Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Election Envy

(Full Disclosure: I am a dual Canadian/U.S. citizen who only voted in one major election this Fall).

“So, have you guys been following the election,” my buddy asked a couple of months ago over piping hot boxes of stir fry while Federal campaigns played out on both sides of the border.

“Which one?”

“Yeah, good question,” he chuckled, knowing full well that I knew he meant Canada's. Sadly, though, I was not joking. Even with our own significant federal election on the go this Fall (there is no such thing as an insignificant process of deciding who will make our laws), Canadians found it much more fun to peer over the fence and see what our neighbours were up to than to keep our own democratic home fires burning. Quantification of such things and the motivations for them is tricky at best (paging Dr. Loewen), but if I had a dollar for every Canadian I heard waxing philosophical about the American election – especially when compared with the number I didn’t hear talking about our own – I would be able to buy the Ottawa Senators a playoff-caliber goaltender.

“Well, it’s just that our election is so short,” people say. “I mean, it happened so quickly, we hardly had time to get into it.” Hardly had time to get into it? This is democracy in action, not season three of Desperate Housewives. The six weeks or so between the election call – which was hardly a surprise – and the day itself allowed ample time for the even the most discerning voter to decide upon priorities, research platforms and choose a candidate. The American model of astronomical spending (nearly $1 billion on this election alone) and a laborious two-year campaign (during which the public servants who are in the running largely ignore their existing representational duties) is hardly something to aspire to. That Canadians cite the efficiency of our multi-party Federal elections as a reason not to become engaged is like saying that you don’t want to spend less time and effort studying even if you know it would improve your grades. Shouldn’t we be proud that we can choose one Prime Minister out of five possibilities in a fraction of the time it takes Americans to choose one leader out of two?

Then again, the bi-partisan system presented by American politics is what makes those elections that much more palatable to the masses. Once the primaries are done there are only two major candidates to choose from (sorry Mr. Nader), so it becomes easy to choose your candidate based on “us versus them” thinking which leads naturally to a cozy and oversimplified “good vs. evil” narrative. Once you join that “1, 000, 000 Strong For Obama” Facebook group, you are proclaiming your progressive nature to the world and don’t have to bother acknowledging the fact that he supports coal-fired energy before a reduction in consumption, or is staunchly politically opposed to gay marriage. Conversely, slapping a McCain/Palin bumper sticker on your car tells the world that you believe in old-fashioned values and a laissez-faire approach to economic governance, irrespective of the fact that Senator McCain was all in favour of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. Being outspokenly engaged during a multi-party election might mean having to explain yourself, whereas being cool and wearing an Obama t-shirt is a much safer way to let people know what a good person you are.

To that end, I think being cool has a lot to do with our chronic case of election envy: the fact of the matter is, theirs are much sexier than ours. Tina Fey’s Stephen Harper impression is rusty at best; Will.I.Am hasn’t made any glossy black-and-white videos name-checking Elizabeth May; and Jon Stewart has yet to invite Stéphane Dion to pay him a visit. Once you strip away the pop culture hype, there is little left to talk about but the issues themselves, which aren’t as easy to discuss at the water cooler as this weekend’s Saturday Night Live.

I do realize that “pop culture hype” largely refers to the noise that surrounded the Obama campaign, and that is where much of my frustration on this topic comes from: the willingness of so many Canadians to openly embrace his politics and candidacy over those of any candidate closer to home.

And this is a practice which is entirely antithetical to the whole Obama brand.

The president-elect’s background and rhetoric speak very strongly to the importance of getting involved to affect change on the local level. If one wanted to heed his message, then, would it not make more sense to work towards change by speaking out (and voting) locally than it would to sip a Keith’s and cheer while watching CNN? There is a universality to what Barack Obama has to say – I myself have been inspired by it – but to pledge one’s support despite not being able to vote for him and then do little with his message in our own communities seems like a fruitless endeavour that has little more value than your run-of-the-mill celebrity worship. If every hip young Canadian who wore an Obama button or spoke out against John McCain put the same effort into, say, rallying behind his or her local NDP candidate, those same hip young Canadians might not now be complaining about another “evil” and “out of touch” Conservative government in Ottawa.

I am not in any way denying that the effects of an Obama presidency will be felt around the world – perhaps nowhere as strongly outside of the U.S. as here in Canada. Nor am I seeking to sell short the historical implications of the American election and its result, as I shared hugs and felt the chills last Tuesday night. What I am lamenting is the willingness of so many Canadians to choose watching history from a front row seat over taking ownership of the present from the driver’s seat. If our idea of being a part of change is watching it unfold on TV, then we have exactly the out-of-touch government we deserve.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On Two Wheels

“Hey man, why should I bike to school?”

The question is one that I have learned to laugh off. Since becoming a mild advocate of two-wheeled transportation among my peers, I have found this question to be most often asked as a set-up to some sort of “Well, I do my part by not mowing over cyclists as I drive past them” punch line (hilarious). Knowing that the friend who was currently asking is a five-day-a-week four-doored commuter, and given that we were both a few drinks deep into the night, I didn’t expect much else in this case.

“Why else: because it will make your legs look sexy.” My response was half-assed at best, but I figured that was half an ass more than he had invested in his question.

“No, I’m serious. I need you to tell me why I should bike to school. I need to hear why it’s a good a idea before I do it.”

Wait a second, was he actually asking me why he should bike to school? So in addition to learning a lesson about not making biased assumptions about what people are trying to say (thank you, Sesame Street), I was faced with the unenviable task of having to explain myself.

I started mulling over the benefits of the bike in my head, crossing off one-by-one those that – true as they may be - could be filed under preachy, obvious or hippie-centric. Less C02 being pumped into the atmosphere of our asphyxiating planet? Nah, he doesn’t need to hear that from me; everyone has seen Al Gore’s PowerPoint by now. Better for your health? That would sound odd, given that he appears to be in much better shape than me. Save a few bucks? I’m pretty sure he lives close enough to school that gas money is a negligible expense, and the semesterly parking pass is by this point a sunk cost.

This left me with a bit of a head-scratcher. Surely there must be more to it than that. I look forward to the ride every morning and afternoon for a reason, and it has to be more of a reason than the matter-of-fact practicalities listed above, right?

I gave my buddy what I thought was a decent answer but have continued pondering his question, to the point that it dominated my thought process early on as I weaved my way home through the sunset traffic this afternoon, four days later. It was on my mind as I exchanged pleasantries with the bikers on either side of me leaving campus. I mulled it over as I stopped at my first red light and dreamed about leaning over the handle bars to touch the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Range, standing on their tippy-toes to see me above the clouds in the distance. I stopped thinking about it as I made my daily screaming descent down Foul Bay Road like an overgrown and unaccountably hairy eight-year old, and let my mind wander farther as I crunched my way over the Fall leaves at the bottom of the hill.

Concentration-deprived as I am, I let my mind wander for the rest of the ride home. Forgetting that I was supposed to be in some sort of period of intense self-examination, I succumbed to a free-form inner monologue that changed with each passing city block:

Fort Street – “Someone is baking cookies. Damn it smells good.”

Cook St. Village – “That new pizza place looks cozy.”

Broughton St. – “Wow, those new condos don’t seem to be in the ten bajillion dollar range. Imagine that.”

Downtown – “Oh snap, I can pick up Noodle Box on the ride home and it is going to be delicious. Sweet.” (sharp right turn onto the sidewalk in front of said eatery)

James Bay – “The water sounds a little choppy tonight.”

And with that I veered into my driveway, snapped back to the present moment and thought myself no closer to answering my friend’s question than I was when I left school.

Hold on, maybe not.

Some guy from Liverpool said that life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. As I bike to and from school, all I plan on doing is getting from point-A to point-B. Despite my limited intentions, however, I seem to come away almost daily with a deeper appreciation for the world that immediately surrounds me. Had I driven to school today (as I sometimes do), I would not have seen the detail in the Olympic Mountains. My youth would not have been recalled with the barreling descent of Foul Bay Road or the percussive treading on leaves at the bottom. From my enclosed perspective, cookies would have gone unsmelled, pizza places undiscovered, Noodle Box undevoured and the ocean unappreciated. Simple pleasures? Perhaps. But there is nothing simple in the sense of awareness and belonging we feel as we develop a deeper connection to the people and places that surround us. As transportation goes, there is no better way to nurture this connection than peacefully navigating the city on two wheels. Of this, I am certain.



P.S. I am hoping that moving forward from today I will be posting regularly again. Please stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

(Lengthy) Race Report: Victoria International Half Ironman

Two thousand, four hundred and sixty point three two. A pretty random number that probably doesn’t get talked about all that much. I’m sure that some lonely chronofile sitting in a cubicle somewhere could have a field day with it, telling us all how many times it can be divided by pi (when calculated to a hundred digits) or how many times you could watch a Monty Python sketch in just under twenty-five hundred seconds, but for most of us, 2460.32 won’t ever mean anything. I myself had never even looked at or thought about that combination of digits until about five minutes ago. Why then, did 2460.32 almost cause me to break down and weep on a beautiful early summer afternoon this past weekend?

I think I should back things up a little and share what exactly it was that I was caught up in when I almost lost it on Sunday afternoon. While in days gone by (alright, not entirely gone) it would have been a screaming headache related to a game of “Pass the Fireball” from the night before that would have me near tears on a Sunday, this time around it was much different. After a year of focused training – four months of which was done in Yellowknife in the throes of one of the harshest northern winters in recent memory – I sought out on Sunday to complete my first ever half-ironman triathlon. By “half-ironman” I mean a 1.9 km swim, 90 km bike and 20km (half marathon) run, all done in succession in an exercise spurred on by a strange mix of masochism and narcissism, with a little bit of dehydration thrown in for good measure. Here’s how it all went down:

Swim – 1.9 km

Ahhh yes, the old mass start of a triathlon. If the sound of a Howitzer being fired off immediately behind you by Army reservists at 6:45 on a Sunday morning doesn’t make you want to jump into a lake and swim in a two kilometer rectangle with six hundred strangers simultaneously kicking you in the face, then you’re less of a sucker for cheap motivational instruments than I am.

I actually found my rhythm fairly early on and settled in nicely. I had really focused on my sighting (watching where you’re swimming) in my last few pre-race workouts, and it definitely paid off as I only took a couple of slight detours along the way. My right calf started to cramp a bit with less than 1000m to go, which had never happened to me in the water before, so I stretched it out as best I could while swimming and stopped using my legs altogether a few times (wetsuits are awesome). My friend Matt who had been coaching me (the guy was my saviour through this whole process) had told me a few months ago that he wanted me out of the water in forty minutes. I thought that he might as well have asked me to just walk over the water instead of swim, so I was pleasantly surprised and incredibly pumped (see the photo evidence below) when I looked at my watch upon standing up out of the water to see it read 40:00:00 exactly.

Transition 1: Swim – to – Bike

I ran up to my bike and saw that I was just a couple of minutes behind my good friend and training partner Max, whose bike was racked next to mine. Max absolutely shreds it on the bike and the run, so I wished him well as he rolled away, knowing that I wouldn’t see him again until the finish line. I threw my bike jersey on and had some encouraging words from my friend Nicole who had wandered over to watch the start and I was on my way.

Bike: 90 km

The bike course for this race truly is stunning: two big loops through country roads and farmland, with panoramic views of the water and lower Gulf Islands. Add to this the fact that it was a beautiful sunny day and that I’ve done a fair chunk of riding on various parts of the course over the past couple of years (here’s to you, Friday afternoon riding crew), and it’s not hard to see that I felt comfortable almost immediately. I found it hard on the bike to “run my own race,” as I was passed by more people than I would have preferred and knew I could have dialed up the speed, but I had to be mindful of not burning out too soon, and saving something for the run.

One of the highlights of the day came as I finished my first bike loop. Our good friends Colin and Evan had come out unexpectedly to cheer on both Max and I. Their signs were hilarious, and having some personal support halfway through the bike ride gave me a tangible boost in energy.

In addition, the other spectators and volunteers along the ride were super positive and inspiring. This is a hilly course that can wear you down after a while, but knowing that some friendly words of encouragement were never far off really helped to keep the quads strong. There was also some camaraderie between the riders, best illustrated for me when I was passed by a young female rider with a visible tattoo on her lower back. At the time I happened to be conversing with an older gentleman with a European accent who was riding next to me. No sooner was the young filly out of earshot (I’m not even sure she couldn’t hear us, to be honest) when my new friend turned to me and remarked “Wow! That sure was a sexy tattoo she had on her back, there!” That one had me laughing for a while.

I held my pace through the second lap, again being careful to leave enough for the run. I also stuck to my plan of eating a gel pack every 20-30 minutes, plus two energy bars and three bottles of either water or Gatorade along the way. I rolled into transition feeling pumped, and with a little over four hours on the clock I knew that my six-hour goal was well within reach.

Transition 2: Bike – to – Run

This one is always a little nerve-wracking, as one can’t be sure how the legs will respond after three hours on the bike. Luckily for me my friend Brian had stopped by to see how Max and I were doing, and some friendly words with him as I threw my running gear on kept me from worrying about my physiological well-being. I felt strong as I pulled my race-day-only yellow visor on and headed out for the half-marathon. I saw Evan and Colin again at this point, which gave me another boost. My watch read 4:04 as I headed out, but I knew the toughest was yet to come.

Run: 20 km

The run on this course is a beauty: two shaded 10k laps on packed gravel (so much better than pavement, in my opinion) surrounding Elk and Beaver Lakes. I watched my heart rate closely, as I have a bad habit of getting too excited after the bike and going out too hard. There were aid stations every 2k or so, and I drank Gatorade and dumped water on my head at each one, as it was starting to get hot out. I also ate a gel on each lap. Again, the volunteers were incredible and the spectators were really supportive. I was surprised at how strong I felt and had to focus on not pushing it too hard on the first lap. I gave myself a silent pat on the back as I passed the 100k mark, and before I knew it 10k was done in less than an hour. I passed my friends Rachel and Karen – more unexpected supporters – as I headed out for the second loop, and I knew that with a simple repeat of the first loop the six-hour goal would be mine. I also knew, however, that it is said that a long triathlon doesn’t start until the second half of the run. I was about to find out why.

About 2k into the second loop I took my first walking break. What had been a bit of muscle fatigue on the first lap quickly evolved into the cringe-inducing sensation that my legs had become overstuffed with liquid lead. With each subsequent attempt at “running”, my legs felt heavier and the pain in my quads intensified. It’s hard to describe the nature of the pain I felt, but it wasn’t good. Not quite burning, not quite aching, but a strange combination of both. The walk breaks became more frequent, and it soon became apparent that I wasn’t going to break six hours. A little disheartening, but I kept on keeping on as the fatigue grew and every other step brought a grunt.

With 4k left it occurred to me that I was definitely going to finish this race. All of the early walks to the pool in pre-dawn Yellowknife, endless hours spent counting my cadence on the bike and moments of doubt on 20km+ runs around Victoria all came rushing back in one exhausted and overwhelming flow of emotion. The finish line at Elk Lake felt impossibly far away when I was up North, as it’s hard to visualize a summer afternoon on Vancouver Island when you’re slipping out your front door at 6:00 A.M. in –45 degree Yellowknife. I also thought back to my days not so long ago when a triathlon would have meant beer, pizza and PlayStation and the concept of completing even a modest multi-sport event would have been a discouraging impossibility. So there I was: 2460.32 km away from the frozen mining town in the middle of the Subarctic where I had logged my toughest, loneliest training hours; what seemed like a lifetime away from my embarrassingly unhealthy lifestyle of just a few short years ago; and now only 4000 metres from the finish line of a half-iron. Perhaps I was being self-indulgent, but the reality of the distances I had traveled to get to the 16km mark on that run was more than my run-down body and mind could handle for a few precarious moments as I teetered on the brink of breaking down.

I bucked up, though, knowing that I wasn’t quite done. With the help of Evan and Max (Max, who could have read the Bible from cover-to-cover in the time between his finish and my own) who came out to pump me up with 1km left, I brought it home in 6:17. I didn’t crack six hours, but for the guy who couldn’t do one lap around the track in grade 8 gym class without stopping to walk, there was plenty to be proud of.

Thank Yous:

I sure as hell couldn’t have done this on my own. In no particular order, and at the risk of sounding like an arrogant Grammy winner:

To my family – Sarah, Mom, Rod, Liz and Dad (who I’m sure was watching) – thanks for understanding what a big deal this was for me and not scoffing when I set out (not that I would have expected you to). I knew you all had my back all-along, just like you always do.

Matt – brother, you went above and beyond. When I asked you for a few pointers in December I had no idea you would offer so much of your time and expertise in whipping me into shape. I say in all sincerity that I could not have done this without your help.

Max – right on, man. This has been a fun ride, and it’s been wicked inspiring watching you train and trying to keep up with you, even though I know I never could. Here’s to showing Seattle who’s boss, and the endless cycle of nutrition/hydration/nutrition/hydration. Let's not let this one be our last.

Marc, Sarah G., JCB, Nancy, Mike (always in the changing tents) and the rest of the LP crew – thanks for showing me the ropes, lending me gear and covering my shifts when I started out last summer. I wish they could all be as fun as a Monday-nighter following a day at the store.

Colin, Evan, Rachel, Karen, Brian and Nicole – I don’t know if any of you realize how great it was to have some love thrown my way when I was out there, and what a difference it really made. Thanks for making me feel warm and fuzzy when I should have felt anything but.

Thanks to Phish for giving me my official pump-up song.

Taiga – thanks for being my training partner up North. I was jealous of your four legs on the run.

And anyone I've shared a swim, bike or run with over the past little while.

Thanks for reading this one. It’s wordy but I’m damn proud and wanted to get this all down while it’s still fresh. I am fully aware that having the means and ability (mediocre though my abilities are) to even attempt something like this is an incredible blessing. My gratitude to the Almighty runs deep, and I am incredibly humbled to have had such an opportunity. Once my legs forgive me I’ll probably head right back into the pool, onto the bike and over to the trails. I’m not sure where this journey will take me next, but part of me is dreaming of an occasion to write about a race twice as long sometime next summer. Stay tuned…



Monday, May 26, 2008

Don't Call Me Tinkerbell: Shawnigan Lake Triathlon Race Report

Ahh triathlon. The newest stupid way for ordinary North Americans to wear masochism and under-achievement on their arm like a Powerbar sponsorship. For some reason, record numbers of people are dragging their asses out of bed at ungodly hours, six days a week, twelve months a year in order to swim, bike or run, just for the opportunity to drag their asses out of bed at ungodly hours three or four times a summer to swim, bike and run all in succession. Make sense? Yeah, it doesn’t to me either, so I had a hard time explaining my presence at a starting line this past weekend among the Subaru-driving, spandex-wearing, gel-eating masses.

There I was, though, reluctantly crouched in the seasonably crisp (read: damn cold) waters of Shawnigan Lake, BC yesterday A.M. with smile on my face, ready to start my second season of thigh-burning mediocrity. Here’s a blow-by-blow account:

Swim – 500 Meters

Remember that time in gym class when the awkward kid with the head gear accidentally kicked you in the face during dodge ball? Imagine being thrown off a dock with anywhere from a few dozen to a couple of thousand awkward kids and then being told to swim to the middle of the lake and back while they all seemingly kick you in the face at once. This is kind of what mass starts in triathlons are like.

My swim this time around went relatively well, considering I added at least an extra fifty meters on because of poor aquatic orienteering skills. There was no shortage of full-on body contact, but I managed to keep a pretty good focus throughout. I had a couple of moments of struggle, but told myself that I’d be damned if I was going to put to waste all of those 6 A.M. walks to the pool in forty-below Yellowknife I undertook over the past winter, so I powered on through and emerged cold, dizzy and disoriented after ten minutes and change.

Bike – 22 Kilometers

The bike is probably my favourite of the three events (read: the one that I am the least bad at), so after a brief fight with my wetsuit in transition I was psyched to get out onto the road. There is a loose washer on my bike which jingles as I ride, ringing like a dainty tea-service bell and making it tough to sneak up on anybody. Within the first kilometer of the ride, a woman many embarrassing years my senior (embarrassing for me, not for her) commented on this warning system and nicknamed me Tinkerbell. The moderate annoyance of this baptism was only aggravated by the fact that I could not shake this woman - #1715 - for the life of me. For the whole ride I would ditch her on the uphills, and she would be right back beside me during a straightaway.

“Jesus lady, what did you have for breakfast?” I asked as she blew by me at one point.

“I don’t know, but it sure isn’t working on hills,” she responded as I cruised by in vertical retaliation a few minutes later.

At first our banter was fairly good-natured, but the more she called me Tinkerbell and the more I passed her on hills, it became clear that we were both becoming thoroughly annoyed by the other. Round about kilometer 13 I cruised past her on the toughest hill of the course. Thinking I had sufficiently put the hammer down and lost her, I celebrated with a feast of Gatorade and chocolate-flavoured GU (this is an “energy gel” that I’m convinced is simply the left-overs from the Betty Crocker factory). No sooner had I thrown down the GU when I heard “Boy, you really thought you lost me there, didn’t you?” in surround-sound fashion coming from behind me, beside me and then in front of me.

Damnit, woman.

Back I went to playing catch-up, until the final hill of the ride. Now it was my turn to be the smart-ass: “Don’t you think this is getting boring?” I asked as we assumed our routine positions.


This time I resolved to be done with number 1715 for good and started pedaling like I did the time Chris Markle and I were playing at the park as ten year-olds and he concussed himself on the maple tree on top of the hill (read: like a kid who thought big trouble was on the horizon and didn’t want any part of it). I gunned ‘er until the end of the ride with my new arch nemesis (you are now exonerated, tort law final exam from last year) nowhere in sight, and celebrated this micro-victory with a few fist pumps as I cruised into transition, having averaged a little more than 30 kilometers an hour.

Run – 5 kilometers

This is a sprinter’s run course, straight and flat. This was slightly problematic for me in that my particular build is great for activities like, say, not sprinting, but isn’t ideal for endeavours such as, well, sprinting. I left transition with a spring in my step and kept up as good a pace as I thought I could. I passed one runner, was passed by a couple myself, and finished the run a little bit slower than I had wanted to. I probably paced myself a little too well and didn’t empty the tank enough, but was psyched to cross the line feeling good. After eating a couple of bananas I made sure to stick around to give 1715 a high-five as she came across. I would have gloated, but I’m sure her grandkids were somewhere waiting for her and I didn’t want to cause her any delays.

All in all, this was a great start to the year at a really professionally put-together race (read: hearing my name announced as I crossed the finish-line made me feel cool). I ran with my good friend Max, who predictably gave me a whooping and finished in 1:12 to my 1:26. He and I have been training for a half-ironman (2k/90k/20k) coming up in a few weeks, which will be a completely different ball game than anything either of us has done to this point. I figure the big race should go alright, but if 1715 shows up things could get messy. I just have to hope that there’s a sale on prunes at the Safeway that day that will keep her away. I’ll keep you posted.



Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Oh Crap, I Forgot

See you next week.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled knitting.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sweet Fenway Park

I was really good at being a kid. Some might argue that I still am, and while that may be true, I don’t know that I could have been any better at being a wide-eyed rambunctious eight-year-old. And while collecting frogs and antagonizing my sister were (alright, so the latter could also be mentioned in the present tense) frequent manifestations of my supreme kidness, it was through my endeavours as a young sports fanatic that my ability to be a kid truly shone. The Montreal Canadiens were my heroes, SkyDome my Mecca, and the Edmonton Eskimos my larger-than-life villains. I’m not the rabid sports fan I once was, but old habits die hard, and a seven-hour evening at Boston’s (insert superlative synonym for legendary here) Fenway Park to see the Red Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night stirred up in me a dormant excitement that I don’t think I had felt in quite the same way since the last time my father ever took me to a hockey game in Montreal (Fall of 1996, Habs versus Colorado).

What follows is an illustrated, blow-by-blow account of how the evening played out for Sarah and me as we celebrated her birthday in perfect New England style (before I get chastised for taking my girlfriend to a baseball game for her birthday, I should say in my defense that she has been a passport-carrying citizen of Red Sox Nation for years, and it is through my relationship with her that I started diggin’ the Sox after the Expos fled Quebec five years ago to escape Celiene Dion). There are some insider sports references here (hi, Teehan and Noel), but hopefully everyone in my mother’s knitting group will still enjoy it (although I know Mrs. O’Malley will, as she’s a bona fide sports fan).

5:45 P.M. We arrive in Boston without a place to stay and decide to head straight to the Park, as a roof over our heads is a petty detail compared with watching batting practice. I approach a scalp-…uuuuhhhh, I mean a “broker on the secondary ticket market” a few blocks from Fenway and score us a pair of stubs to the sold out game for only ten bucks (total) above face value. Somewhere, my father is proud of me.

5:55 P.M. Heading towards Yawkey Way I feel a few stray drops of water on my shoulder, but ignore them knowing that the skies will clear by game time.

6:10 P.M. Here we are (or, “Heah we ahhh”). There is a carnival-like atmosphere around the stadium, and with all of my Sox gear (“geah”) packed away in boxes in Victoria, I buy a $15 “Green Monstah” t-shirt so I can fit in with the tribe. (That’s “tribe” with a small-t, as Cleveland wasn’t playing that night). The rain picks up a little.

6:40 P.M. After wandering around outside for a while, we find our seats in the right field corner (they’re not as close to the infield as the secondary ticket broker promised me - he must have been confused), four rows up from the field. These seats kick-ass. The rain continues, and the tarp is covering the infield, with the scheduled start only twenty minutes away. Looks like we’re in for a rain delay.

7:13 P.M. After enjoying a couple of pizza slices we check on the field again. Still wet, but the scoreboard is keeping us updated (note the time on the bottom right). “Dry the Rain” by the Beta Band is being played over the stadium speakers. Pretentious music snob that I am, I laugh to myself as I assume that I’m the only one in the stadium who recognizes the song and gets the joke.

7:45 P.M. We hang out inside the concourse - where there is a party-like atmosphere - and chat up some locals as the rain continues. Samuel Adams Lager is the darkest, tastiest beer we can find, but they are good enough to charge $7.75 for a pint so it feels like you’re drinking something better.

8:04 P.M. In case we hadn’t noticed that there were no players on the field, the scoreboard continues to keep us updated. Matching public address announcements every half-hour or so state the same thing. Sarah and I spend some time back at the seats sharing a dance, as the rain has let up a little and we’re feeling good. I befriend two older ladies wearing garbage bags and umbrella hats. I think one of them kept her hand over her purse the entire time I was speaking to them

8:35 P.M. Check out the picture below. "We are hopeful that tonight's game will still be played." Yeah, so am I. That’s why I’m still here an hour and-a-half after we were supposed to get going. Note the Celtics game being shown on the big screen.

9:18 P.M. “Umbrella” by Rhianna is played over the loud speakers. Pretentious music snob that I am, I have a smug sense of self-satisfaction as I assume that I’m the only one under thirty in the ballpark who is unable to sing along for lack of knowing the words.

9:05 P.M. The rain looks to be letting up completely, and the infield is being worked on. Awesome. Also, I am within seed-spitting distance Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who is warming up right in front of our seats. I am a little embarrassed about how cool I thought this was, and was fully prepared to trample a ten year-old if Tek tossed a ball in our direction (I would, of course, have made sure she was alright after the fact. I’m a sports fan, not a monster.)

9:12 P.M. We’re going to get a game!

9:25 P.M. Spot the tourists.

9:40 P.M. We’re underway with a decent crowd having stuck it out. I keep score as the game moves along, which adds hugely to my enjoyment and makes me feel cool to boot. The young couple behind us makes their first cell phone call to other friends at the game, standing up, yelling and waving so that their friends can see them. This does not add to my enjoyment of the game as much as keeping score does.

9:45 P.M. The people who were being phoned by the couple behind us come and join them, occupying some adjacent vacant seats. By the end of the fourth inning, I will know of one of the girls in the group: her recent dating history, the reason she doesn’t want to wear togas to theme parties that the local Army reservists have, and how nervous she will be if a foul ball comes our way (this last nugget of information was repeated several times, despite the fact that we were clearly in home run territory).

9:55 P.M. The second cell phone call is made from the seats behind us to friends elsewhere in the park.

10:00 P.M. The recipient of the second call comes down to see his friends, and a heated argument ensues about who has better seats and which group of friends should move to join the other. I have a suggestion.

10:01 P.M. Sox right-fielder Brandon Moss guns down a slow-running Evan Longoria (make your own Desperate Housewives joke, I’m a little tired) trying to score from second on a single by throwing a strike to home from shallow right-center. I’m pretty sure I used to do that sort of thing all the time while playing right-field for the East Nepean Eagles back in the day, but then again I’m also pretty sure that all of the recruiting letters that NCAA Division-1 athletic programs sent me ten years ago must have been lost in the mail, so take that for what you will.

10:12 P.M. After walking the first two batters he faces in the third, Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz gets himself out of the jam by striking out the side. Nicely played.

10:30 P.M. The Sox are on the board with a one-run third inning, followed by a five-run explosion in the fourth with my homeboy Varitek crossing the plate. One of the guys in the group behind us missed most of this, however, as he spent the entire fourth inning trying to dig himself out of the hole he created when he described a female acquaintance as “Not fat, but healthy,” and then didn’t know how to answer appropriately when one of the girls he was with asked “So, does she look like me?” Apparently this was his first experience speaking with a woman.

11:00 I am sitting at Fenway Park with my girlfriend on a crisp Spring night, four rows back from the field and the Sox are on a roll. I am pretty sure this is one of the coolest things that has ever happened to anyone (aside from the time I was told that I had earned three free pizzas from Joey’s in my last year of undergrad, of course).

11:05 P.M. I die a little inside when our friends behind us leave early to go to a party. They aren’t the only ones, though - the crowd is definitely starting to thin.

11: 36 P.M. Check out the picture, and note the time. I think it probably should have said “If you are reading this, you’ve missed your train.”

12:12 A.M. The Sox are sitting pretty with a 7-3 lead through 8. The crowd is really starting to look sparse, and with all of the empty seats I’m concerned that Tampa Bay will start to think they’re playing at home.

12:24 A.M. The words to “Sweet Caroline” are posted on the scoreboard to allow for all six hundred remaining fans to sing along (that is not nearly as much of an under-exaggeration as you think it is).

12: 40 A.M. I get chills down my arms as the Dropkick Murphys tune “Going up to Boston” crackles over the speakers and Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon marches in from the left-field bullpen to put the game away. To be sitting at Fenway with the local Celtic-punk heroes cranking from the speakers and the late-inning assassin charging in from the outfield is up there with the live sporting highlights of my life. For a minute, I forget that I am a tourist and get caught up in a swell of fist-pumping back-slapping homegrown Boston pride. I also feel like I’m in “Major League” watching Rick Vaughan sprint in to the sounds of “Wild Thing”, but I don’t think that Papelbon hooked up with any of his teammate’s wives the night before.

12:43 A.M. No, really, are we at an Expos game in 2001? The numbers on the scoreboard (both above 37, 000) are part of a “Guess the Paid Attendance” game. Ahhh, juxtaposition. At this point I don’t know if there were much more than 1,500 people left in a park where capacity is over 35, 000

12:49 A.M. Sox win!

1:02 A.M. Obligatory tourist shot of the iconic Citgo sign.

And that was our seven and-a-half hour Fenway experience.

Sports-wise, I’ve been lucky in my twenty-seven years (I’ve been lucky in many other ways too, but we’re talking about sports here). I saw the Habs play at the Forum, the Leafs play at the Gardens - unfortunately it was never possible to see an NHL game at the Gardens that didn’t involve the Leafs - and have witnessed a handful of other historical events, including Grey Cups and numerous Ottawa Senators landmarks. This was even my second trip to Fenway. As I alluded to above, this one ranks up there with the best. Something about the buzz of the park, the pride of the locals and the quality of the company made for a truly special night that seemed to be bigger than a game yet never stopped revolving around one.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve barely retained more than a passing interest in major professional sports, and my days of living and dying with my favourties are mostly behind me. That said, every so often I relish the chance to be wide-eyed and eight-years-old again, which is probably why Friday night felt so great. It was a vacation within a vacation, where I was taken back to the days when the men on the field were all older than me and could do no wrong.

While Varitek warmed-up in front of me, I forgot that I’ve seen more concerts than pro sporting events in the past five years. When Buccholz pitched his way out of a jam, he was more of a hero to this green-washed vegetarian than David Suzuki could ever be. And as Papelbon ran in from the bullpen, I saw what I wanted to be when I grow up. For a few precious hours, the Sox reminded me of why I loved being eight-years-old the first time around, and let me hop in the time machine to do it all over again.

Good times never seemed so good.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Knowing About Goodbye

I move a lot. It took some head-scratching, but one day this week as I was walking to work I figured out that I’ve moved fourteen times in the past five years. Of these fourteen moves, only once were subsequent dwellings in the same city, and only twice was I moving within the same province. There are a few repeat offenders on the moves list, but parking my bikes in the closet of a new apartment, or trying to find the best falafel with garlic sauce in a new city (FYI, in Ottawa it’s Shawarma Palace on Rideau at Augusta) have each been a part of my reality since my undergraduate days on the East Coast. All of this is to say that saying goodbye to people and places is something that I’ve grown used to. It’s not something that I especially enjoy, but I have come to accept the inevitability of goodbyes in my life with the tolerated ambivalence of daily activities such as brushing my teeth, or seasonal rites of passage like raking leaves.

This time, however, it was different.

I said goodbye to Yellowknife this past week, and where a shrug of the shoulders and an “I’m sure I’ll be by here again before too long - we’re Facebook friends, right?” have sufficed in the past, this time they didn’t quite seem to cut it. The fact that Yellowknife sits so far off the beaten Canadian path – geographically as well as culturally – is what made it largely appealing to me in the first place, but is what also made the goodbye tougher than what I’ve grown accustomed to. Knowing that it may be years before I spend another morning skiing the lake with Taiga, another afternoon playing hockey in front of the houseboats with strangers, or another night tipping bottles of Pilsner at the Gold Range with dear friends was enough to put a lump in my throat as I taxied down the runway pointed South on Friday morning. The more I think about it, the more I think that years may be a best-case scenario, as Yellowknife is not a place that’s easy to pass through, despite one’s best intentions.

Yet as strong a tie as I feel I developed with the people and the land, I don’t think I can begin to pretend to know what it takes to call the Northwest Territories home. A good friend of mine once pointed out that there is a difference between knowing, and knowing about. This dichotomy is especially relevant to the four months I spent in the North: I know very little of what it takes to call oneself a true Northerner, but I have come to know about enduring a few months of the North’s most difficult season.

I don’t know the grim acceptance of Winter’s impending six-month strangle-hold that comes with first snows of October, but I know about the deep sense of relief that comes with the first day you can leave your heaviest parka in the closet.

I don’t know the feeling of perpetual isolation that comes with living twelve months a year in a region that is geographically and financially difficult to visit or leave, but I know about the elation that comes when a loved one finds her way North for a few precious days.

I don’t know the necessity of having to rely on one’s neighbours to help with chores of survival – hunting, trapping, canning, stock-piling - in the winter months, but I know about the importance of opening yourself up to those around you and feeding on the warmth of their spirits in order to endure the coldest, darkest days of January and February.

I don’t know the helplessness that can come when one is reminded that Mother Nature is in charge when the ice road becomes impassible before ferry service starts and one’s community is cut off, but I know about the total and complete humility that comes from seeing one's own insignificance reflected in the immensity of the dancing Aurora.

I don’t know if I would have what it takes to make it through a twelve-month cycle in Canada’s North, but I know about the unforgiving Winter, and the inspiring people and resilient community that shepherded this wide-eyed Southerner through it.

I don’t know that I’ll make it back as soon as I would like, but I know all about the deep seeded gratitude I feel to the people and land who allowed me to stand beside them for the past four months.

You were good to me, Yellowknife. That much, I know.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dude on the Rocks

There are just so many rocks.

In last week’s post I mentioned how the snow was melting to reveal a rockier and less gentle landscape throughout Yellowknife than I had previously envisioned tucked below winter’s blanket. A time or two over the winter I have discovered this topographical lesson the hard way: attempts to climb many of the “hills” flanking Great Slave Lake on my snowshoes has proven fruitless as they were near-vertical rock faces, deceptively covered in some fresh fluffy white stuff. Those observations, aligned with the fact that the summer's main event here is a music festival called “Folk on the Rocks” would have appropriately tipped off someone swifter than I, but it wasn’t until an early morning adventure this past week that I discovered just how pervasive the rocks are.

Regular readers (at last count, aside from family: 11 classmates, four co-workers, two childhood friends [plus one of their moms] and the entirety of my mother’s Monday morning knitting circle) will know that I’ve been house-sitting for the past couple of weeks - an adventure in and of itself that came to a merciful end on Saturday. Some of you will also know that I try and swim before work a few days a week. The house-sit was located in a different part of town than my usual Northern abode, and so I’ve been doing some bipedal exploring on my early morning strolls to the pool.

Last Thursday I slipped out the door at about a quarter after six – an undertaking that has become much less painful since the sun started rising earlier than I could possibly get out of bed – and headed towards the pool. I made the now-familiar turns through my temporary neighbourhood in the direction of the pool, but decided not to take the easiest route that would lead me out to the main drag within about four blocks of my destination. Instead, intrepid Arctic explorer that I am, I opted to continue on the side-streets, operating on a “general direction” principle that I was sure would spit me out roughly where I wanted to be. Gee, I wonder if the loyal reader can see where this is going.

I plodded along, thinking I was parallel to my goal street of Franklin Ave. It eventually became apparent, though, that I was walking for longer than I probably should have been without seeing an appropriate place to make the right turn I needed to. After realizing this, the problem became that I had recently passed a couple of folks out brushing off their cars, so to turn around and back-track would be to risk being spotted and having to admit to being unsure of my whereabouts and direction. This embarrassment would have resulted in my Uncle John permanently expelling me from the family (this is the man who once spent two hours trying to find the ocean in Los Angeles by “following the sun”), so it clearly wasn't an option.

So I kept on, knowing that I had to make that right turn at some point. Lucky for me, the decision of when to turn right was made for me when the street I was on came to a cul-de-sac, penned in by low-rise apartments. “Sweet,” I thought. “I’ll just pop behind these buildings and I should be right where I need to be.”

That was before I saw the rocks.

I cruised around behind the apartments and was immediately faced with about thirty vertical feet of Canadian Shield. Now I wasn’t looking at a straight cliff here, so I thought I’d give ‘er the old college try, drawing on some time spent climbing mountains and convinced that the pool would be just on the other side. It took me a few minutes to navigate my way up the rocks, which were still somewhat snow covered and had become impossibly icy in the thaw/freeze/thaw/freeze cycles of the previous few days. I was nearly at the top when a quick stumble almost had disastrous results for my orthopedic well-being. I recovered without losing much ground, but my thermos full of chocolate milk that was strapped to the side of my back pack decided that it had had enough, and I could only watch as it gleefully slid back down the rocks and came to a smug rest at the bottom. Were the thermos empty I might have cut my losses, but chocolate milk has become integral to my daily existence (what am I, eight years old?), so I gingerly chased it back down the rocks, only to have to climb back up again.

Back at the top after a ten-minute setback I could happily look just a couple of hundred metres away and see…not the pool. Crap. I was looking at what seemed like some sort of industrial complex (or school, or maybe it was a mall), but I was convinced that the pool must have been on the other side, so I headed in that general direction. I was happily cruising along on top of the snow until the snow decided that it didn’t much care to support my weight anymore (snow and thermoses are both quitters, apparently) and shrugged me off, causing me to sink waist-deep while wearing my cleanest pair of office pants. I kept on, though, trying to tip-toe as if that would some how keep me on the surface (it didn’t) and sunk fully on about every third step. Still, I was making progress.

Progress, that is, until I saw the fence.

Upon closer inspection, I could see that the school/prison/un-pool seemed to be encircled in several vertical metres of chain-link, heading way out to both the right and the left. This posed two problems for me: the first being that I am not a particularly adept fence-climber, and the second being that it didn’t seem as though meandering co-op students trying to get to the pool were being particularly encouraged to swing by. Left with little recourse I returned the way I came: through the waist-deep snow, back down the icy rocks (stupid rocks) and past the low-rise. Luckily I wasn’t spotted on the return trip.

Now sweating in my cleanest work shirt I took stock of my situation and figured that my best directional option was behind some other buildings just downhill from, and slightly right of, the ones I had previously gone behind. I approached the back lot of this new set of buildings and saw a path, which I decided to blindly follow. Lo and behold, after about five feet on the path I could see the pool just across the street (I have no idea what street I was on) and behind a curling club. The relief was short-lived, however, as I soon realized that I was about five feet back and another thirty feet up from the road. I don’t think you need to know that slope equals rise over run (thank you, Wikipedia) to figure out that this wouldn’t be an easy descent.

Oh yeah, and it was almost all rocks.

The face had some small shrubs growing out of it, so I used those to anchor myself as I eased my way down diagonally. Again, glare ice was the order of the day. I lowered myself until I was about eight feet off the ground. I had nowhere to go but straight down at this point, so I tried to slowly lower myself. The first couple of inches of this final descent went smoothly, but something gave way round about inch five, at which point I was instantly spit out onto the sidewalk eight feet below, which would have been much to the displeasure of any passersby. There were no witnesses to be seen, though, and I was thankfully in one piece and finally able to make my way to the pool, sticky with sweat, damp with snow, pants muddy but spirit unbroken (albeit hanging by a thread).

I mentioned in an earlier post that Yellowknife is a city where a city shouldn’t be. That a southern lifestyle won’t always work when ignorantly superimposed on a Northern geography. That was in reference to the climate, as opposed to the geology of the area, however I think it’s safe to now extend that viewpoint to the physical landscape. Don’t get me wrong, Yellowknife is beautiful, but it is a rugged beauty that doesn't co-exist well with a cosmopolitan lifestyle. The locals up here have found a way to carve out an existence against the most stubborn of backdrops, and for that feat alone they are to be respected and commended.

There are just so many damn rocks.

Monday, April 14, 2008

To Everything, a Season

Roy Hurd, a folk singer from my sometimes home of the Adirondacks of Upstate New York, is the writer of the unofficial anthem of the area. “Adirondack Blue” has a verse dedicated to each of the mountain region’s four distinct seasons – seasons which have their own drastic impact on the way many locals live and work. Living on Southern Vancouver Island over the Falls, Winter and Spring of the past year (2006-2007), I found myself missing the distinct change of seasons that Roy sings about so eloquently. And not only did I miss the snow and cold of a true Winter, but I missed the climatic road trip I would be taken on four times a year as the weather and calendar would perhaps gradually but always dramatically shepherd me into the next season. Indeed, once again feeling a season change under my feet and before my eyes was one reason I was drawn to Yellowknife in the first place. The explosion of Spring I’ve witnessed in the past few days has made the trip entirely worthwhile in that regard.

A week ago I was shuffling seamlessly from dry land onto Great Slave Lake. Today the murky puddles marking water’s edge are the area of backyard swimming pools.

A week ago I looked out the back window of my current home to see soft hills covered with a winter’s worth of snow. Today they are exposed for the barren rock formations that they are.

A week ago the sidewalks were lined with several inches of ice. Today a friend and I raced pieces of trash down the quickly-moving flow of runoff adjacent to the curb. (His apple-juice can won after my milk bottle turned sideways and gave up its sizeable lead. A valuable lesson to be learned about fluid dynamics).

But the changes to the landscape aren’t simply of the endearing, aesthetic variety - the kind that seem to serve no greater purpose than to give old men something to talk about. Rather, the seasonal changes in the North can leave their imprint on the daily lives of just about everybody in the community – and not just when it comes to dressing one’s self in the morning. The neighbouring community of Dettah, for example, is a bite-sized 6km jaunt over the ice road by car in the Winter. Starting this weekend, however, it becomes a slightly less casual 27 km excursion around the bay (on pavement).

Granted, I probably won’t need to go to Dettah anytime soon, but my food will be making an important road trip from the South (I have previously written on the difficulties of eating locally in Yellowknife in the Winter). We are now in a shoulder season, where there is a very real possibility that for a few days the ice bridges won’t be safe to cross and the warm-weather ferries won’t be running. When this happens, a brother might have to wait a few extra days before the grocery store gets a re-supply of chocolate milk.

It’s also an awkward time of year for playing outside. Snowmobiles may look cool when puddle-skimming, but I assume that thinning ice and disappearing snow make this most popular of winter activities here probably tougher and significantly more dangerous. As for me, I’ve had to accept the reality that my skis and snowshoes are probably done for the season. My stomping ground in that regard has been Great Slave Lake, which is a whole lot tougher to get onto these days on account of the massive puddles that encircle it, and the reward of plodding along through heavy Spring slush isn’t entirely worth it. We're still several weeks away, though, from the replacements for skis and snowmobiles - being soccer shoes and speed boats, respectively - being dusted off for the summer.

Don’t get me wrong, though: the advent of Spring is 5% inconvenience and 95% sigh of relief as far as I am concerned. Upon stepping outside over the past few days, residents have been greeted by the sound of a city melting and coming to life. For the first time I can remember, the sound of the water having been left on is music to the ears. It’s as though someone has flipped a switch, and with no January thaw to speak of, Yellowknife is instantly spitting out an entire Winter’s worth of precipitation (this morning’s setback in the form of a slight dusting of snow notwithstanding).

From vast expanses of rock being uncovered to transportation routes being reconfigured, the change of season in the NWT can and does alter the very makeup and identity of a region in ways that I’ve never seen it happen anywhere else. At least, not to the extent that it isn't avoidable for anybody. No matter how well immunized a man may think himself to be from the authority of the elements – especially now that Winter’s wrath is seemingly tucked in for its warm-weather hibernation – when topography, food supply and available leisure activities all change in complete orchestration with the thawing landscape, we are reminded that we are biological creatures who remain part of a dynamic ecosystem. This is as it should be, and has been another of the humbling pleasures of my season in the North.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A New Friend

“So Hart, what do you think of dogs?”

As far as loaded questions go, this one ranks right up there with “What are you and your arms doing Saturday afternoon?” and “Hey, do you still have that station wagon?” The person asking almost always knows the answer, and the person being asked almost always knows that an honest answer will lead to a some sort of unpleasant (though happily undertaken) task, leading to a reward measured out in pints.

The positor in this case was a co-worker with a somewhat desperate look on her face, so I didn’t have much choice but to answer honestly and anticipate a grovel-induced follow-up. It would seem that her family has to go out of town rather suddenly, and is turning a chore of a trip into a bit of a vacation which will have them in need of a house-sitter. The two sitters she had managed to line up both bailed, and her usual backup will be out of town at the time. Enter our hero: the compulsive e-mail checker with curly hair who occupies the office at the end of the hall.

I should say before proceeding that house-sitting is a part of the culture up here. The fact that cold temperatures make leaving a house unattended a horrible idea for much of the year, paired with the reality that to get any sort of change of scenery Yellowknifers generally have to travel for longer than a weekend, means that there is quite a demand for unattached young folks willing to uproot for days or weeks at a time. Indeed, it is not at all uncommon in the community for people to move from house-sit to house-sit for months at a time without keeping any steady residence of their own. With the need for house-sitters comes a certain amount of trust in those in the community, which is certainly endearing and seldom if ever proves to be ill-advised.

My co-worker and her family will be away for two weeks; a length of time I balked at slightly given that I have been quite enjoying my domestic situation (this week aside) and only have three weeks left up here. That said, I could see that she was in a real pinch, and I’m always up for a change of scenery, so last Tuesday I found myself wandering over to my temporary new digs (not far from my current house, as it turns out, and almost the exact same distance from the office) to get the lay of the land before the family was to take off two days later. This was also my chance to meet Lola, the four-legged roommate who would be my charge for the next couple of weeks.

I’m a dog lover and Lola is a dog. For these absolute truths, she should be thankful, because upon first meeting her it seemed to me that the fact that she is dog was her only redeeming quality. She is a shi-tzu/poodle mix (I’m a large breed kind of guy), yaps at passersby (hardly enchanting) and bit my hand the first time I met her (call me grumpy, but I don’t like it when yappy small-breeds whose crap I’m about to be picking up for two weeks bite me on the hand). Wait, it gets better.

After showing me around the house, Lola’s doting owner took me through the steps for taking the dog out for a walk, highlighted by the placing of four dainty, matching booties on the little one’s paws. Oh, and she needs to wear a coat when it’s cold. The flowered leash was affixed and we headed out the door. Sensing, perhaps, a lack of enthusiasm in her sucker of a house-sitter as we navigated the slush and melting snow of her tame residential street, the grateful soon-to-be traveler attempted to offer some consolation. “Oh, and if this leash isn’t manly enough for you, I think there’s a black one inside.”

Apparently she didn’t think that one through. I’m going to be walking a temperamental mix of the two least manly breeds on the planet. While chastising passersby for having the gall to try and share her sidewalk, our little princess will be clad in four matching booties and possibly a jacket. There are not enough pictures on Earth of naked women holding machine guns that could adorn a leash with this dog on the end of it in order salvage even the teensiest bit of manliness from this situation. Thanks, but I might as well just stick with the flowers. At least then people might think I’m approaching the situation with the slightest bit of irony as opposed to lying to myself about what’s actually going on.

So out of town they went and I headed over on Friday afternoon – before I actually moved in – to let Lola out. I decided to high road-it and be friendly right off the bat. You know, extend the olive branch and kill her with kindness. Lo and behold, she actually seemed happy to see me, did her business in the back yard, and I ate my falafel and headed back to work. “This might not be so bad,” I thought. Maybe she understood that it was just she and I against the world for a while, and she might as well be cordial to the hand that will be feeding her and, umm, putting on her booties (a little part of me has died every time I’ve done that).

Shortest. Honeymoon. Ever.

I came “home” on Friday night to move in and found two different types of animal waste on the floor in different parts of the house. Her footwear never seems to stay on when we go out, so I’m forced to spend entire walks – exercises that are embarrassing at best - bent over at the waist trying to discern if the black booties have stayed on the black dog, and am left thinking about possible creative solutions to the adherence problem (duct tape can’t hurt dogs, can it?). Oh, and when I was at work today she redecorated the basement with the contents of the garbage can.

There’s also the issue of solid waste. (Grandma, I love you and I think it’s great that you read my blog, but for issues of language and content, how’s about you skip the rest of this paragraph? Say hello to Georgie for me). I have spent much of this winter walking my roommate’s beloved husky dog, Taiga. When Taiga makes a roadside deposit, he does it like he means it, and leaves a Texas-sized calling card which sometimes contains discernible parts of an animal lower on the food chain. Granted, picking up and transporting dog dung is never an exercise to be celebrated, but if a guy has to do it, he might do it on the manliest terms possibly and make sure that the bag is full of ten pounds of hard-earned husky shit. Lola’s delicate outputs, on the other hand, are probably better gathered with a Q-Tip than a plastic bag, and further reduce the macho factor of this strange new gig I’m holding down.

Things aren’t all bad, though. The barking has subsided and she has generally started showing excitement when I come through the door. And while I do prefer a larger dog, I would lie if I told you that I haven’t enjoyed a couple of cozy moments on the couch with my small new friend. Plus, she’s got great hair: dark and curly. A friend of mine was over the other night and said that he couldn’t tell where my hair stopped and hers started when I crouched down on the floor to say hello to her. Added to these positives, there’s a big screen TV in the basement (pretentious lefty that I am, I live most of my days without a TV, or at least without cable) which I just finished watching the NCAA basketball final on, and I’ve discovered that satellite radio may be the coolest broadcast medium ever (three favourite channels on Sirius: Jam Bands, Bluegrass and all-Springsteen).

I know that Lola is dearly loved, and there has been a lot of trust placed in me to mind the shop for the next couple of weeks, so I’m focusing on her sweet side and we’re getting along better by the day. To be honest, I just might be sad to say goodbye to her when the time comes. That said, if anyone reading this ever needs a sweater-wearing Pomeranian looked after for a few weeks, you may want to look elsewhere first. It will take my fragile male ego a while to recover from the feisty little one who will be calling my shots for the next little while.



P.S. A special shout-out to my classmates back in Victoria who are heading into exam season. I anticipate a steep spike in procrastinatory readership for the next couple of weeks.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A Harty Visitor and Trouble Steering

After phoning it in for the past couple of weeks (I readily admit that the photo gallery of two weeks ago is the blogging equivalent of a sitcom doing a clip-show retrospective), I figure we’re overdo for some substance around here. What happened today alone (when I was tangentially involved in a street fight, inadvertently fell asleep and drooled on myself at work and met a dog that will be dealing repeated crushing blows to my masculinity over the next two weeks) would make great fodder for at least a couple of entries, but I think I should do some catching up first.

The highlight of the past couple of weeks was certainly the visit of my lovely, talented and – for seven wonderful days – conveniently located girlfriend, Sarah. She was able to find a relatively cheap flight (think double what your concept of a cheap flight may be) on short notice, so we split the price of a ticket and up she came for the Easter weekend. I took the one day on each side of the weekend off work, so we effectually had a whole week together.

Even when you’ve lived someplace for only a few months, it can be all too easy to fall into a routine and take things for granted, or never get around to doing some of the fun and novel (if slightly cliché) things that give a place its character. Having Sarah spend a week up here gave me a chance to once again see Yellowknife through some fresh eyes, and I was reminded of how blessed I am to be wintering in such a special place. Prematurely or not, I felt a swell of local pride as I took Sarah skiing on the lake under the dancing aurora, exploring the Snowking’s winter castle, and dancing at the rough-and-tumble Gold Range.

Sarah and I in the Snowking's castle.

Aside from the things that have become familiar to me, we also charted some new territory together, highlighted by a trip to the famously rugged Bullock’s in Old Town for some fish and chips (complete with writing on the tables and walls and an array of bumper stickers spanning the social and political spectrum adorning surfaces throughout the restaurant). Sarah and I are both vegetarians, with our choice in diet based on the strain that meat production and transportation puts on the planet (see this post for more on the subject). Given, however, that the fish available at Bullock’s is wild and as local as can be (the restaurant is right on the water), it wasn’t tough to harmonize a delicious meal of fish with our personal ethics. I’m not sure how much we enjoyed our meal, but two trucker-portioned plates of fish, fries and “salad” (read: shredded lettuce) were inhaled in their entirety during an eight minute conversational hiatus. Environmental awareness, as it turns out, tastes awesome when pan-fried.

Sarah and I honed our ever-developing “airport goodbye” skills mid-week, and with my roommate out of town once again, it was me and Taiga the wonderdog left to take on the world. Taiga and I have had some great adventures this winter, however on Saturday afternoon we added a new one to the repertoire. Skiijoring (ski-JOOR-ing) is a Scandinavian sport that is essentially a one-man dog sledding exercise, and skiing's answer to automatic transmission. The premise is simple: on cross-country skis, you attach yourself to the dog and let him pull you along the snow.

The premise is simple, I should say, for humans. If Taiga’s ability to pick it up is any indication, the dogs may struggle with it a touch. I harnessed us both up and there we stood in anticipation of skimming across the Great Slave hard pack with the sunny afternoon breeze in our hair. I practically had the blog entry written before we even got going. Right, getting going. There was only one problem facing us as we stood there: how do you start a dog?

“Taiga…GO!” Nothing.

A sharp whistle. Nothing.

A humane prod with a ski pole accompanied by questionable remarks about the legitimacy of his mother. Nothing.

Normally I’d be happy to lead the way, although one can’t very easily lead the way when one is supposed to be getting pulled. The closest we got to activity for the first few minutes was the occasional backwards glance from the dog, with his facial expression clearly saying “You don’t actually expect me to pull your ass around the lake like this, do you?”

You want me to do what?

Eventually, through much coercing and Milk Bone promises we got moving. However, our problems with forward mobility did not end there. I have never been hitched to a six year-old boy with unchecked Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but I think that getting pulled by Taiga is as close as I ever care to come (my mother might call this karma). I could almost hear his internal monologue at we went: “I’m pulling Hart and it’s fun. I’m pulling Hart and it’s fun. I’m pulling Hart and HOLY CRAP WHAT SMELLS LIKE FISH OVER THERE?”

We’d be cruising along pleasantly at a decent clip (with me helping to push with my poles) until the 80-pound husky would see something enticing out of the corner of his eye, or catch whiff of a tasty morsel buried beneath the snow, at which point he would make a sharp and unannounced turn, sling-shoting yours truly forward into the abyss. Ever seen an unimpressed white dude catch air on cross-country skis? Lucky for me, there were always several feet of cold hard snow and ice underfoot to halt my forward progress once I made the inevitable tumble that followed Taiga's spontaneous side trips, so I never got too far without him.

Skiijoring was enjoyable enough, but I think I can safely put it with first year law school exams and puberty in the “glad I went through it, but don’t want to do it again” file.

So it’s been an eventful couple of weeks. As I said in the first paragraph, there’s already a lot to cram into my next couple of postings. The days are getting wicked long (it’s currently light until about nine o’clock) and the Northern Lights over the past few days have been some of the best I’ve seen, so I’m barreling head-first into April with a keen anticipation. Thanks for helping me through this far, and please stay tuned.



Monday, March 24, 2008

Closed for Easter

A Harty Meal will be closed today, March 24th, in honour of Easter Monday and the fact that there is nothing cool about sitting on the couch and blogging when one's girlfriend is in town for but a few short days. Regular scheduled programming will resume next Monday, March 31st. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Photogenic Week (or: Let's Go to the Hop)

It's been a pretty jam-packed week around town. I'll let the pictures do most of the talking this time around.

The Arctic Winter Games (AWG) were in town this week. A mix of cultural events, modern competitions and traditional sports, the Games bring athletes from nine circumpolar regions (Alaska, Yukon, NWT, Northern Alberta, Nunavut, Nunavik [Northern Quebec], Greenland, Sami [Northern Scandinavia] and Yamal [Northern Russia]) together for a week every two years. I was stoked that the games were here this winter.

I saw more cultural events than I did athletic, but there were great in and of themselves:

A fiddler and jigger from the NWT (they love their jiggin' up here):

A dancer and drummers from Northern Russia:

Vegetarian though I am, I kind of wanted to go out and hunt after watching these guys do their thing.

The one sporting event that I did get to see is perhaps the flagship event of the Games. The knuckle hop is to the AWG what the men's marathon is to the Summer Olympics: it is the last athletic event of the week, and happens just before the closing ceremonies. What is the knuckle hop, you ask? Simply put: it's one of the coolest things I've ever seen. Competitors get themselves into a push-up position, but with weight on their knuckles as opposed to their palms. Remaining in that position (with elbows tucked in and back straight) they have to hop along the hardwood (yes, hardwood) gym floor on their toes and knuckles. No, you're not mistaken: it is exactly what you're picturing right now, and appears to be every bit as grueling as one would assume.

The winner "hopped" around ninety painful feet. I'm curious to hear who among you injures yourself trying to break that record after reading this post (Micah Carmody and AJ Biswas, I'm looking in your general directions).

Competitors must report to the nurses' table immediately upon finishing, and some say that the rendering of the knuckles useless is why this event is the last of the Games. The picture below is of the hand of the first competitor pictured above. The sight under the bandages is nasty, I assure you.

I think that the next time I'm foolish enough to think myself tough for the way I can ride a bicycle up hills, I'll recall the knuckle hop and gently weep to myself.

Sunday afternoon I took a run along my favourite local route: the ice road out on Great Slave Lake. The picture below doesn't do justice to the colours I can see underfoot, but I think you get the idea.

Fifteen below and sunny is what I call a near-perfect day.

And at the end of a long week, who doesn't want to put their feet up on the lake with a good friend?

Happy St. Patrick's Day, folks. See you next week.

Peace, love and knuckle hops,


Monday, March 10, 2008

Remaining Grateful

I made a remark in this post a couple of weeks ago about how I was taken aback at the extent to which my own perspective had changed since being in Yellowknife. The comment was made with regard to a feeling that –23 was a downright balmy afternoon temperature, when it would have felt rather frigid a few weeks previous. Sitting down to write this week’s installment I was reminded again of how my perspective has shifted since being up here. I was stumped at what to write about, thinking that nothing in the previous seven days seemed appropriate to share with my ever-growing readership (up to twelve non-relatives now, I think). Thinking back, though, on just the previous couple of days – let alone seven – I realized that perhaps I was looking at things with a Northern shrug of the shoulders, rather than a more appropriate wide-eyed gaze.

Friday night I walked a few blocks to see some live music. This activity in and of itself wouldn’t be especially noteworthy, however the circumstances under which the band was playing made the evening more than the usual weekend head-bob. Indeed, the venue of choice wasn’t a smoky poolroom or stale bingo hall, rather I watched a Francophone band throw down in the middle of a lake in a multi-room, multi story sprawl built nearly entirely of snow and ice. Picture a band playing in the biggest snow sculpture you’ve ever seen, and you might have some idea. Yellowknife’s annual Snow King festival is in full swing for the duration of March, and the King himself (an eccentric local with a custom-made “Snow King” Ski Doo suit and a beard that looks like Lanny McDonald’s moustache on horse steroids) is holding nightly court in his frozen castle.

Cruising from room-to-room, sitting at the icy tables and climbing the snow-block stairs to the upper reaches of the castle on Friday night made for quite the Yellowknife-specific experience. As for the band, well, they were kind of brutal. And I don’t mean “they sang too loud and forgot the second verse of Brown Eyed Girl” brutal, I mean “two of them did not know how to play their instruments” brutal. And yet that didn’t seem to matter. The novelty of standing in the second-floor loft of a frozen house looking down at a live band in the middle of Great Slave Lake more than made up for music that didn’t exactly go down smooth. What I experienced on Friday night was an exercise in complete sensory immersion, with the result that enjoying the music was entirely secondary to being a part of an especially unique Northern experience. To discuss the musicians as if I were at a bar in Ottawa and they were the sole purveyors of the evening’s atmosphere would be to take an incredibly short-sighted view of a night on the ice.

Friday’s activity lasted many hours and several drinks after the last note was played in the castle. As such, Saturday night proved socially uneventful, though a late-night walk with a four-legged companion provided quite the dose of Northern excitement. I had casually observed the Northern Lights earlier in the evening, cutting a bright white horizontal swath across the sky before taking a prompt vertical nose-dive (think the trajectory of a BASE jumper taking a long run before leaping off a cliff). Pretty, but something that I have sheepishly grown accustomed to and slightly less taken by in the past couple of months. By dog-walking time, however, things had taken a turn for the spectacular.

Walking across an empty residential parking lot I became frozen in my tracks when I glanced upward: the entire night sky was a flurry of greens and whites that seemed intent on outrunning every superlative metaphor I tried to categorize them with. One minute they spread themselves into a domed chapel ceiling under which I felt like I should be giving penance; the next, they separated and played against the sullen evening darkness in a way that recalled the buzz-heightening light shows of the Phish concerts of my (slightly) younger days. As I involuntarily lay down in the snow to watch the show from my back they shifted again: round swirling that looked like a glowing disc (Frisbee) being tossed around a Salt Spring Island campsite, holding that resemblance only for a second before unfurling to look like the concentric rings of icing on a fresh sticky bun. All the while they were shifting by the second – moving at times as quickly as a four year-old’s crayon across the pages of a colouring book.

“Taiga, are you seeing this?” I asked of my walking buddy, looking more for corroboration than companionship. I even tried pointing skyward to get him to appreciate things, but it would seem that the following of trails left behind by previous canine visitors and the smelling of one’s own hind quarters are endeavours more important than Aurora gazing to some local residents.

I lay in the snow, feeling insignificant and awestruck, until the lights started to settle. As the show ended and Taiga and I headed home, I couldn’t help but feel greedy with my occasional glances upward, as if the sky still owed me something after what it had just given me. I’ve been fortunate enough to see some remarkable natural phenomena to this point in my life, but I don’t know that I’ve ever come away from a natural experience feeling so humbled, so grateful to the Creator, as I did on Saturday night. Contrived as that may sound, it’s the truth.

And yet I still wasn’t sure that my experiences of the past week were blog-worthy; apparently, evolving perspective can be both a blessing and a curse. I suppose I can relish in the fact that I’ve become somewhat culturally and naturally acclimatized to life as a (make-believe) Northerner, but experiences as special as those which I had on the weekend aren’t of the ilk that I ever want to take for granted, no matter how long I may live somewhere. I do fear that once I leave the North I’ll realize that I wasn’t fully appreciative of it while I was here (I think there’s a Joni Mitchell quote in there somewhere). And so I must seek to remain engaged and appreciative as I go about the next couple of months up here, and not lose sight of what a blessing this Winter has been, still is and hopefully will continue to be for me. Vancouver Island in the summer will be wonderful on its own merits, but by that point it will be far too late to appreciate first-hand a people and a land that can give you a night with the Snow King and the dancing Aurora.