Thursday, January 29, 2009

SkyWatch Friday #29

The view from Sleeping Beauty Mountain looking east.

The community of Queen Charlotte (pop. 1046) is nestled between the ocean and the mountains. Sleeping Beauty Mountain is probably the best known mountain on the island because it is our backdrop and because there is a trail to its summit(s). It creates our weather, placing us in a rain shadow and giving us an early dusk. The village (which is located to the left of the big island in the above photo) was called Daajing.giids (prounced similiar to "dod-ging-geese") by the Haida which means "always wearing rain hat"....we should have clued in before we built here! The Haida hat is woven from strips of cedar and/or spruce root which expands when wet making it water tight and is shaped to direct the rain off the person.
The hike up Sleeping Beauty is not for the faint of heart, the trail rises from sea level to 760 m Mt. Genevieve(one of three peaks making up Sleeping Beauty) almost verticle. It takes 1.5 to 2 hours to climb and about 40 minutes to come down. Once on its crest you are standing with one foot on either side of the mountain! From its peak you can see both the Hecate Strait to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
The weather can change quickly. You can begin your hike up the mountain on a beautiful clear sunny day and by the time you reach the summit the clouds have rolled in and you can see nothing. On this day we were lucky!

For more beautiful sky pictures worldwide go to SkyWatch Friday

To learn more about Haida Cedar hats go to Jiixa

Sunday, January 25, 2009


"The person who sizes up the waves so the boat can get out"

~An ocean forum for Haida Gwaii~

We live on islands, all of us. Some of us are directly affected by the ocean, making our living on it, harvesting from it, travelling on it, and playing in and on it. Others are influenced by the ocean, our weather, the price of fish. Others of us are less affected, our "oceans" might be considered prairies, or deserts, or mountains but in reality we all live on islands and we all depend on our oceans.

Do you know oceans cover 70% of the earth's surface and contain 97% of the earth's water supply and do you know what we are doing to our oceans? This weekend our Island was host to an Ocean Forum. It was a another wake up call to the destruction we are allowing to happen to our oceans from indiscriminate over fishing, drag netting, oil drilling, to using our oceans as a garbage dump for everything from human to toxic waste.

Did you know when a Killer Whale washes up on a beach dead, it is considered toxic waste and is treated accordingly? Did you know that CANADA dumps 200 billion litres (2004) of RAW sewage into our waterways and oceans each year and we host only .5% of the worlds population! Canada still has no National Standard for Sewage Treatment.

One cruise ship with 3,000 passengers generates approximately 30,000 gallons of sewage and 255,000 gallons of gray water per day plus hazardous wastes, oily bilge water, ballast water, and solid waste with most of it being dumped untreated into our oceans. In 2005 there were an estimated 14 million cruise tourists! Canada has no Cruise ship regulations only guidelines!

Twenty years after the grounding and oil spill of the single hauled Exxon Valdez, the Prince William Sound area in Alaska is still suffering from its effects. The human health effects from this spill are just now coming to light. Despite regulations, single hauled tankers still travel by Haida Gwaii every day.

Did you know there is a garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean the size of continental USA made up almost entirely of plastics originating from shore?

The by-catch caught by destructive drag net and long-line fisheries is the leading cause for the extinction of some of our species. It also amounts to as much as 35% of a catch that is tossed back into the ocean....dead!

There are many more things that are destroying our oceans and each one of us is responsible, directly or indirectly. If each one of us would stop buying bottled water, reduce our use of fossil fuels, put pressure on our local governments to treat our waste water, lobby our governments to make drag-net fishing illegal, choose not to buy threatened and open net farmed species of fish, go see the the movie "Deep Blue" by David Attenborough (preferably on IMAX) and be sure to take your kids we can make a difference.... Yes we can!
As our first nations hosts shared, "how we treat our earth is how we treat ourselves."

Friday, January 23, 2009

SkyWatch Friday #28

Haida Gwaii is located about 100km off the west coast of Canada, tucked under Alaska 90 km to the north. We are influenced by the warm Japanese current which keeps our weather moderate year round. Our prevailing weather systems are out of the Southeast, it has been that way for ions. Trees are rooted so that they can withstand some of the strongest sustained winds in the world. Harbours and towns are built to be protected from the wild southeast storms that can keep us isolated during the winter.
Sometimes a "Southeaster" gets knocked off it's axis and starts a clockwise spin around the island. The weather that occurs as a result of this spin is some of the most unpredictable and changeable weather we experience. It can be clear blue sky one moment and minutes later you are in the middle of a hail storm or a rare thunder storm or snow storm or damaging wind storm all in a 30 minute span! One of the visitor brochures on the island suggests that "if you don't like the weather wait 10 minutes, it WILL change!" This wild weather creates some of the most beautiful skies, sunrises and sunsets.

For more beautiful skies go to SkyWatch Friday

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Walk in the Woods

There is nothing like a long walk or run to clear the head of troubles or worries and to remind you that you are out of shape!

This weekend I got out of town and went up coast to visit with a friend who has a beautiful Bed & Breakfast nestled in the dunes on the east coast of Haida Gwaii.

When I first came to the islands almost 12 years ago Cacilia had just bought this huge single family homestead and was in the midst of converting it into the beautiful place that it is now. When I moved to the islands two years later I stayed with her and helped with some of the conversion. We have been fast friends ever since. We like and get much satisfaction out of many of the same things, hiking, walking the dog, the beach, photography, berry picking, art, cooking. As it turned out the weekend weather was spectacular so we chose to walk/hike.

Haida Gwaii is not a good place to hike. The Haida who are known to have been on these islands for a least 10,000 years lived in villages of 300 to 500 people on the sands between the sea and the forest. The interior of the islands were very inhospitable with tall trees and thick impenetrable understory. Everything the Haida needed was offered up by the sea and supplemented by berries and plants collected on the periphery of the forest or traded for with the peoples of the mainland coast. Any interior access to the island was by canoe accessible rivers. The 150 islands that make up this archipelago are created by steep mountains that rise from the sea and bog lands. Once a year the Haida would venture into the forest as a group to harvest cedar trees for their longhouses, canoes and totem poles. They are not a land people.

With the arrival of the white man more of the islands have been opened up but we still mostly live along the coast. Trails that exist on the islands are few and if not used regularly are quickly overtaken by the temperate rain forest. There are a few ancient trails we know about but can't imagine travelling, there are remnants of the incredibly hard work of the early settlers in the form of miles of corduroy roads pushed through over the bog lands and then there are the modern trails put in to save stands of timber from the logging companies and to satisfy the ever demanding visitor.

So, Saturday we chose to walk one of latter trails called "Old Growth Alley". It meanders for 9.5 km along the banks and flood plain of the Tlell River(yes it is spelled right, Haida word meaning "where big waters meet" and is pronounced with the first "l" silent and pronouncing the last two "l"s separately) through ancient original old growth cedar. We both know about this trail but somehow the sunny blue skies just removed any common sense from our heads! When you haven't walked most of the winter, 9.5 kms is no stroll in the park. Fortunately a high water crossing about half way out brought us to our senses and we turned back. Tired and sore we covered 10 kms of a stunning forest walk. As if the previous day was not enough we decided to walk out to the Pesuta Ship wreck, another 10 km walk through the forest and on the beach on Sunday!

There are no words to express what it is like to walk among these monumental trees. The Haida knew their importance and used only what they required. We know their value and take as much as we can, to make as much money as we can. I wonder if we have enough time to come to our senses!

Friday, January 16, 2009


Morning Fog on Bearskin Bay, Haida Gwaii

Woke this morning thinking it was summer, well spring! The sun was streaming in my window and from my position in bed the sky was a delicate blue. I am past night sweats so it must've been warm in the house! I had one heater(electric)on and it was still way too warm. When I opened the front door it was as warm outside as it was inside!
Now,I should probably clarify some things. I am an outdoor person through and through and if I had my way(hmmm I do?) I would live outdoors year round. My poor daughter thought her life had ended one year in her early teens when I suggested we live in a canvas tent on a woodframe for a season...when I met her dad that is what I had been doing in the Yukon for three years! Second, what I call warm is relative. Having grown up most of my life in Southwestern Ontario where temperatures during the summer could reach 35*C + 100% humidity, here on Haida Gwaii we call it hot when the temperature reaches 20*C, so warm is anywhere between 15*C & 19*C! So in the sun this morning the deck thermometer said it was 13*C....warm!
Overnight a Southeaster had blown through and removed the snow with its warm Japanese current influenced winds. All that remains is a few piles of dirty snow and a mantle that blankets the mountains. feels like spring!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

SkyWatch Friday

I am so glad I came back to blogging. I am learning so much(like how to keep unwanted advertisers off my comment page....what a surprise!), broadening my horizons and meeting such remarkable people.

Living on Haida Gwaii where the weather can change every five minutes challenges you to not always have your camera with you. We are surrounded by sea and sky and they are always changing. This winter we had a remarkable amount of snow and the weather systems that precipitated them created amazing contrasts.

For more beautiful skies go to Sky Watch Friday

Home on the Edge...Haida Gwaii!

Image by NASA
This remarkable photo of Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands, BC Canada was taken by some space flying object several years ago. It is so cool!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A few more pictures before it goes away!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I know I have been remiss in keeping this up to date but isn't it about getting back up on the horse when you fall off! Bruised and sore I am back!

It has been a remarkable winter here on Haida Gwaii so far. We are famous for our over zealous rainfall and beautiful temperate rainforests but for snow! The Observer this week reported that in 2008 we had 1108 mm of rain and 82cm of snow(all in Dec)! Don't get me wrong, we do get snow but it is usually above tree line and if we get it on the streets of town it is usually followed by a "Southeaster"(our prevailing weather system which brings, wind, rain and moderate temperatures)and promptly turns the snow to a sloppy mess "a la Toronto"!

This year in the weeks before Christmas as the rest of the country was already shovelling snow we were suffering through cold(-2*C) temperatures brought on by outflow winds from the glacier covered mainland mountains. The benefit of the outflows is blue skies. The ground froze and the sun was beautiful. Up until Christmas eve we had just a icing sugar dusting of snow! We sat at the airport daily waiting for planes that never came...."why?...there is no snow here". From Saturday, Dec 20 to Saturday, Dec 27 we had one flight!

Christmas morning we work to a winter wonderland like the ones of my childhood. It was glorious, light, fluffy and almost knee deep and the sky and reflected ocean were stunning. As the week wore on we expected it to be washed away but the cold presisted as did the snow, adding cm's to its depth each night. Everything was so quiet. We don't have much in the line of snow removal equipment on the islands and it is usually anticipated that Mother Nature will remove the snow before it becomes a problem....not this time. The snow stayed on the ground, on the trees, on the roads, on the roofs and cars...we got so much snow that when the plow finally did come it hit a car buried in the snow!!! The kids loved it! Cardboard boxes and plastic garbage bags were the sleds of choice as every hill came alive with the screams and laughter of kids big and small. It is now the 9th of January and the snow is still here, a little soggier and wet as the mercury rises but still no "Southeaster".

Friday, January 09, 2009



When I was a child,
I mistakenly thought -
A weed was a flower...
Until I was taught.

Then I grew up -
and found out wrong.
Some weeds are flowers...
Grown wild and strong.

Valerie J Hayes


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