of my lips, she opened her mouth, raised her head slightly and took her last breath.

We buried her the next week in a plot overlooking a road she had walked down hundreds of times. Right up on a little slope. Close to all the action. It’s been over a month since she passed away and our family is still grieving. She was a lot of things to a lot of people, and although at times I distanced myself from her, I know in my heart that she knew I loved her. To me, that is the only thing that matters.


6 07 2009

HPIM0759I have not written anything much lately. Sure, life gets busy, and I find myself these days having not so much free-time on my hands as I have had recently, but I’m not complaining. This is because I’ve been spending time with someone special lately. I’m very fortunate to have this amazing person in my life, as there are many other areas of my world that have not been especially wonderful over the last few months.  I just have not been in the right frame of mind overall to write anything.

I spent my weekend with family again in Edmonton. My mom is in the hospital and dying of cancer. She was diagnosed back in February, and the prognosis is not good. She’s had it for several years, but unfortunately it was not detected until it was too late to do anything about it. I’ve watched my mom slide downhill at a very rapid rate since we all first found out. She’s now so drugged up with morphine, that she fades in and out of consciousness like the ebb and flow of the tide. She still knows when people are there visiting her, but speaks little and is alert even less.  It was her 64th birthday on Friday. The woman lying in the hospital bed however looks and acts less and less like my mom every time I see her. She appears to have aged 20 years from the first time I saw her in the hospital, back in February, until just last weekend. Seeing her like this breaks my heart. It’s difficult to put into words how helpless I feel, unable to do anything for her other than just be there for her. Living 300km away does nothing to diminish the hurt. In fact, it makes it harder for me, since I can’t visit her more often. What also pains me is the knowledge that although she’s fairly knocked out most of the time from the drugs, she still is aware of the fact that she will never see her home again. That she will not get the opportunity to even sit outside and enjoy the warmth of the sunshine or the cool smell of rain. She will never again be able to have dinner with our family, her grandchildren, and joke around afterwards like she used to.

For all of her faults, bad choices, addictions, and the undesirable childhood my sisters and I endured as a result, she is still my mother and I love her. All I can hope for now is an end to this terrible pain she is in, and restful, happy place that her soul can call home. I love you mom.