18 September 2009


Summer clouds

By mid-September, Vancouver weather has usually shifted to the grey and dreary stereotype we live with much of the year. While we've had a bit of that, this month has exhibited an unusual share of full-on hot summer sunshine, with more looking to come next week. Yesterday, with the kids at school and my wife at work, I found a pleasant spot in a park atop Capitol Hill in Burnaby and watched the clouds go by:

The movie is yet another time-lapse video I assembled using my Nikon D90 and Apple's iMovie software. I was in Harbour View Park, but the foliage is thick enough right now that you can't really see the harbour. It is visible from a couple of nearby streets, however.

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05 August 2009


Another kind of splashdown

Splashdown Park at Flickr.comI've lived in Vancouver all my life, and anyone who has knows about Splashdown Park, the most famous of our local waterslide parks, in Tsawwassen (and surely named after the heyday of the space race). I've driven by the place dozens of times on the way to the ferry terminal to Vancouver Island, which is a couple of minutes further down the road. Yet somehow, I'd never been to Splashdown until today.

While it's not quite the heatwave it was last week, today was sunny and warm. My wife Air said she last went as a teenager, but I suspect little has changed about the experience: I'm sure Rock 101 radio was blasting pretty much exactly the same songs (Rush, Ted Nugent, The Doors, Steppenwolf, more Rush) and the seagulls were just as marauding in the 1980s.

It was great, and different from waterslide parks I've been to in Chilliwack, Kelowna (where Alistair got a terrible sunburn a couple of decades ago), and elsewhere. I do regret never visiting the water park that sat behind Coquitlam Centre when I was a kid. It's been gone for years.

You know what's weird about Splashdown Park? The washrooms have water-saving dual flush toilets. Of all places. Is that sort of like a carbon offset?

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12 September 2008


Indian Arm

Tip of the Indian Arm at Flickr.comIndian Arm is a forbidding, steep-sided wild fjord, which is nothing unusual on the British Columbia coast. What is unusual is that I can see it (or at least the mountains that surround it) from my front window. Mere minutes from Vancouver's urban sprawl, the waters of the Arm are frequented by boaters of all sorts—but the slopes rising from its shores are too steep and rugged, and almost no one ever traverses them.

Back in 2003, engineer, rock climber, and trailbuilder Don McPherson completed his project of many years: a trail around the entirety of Indian Arm. But it's no stroll, nor even a hike. The "trail" is really simply a route, a roughly marked, 70 km, four-day (minimum) slog up and down mountain ridges, along cliffs and valleys, and through thick forest. The elevation map is insane. McPherson himself writes:

Traveling the easy way is a 16,500 ft (5500 m) elevation gain, and nearly a 20,000 ft descent. A climbing rope and the knowledge of how to use it should be included in your 35-50+ lb pack. I do not recommend this route to anyone.

There's an endorsement. His "easy way" (from west to east) starts 1000 metres up Seymour Mountain (there's a parking lot for the ski area), ascends to near its summit, and then follows the alpine ridgeline of the mountain range behind. All that climbing and dropping means that, if you walked the whole route, you would ascend and descend as far as if you were climbing 14,000 ft Mt. Rainier in Washington.

I will never hike that trail, which is one reason it fascinates me. Years ago, I rode a mountain bike route along logging roads from Squamish to Indian Arm, which ended at the fjord's northern tip. But we had booked a water taxi to return us to Vancouver, because McPherson's crazy trail would have been the only path directly back, even if it had been finished back then. There has never been a road, and probably never will be.

Vancouver is a substantial city, but we have always been a city at the edge. To the west lies Georgia Straight, then the Pacific Ocean. To the east and north, craggy and glaciated mountains as rough as anywhere. Indian Arm makes sure we don't forget it.

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21 July 2008


The beach

20 July 2008


Hangin' ten

No Zune talk today. It's working, my daughter likes it, and we're all going to the beach.

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19 June 2008


The green bog

Burns bog field trip - 25I accompanied my older daughter's school field trip to Burns Bog in Delta, south of Vancouver, today. We had fun, and managed to avoid any heavy rain.

I also took the chance to create some more high dynamic range (HDR) photos. That involves taking three or more pictures at different exposures, and then combining them in software using a technique called tone mapping.

You can see what that does below.

On the left you can see my camera's calculated single optimum exposure, the "best pick" the camera would normally make. Nothing wrong with it. But on the right is the HDR version I created, combining the left-side exposure with two others, one brighter and one darker:

Burns bog field trip - 29 Burns Bog Log HDR FInal

The extra vividness of colour I chose to put into the tone-mapped HDR is obvious, but if you examine the large version, you can also see a lot more detail in the shadows and highlights of the image. That's the high dynamic range we're talking about—in a normal photo, some of the shadows might be totally black, while some of the highlights might be blown out to total white.

Tone-mapped HDR photos involve a lot more decision making than traditional pictures, because depending on how you manipulate the image, its appearance can vary widely, from slightly enhanced (the way filters and darkroom work used to punch up film images) to strangely surreal (more like cross-processed, solarized, or otherwise highly altered film images).

So far I've been photographing nothing but plants in HDR for some reason, but I will play with the technique some more and post additional pictures to my Flickr HDR set.

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01 June 2008



My daughters' piano and voice teacher Lorraine has dozens of students, and at the end of each school year she holds a formal recital, where nearly all of them perform a piece—or two or three—over the course of several hours at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts in Deer Lake Park, near where my wife and I were married:

Miss L at recital Miss M at recital

It's not the dreary stereotype of a piano recital at all. There are lots of jokes and laughs, kids give their teacher big hugs, and there is dessert and coffee at the end. At tonight's recital, my wife and I were there, as were both her parents and mine. I felt gladder than ever to attend—I missed last year's event because of pre-surgery radiation side effects. Despite lingering pain from my intestinal incident a couple of days ago, I was still able to make it down and enjoy the music.

Watching kids ranging across ages (from kindergarteners through university students, and even a grey-haired adult or two) play or sing the music they've learned almost brought me to tears a couple of times, such as when my older daughter sang the Beatles' "Let It Be" for the crowd, or her younger sister ended her nursery rhyme medley with a huge smile on her face.

When I quit music lessons when at age 12, my dad told me my skills were nevertheless good to have, because you can never be sure when you might need to play music on the street to eat. He was right: I ended up (by choice) making a full-time living as a musician more than a decade later—including occasionally busking downtown to pay the bills.

I don't know if my daughters will ever do that, but the joy of playing music is enough in itself. Plus free trophies and candy too.

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29 May 2008


Hips don't lie

Bike boyTo misquote a recent Head & Shoulders shampoo ad, dudes don't usually talk about their hips, but today I will.

I haven't been very physically active since I got my cancer diagnosis nearly a year and a half ago. Before that, I regularly bicycled to work, about 12 km each way, and when I took rapid transit I'd often walk an extra stop or two past the closest one to get some exercise. Now that I'm back up to fighting weight (having regained the 25 kg—55+ pounds—I lost before and after my surgery last year), I'm making some efforts again in that direction.

But holy cow, am I inflexible. I've never been a yogi master, nor have I ever in my life been able to touch my toes. Still, yesterday when I took my bicycle out (the first time in months) for some errands and a ride through Burnaby's Central Park, I nearly fell over in our driveway, because my minimally-mobile hips almost prevented me from lifting my leg high enough to get on the damn bike.

Things improved some once I got rolling, and some of my stiffness was probably due to my Italian-sandal–induced wipeout a couple of days ago, but I also noticed that I really had to gear down the mountain bike while pedaling up even the slightest hill, and my speed on the flats was far from what it used to be.

I felt great when I got home, despite a bit of soreness, so I plan to ride some more in the next little while, particularly since I'm having a break from chemotherapy for the next few weeks. Some stretching would also probably be in order.

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22 April 2008


Burnaby's birds, beavers, bogs, and boats

Phat pigeon 2 at Flickr.comThe city of Burnaby, B.C., where I grew up and live, is just to the east of Vancouver itself, and is well known for a significant amount of parks and other green space for such an urban environment. One part of that is Burnaby Lake, a fairly large and extremely shallow wetland in the centre of the municipality.

The lake sits in Burnaby's central valley, and forms part of a waterway that starts at Trout Lake in Vancouver, runs east along Still Creek through Burnaby into the lake, and out into the Brunette River, which flows east and then south through Coquitlam into the Fraser River, which empties westward into the ocean. In recent decades governments have dredged the lake several times, both to provide enough depth for competitive rowing and to avoid having excessive sediment from development and the city's storm sewer system turn the lake into a mudflat—which is why the water's edge is so sharp in the satellite photo.

Metrotown skylineMy wife had the great idea of taking the kids on a ten-minute car ride down the hill from our house every few days to check out the waterfowl and other birds, and to see if any chicks have arrived yet this spring. So far they haven't. But there are tons of animals and plants there, from birds such as ducks, Canada geese, crows, and pigeons to carp, frogs, squirrels, and even a significant population of beavers, the world's largest rodent and Canada's mascot.

She's gone down there with them a bunch of times, but this weekend I was feeling well enough to tag along. And a couple of days ago the sunny weather and abundant animals brought out another example of local wildlife: the Canadian wildlife photographer, whose distinctive plumage and plaintive ktsch-ktsch-ktsch-ktch call (known affectionately as the "shutter-and-mirror-slap") were in fine form down at the Piper Spit pier. The next day we visited again (this time one of the girls' school friends joined us), but our bunch was alone because of the cold and rain, which actually turned to snow briefly.

Train wheels 1The entrance to that part of the park also crosses some railway tracks, which our daughters enjoy putting pennies on to see if they'll be flattened by passing trains. We're accumulating quite a collection of thin copper ovals now.

Exactly 20 years ago, in April 1988, I was working a summer job as a park naturalist, headquartered at the nature house at this exact spot, between the railway and the boardwalk. That job was where my wife and I first met. We led canoe tours of the lake some evenings (no motor craft allowed), and this year we're thinking of getting a canoe and taking our kids out there too.

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15 April 2008


After a year and a half, Stanley Park surprised me

Blow-down in Stanley Park, a year and a half after the storm at Flickr.comWith all my cancer treatments and so on, I have, remarkably, not been to Vancouver's famous Stanley Park since the vicious windstorm that hit Greater Vancouver near the end of 2006, a year and a half ago.

Having been born and raised in this city, I think that's the longest time I've ever been away from the park in my entire life, until today. I was downtown for an errand, and decided to take a side trip in the car to drive through the park and see how things were going.

I was astonished. Toppled trees are still everywhere, and the stretch of Park Drive from Prospect Point to Third Beach is unrecognizable. What I always knew as a dense rainforest overhanging the road now comprises steep, open vistas across hundreds of broken trunks down to the ocean.

Rebecca at Miss604.com has been documenting the changes since the storm hit, so I had some idea what to expect—but not really. I'd like to take my bike down there sometime in the next few months and explore the trails again. In many ways, it's a whole different place now.

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19 January 2008


Sledfest '08

For kids who live in Vancouver, snow is a bigger treat than in much of the rest of Canada. While it does snow here every year, it tends to arrive when cold outflow winds from the B.C. Interior get overwhelmed by a warm wet front from the Pacific—so it may very well dump down and then melt almost immediately.

Several times over the past few weeks, therefore, I've planned to take the kids out sledding in the fresh snow, only to have the sky turn to rain and the ground become unpleasantly sloppy before we get the chance. But not today. It was just around freezing, but the snow was pounding down, so we packed up and went.

Sledding at Forglen - 07

We were the first sledders today at our local park, which has slopes as steep as any ski hill. So my daughters were able to get a bunch of good runs in before they were wet and cold and we went home for hot chocolate and peanut butter sandwiches. Unfortunately, because of my current cancer treatment, blood thinners, ileostomy bag, and all that, I don't think sliding and bumping down the hill is a good idea for me, so I just watched and took photos.

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30 August 2007


Not for the arachnophobes

That's one big spider web, which does a great job at getting rid of mosquitoes. It's not as big as this one, though.

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