Helena Observatory,   North Alton, NS

Denman Diary: 2005

15-Apr-2024 03:04 AST 15-Apr-2024 07:04 UTC


We have had a few good storms in the last week. We had a dandy one on the morning of Christmas Eve. The power was out for over three hours. It didn't bother us, but I imagine that people thinking about cooking turkeys were getting a bit nervous. Another one last night - it really was a "dark and stormy night", since there was no moonlight. The wind was howling through the trees, and something in the kitchen fan vent was banging like crazy and scaring the cats. The power was flickering both dark and extra bright. We were fully expecting it to go out again overnight, and I set the alarm on my watch as backup in case the alarm clock was dead in the morning. It didn't go out this time, though.

Christmas and Boxing Day were quiet, relaxing days. We went for a walk around the block (it's an 8.5 km walk) during a lull between rain showers.

Observant webcam viewers will have noticed something missing in the webcam image. On Tuesday, I demolished "Fort Danger", the kid's playhouse that was built on a raised platform in the meadow. In addition to being pointless and unsafe, it was a bit of an eyesore. So, the superstructure, the railings and the rickety stairs are all gone. Believe it or not, the structure wasn't even nailed down. Most of the demolition was accomplished just by pushing it overboard! I left the platform to use as a woodshed, because it is in a good location for that. I'll put some side walls on it and a more weatherproof roof.

I am getting over my Christmas cold. I've been marking assignments and final exams for the course I'm teaching at the college. Next week, I start teaching for the new term. I'll probably spend some of the New Year weekend studying the material for my new course. I figure it's always a good idea to stay at least one week ahead of the students.

Our big plan for the weekend is to go see the Harry Potter movie in town.

Happy New Year, everyone!


Merry Christmas, everyone!

This will be our first Christmas in our new house, among our new friends. We are going to spend it relaxing quietly. We might have a few friends over for a visit sometime during the "holiday season".

Although we are not big on Christmas traditions, we do like to put up Christmas lights, just because it can be so dark this time of year. We've got them on the pergola above our front walkway. With the sun going down behind the Beaufort Range before 4:00, and with cloudy skies being so common at this time of year, late afternoons can be quite dreary. It is nice to come home to some pretty lights. When we moved, we got rid of our old-fashioned strings of lights. Now we use LED lights exclusively: a whole string of them uses the power of a single bulb of the old style Christmas lights.

On the weekend, the Fire Department set up the community Christmas tree in front of the Anglican church at the main intersection "downtown".

The Christmas light photo also shows a project that I worked on this week: traction strips on the ramp and front steps. You wouldn't believe how slippery wet wood can get when the temperature drops below zero! (Well, maybe you would.) I got a package of roofing shingles, cut the tabs off, and nailed them to every other board. Just in time, too, as the weather turned out...

Since last Friday, Environment Canada had been predicting temperatures well above zero. However, the weather obviously didn't read the forecast, because all through last weekend, it hung stubbornly below freezing. On Monday, we had snow for most of the morning, along with some freezing drizzle. We often get deer in our yard; here is one huddling under one of our trees trying to shelter from the snow.

Finally, on Tuesday, a major warm front came through, and the temperature zoomed up to +7. With the warmer temperatures came rain. It started raining on Tuesday, poured rain all day Wednesday, along with a howling wind, and is still raining now. We had been invited by neighbours to a solstice bonfire on Wednesday night, but it was cancelled due to the inclement weather. We actually need the rain. Although December has been below normal for temperatures, it has also been very dry. We were even warned that we should start watering our trees! So, the rain is quite welcome. The snow, of course, is long gone.

Surprisingly, though, for a couple of hours on Thursday, we had a "chinook arch" and sunny skies. Although the Beaufort Range on Vancouver Island isn't as impressive as the Rockies, if the wind is from the right direction, it can have a similar effect.

On Tuesday evening we went to Courtenay for a vegan dine-out sponsored by the Comox Valley chapter of Earthsave. The dine-outs are monthly events where they take over a restaurant and have a banquet-style meal of strictly vegan food. It makes for a nice social event for the attendees, plus it shows the restaurants how much of a market there is for vegan food. This month's one was at the Coast Westerly Hotel, one of the classier hotels in town. The food was excellent, and the company was good.

I have been informed that a necessary photograph was "missing" from the last two Denman Diaries. So, here it is: me without the face fur. I shaved the beard off in order to be able to use the self-contained breathing apparatus for my Fire Department training. Once the training is over in mid-January, I may let the beard grow back again. There are lots of jobs that need doing on a fire call besides running into burning buildings: driving the trucks, running the pumps, hauling ladders and equipment, none of which require breathing apparatus. Besides, now I feel drafts on my chin.


Late night shopping! Last night was the one night in the year when Denman Island stores were open late, until 9:00 pm. The stores had their Christmas lights on, and the sidewalk was decorated with tea-light candles inside paper bags: at least 100 of them, all the way from the Craft Shop around to the COmmunity Hall. There were quite a lot of people out shopping. It was as much a social occasion as a shopping outing.

We walked downtown to partake of the festivities. Most of the way, we didn't need a flashlight, since the road was brightly lit by the rising almost-full moon. It was very pretty, descending the hill into a silver glowing fog bank. After wandering around the stores, we walked back home, admiring the beauty of the moonlit fields and forests. You don't get to appreciate moonlight in the city like that.

When we walk at night, we carry flashlights (though we didn't use them much last night) and wear flashing red lights on our arms. Night driving here is challenging enough with all the deer without adding unilluminated pedestrians to the mix!

Otherwise, it was a slow week. Things are quiet with a lot of islanders going away for Christmas. The days around Christmas are apparently BC Ferries' busiest days of the year. They put extra sailings on the main Nanaimo and Victoria runs. The Denman ferry, however, cancels several sailings on Christmas and New Year's Day.


Last Friday, we were all set to into town early for an appointment. However, as we joined the back of the ferry lineup, a BC Ferries worker was making his way along the line of cars, talking to each driver. They don't normally do that, so it didn't look like good news. Sure enough, when he got to us, the word was that there was a mechanical problem with the dock, and it would be at least a two-hour wait. We pulled out of line and went home to cancel the appointment. The ferry resumed operation with temporary repairs to the dock a couple of hours later, and we were at least able to get in all our other errands.

(A hint about ferry lineups: always leave yourself enough room to pull out of line! You can tell the tourists, because they don't know this and pull into line bumper-to-bumper. That and they always start their engines when the first car moves instead of waiting until the vehicle two cars in front of them moves.)

Last weekend was the annual Christmas Craft Faire. Both the Community Hall and the Seniors' Hall were crammed full of craftspeople selling their wares. They allow a limited number of non-profit organizations there, and the MEOW Society was among them. We took turns staffing the booth, selling raffle tickets. The raffle sold out, generating about $1000 for the society.

My big activity this week is the First Responder's course for the Fire Department. It is being held in Courtenay for members of their department, with two of us sitting in from Denman Island. A First Responder is basically a licensed first aider. Being licensed, we will be able to insert airways and give oxygen, in addition to standard first aid treatment. On an island with only one ambulance, this is an important function. Being licensed also means that we are not allowed to screw up, unlike a civilian first-aider, who only needs to avoid gross negligence.

It is an intense course, and I am looking forward to completing it on Sunday. It is being held over three weekend days and two evenings. The evenings were a logistical issue, since Wendy started her job this week at the RCMP and had the car. Although she was almost back home in time for me to use the car, it made more sense for me to try out the bus service. The bus only runs four times a day between Buckley Bay (the ferry terminal on the Vancouver Island side of Baynes Sound) and Courtenay, but it is scheduled so as to meet the ferry. The result is that I was able to walk on to the ferry, then get off on the other side and, after a wait of no more than two minutes, get on the bus to town. I was able to walk into the Courtenay Fire Department with one minute to spare before the class started. Luckily, I was able to catch a ride home with the other Denman Island firefighter, coming across on the last ferry.

Also in Fire Department-related news, I shaved my beard off in order to be able to use the self-contained breathing apparatus. It's funny how people both do and don't notice. The best comment I got was, "You look different. Did you always have that moustache?" After 23 years of facial hair, my chin feels drafts now!


On Friday evening, we attended a performance of Stravinsky's Petrouchka at our local community hall. I'm not really into ballet, but it seems a shame not to support art events when they come to the island. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it. We had front-row seats and were able to see the expressions on the dancers' faces. It is mostly a kids' story, but it seemed to be enjoyed by both young and old.

The following morning, we had our coldest morning so far this season, going down to -1.5°C overnight. I actually had to scrape frost off the windshield before going to the recycling depot!

My big project for the weekend was disinfecting the well. The theory is simple - dump a bunch of bleach down it - but the whole process took the better part of two days.

First, the logistics. We had to get a couple of gallons of bleach and enough bottled water to last the couple of days that the well would be out of action. We got a big 5-gallon jug for drinking and washing. For flushing the toilet, the plan was to use rainwater. However, our rainwater cistern has no provision for drawing water directly from the outlet, and I didn't feel like lugging buckets up from the garden hose. So the first order of business was to modify the cistern outlet to install a faucet. I rigged it in such a way that I can fill the overflow barrel from the faucet: in summer, we can water the garden from the barrel and thereby ration the water to use only 25 gallons at a time.

With our buckets of rainwater standing by, I dumped the bleach down the well. You have to run each faucet until you smell the bleach, then let the system sit overnight. The time consuming part is the next day, when you have to flush the well and the entire system without letting any bleach get into the septic system. I rigged a hosepipe to drain the water into an area of the property where we don't care if vegetation gets killed, and ran it until the well went dry (and recovered) three times. Figure half an hour to drain the well each time and an hour for it to recover, three times. Finally, I flushed each faucet into a bucket until the whole system ran clear and odour-free.

Doesn't it make you city folk appreciate that all you have to do is pay your utility bills in order to get clean water? Cleaning the well is just one of the facts of rural life, though. We are lucky that our water is naturally free of minerals and odours. Some wells on the island smell like the Sulphur Mountain Hot Springs.

On Tuesday morning, we woke up to the lack of an alarm clock. We had been planning a trip into town and had set the alarm for 6:30. No alarm clock; no nightlight; hmmm: no power! A quick check out the window showed 20 cm of wet snow covering everything. A bit of snow had been forecast, maybe 4 or 5 cm. Luckily, I had heeded the warnings of local residents, and I had moved the car up to the head of the driveway - it would never make it up the driveway hill in heavy snow. Not that it mattered; a trip into town was out of the question.

While Wendy made a fire, I shovelled several tons of wet snow off the deck. In order to call BC Hydro to report the power outage, I first had to find a phone that didn't need electricity. We have one in the basement, but its dialling buttons turned out to be kaput. So I had to trek over to the garage for the remaining phone. We made breakfast on the woodstove - pan-fried toast and tea - and listened to the weather and road reports on the hand-cranked radio.

Luckily, the power was restored to the island by 8:30, so we were able to shower, though bringing the pump back online meant one more trip out to the utility shack.

And to think that, just a couple of days ago, I was bragging about how we "didn't have to shovel it!"


Most of this week, we have been living in a pea-soup fog. It started last Saturday and didn't start to lift until Wednesday evening. Visibility varied between 300 metres at the best and 50 metres at its thickest. It was actually quite shallow, and in the evenings we were able to see stars through it, with Mars still by far the brightest object in the sky.

The ferry kept to its schedule in spite of the fog, but blew its fog horn twice on each crossing. Here on Pickles Road, we are 1 kilometre from the water and 100 metres above sea level, and still it sounded like the ferry was coming up behind me on the road! One more reason we are glad we don't own waterfront property: the ferry starts at 6:40 in the morning and runs untill 11:00 at night. Perhaps one of those waterfront property owners complained, or perhaps the fog horn wore out, because on the final day of the fog, they were using a little tenor truck horn instead of the big bass fog horn.

The base of the "big hill" is where the fog is always the thickest. Probably there is a combination of cool air flowing downhill and marshy ground at the bottom. Visibility there was close to nil most of the week. Unfortunately, there is a sizable permanent deer population right there, so that is where visibility is most critical. No unfortunate incidents occurred (at least none that we are aware of), but there were a few impatient Hornby drivers racing to catch the connecting ferry who did not appreciate my caution.

Speaking of deer, we had three bucks in our meadow at the same time on Sunday evening. I presume they were here because of the "no hunting" sign at the end of our driveway.

For entertainment on Denman, people attend meetings. This week's notable meeting was an information session about someone's application for a water license. The applicants want to build a dam and reservoir on their property, and there was considerable concern in the community. The civil servants from the provincial water branch who ran the meeting didn't make many friends. They were rude to questioners and made it clear that the license would be granted regardless of what anyone thought of it, and that it could never be revoked. Lovely! And very entertaining.

In news this week, Wendy has just accepted a job with the RCMP in Courtenay. She'll be starting in a couple of weeks. We'll have to work out some logistics around commuting, since her schedule and mine at the College won't coincide. (I'm teaching two evening courses next term.)


This week's photos are of Pickles Marsh, located about half a kilometre down the road from us. It is one of the island's major wetlands, and is protected by the Denman Conservancy Association as the Inner Island Nature Reserve. It is a natural marsh that has been enlarged by beavers.

When I go for my thrice-weekly run, I run down to the marsh, across the bridge and up the other side. It is interesting to watch the progression of the seasons in the area. By September, the water level was fairly low. With the start of the rainy season in October, the level has risen to within a couple of feet of the bridge deck. The grasses and other marsh vegetation, of course, come and go. As you can see, it is a great place for spooky fog photos.

This morning, there were swans on the marsh - see the photo at left. Denman Island is a major wintering area for arctic birds. I'm so used to birds going south for the winter; here we are the south, and they come here for the winter.

This week, I got some good news from the college: they want me to teach three courses next term. And, best of all, they will be classroom courses, not Web-based courses like I am doing now. It was a bit of a goofy concept, teaching introductory computer literacy over the Web, since the students had to have a basic level of computer literacy just to find the course materials! Three courses will keep me busy, but at least I'll get to meet some of my students. They will be small classes, in a very hands-on lab-based format, so I think I will enjoy them.

Unfortunately, one of the classes will be on Thursday nights, so I will have to put my Fire Department training on hold until the end of the term. That's one of the good things about a volunteer fire department: everything operates on a come-if-you-are-able basis, so an interruption like that is not a major obstacle. Irregular jobs are a way of life here, so everyone understands that an opportunity to earn money takes precedence over volunteer work of any kind.

Last night, we went to a reception for new islanders put on by the Seniors' Association. We've been so involved with various activities that some of the old-timers expressed surprise that we were "newcomers". The reception was well-attended. Too well-attended, in fact, since the sound level in the room, just from conversation, approached that of a jet engine. I don't know how some of the more auditorially-challenged seniors could stand it, because I could hardly make out a word that anyone was saying! Still, it was a nice event, an opportunity to meet some new people. After an hour or so, with our ears ringing, and our eyes and sinuses burning from an excess of perfume in the air, we called it a night.

Today is municipal election day. Because of the unique system of local government on the Gulf Islands, we would get to vote in two elections (the regional district council and the local trust committee), were it not that one of the positions was filled by acclamation. After we have completed our Saturday morning ritual of dropping off our recyclables at the recycling depot (and checking the Free Store for treasures), we will go down to the hall to vote for our trustees. Our Islands Trust representatives are responsible for the preservation of the unique environment and culture of the Gulf Islands, so it is an important election.

My project this weekend is learing to use a chainsaw. This is an essential tool of rural living for cutting firewood and keeping the jungle under control. After the reception last night, my bed-time reading was the saw's manual. ("Be sure to read, understand and follow all of the safety rules that come with your power tools..." - Norm Abrams)


This past weekend, I had fun making a very public card for our friend Fireweed, who had a significant birthday this week. The graffiti fence is tailor-made for such occasions, and, being right at the end of our street, couldn't have been more convenient. The only tricky part was trying to fit the painting job in between rain showers. Sunday was the only day even remotely suitable for outdoor painting. However, with a heavy dew on the fence, off-and-on showers in the forecast, and temperatures in the single digits, it was far from ideal for getting the paint to dry without running.

As you'll see, in order to avoid public embarrassment, I made no reference to any person: I kept the sign strictly botanical. However, as Fireweed is one of Denman's best-known personalities, everyone passing by will know exactly what is meant!

We had an excellent party for her on her birthday, and she liked the sign, Whew!

On Saturday, we attended an all candidates' meeting for the upcoming Islands Trust election. The Islands Trust is the level of local government that handles land-use decisions on the Gulf Islands. It was interesting to hear the three candidates' views on various topics of interest, but it was just as important to listen to the gossip about them afterwards. That is sometimes where you find out what they are really like! The meeting was well attended, and everyone, it seems, is an orator at heart. The moderator had his work cut out for him trying to keep islanders' questions from running on and on and on and on...

Here's an interesting trivium. Denman Island and Manhattan are close to the same size and shape. If anything, Denman is a little bigger. The population of Denman Island is about 1,100; the population of Manhattan is about 1,500,000. The sketch map at the left shows the two islands at the same scale, with parks and protected areas highlighted. It makes us appreciate how fortunate we are to live in such an unspoiled part of the world.

The weather continues to be a couple of days of rain followed by a couple of relatively dry days. When it rains here, it really rains hard. I had to go up on the ladder the other day and unclog the downspouts. I'll have to think of a way to handle the overflow from our rainwater collection system: right now it just pours over the top of the overflow barrel and runs off in a small river.

The Beaufort Mountains across Baynes Sound on Vancouver Island have a more or less permanent dusting of snow on them. We have had a few mornings with light frost. The temperature tonight is dropping rapidly under a clear sky, so tomorrow is likely to dawn with temperatures below zero for the first time this season.

Thanks to the Fire Department's training, I am now re-certified in CPR. Next month, I start my "First Responder" training. I may have to shave my beard off soon, at least partly. In order to use the Fire Department's self-contained breathing apparatus and ensure the good airtight seal necessary to protect against smoke inhalation, the contact area of the face mask must be clean-shaven. That will be quite a change, since the last time I shaved was over twenty years ago!


No pictures this week. No, the camera isn't broken, but there just wasn't that much photogenic to take pictures of, at least not when I had the camera handy. Unless you want more kitty pictures...!

A highlight this past week was the Vancouver Opera Company production of Naomi's Road, an opera based on the story of the Japanese-Canadians who were confined to internment camps during World War 2. It wasn't Mozart: no one will ever be whistling tunes from Naomi's Road. In fact, I'm not sure there were any tunes in it! The music was modern: tuneless, arhythmic and discordant. However, the acting was excellent. The opera was short, so the second half of the program consisted of arias from "real" operas. I'm not normally a fan of opera - shrieking sopranos on CBC can get me to the off switch pretty fast - but I enjoyed the concert. The highlight was a stunning performance of the Flower Duet from Delibes's Lakme. The event was held right here on Denman Island, in our community hall.

On Monday night, Hallowe'en, the Fire Department set off fireworks at the playground for the entertainment of kids and their parents at the commnuity hall. I got to shovel some sand and man a crowd-control rope barrier - pretty exciting, eh? The exciting part was that I got to ride in the fire truck, and learn about the perils of driving it up and down the big hill. The fireworks were good, too.

Thursday night, we practised extricating someone from under a flipped car. They had set up a junked car on its side, with a dummy trapped underneath it. We learned all about how to block and jack the car in place so it won't tip over, then we used an air bag to jack it up and get the dummy out. Unfortunately, he had no pulse.

When the rain started at the beginning of October, our well water got quite murky for a week or so. We had it tested, and it looks like we need to disinfect it now. It is possible that this is a seasonal thing; we might have to disinfect every year at the start of the rainy season.


Oct 18th As you can see from comparing the two pictures, in the last 10 days, most of the leaves have fallen from the maples and most other trees. Our alders (at the bottom of the pictures, behind the deck rail) still have their leaves, but I noticed on my biweekly drive up to Campbell River yesterday that the poplars are all bare.

Oct 28th The pattern of the weather is a few days of dry weather, with the sun poking through now and then, interspersed with several days of showers and steady rain. Right now, there is a big low pressure area moving onshore, giving us steady rain. The worst weather here is a south-easter: the wind circulating around the low pressure blows up the Gulf of Georgia, dropping precipitation as it hits the Gulf Islands and the east shore of Vancouver Island.

Our house seems to be fairly sheltered from south-easters, but we haven't had a really strong winter storm yet. The big thing to watch out for in a storm is downed trees. They can come down on roads, of course, but more often, they come down on power lines. We suspect that there is a generator in our near future.

This coming Monday is Hallowe'en. The local custom is that people willing to have kids come to the door begging for candy put a pumpkin or jack-o-lantern at the end of their driveway. No pumpkin: no kids. Much more civilized than turning all the lights out and pretending not to be home!

Although we don't do Hallowe'en, I will have one duty to perform on Monday night. The Fire Department does the annual Hallowe'en fireworks show. It will be my first opportunity to wear my new firefighter's clothes! I'll have to get Wendy to take a picture.

Okay, I admit it, I'm a kid at heart. Isn't it every kid's dream to be a jet pilot, a firefighter, and to work in a chocolate factory?

Oct 28th For those of you who do observe Hallowe'en, here's a spooky card for you, starring Owen and Liesl looking totally deranged.


It's been a slow week for news at our house. Lots to do, though. Let's see, Sunday night, vegan potluck dinner; Monday night, Residents' Association meeting; Tuesday night, MEOW Society meeting; Wednesday night, meditation; Thursday night, Fire Department practice. Newcomers actually get warned not to get involved in too much or they'll burn out. Whenever a new resident shows up at a committee meeting, there's a bit of a feeding frenzy: "New blood! What can we talk him or her into doing?" We are involved in enough that we are saying no to further offers of committee or executive positions.

We went to a Fire Department presentation on household fire safety. Surprisingly, there were only eight residents in attendance, only two of them children. In a community that is surrounded by forest and with low water supplies, it is surprising that more people weren't interested. Our friend Fireweed, who organizes the vegan potluck dinners has invited the fire chief to give the same presentation to next month's dinner, where he'll have a captive audience. When the chief mentioned this at the Fire Department meeting on Thursday, he and other firefighters made bratty remarks about eating grass. I'll have to start working on them!

Can you stand another outrageously cute kitty picture? Here are Owen and Liesl together in their bed.

The rainy season started at the beginning of this month. It's not continuously wet, though, and I've been getting the garden cleaned up, the beds dug, and some fall rye planted in them as green manure for next year. I'm also building a new compost container, so we can properly dispose of the remains of this year's garden.


This past weekend was Thanksgiving, one of our favourite holidays. We like it because it is something that everyone can celebrate, no matter what their beliefs. Everyone has something that they can be thankful for, and we think we have rather a lot to be thankful for.

So, we made a big Thanksgiving dinner and invited our MEOW Society friends, Fireweed, Mike and Suzanne. We also invited Sarah and Gordon, a couple that have moved to Denman Island recently, whom we met through our MEOW activities. They have been busy with some major unexpected renovations to their house, and we figured they could use a break. We had a huge vegan meal with our traditional millet loaf and gravy, dressing, brussels sprouts, baked potatoes and squash, cranberry sauce and a couple of salads.

And, of course, pumpkin pie for dessert. The pie disappeared so fast, I was only able to photograph the last piece.

I attended my first "live" fire department practice yesterday. I got issued with my firefighter's gear: the full suit, boots and helmet. I'll have to post a photo of me wearing my helmet soon!

They have a big shipping container out back of the firehall that they use as a burn room, and a bunch of paper garbage left over from the summer pancake breakfast to use as fuel. They lit it up, and we practised the basic fire scene setup, with the trucks, hoses and everything. I and a couple of other rookies hung back and got instructions in how to handle hoses, especially the important task of stowing the hose back on the truck at the end of the exercise.

Apparently, the fire department had a call-out the day before: someone had smoke coming out of their gas cookstove. The homeowner had moved here from rural Alberta where a 45 minute response time was considered normal. She was quite astonished when the DIVFD showed up in 8 minutes! For a bunch of volunteers, it's a pretty professional crew.

By next week, I will be issued with a pager, and then I will be expected to respond to call-outs.


We decided that our kitten, Liesl, needed a playmate, and the sooner we introduced one to her, the less traumatic it would be for her. There is no shortage of cats on Denman Island, so we checked several cat colonies for suitable kittens. We ended up adopting this little fellow, whom we have named Owen.

He came from a group of more than a dozen cats which, although not technically feral, were not quite domesticated either. Picture a very rustic residence with cats of every shape, size and colour everywhere. Owen had tons of personality and no obvious genetic defects, so now he is ours. (The island population is fairly inbred, so genetic defects are common. The most common here are various tail defects - Manx, bob-tailed, short-tailed and kinked-tail - all of which can have serious health consequences.)

Predictably, Liesl's nose was out of joint for three days. (That's apparently how long it always takes to introduce a new cat.) There was lots of hissing, some growling, and a bit of pouncing, but now they're happily playing together.

Owen is about a month younger than Liesl, and he's quite a bit smaller. She has grown noticeably since we got her: she no longer looks like a kitten but has an adult cat shape. He, on the other hand, has always had to compete with a dozen other cats for food, and was probably under-nourished as a result. Although small, he has much better social skills. Liesl has been an only kitty for a while, whereas Owen has always interacted with other cats, including large adults: he is street-smart. Whenever Liesl would hiss or growl at him, he'd patiently look at her like he was thinking, "What's your problem, girl?"

I'm getting busier now. In addition to the one day a week teaching at the college, I'm also working at the chocolate factory three half-days a week. It's not glamourous work, though lots of people are envious, especially about the snacking-is-allowed policy, but it is a good on-island job.

And, I'm planning on joining the volunteer fire department. I dropped in on their training session this week, signed an application and received a big operations manual to read. My initial job is likely to be chief door-opener. Because we live a one-minute drive from the fire hall, I will likely be the first person to respond to the pager, so it will be up to me to open the doors, turn on the lights, unplug the vehicles from their chargers and get the first-response vehicle started up. Luckily, this is a job that a rookie can handle!


On Sunday, we went for a hike through some of the recently-logged land at the north end of the island. There is a plan to develop some of the land in exchange for donating the rest of it to the community, and the hike was an effort to increase community awareness of what is involved. It was an enjoyable afternoon, and we learned a lot about Denman's geography. The photo at right is of one of the wetlands known as "Railway Marsh". It is named for a logging railway that ran through the area in the early part of the twentieth century.

(The reason the picture is black-and-white is that I had switched the camera to black-and-white mode for another project, and had forgotten to switch it back. This picture is probably better in black-and-white anyway.)

We spent a large portion of the previous day, Saturday, dealing with a feline emergency. No, our kitten is fine. But some idiot had dumped a number of cats and kittens at the recycling centre. It took a while to determine what the situation was, because the people who found them were no longer there, but eventually we determined that they had been there since Wednesday evening, and that there were seven kittens and three adolescent cats. Although there was no sign of a mother cat, it was clear from the fact that the unweaned kittens were still pretty healthy in spite of having survived for two days and three nights, that the mother must be nearby.

Of course, Saturday morning at recycling is a very busy time, with hundreds of people coming and going, and lots of noise. Although the kittens were wrapped up in blankets (from the Free Store) in a cardboard box, all the other cats, especially the elusive mother were nowhere to be found. It fell to us (as the MEOW society and therefore by default the "cat experts") to tell people that no, they could most definitely NOT take a kitten home with them today, that they needed their mother right now.

After the recycling centre closed for the day, we bundled the kittens up in their box, hid them near where they were first discovered, and left food out for the mother. We spent a nervous night hoping that the mother really was around (the second-hand account of their being discovered Wednesday night being our only evidence) and that she was not too badly scared by the busy-ness of Saturday morning to return and feed them.

Thankfully, Sunday morning, not only were the kittens still there, but also the three adolescents. And, best of all, the mother was in the cardboard box nursing the kittens! We have now arranged an emergency clinic so that the adolescents can be "fixed", and someone has come forward volunteering to be a foster home for all of them.

Sometimes, we are tempted to expand our spay and neuter program to include certain humans who are too stupid to be allowed to reproduce!

On Monday, my brother Adrian, who is a pilot with Transport Canada, was flying a "routine training mission" in this area, and took his camera along. Here is a photo he took showing our house just left of centre, with its roof reflecting sunlight and "downtown" Denman in the background.


Last weekend, we ferried over to Hornby Island to visit their fall fair. It is held in a spectacular setting, a farm field with a view down to the Straight of Georgia. The weather, luckily, was good: sunny but not hot. The fair is quite a bit bigger than Denman's fair and it was definitely worth the visit. There were a lot of craft booths, a quilt raffle, and flower and vegetable contests. The picture below is of one of the baskets entered in the contest. They hadn't yet been judged, so I can't tell you if this one won, but it was certainly spectacular.

Also on the weekend, we attended the first vegan pot-luck dinner of the fall season. These are fun social events, with the added benefit that we can eat anything on the table. They are well attended - there were about 30 people at this one. There is usually an educational component, in this case a film about genetically modified foods.

On Tuesday evening, on honour of my birthday, we were treated to dinner by our MEOW Society friends, Fireweed, Mike and Suzanne. It was a special event, a vegan dine-out night organized by the local (Comox Valley) Earthsave chapter. The meal was amazing, an opportunity for some local chefs to show off their talents. There were about six courses, but unfortunately there were no printed menus so I don't remember what all we had! I do remember that the main course featured chanterelle mushrooms freshly foraged from the forest, and the dessert was avocado chocolate truffles with hot peppers. Yum!

As I write this Thursday evening, Wendy and I have just returned from successfully trapping a feral cat behind the bakery for the MEOW Society's spay/neuter clinic in the morning. It's always a challenge to see if we have the money and the cats to hold another clinic. The money is actually more predictable than the cats, since we never know until the night before or even the morning of the clinic which cats we will have.


I probably didn't stand a chance.

That "weekend" of cat-sitting seems to have turned into something a bit more permanent. The kitten's foster parent couldn't take her back. Would we mind keeping her until we find a permanent home for her? Believe it or not, I actually saw this coming.

So now we are the proud (foster) parents of a four month old kitten. She is a bit shy but is gradually getting more confident. She loves to play, and she is very good at hide-and-seek. Quite incredibly good, in fact. She managed to stay hidden so well on Monday that we thought she must have escaped from the house because she was nowhere to be found.

We were expecting her previous foster parent that evening, ostensibly to pick her up, but as it turned out to ask us to keep her. We were worried how we were going to explain losing her. She was quite understanding though, and assured us that the kitten was probably just hiding. Sure enough, she was hiding behind the dryer. I know that she hadn't been there five minutes earlier. Since then, we have discovered some of her other hiding places: on top of a wicker hamper under the bed, behind the stereo.

Since she is going to be with us for a while, she needs a name. We are calling her Liesl. (Someone suggested Heidi, because she loves to hide!)

Last weekend, we went to another "garden party" work bee to help organic farmers. A large group of volunteers spent a couple of hours weeding, watering and transplanting grape vines. It will be a few years before it is a producing vinyard, but I'm looking forward to sampling their first vintage.

One thing that has been really noticeable since Labour Day is the reduced amount of traffic on the island. The bulk of the traffic on our main road is heading to or from Hornby Island, and, in the summertime, consists mostly of tourists. Most of them have left now, and the traffic is a lot quieter.

Hornby Island has a tradition called the "Wave Off". For the last ferry off the island at the end of the Labour Day weekend, the residents all go down to the ferry terminal and wave to the departing tourists. While the tourists probably see it as a friendly gesture, and while many residents are dependent on tourist dollars, the truth is that the Wave Off is a gesture of "good riddance".

It is not just the Hornby traffic that is reduced now. There are quite a few summer cottages on Denman, so our population reduces quite noticeably once summer is over. There is less traffic on the roads (you might have three cars pass you on an hour's walk instead of six!), "downtown" Denman is less congested, and there are less dreadlocked teenagers hanging about the general store. Passing motorists are friendlier and more likely to wave at you, since the assumption is that anyone here after Labour Day is a resident and is going to be around all winter.

Speaking of downtown, I have put together a virtual walking tour of downtown Denman.


The big event this past week was the Blackberry Fair, on Sunday of the Labour Day weekend. There was a road race (running) in the morning, followed by a parade through "downtown" Denman (all two blocks of it), a vegetable and craft contest, vendor booths, and musical entertainment. For the first time in 18 years, according to one long time resident, it rained on the parade and the fair.

We spent most of the day manning the Denman Island MEOW booth, selling raffle tickets, cookies, basil and necklaces (hey, anything for a buck) to raise funds for our spay and neuter program. We had a really good response, raising enough that we can afford the next clinic. We have six cats at the vet today, and another clinic scheduled for two weeks from now.

This weekend, we are babysitting a kitten for a friend who is going out of town for a couple of days. She came from a litter that one of the feral cats at the community hall had recently. They are still trying to find a home for her. We'd adopt her ouselves, but we don't really want a kitten. Since kittens are relatively easy to find homes for, we'd rather wait until a cat that is harder to adopt needs a home if we are going to adopt one at all.

I started work at my teaching job this week. It was a bit of a hair puller, trying to get online access to the college so that I could contact the students, but I think it's going to work out all right.

This photo is of a forest gnome I found in the woods. There are still quite a few old(ish) growth trees, ones that were probably too small to cut back in the 1920s. Now, they are the largest trees on the island, scattered here and there throughout the forests. In the most fertile regions of Denman Island, a douglas fir can grow two feet per year.


This week's photos are of our plum and apple trees. We are getting a small bowl of plums every few days. We have to remember to check them regularly, since they don't stay on the tree long once they are ripe. The wasps get the windfalls.

Our Gravenstein apples are abundant, but not very healthy. We have picked a few, but most look very unappealing. However, our other apple trees, of unknown variety, are doing really well, with lots of purplish-red unblemished fruit (photo below). We'll have to check them frequently so as not to miss the best time for harvesting. They're getting close now.

I am busy cramming for the course I am teaching at the college starting next week. They told me in the interview that I wouldn't have to develop the curriculum, but they have changed textbooks, and all the course materials are still for the old texts. It's worse than developing a new course from scratch, because I have to get rid of or reorganize the old materials before I can add the new stuff. In effect, the only curriculum I have to go on is the one-paragraph course description in the calendar! And, of course, at least the first couple of weeks of the syllabus have to be ready by next week. I'm not sure they're paying me enough for this!

On Wednesday, we got an email that a visitor to the island, staying with a relative, had gone missing. What followed was an interesting demonstration of what this community is like. We (and many other islanders) called a central number given in the email to register ourselves as potential volunteers. For most of the day, the professionals - firefighters, RCMP, search and rescue - did the searching. However, late in the afternoon, we got two phone calls: would we be able to drop off some food at the firehall for the searchers, and would we be available to search in the evening? By seven o'clock, more than 50 civilian volunteers had gathered outside the firehall, equipped with hiking boots and flashlights. There, we were assigned into mixed teams of professionals and volunteers.

Our group of ten - six civilians, two firefighters and two search-and-rescue personnel - spent two hours in the rapidly darkening evening searching the woods in an area the missing man was known to be familiar with. The SAR people had us spread out in a line-abreast formation, combing the heavy underbrush for anything that looked out of place. It was important not to miss any part of the terrain, so we were clambering over logs, looking under them, and shining our flashlights into every thicket of ferns.

After thoroughly covering an area of no more than 100 metres square, it was pitch dark. Rather than risk injuries among the searchers, they had us switch to searching the margins of the access road. The group was split into two groups of five, each in single file on opposite sides of the road. The front person in each group was responsible for navigating the group along the edge of the road, while the others probed the woods on their respective sides with their flashlights. It was frustrating to know how little area we could cover, but useful in that we could positively rule out his being in the area we did cover.

Today, we heard the good news that the missing person was found alive and well this morning. Luckily, this is a climate where a night in the woods is usually survivable even by someone not specifically equipped for outdoor survival. However, with an area the size of Manhattan, most of which is covered in dense forest, Denman Island is a place where someone who was lost could remain hidden for a long time.

I was impressed by the efficiency of the unofficial communication network by which the community was mobilized. A handful of people appointed themselves as communications centres and others relayed messages. The number of volunteers was remarkable for such a small community. Even the SAR people, who are used to searches like this, commented on the size of the turnout, and that was before they knew that the population base was only 1200 people.

In other good news, our cat spay-and-neuter group is in the process of incorporating, with the aim of becoming a registered charity. The first step, registering our name, is done, so we are now officially members of the Denman Island MEOW Society.


This has been an interesting week for misadventures!

I went down to the garden to pick some plums. When I came back to the house to unload them, I had every intention to go back for something else - to check on the apples, I think. However, I got sidetracked. Next morning, I went down to the garden and discovered to my horror that the gate was open. Obviously, I had not closed it the previous evening. For a moment, I hopefully thought that maybe the deer hadn't noticed the open gate, but I didn't really believe it. Sure enough, there was fresh deer poop in the garden. They had nibbled several branches of the grape and kiwi vines. They had also eaten several of the lower branches of the pear tree, including four of our five pears. The photo shows our one surviving pear (centre). Note how the lower branches are defoliated!

Then, on Monday, we noticed that one of our transplanted pine trees was looking stressed from the heat and dryness. Since it is located uphill from the rainwater cistern, it made sense to use a hosepipe with well water from the pumphouse, rather than to use rainwater. I set up the hose under the tree, intending to let it run for 20 or 30 minutes. Two hours later, Wendy came out to the garage where I was working and told me that we had no water. Drat!

Not knowing much of the technical details of our water system, I called Peter, our builder, for advice. He told me to check for a little electronic box with a red or green light in the pumphouse. No such box. Apparently, that little box would have been a device to protect the pump from overheating if it runs out of water. Without it, he said, it was likely that our pump had burned out. Or, if we were lucky, there might be some other protective device, and the pump might have switched itself off in time. In that case, we would just have to wait for the water level to recover.

It being nearly supper time, I went down to the general store to get a five-gallon jug of water for drinking, brushing teeth, etc. Then I fetched a couple of buckets of rainwater for flushing the toilets. We figured we'd leave the well with the power turned off until morning for the level to recover.

So, first thing the next morning, I went out and reset the breaker on the pump. Nothing happened, just a trickle of residual water from the pressure tank. Double drat!! I had visions of having to get a well contractor in from Courtenay to replace the pump. $$$!

Before doing that, I put in a call to Tom, our local plumber, leaving a message explaining our situation and asking for help. Within half an hour he was here. After a couple of minutes poking around the pumphouse, he pointed to a nondescript little box with pipes and wires coming out of it and said, "You're in luck!" The little device is a low-pressure cutout switch, designed to protect the pump in exactly our circumstances. It is a low-tech equivalent of the electronic device Peter asked about. As soon as it detects that the pump is sucking air, it pulls the plug on the whole system. He had me turn on the power while he held a little reset lever for a minute and a half, and we watched as the pressure gauge slowly climbed back up to normal. Disaster averted!

You know the best part? Tom didn't even charge us for the house call! I love this place!

Needless to say, we are being very careful of our water now. We take our showers at different times and wait a few hours before doing laundry. No more watering of trees from the hose; a bucket of rainwater will have to do. Today, I picked up a little valve to install on the showerhead that will let me shut off the water while I lather up, without having to fiddle with the temperature when I turn the water back on. For next year, we are going to look into getting a well water cistern installed.

Wendy had her interview today for a job in the mental health section at the Air Force base. Keeping our fingers crossed!


I guess I should be careful what I wish for. Last week, I was complaining about the lack of rain. On Tuesday night, it started raining about supper time. Not just a few summer sprinkles, but a veritable monsoon that continued all night without letup and ended about breakfast time on Wednesday. It refilled our cistern to overflowing, settled down the dust, and rejuvenated all the vegetation. Hopefully, it topped up people's wells too. It was just what we needed, and you couldn't ask for a better-mannered rainfall, coming entirely at night.

Our fig tree cuttings are coming along rapidly (photo). Each of them has several leaves. The figs from this variety are big and green, and quite tasty. Someone told us that their one-year-old sapling only four feet tall produced several figs, so we could be enjoying our first home-grown figs next summer.

Our apple trees will neeed some work next year. They are too close together and are in desperate need of pruning. The two trees of Gravensteins are not doing well. A pity, since Gravensteins are our favourite apple-pie apples. This year, the crop will go mostly to the deer. We have one tree of August apples, which we have started picking, and one tree of an unknown variety, possibly Kings, which look healthy and abundant, and which should be ripe in a few weeks. We also have two plum trees, the fruit of which are starting to ripen. This morning, I had home-grown blackberries on my porridge. Yum! I harvested about a pound of poppy seeds yesterday, which Wendy will use in baking.

For our entertainment yesterday, we attended a meeting of the Ferry Advisory Committee, which was learning about B.C. Ferries' plans to upgrade the terminals at both ends of our local ferry route. The apron at the Denman terminal only holds about eight cars, compared to the ferry's capacity of 50 cars, so a normal load required 42 cars to wait in the driving lane of the access road. Summer overloads mean that traffic is often backed up through the main downtown intersection. Vehicles wanting to drop off or pick up foot passengers have to drive down the hill in the oncoming lane, past the waiting cars, hoping they do not meet someone else coming up the hill. It is an accident waiting to happen. So, we got to learn all about the plans to expand the apron to hold up to 50 cars, and hear other islanders' concerns about that and various other ferry issues. Public meetings are great entertainment!

In other news, I have been offered a part-time teaching position in Computer Science at the college in Courtenay. Yay! Now I'll be a real absent-minded professor!


FINISHED! Woo-hoo!

All the construction debris is cleared up, all the painting is done, and all the baseboards are in place. (Okay, there are still a few little bits of electrical work to finish, as you can see in the second picture.) We are very pleased with the results, and can finally start enjoying the new space. The mudroom will come in very handy in the winter, and we are already finding the laundry room and second bathroom very convenient.

Last weekend, we tried to go to the Comox Airshow, out at the Air Force base. So did 30,000 other people, and there seemed to be some problem processing people at the gate. We were in stop-and-go bumper-to-bumper traffic for over an hour and barely covered one mile. A mile-long line of cars consists of, at most, 260 vehicles, so that is the number of cars they were admitting per hour. With about 15 minutes until show time, it was obvious that, not only would we not get in to see the start of the show, we might only get in in time to turn around and start leaving. We bailed out of the lineup and ended up doing grocery and hardware shopping instead.

It is really, really dry here. The rain at the craft fair that I complained about last week was confined to Vancouver Island. Denman Island barely got a sprinkle, and that sprinkle was the only precipitation we have had for a month. A small fir tree that we transplanted a couple of months ago (and about which we were gloating only last week) has suddenly died on us. Maple trees are starting to change colour and drop leaves due to the dryness. We are trying to be as frugal as possible with our water use, knowing that our well has been known to dry up if used heavily in the dry season. There are showers in the "weather guess" (a.k.a. forecast) for next week, but the real rain won't begin until October.

Last night and this morning, we participated in a cat roundup. Denman Island has a large population of free-roaming domestic cats, both owned and feral. A small group of people, including ourselves, has started a project to spay and neuter as many of them as possible, fully subsidized for the ferals and partially subsibized for cat owners with low incomes. Today was our first clinic, so we spent a couple of hours last night monitoring a trap to try and catch one of the feral cats. Our trap didn't catch any last night, but we returned this morning and caught one. Altogether, the group transported ten cats to town this morning, and there are now ten fewer breeding cats on the island. Tomorrow, we will be at the weekly market soliciting donations for the next roundup.

P.S. I have added some before and after pictures of our completed renovations.


Holy cow, it's August already!

For a change, the lead picture this week isn't renovation-related. It's a cute little bambi that was grazing in our meadow. We already had a mother bring twin fawns into the yard last week for our first glimpse of this year's young, but this time I was able to grab the camera. The mothers are quite skittish when they have their kids with them. Normally, I would have moved to a good vantage spot to take the picture. However, as soon as I opened the door, she started to move away, and of course took the young one with her. So, I didn't dare try to get any closer, and the photo is a little blurry.

Last weekend, we took a day off from renovations to go to a large craft fair in Comox. We went on Sunday, figuring that the middle day of the long weekend would have the least ferry lineups. Well, wouldn't you know it, it poured rain! The crafts were good though, worth the trip. We could easily have brought back a carload of beautiful glassware, sculpture, paintings, etc. However, we restrained ourselves.

Afterwards, we drove to the historic mining town of Cumberland, which is not far from Courtenay. The mines have long closed, but the town, while a bit seedy, is far from dead; they are marketing their history. The main street has not changed much since the mining days, and many stores have signs out front showing photographs of their premises then and now. There are benches made out of old mine ore cars cut in two lengthways. There is a very nice art gallery with some lovely (and pricey!) paintings and sculptures, and several antique shops. An old church has been converted into a major coffehouse/music venue. Next time, I'll take the camera.

Denman Island is a very creative place. That creativity extends to innovative road signs and road sign graffiti. Here are some of the more interesting road signs on the island. If you look carefully at the "falling rock" sign, you'll see that one of the rocks isn't a rock. The inset shows a magnified view of it: a little skier!

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a "garden party", where we did some chores to help out an organic farmer. One of the chores was to prune a huge fig tree. (Yes, figs grow here!) We took one of the clippings home with us, cut it into several pieces and planted them. This week, two of the cuttings are growing leaves! Yippee!

I am keeping busy with painting, grouting, etc. The downstairs bathroom is almost usable. All the painting and tile work is finished, and by the time you read this, the toilet should have been installed. The last remaining big project is to build shelves for the mudroom closet. We have some leftover cedar boards from the exterior work which I will use for the shelves. New cedar smells heavenly!

Expect some nice house pictures next week!


Finally, our construction is drawing to an end! Peter, our contractor, has finished his work and was doing site cleanup today. We have washed our first loads of laundry in our new front-loading machine.

There are still quite a few jobs to finish, but I will be finishing them up myself. On the list today were plumbing the sink in the new bathroom, and grouting the tile floor. (Those chores are the reason that the Diary update is late today.) Tomorrow, installing the toilet and some closet doors. Next week, I have to grout the slate hearth for the woodstove. There is still some painting and staining and a bit of electrical work to complete.

I installed the vinyl flooring in the mudroom this week. I actually managed to do it in one piece without any seams. It looks pretty good, don't you think? With any luck, I'll be able to post some completion pictures for the rest of the project in the next week or two.

My job interview went pretty well. It was for a session teaching position in Computer Science at the local college, replacing a permanent teacher who is taking a year's leave. I won't know until a week or ten days from now if I got the job.

We are starting to get well known here on Denman Island. We have made it a point to go to meetings and do some volunteering. A couple of times recently, someone has come up to us and said, "I see you two everywhere!" We've had to point out that it is a temporary thing. Once we start working, we'll have to cut back on some activities. Still, it is nice to have the opportunity right now to get involved, and nice that we are getting known.


Another week, another week closer to completion of the renovations. I've been sanding and staining the basement floor: three coats of very stinky stain, but one which will look great and will match the colour of the floor upstairs. I still have to lay the lino in the mudroom. Peter has laid the floor tiles in the bathroom, and still has grouting to do. But, we could have it all finished by the end of next week (he said, hopefully).

The big event, once the floor was finished, was getting the washer and dryer moved into the basement. Yes, indeed, no more weekly trips to the laundromat in Courtenay! A friend owed me a favour, so I got him to help me wheel the appliances from the garage, where they've been sitting in their cartons for over two months, to the basement. I still have to hook up the vent for the dryer, but that is not critical since the weather is warm and dry right now and we can use the clothes line. The washer, however, is ready to go. "Yippee!" said Wendy.

As I've mentioned before, this island runs on volunteer committees, and I attended my first committee meeting this week. This committee is tasked with investigating possible community uses for a big parcel of land that was logged a few years ago. Rumour has it that the prospective buyer will offer the community some of the land in exchange for zoning changes. The idea of the committee is to avoid being taken by surprise if such an offer is made. I figure it will be a good way to learn the local geography, while helping to make a contribution to the community.

There is another community resource right at the end of our street, on the "main highway" that connects the two ferries. It is known as the "graffiti wall". It is a kind of community notice board: people paint notices of upcoming events, congratulatory messages for loved ones on significant occasions, or just artwork. Interestingly, people interested in defacing the wall, in the style of big city back alleys, tend to do so only on vacant panels, and their efforts are covered over promptly. It's just a better class of graffiti than we are used to.

We have a busy weekend coming up. In addition to all the little renovation jobs, there is a studio tour: an opportunity to see various artists and craftspeople in their work spaces. And, I have some homework to do for a job interview next week.


The exterior of our front entrance is now complete. The pergola is ready for some kind of vine to clamber over it. Some varieties of jasmine and clematis are shade-tolerant, so we might plant something like that.

Our builder is also a designer, and one of his more interesting ideas was to make the ramp portion of the entrance look like a gangplank by using rope for part of the railing. This week, we went out and got some manila hemp rope for the gangplank. I taught myself how to make an eye splice (amazing what you can learn on the Internet!), and made four of them to attach the ropes to rings on the posts. It looks very nautical. Not bad for a landlubber, eh?

Indoors, work on the downstairs bathroom is agonizingly slow. The special cement required for the in-floor heat dries much more slowly than Peter expected, so that operation is dragging on. The heating pad has to be embedded in several layers, each of which has to set before the next one can be poured. We are hoping that one more pour will do it.

The main basement room, which will house the laundry and the woodstove, is nearing completion. The pine floor and the slate hearth (photo below) for the stove are installed. We really like the look of the slate. I still have to sand and finish the pine, seal the slate, and do a bit more wall painting.

So, what else have we been up to besides renovations? Um, not much this week! Most days we go for a walk downtown, "downtown" being the name Denman Islanders use for the area near the ferry dock and the general store, where most of the businesses and community resources are located. It is a 15 minute walk down the hill from our house.

There is quite a good library at the community hall, and, television reception being what it is, we always have a couple of books on the go. Some areas of the island are served by cable TV, but our street isn't one of them. Most people who want TV here have a satellite dish. I suppose that, if you put an old-fashioned rooftop TV antenna on a 120-foot tower to get it above the trees, you might get CBC. However, with only amplified rabbit-ears, we get only one very snowy channel - CITY - which doesn't seem to have much worth watching. There is a decent video rental place downtown, and of course there are movies at the seniors' hall. Last week, we watched Seven Samurai there, a true classic.

Near the downtown area is a farm that belongs to one of the pioneer families. They have a produce shack where they sell vegetables fresh from the garden. Since we haven't had time to get our own garden operational this year, we sometimes go there on our walks and get lovely fresh lettuce, carrots or beets.


I think we are in the home stretch as far as the renovations are going. The plasterer finished doing the drywall, finally. He was here two weeks, and we thought he'd never be done. There is paint on some of the walls and primer on some others. Our floor and wall tiles are on site, and most of the pine flooring for the basement has been laid. Try to ignore the construction equipment in the picture, but check out the walls and the floor!

The pine flooring would probably be finished today if it weren't for a storm overnight. Our builder's sailboat got wrecked at its mooring in the storm (no one aboard at the time), so he was late getting here this morning, due to an early morning emergency salvage operation. Then, just as he got here (and just as Wendy was putting a cake in the oven!), the power went out. Wind-related power outages are a fact of life here; all it takes is one tree to come down on a power line. With no electricity, there are no power tools, so Peter called it a day and went back home to repair his boat.

The power came back after a couple of hours, and the cake turned out fine (Orange-rhubarb - Mmmmm!!).

The male hummingbirds have left. For a while, we had been filling the feeder every day. Suddenly, the level of liquid in the feeder stopped going down, and there have been no more Battle of Britain scenes outside the kitchen window. The females and young are still around, but they are not drinking nearly as much as the males did.

I'll have to get a recording of local bird calls; there are so many unfamiliar birds, and the woods are full of birdsong all the time. One of the most prominent is one that goes Twee-oo-wee-ooo-weet-weet?. After perusing the local reference book (Birds of Coastal British Columbia by Nancy Baron and John Acorn), the most likely candidate seems to be the Swainson's Thrush, whose song is described as "flute-like notes ... [that] spiral upwards in a question that lingers in the coastal forest air."

Speaking of birds, somebody has built a nest at the back of our outhouse. We are guessing swallows, but we aren't sure, and we don't want to disturb the nest or hang around any longer than necessary. The babies sure are cute, aren't they?

By the way, we do have indoor plumbing. The outhouse, though, is an island necessity. Today's power outage was short, but in winter, they can last for days. Without power, the pump in the well won't work, which means no water, and therefore indoor plumbing won't function. A generator is high on our priority list.

On the long weekend, we participated in a couple of social events. One was the annual firemen's pancake breakfast, one of the biggest events of the year. Half the island's population was there. It is a fundraiser for the volunteer fire department, which, thanks to events like this, is very well equipped.

The other event was billed as a "garden party". No, not the kind where you get dressed up to go and sip cool drinks, gossip and talk about dahlias. This was a work bee to help one of our local organic farmers. In an effort to make organic produce more competitive with factory-farmed produce, there is a group here that volunteers to help out once a month at various organic farms on the island. We pull weeds, turn compost, and do any of the other 101 odd jobs that need doing on a farm or market garden. The owner gets to play foreman for a day, directing the volunteers to whatever job needs doing next. It is one way to help ensure the survival of this island's unique culture.


BEFORE Happy birthday, Canada!

This week's photos are a before-and-after pair (taken from exactly the same spot)showing how the north side of the house has been improved by our mudroom addition. The exterior work is done! Peter, our builder, is still working on the arbour at the entrance, so I'll post pictures of the entrance view once it's done.

The plasterer is hard at work sanding the seams in the basement. He has promised us that we will be able to start painting the primer coat this weekend. The flooring has been delivered and will be installed next week. It is all starting to come together!

And not a moment too soon; we are getting tired of having workmen in the house, and having all our furniture covered. For a couple of weeks there, between the moving and the construction, we had a nice living room. Still, we are getting there!

AFTER Wendy and I had a long chat with someone in the Craft Store who found out that we were newcomers, and wanted to welcome us. She said something that I found interesting because it echoed thoughts that I had had too. She said that, because so many people here have come from other places, and because no one comes here because they have to (no one gets transferred here by their employer, and no one comes to work the oil rigs), Denman Island has many of the characteristics of an intentional community. People come here because they choose the lifestyle.

I have always found the idea of intentional community appealing: people choosing to live together to put their values into practice in their lifestyle. The commune model of the 1960s and 70s didn't work very well, but many other intentional communities did. Interestingly, many long-term Denman residents are from that era.

Long-time Denman residents fall into two groups. There are the old-time residents, descendents of the original pioneer settlers from the 19th and early 20th centuries. And there are the "back-to-the-landers", most of whom came in the early 1970s. On the recent pottery and home-and-garden tours, we talked to many people who said they have lived here for "over 30 years", or that they "arrived in the early '70s". It is quite a significantly-sized group. Apparently, there were tensions between the two groups, but, over time, they have learned to co-exist. Because we all share this small island, we all have no choice but to get along with one another.

Denman Island tends to be ignored by various levels of government. If something needs doing here, a bunch of volunteers will form a committee and get it done. This is the type of community ethic that appeals to both established groups, and generates the bonds that tie the community together. Newcomers are welcomed, especially if they get involved in community events.

We have jumped in with both feet. Wendy is on the wildlife committee, and I have volunteered to be on a committee investigating the recently logged parts of the island and how the community might best play a role in their future. We are both also involved in an effort by one of the local activists to start a spay/neuter program for feral cats, and for cat owners who cannot afford to have their pets fixed.

(On re-reading, that last sentence sounds potentially misleading. It should probably read, "... and for the cats of cat owners..."!)


Another week, and the renovations are coming along nicely. Indoors, the plasterer is taping and mudding all the nails and joints in the drywall, while outdoors, the crew are putting up cedar board-and-batten siding. The cedar is delivered fresh-sawn from a backyard sawmill only a block from here and smells heavenly. Board-and-batten cedar is a very west-coast style, and a major design element in "Denman architecture".

One of my contributions to the work this week was to rebuild the rainwater collection system for the eavestroughs on the north side of the house. With a new roofline, the gutters had to be removed and rebuilt, plus the old collection system was in the way of part of the deck. Now it is neatly tucked in out of the way, and we are back to collecting rainwater from three-quarters of the roof area. Because of the new shape of the house, it is impractical to collect from the fourth quarter.

My other chores this week were building some rustic steps at the front pathway and finishing the door that will separate the new mudroom from the living room. The door is a lot of work (remind me never to work with oil-based polyurethane again!), but it will look good once it's done.

We had a good opportunity to see some real Denman architecture up close this weekend, on the annual home and garden tour. Silly me, I forgot to take pictures, but you'll have to believe me that both the houses and the gardens were spectacular. The houses range from swanky, architect-designed, craftsman-built and very modern to owner-built, hand-hewn and quirky. All shared the typical Denman love of light, stone, natural wood and outdoor views. The gardens tended to be informal, but with an abundance of roses, grapevines, clematis, fruit trees (including figs and kiwis!), and many flowers that I didn't recognize. It was interesting to see the different approaches to weed control. Some obviously did laborious hand-weeding, while others used labour-saving mulches, including grass clippings and even newspapers. Next year, we plan to get our garden under control, though it will be more of a vegetable garden than a flower garden.

Just about every day, there are deer in the yard. They are quite calm and don't mind if we are out working or if the carpenters are making a lot of noise. They just happily go on munching in the meadow.

The male hummingbirds must be fueling up for their migration south - they apparently will depart for Mexico within a week or two, followed by the females and young sometime in August or September. Right now, the males are constantly fighting for access to the feeder. It's common enough for one to chase off another, but this week, they've been going crazy. I've seen large numbers of them - six or eight at a time - all swooping, darting, chasing and squeaking at each other. It's like watching the dogfighting scenes from a Battle of Britain movie! In the photo, I've got two perched on the feeder, and a third hovering below.


Yippee! We have drywall! Finally, the basement is starting to look like a room. The drywall is always the best part of a construction project, because it starts to look the way you envisioned it. The bad news is that it means that next week will be messy: plastering and sanding. Oh, well. It has to be done.

The other major change this week is a new staircase to the basement. By taking out the landing at the top and replacing it with two "winder" steps, Peter has reduced the slope from 100% to 77%. That, and widening the stairs to a full 36 inches, with enough room on the sides for proper handrails, means that they will now be much more user-friendly. That is an important factor, considering that we intend to live here well into our senior years.

We also had the new eavestroughs installed. With the amount of water that we have seen torrenting off the roof during showers, that is a good thing. Of course, Murphy's Law being what it is, the installation of the eavestroughs probably ensures that we get no more rain until October!

The other major development this week is the grading of the path from the driveway to the new entrance. Over two days, I hauled a ton or so of gravel by wheelbarrow and levelled it with a rake to form the shape of the new walkway. We have another half truckload of "nice" gravel on order for next week that I will have to spread on top of it to finish it off. My back isn't looking forward to that!

This weekend is the annual garden tour, one of the major events on Denman Island. We bought our tickets early, as it always sells out. Proceeds from ticket sales support the local nature conservancy society. People come from all over the region, not just the island.

One of the highlights of the tour is the garden of Des Kennedy, a well-known writer and gardener. His garden is the stuff of legend, or so we hear, since it is not visible from the road. Luckily for us, he lives only two driveways down the road from us, so it will be an easy walk to get there. It is just as well, since traffic is apparently expected to be so heavy that they temporarily turn our quiet little street into a one-way road. We are even considering parking our car out on the main road, a couple of hundred metres away, just to be able to come and go and get to the rest of the garden tour.

A friend of ours from Calgary happened to be going past our old house with his camera and sent us this picture. Actually, it is the place where our old house used to stand. The new owners are building a big fancy duplex on the site. It looks like they have the forms in place for pouring the basement concrete. We are glad to see that they are keeping some of the trees. (Thanks to Run Hunter for the picture.)


This has been a good week for the renovation project, with both large-scale structural progress and small-scale infrastructure progress.

The most visible change is in the front entrance. The deck boards for the entrance ramp and deck are installed, and some handrails and a pergola-type archway are starting to take shape. When complete, the pergola will consist of four posts, joined at the top by beams. We will eventually plant some kind of vine to grow up and over it.

Peter, our builder, is doing a beautiful job. The ends of all the deck boards are nicely rounded-over, and they are precision-trimmed around the handrail supports and the big posts.

The big step at the near end of the entrance ramp will be built-up with earth and rocks, so that eventually the gravel pathway coming down from the driveway will be flush with the end of the ramp.

The plumber and electrician have both been busy with rough-ins this week. Both the basement and the mudroom have electrical wires in place, and the mudroom even has a functioning light in the ceiling. (No, that's not it in the photo! That's the basement light.) The shower in the new bathroom in the basement is installed and functioning, and the rest of the plumbing is ready for fixtures. In the photo, you can see the new laundry area with the washer hookup ready to go, and the bathroom beyond it. The big gray slab at the right is the exterior side of the shower. Wendy is looking forward to the in-floor heating in the bathroom.

Peter is talking about being ready for drywall sometime next week. Yay! Then, both rooms will really start to look like rooms!

The weather has been cool and cloudy the last few days, though not terribly wet. I now have a continuous recording of the temperatures here, which is updated on the website hourly. Take a look. (If you are curious how I record the temperature, check out one of my nerdier pages.)

One of the regular events in island life is the recycling depot, which is open on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. We do have garbage pickup here, but at $2 per bag, there is motivation to reuse or recycle as much as possible. Garbage pickup, like many services here, is run by the community association, rather than by any level of government. The fee per bag allows the operation to break even, while motivating people to recycle. So sensible, really. We have greatly reduced the amount of trash we send to the garbage. Now, between composting and recycling, we don't put out any garbage most weeks.

On Saturday mornings, the recycling depot is a hub of activity. You are guaranteed to meet several people you know, so it becomes a social activity as well as a purely practical one. Right next to the recycling depot is the Free Store, where you can drop off unwanted re-usable items of clothing, housewares, etc. There are always people browsing for bargains. And they are true bargains, because, like the name suggests, everything is free.

P.S. Look what we just picked in our garden!!


Construction is proceeding well. We now have an entrance deck and ramp in front of the new door, and a catwalk from the back door of the mudroom around to the old deck. The doors and window have been installed.

We are waiting on several sub-contractors. One of the hazards of island life is that many things run on "island time". We are lucky that our general contractor and carpenter are reliable. The other tradespeople are just as likely to take the day off to go fishing as they are to turn up when scheduled. Work on the basement is stalled, waiting for a plumber and an electrician.

Doing laundry is now a bit more inconvenient. The sale of the little cottage at the north end of the island was completed last week. That's where we had been doing our laundry, since we don't yet have a laundry room here. So, with the loss of access to that facility, we now have to go to a laundromat in Courtenay. The sooner the basement gets completed, the better! [For comparison photos, see: 6-May and 29-April.]

We are still getting used to "island time". When we attended our first vegan pot-luck dinner, we naturally showed up at 6:30, the time posted in the newspaper. The organizer was there, a woman named "Fireweed" (no first or last name: just Fireweed), but no one else was. When she saw us walk in with our dish, she said, "Oh, I should have warned you, this usually starts on Denman time." Now, if we show up early (i.e. not late) for something, we apologize and say we re still running on city time.

One of the things I looked forward to before we moved to Denman Island was being able to see the stars. The other night, when it was clear and warm, I set up my telescope to see what I could see. This time of year, you'd have to wait until 1:00 am for the sky to be dark enough for really good viewing. However, even at 10:30 pm, the levels of air pollution and light pollution were so much lower than in the city that it was the best viewing I've ever had. <nerd>Luckily, the "seeing" (an astronomical term refering to low levels of turbulence in the upper atmosphere) was particularly good too. I had a really clear view of Jupiter and its four Galilean moons. I was able to see cloud bands on the planet, something I have never been able to see before. I have no photos to show you, unfortunately. I'll need some new hardware to be able to hook up the digital camera to the telescope.</nerd>


After a rainy week last week, and a long Victoria Day weekend that was a veritable monsoon, the weather has turned beautiful, hot and sunny. The salmonberries, a type of wild raspberry, are already ripe along the roadways. They are tasty and tart, though a bit seedy.

The ferry traffic was heavy on Monday and Tuesday (and the locals tell us that we ain't seen nuthin' yet) with weekenders leaving with their RVs.

A couple of days ago, we borrowed a tall stepladder from the construction crew and did some ceiling work in the living room. We replaced an ugly light fixture with a nice chandelier (photo at right), cleaned the fan blades (which were in desperate need thereof), and replaced the fan pull-chains.

There hasn't been a lot of visible progress on the renovations this week. The crew has been held up waiting for materials, in particular the window and doors. We did get the skylight installed, and the substructure of the deck is framed in. The window and doors arrived on site yesterday, and will hopefully be installed today.

The photo at left shows the mudroom addition from the low side of the yard. There will be a new deck from the door of the mudroom past the chimney, above the big box-like thing, and connecting with the existing deck at left. You can see the new deck supports.

The big box-like thing is a rainwater cistern. I'm not sure just how much it holds, but it is probably 1000 gallons, or thereabouts. It collects runoff from the eavestroughs, and supplies water to the garden by gravity feed.

Conserving water is important here. Although the west coast is famous (or infamous) for rainfall, we are actually in the rain shadow of the mountains on Vancouver Island. Except for the winter months (and last weekend), Denman Island is actually a very dry place. Our well, while it has some of the best quality water on the island, doesn't produce a large quantity, and we have been warned not to over-use it in the dry season as it can run dry with heavy use. Using rainwater for irrigating the garden is therefore a logical way to conserve well water.

Yesterday there was a community cleanup of the island's beaches. The beaches and surrounding waters are used by shellfish "farmers", and a lot of their junk ends up littering the high-tide mark. Wendy and I were not able to finish our assigned section because our garbage bags became too heavy to carry. Almost all our garbage consisted of nets and cord from the oyster fishery. The haul from the entire island far exceeded the expectations of the organizers.

What is particularly interesting, though sad, is that almost all of the waterfront on Denman is private property. Though the beaches themselves are public, the land adjoining the beach is private (and very expensive!). You would think that people who spend the big bucks for waterfront property would be motivated to clean up the section of beach right in front of their lots. After all, who would want to sit out on their deck admiring the view over a pile of garbage? Maybe the results of this week's cleanup will provide some motivation for them.


Well, don't count your political chickens before they've hatched! Late on election night, just before we went to bed, the CBC was reporting that the NDP candidate in our riding had an insurmountable lead, and was declaring him elected. The next morning, that lead had shrunk to a 250 vote deficit, and the riding was listed as undecided. He ended up losing by about 700 votes. Drat! Well, at least the folks here voted for him.

We have finally got most of the house looking ship-shape, with furniture arranged and pictures hung. The photo at right shows our living room.

It's been raining here, so work has slowed on our mudroom addition. Luckily, the crew did get the roof weather-tight before the rain started. The focus of effort has now switched to the basement, where we are putting in a second bathroom and a laundry room. They have finished the demolition of a microscopic unfinished attempt at a bathroom, jackhammered the concrete floor in preparation for the plumbing, and framed in the new walls. The new shower stall arrived today, and is sitting in the garage, awaiting installation. I think the next step will be the electrical and plumbing rough-ins.

We went on another botannical nature walk, this time along the beach on the east side of Denman. I was even able to remember a few of the plant names after we got back.

This week, we also visited our neighbouring island, Hornby. It is smaller in area than Denman, and supports a larger population (much larger in summertime). Its "downtown" area is much more hustling and bustling than Denman's. It has a reputation as a party place, and we are glad we live here rather than there.

In spite of having received very little attention so far, our garden is coming along nicely. We have little green strawberries growing already and raspberries and blackberries about to flower. We have apples (photo, left), plums and one pear (photo, right) starting to grow.

This coming weekend is the Victoria Day long weekend, which means the pottery tour and the start of the weekly market. The market runs at the same time, and at the same location as the weekly recycling depot, so it's easy to do several errands in one trip. The market includes crafts and miscellaneous items, but we will mostly be interested in the fresh produce.


Woo-hoo!! High-speed Internet is here!! Going back to dial up when we moved was a real pain, even if it was just for a month. We heard a rumour on the weekend that ADSL was finally available, so first thing on Monday morning I was on the phone ordering it. I got it hooked up yesterday. Ahhh! :-)

I mentioned in an earlier diary entry how one of the reasons for our move to Denman Island was to get away from the political situation in Alberta. That being the case, I feel obligated to comment on the current election campaign on in B.C. Unfortunately, we will not be eligible to vote, since we have lived here for less than six months.

Judging by the campaign signs at the ends of people's driveways, this is by far the most lopsided election campaign I have ever seen. On the island, there are a lot of signs for the NDP, a handful for the Green Party, and literally not a single one for the governing Liberal party! Definitely we have picked a community where our political views are shared by the majority of the population.

Surprisingly, even in Courtenay, the NDP is winning the sign contest. It looks like, in this riding at least, the Liberal incumbent is likely to be defeated. Our American friends, and even some Canadian readers, may find this strange, but in B.C., the party that uses the "Liberal" name is the right-wing party. Their policies are the Klein-ist policies we disliked so much in Alberta. Anywhere else, they would be called Conservatives of the Reform / Alliance ilk.

On a perhaps more interesting note, we went for a hike on Saturday to Tree Island, a small uninhabited island off the tip of Denman Island. At low tide, it is an easy walk across a kilometre of mud flats to get to it.

Tree Island has an interesting and fragile sand dune ecology, in addition to which, it boasts a considerable amount of forest for its size. The leader of the hike showed us many of the interesting and unique plants that grow here. (At left: Chocolate Lily (centre) and Larkspur.) She also showed us some invasive plants that should not be growing there, and we spent half an hour yanking out a patch of scotch broom by the roots. It was good to get out hiking again.

We got bikes this week, so we were out biking along the back roads. Bicycle is the ideal way to travel on Denman, since the traffic is light, and the distances are moderate.


Progress on the mudroom addition has gone well. Whereas last week, we had only excavations and forms to show you, this week, we have a foundation, subwalls, subfloor, walls and roof trusses. A nice long spell of good weather can be credited for this. We've only had a couple of sprinkles.

We get a kick out of comparing our weather with Calgary's, especially when they get snow flurries and it's sunny and warm here! We're so cruel!

Reba, our doberman will not be joining us after all. She had been staying with our regular dogsitters while we moved, with the expectation that we would send for her once we were settled in. However, they told us they would like to keep her. There, she will have 24-hour human company, and a herd of other dobermans for entertainment, things we could not offer her. It really will be better for her. She knows and loves the people, and gets along well with the other hounds, so it won't be a big disruption for her. We will miss her, but it will also simplify our lives.

We have got all our furniture in place, the rugs unrolled, and all that is left is to hang the pictures. We have hummingbirds at the feeders all day and deer in the yard in the evenings. We have found a meditation group that practises in the same tradition as the one that we are used to (And some time, we'll have to tell you about their premises. Wow!). Our neighbours have invited us for a visit next week. Basically, we are getting settled in.


Last weekend, we went in to Vancouver to help celebrate my mother's 80th birthday. We had a great time! It felt like major culture shock, though, to be in such a busy place. The traffic is nuts and it's so noisy!

The trip takes about five hours, less than two of which are actual driving, and the rest are ferrying or waiting for ferries. However, the physical effect of all the "hurry up and wait" is as though it was five solid hours of hard driving. I was tired when we got home.

In Vancouver, you have to drive by Vancouver rules, which means the minimum speed in traffic is 10 km/h over the limit. Then, about 10 km before the ferry terminal, the rules change to ferry rules: all the traffic around you is heading for the same ferry you are, and every car that passes you could be the last one on the ferry, so you can't let anyone pass you.

It's so nice to be back to Denman speed!

Construction has started this week on our mudroom. Though this is a nice house, it has two of the characteristics that Wendy hates most in a house: it lacks a proper entrance and it has a basement. So, we are getting a mudroom entrance built, and having the basement finished. On Wednesday, they poured the foundation for the mudroom.

Wednesday was also the day we went into town to get the car registration and driver's licenses set up for B.C.. What a performance! The Air Force will allow its jets to fly with cracked windshields (within certain reasonable limits), but you can't bring a car with a cracked windshield into the province. It's nothing but a make-work project for the auto glass industry! Especially since you don't need further safety checks once the car is registered here. And they needed additional paperwork to process Wendy's driver's license, so we'll have to go back for that later. Aargh! However, after a full day, a new windshield, and a wallet that is considerably lighter, the car and I are now legal. And, with B.C. plates, our car no longer looks like it belongs to tourists.


What a difference a week makes! Last week, moving day, it was pouring rain. However, the rain stopped about the time the movers were done (go figure), and it's been sunny and warm ever since.

We've been unpacking and puttering around the yard ever since. We had a truckload of gravel delivered, and I have been shovelling, wheelbarrowing and raking it to fill in the potholes and improve the drainage of the driveway.

When we want a break, we walk "downtown" to the general store / post office or the library. It's a 15-minute walk and, unless the ferry has just arrived, we'll see at most 4 or 5 vehicles. Right now, they're paving one of the other roads on the island, so each ferry typically brings four big double paving trucks full of asphalt that have to grind up "the hill" belching diesel smoke. However, with that exception, it's really quiet.

In the daytime, we can sit out on the deck and hear nothing but the whirring of the hummingbirds and the buzzing of the bumblebees. In the evening, we hear the frogs down by the marsh and birds in the trees.

Sometimes, we have to pinch ourselves to remind ourselves that this is real. It is like living in paradise. Whether we are looking out the window while eating a meal or taking a break from yard work, we look around and see this incredible beauty on all sides. And we actually live here, in a forest on an island! Wow!

On Sunday, we attended the monthly vegan pot-luck dinner. There were about 20 people there, which, for a community of 1100 people is a pretty good turnout. The food was excellent!

Today we heard that there's been a cougar sighting on the island. No word yet on where it is. The last time a cougar was seen here was back in the 1950s. At low tide, it's only a 1-kilometre swim, so it's not too difficult for one to get across if it really wants to. I expect that, as this is a residential and agricultural community, not wilderness, the wildlife authorities will tranquilize it and transport it off the island.

The photos show our street, with our driveway off to the right, and our kitchen.


March 31st

The movers were an hour late, and they showed up with a 12-foot and an 8-foot container. They should have had two 12-foot containers. So, instead of taking 3 hours to load, it took them 8 hours, trying to place everything just so in the containers to make it all fit. In the end, there were a few items left over that had to go in another truck. Luckily, the weather was good.

April 1st

After a night of insufficient sleep (due to a brothel and/or drug dealership in the next room at the hotel) we hit the road heading west.

Roger's Pass Though I've lived in western Canada for over 40 years, there's one essential Canadian experience I've never had until now: waiting at Roger's Pass for avalanche control. I always wondered why the road was so wide right at the summit. Now I know: that's where they stop the traffic: the highway turns into a four-lane parking lot. We had to wait 45 minutes in heavy snow, during which time we could hear the big guns firing. Once they let us go, we drove past two crews of army reserves packing up their howitzers, and one very fresh avalanche chute.

April 2nd

After an overnight stop in Kamloops, we headed down the Coquihalla Highway. Over the top of the pass, the road was covered in hard-packed slush, effectively reducing the road to a single lane, drivable only at much-reduced speed. However, that only lasted a few kilometres, and we arrived at my mother's place in New Westminster in the early afternoon.

April 3rd

We got the 10:30 ferry from Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver) to Nanaimo, drove up Vancouver Island, and arrived on Denman Island on the 2:00 ferry. Our first stop was at our realtor's office, from which we went to inspect the property. (The previous owner was a bit of a "collector", so we wrote into the contract a clause requiring an inspection two days before taking possession to ensure all the "stuff" had been removed.)

Wendy and daffodils As we drove around the island for the first time as residents, we noticed how green everything looks. There are daffodils blooming everywhere. It looks like it is a custom here to plant some daffodils at the end of one's driveway.

April 4th

Nothing exciting. We are sleeping on the floor at the little cottage on Northwest Road, sitting on folding lawn chairs and using cardboard boxes as tables until our house on Pickles Road is ready.

We drove into Courtenay today to get groceries. Though we will probably have to go into town a couple of times a week for various things as we get settled in, we want to limit the number of trips we make, since each one requires using the ferry.

April 5th

Today, we formally took possession of our house. We stopped by the realtor's office to get the key, then went to look the place over. The phone is working, so we called to confirm arrangements with the cleaner, painter and builder.

April 5th - 14th

The cleaner is hard at work on the interior, and the painter is scheduled to start on Friday.

our forest Wendy and I went for a walk around the property. The lot is six acres in area. It is more or less rectangular, with the short side along the road. The driveway entrance is at the high point, and the ground slopes down past the house into the forest. The house and outbuildings are in a clearing that is about an acre and a half in extent.

From the back of the garden, we walked through a grove of alders, and into a forest of 100-foot tall douglas fir and cedar trees. The forest floor is open and mossy, with occasional old-growth stumps showing just how big the trees once were here.

There is a small marsh back at the back of the property.

When the weather is nice, we are out in the yard doing cleanup. The previous owner didn't remove all the junk. We've collected another truckload: metal hoops, old woodstoves, dryer drums turned into planters, a couple of boats turned into planters. The most useful item was an old iron-wheeled wheelbarrow that had been turned into a planter. Converted back to its intended use, it made hauling all the other stuff much easier!

When the weather is rainy, we are working inside. I have been laying laminate flooring in the room that we will use for our office. Though most of the house has pine floors, that room had linoleum tiles that had seen better days. The painter, meanwhile is doing a fine job. All the walls are going to be yellow, except the office, which will be "coral". We have had to make a couple of runs into Courtenay for paint and flooring.

As we drive around the island and over to Courtenay, we can't help but notice how green everything is. After 40 years in Calgary, I'd forgotten what spring is like! Flowers are blooming; leaves are opening. There are daffodils, dandelions, pansies, tulips, rhodedendrons and more all in bloom. Grass is being mowed.

Along the island roads, we see bald eagles circling in the sky, wild turkeys and pheasants foraging the roadside ditches, and deer in the headlights after dusk. There are hummingbirds (Amazing! They seem so exotic!) thrushes, robins, towhees, juncos, goldfinches...

On Friday, we went to a movie ("Sideways") at the Seniors' Hall. (You only have to be 45 to be eligible for membership!) It's a gymnasium-type hall, with a screen set up on the stage. You sit on plastic lawn chairs; the regulars know to bring their own cushions. You can get popcorn and chamomile tea. The ticket-taker runs the projector. No commrcials; no previews; just straight into the movie.

We have dropped in on various people. One of our neighbours dropped in on us, and we went round to introduce ourselves to the others. They are all very nice. We also visited with our Internet friends Harold Birkeland, and Bryanna Clark Grogan.

This being April, the month after fiscal year-end, it is the season for Annual General Meetings. There are innumerable societies and associations here, so we've already been to a couple of meetings. The meetings were pretty tame - lots of financial report - but it was a good chance to put faces to the names we've read about. The Residents' Association met in a big post-and-beam meeting room at the back of the Community Hall, with a roaring fire going in the woodstove. Gray frizzy hair is the standard for both males and females, with the addition of gray beards for the men.

April 15th


Naturally, it was pouring rain. We wouldn't have minded so much if it had rained on loading day two weeks ago, but rain on moving-in day is a pain. I stayed out in the driveway in my raincoat and gumboots directing boxes and furniture to the various buildings. Wendy directed activities in the interior of the house. The whole thing took less than three hours, by which time, I was frozen. Though I was wearing gloves, my hands were too cold to sign the paperwork at the end.

April 16th

Rather than scrambling around to get the bedroom and kitchen functioning all on moving day, we spent one more night on the floor at Northwest Road.

Today, Wendy was unpacking and organizing the kitchen, while I was getting the office and especially the computers set up. Wouldn't you know it, the phone jack in the office is dead! I did some spelunking in the crawlspace to try and trace the phone wires. There's no easy way to run a new wire (though it will ultimately be fixable), so rather than waste any more time on it, I ran an extension phone cord across the hallway from the bedroom. At least we are online!

living room boxes The bedroom is set up, though the living room still has a way to go. At the moment, it's more than half-full of boxes. Tonight, we'll sleep in a real bed for the first time in two weeks!


Well, apparently we didn't get the computers unpacked in time to update the diary this week. This is another post-dated diary entry, created just in case of such an eventuality.

There's no telling what the delay was. Hopefully everything will be unpacked and real updates will resume soon. In the meantime, here is a picture of "downtown" Denman.

I intend to keep the diary going for a while so people can follow our progress as we get used to island life.


Well, by now we will be on Denman Island, getting the house cleaned and painted. This is another post-dated diary entry. It will be another week before our computers are unpacked and hooked up to the Internet. We trust that the drive out was uneventful.

Until the new house is ready, we are "camping" at the old house that we have sold. We still have possession of it for another month, so we are sleeping on the floor, eating off the counters and using its kitchen, bathroom and laundry facilities.

If all goes smoothly, by this time next week, our stuff should have been unloaded. After two weeks without Internet, our computers will likely be among the first things unpacked!


It's April first, and no fooling, we are on the road, having left Calgary this morning. No, we aren't stopping enroute to update the diary at an Internet café! This is what you might call a post-dated entry, written ahead of time, and posted to my website automatically. Ah, the wonders of technology!

Today, we plan to stop in Kamloops. You can do Calgary to Vancouver in one day but it's 12 hours of hard driving. We'd rather spread it out over a couple of days. Because this entry was written in advance, we don't know what the Roger's Pass will be like. It could be problem-free or it could be closed for avalanche control. This time of year, anything can happen. All the more reason for not trying to push straight through in one day.

Coquihalla Highway Tomorrow, we'll drive down the Coquihalla Highway to New Westminster and spend the night at my mother's place. The live webcam at right shows the Coquihalla Highway just south of the summit on the steepest section. We'll be coming towards the camera sometime in the late morning. Look for a little blue Honda.

Another benefit of splitting the drive is that, by doing so, we avoid rush hour on the Port Mann Bridge into New Westminster. Some would say it's always rush hour on the bridge! One moment, you're cruising along the highway at 100 km/h; the next moment, there's a sea of brake lights in front of you, and it's stop-and-go for 10 km until you get across the bridge. That happens continuously no matter what time of day it is. But, trust me, it's much worse if you hit the bridge at rush hour.

The day after tomorrow, we'll head across town to Horseshoe Bay to catch the big ferry to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The ferry takes an hour and a half to cross the Gulf of Georgia. Then, it's an hour's drive up the Island Highway to the Denman Island Ferry little ferry (photo: MV Quinitsa) that takes us across to Denman Island. That's a ten-minute crossing, and then we'll be home.

As a math nerd, something that will seem odd (literally) to me is that we will have taken the Denman ferry an odd number of times. Up until now, for each time we have gone across, we have come back: an even number of trips. This crossing, to set up permanent residency, will be the odd one out. Its counterpart, leaving for the last time, will hopefully not happen for many years. So, from now on, we will have taken the ferry an odd number of times. (Okay, mayby only a math nerd would appreciate that!)


One week to go! Our house is looking pretty bare: everything that isn't packed yet has to be packed in the next few days, except what we will take with us in the car. I've been very restrictive in grocery shopping for the last few weeks so we won't waste more food than necessary when it's time to clean out the fridge and pantry.

Our computers will be packed up this weekend, so this is au revoir to our Internet friends for a few weeks. I have left some diary updates to be posted automatically each week, so by all means continue to check the Denman Diary regularly. However, the updates, being written ahead of time, will be about what we expect to happen, not what has actually happened. For that, you will have to wait until we are unpacked and connected, which we expect to be around April 15th.

Our new place in January It's been snowy and cold here this week. There's another blogger on Denman, and we read his diary entries weekly. He's been posting pictures of green lawns and flowers blooming for the last few weeks. Aaargh!! We can't get there soon enough! Imagine, a place where, once the weather starts warming up and the days get longer, winter is over! What a concept! The photo shows our new place in January.

Actually, we just discovered that we have another connection with this other diarist. It turns out that the guest cottage on our new property used to be his cabin. Once he had built his new house, he sold it to the former owner of our house, who had it hauled up the hill to his place.


The photo at right is of "downtown" Denman, the heart of the business district!

One of our neighbours when we move will be the Denman Island Chocolate factory. As I mentioned in the Feb 11th diary entry, the chocolate makers were instrumental in bringing Denman Island to our attention in the first place. They are planning to expand, and the location for their new factory (pending zoning approval) is just around the corner from our house. When we want to make someone really envious, we point out that it's just a three minute walk from our place!

As we get down to the final stages of packing, one of the things that needs careful planning is what to take with us in the car. Not so much for the three day road trip, but for what we need during the time between when we arrive and when our furniture and possessions are unloaded from the truck. The truck can't be unloaded until the house is painted, which can't happen until the cleaner is done, who can't start before we get possession. So, during that time, we will be living on what we bring with us. Of course, we can go into town for some things, but each trip is a $10 ferry ride, and we don't want to be buying duplicates of stuff we already own.

So, a suitcase of clothes each, including work clothes. Sleeping bags and air mattresses. Some pots & pans, dishes and cutlery. Microwave. Food for the first day. House number sign (photo) and screws to hang it: there isn't one there, and the movers and other service people will need it to find the place. Basic tools: hammer, screwdriver, wrench, vice-grips, pliers. Box-cutter! We'll need the log book showing what is packed in which box. (Each box is numbered.) We thought about a roll of chicken wire so we can have an enclosure ready for when the dog arrives, but it's just too bulky: we'll have to get that there.


Nothing terribly exciting to report, this week. After last week's excitement, that's probably a good thing! The photo is an "art shot" of the Denman ferry dock back in January, shortly after a snowfall.

Now that we know for sure what our address will be, we've been busy making all the necessary arrangements, both there and here. We have phone and electricity arranged out there, utilities scheduled to be shut off here. We have to remember to get the post office to forward our mail. Fortunately, once the arrangements are made, there's no chance they will forget the forwarding and deliver our mail to our old address. Within a few days of our leaving, the old house will no longer exist, so there will be no mailbox to put it in!

We're down to the point where the non-essentials are all packed and it's time to start packing the essentials. By the time we leave, we'll be living out of a suitcase.

Once we get to Denman, it will be a few days before we can move in. First, we have to have cleaners and painters in to get it prettied up for us. It will be much easier to have all that done without furniture in place. Those arrangements are already made. (Buying the Denman Island phone book last year was the best $4 we ever spent!)

We probably won't be able to actually take up residence until about April 15th. Luckily, the little house we sold doesn't actually change hands for another month, so we'll have shelter, kitchen and laundry facilities while we're waiting. The only clothes and utensils we'll have will be what we carry in the car, so we'll have to pack it carefully. (Hint: No housewarming gifts when we pass through Vancouver and New Westminster on the way out, please. We won't have space for anything!)

Reba, meanwhile, will be living in luxury at our dogsitter's place in Calgary until we are moved in. Then, she'll get to fly out to join us once we're settled in.


Finally, we have some news to report.

The cute little house that we bought last year was too small for us. We knew that all along, but we figured that we could build an addition. However, it turns out that construction costs on the island are higher than we anticipated, plus there's all the hassle from construction.

So, we have sold it and bought a larger house. It is more centrally located, being within walking distance of "downtown" Denman and the ferry terminal. It has a little less land than the small house, but it is still a good sized lot at six acres, mostly forest. It has a nice garden with fruit trees, including - we could hardly believe our luck - our favourite variety of apple, the Gravenstein.

The inside has pine flooring, custom pine cabinets, and a pine-board vaulted ceiling in the living room. I'll post more pictures eventually. It has two bedrooms (a 100% increase over the small house), meaning that we can have a home office, which we consider a necessity. Plus, it has a cottage that will accommodate occasional visitors without their having to share a room with fax machines and computers. It also has a separate garage/studio building. It is central enough that, if high-speed Internet ever gets there, we will be among the first connected.

We are pretty excited about the new house, especially that it has everything we want already there. In fact, things have been a little too exciting lately, what with all the real estate transactions flying over the fax lines. Luckily that is all a done deal, so now we can concentrate on the move.

I have been asked lately, "Where the heck is Denman Island, anyway?" Here is a false-colour satellite photo of the Gulf of Georgia area. As you can see, Denman Island is fairly far north, being north of Nanaimo, and quite far from the better-known Southern Gulf Islands. The local business centre is Courtenay, which is well served by the Comox Valley Airport, co-located with the Comox Air Force Base. The airport is the pink dot on the photo, on the point of land just east of Courtenay.

Denman Island, and its sister island, Hornby, are members of the Islands Trust, which also includes the Southern Gulf Islands archipelago and Bowen Island near Vancouver. The Islands Trust forms another level of local government dedicated to maintaining the unique environment and lifestyle of the member islands. This gives the islands a unique municipal government system. Municipal responsibilities are divided between the Regional Districts (Comox-Strathcona for the Northern Gulf Islands, and Capital for the Southern Gulf Islands), which provide services such as health care and social services, and the Islands Trust, which governs land use and zoning.

So, is it the "Gulf" of Georgia or the "Strait" of Georgia? It was originally named the Gulf of Georgia (hence the "Gulf" Islands) by Captain George Vancouver, a gulf being "a large area of a sea or ocean partially enclosed by land, especially a long landlocked portion of sea opening through a strait." However, in the 19th century, someone got upset that the Gulf of Georgia was connected to the ocean by two straits instead of one, and its official name was changed to the Strait of Georgia. A strait is "a narrow channel joining two larger bodies of water", whereas the Gulf of Georgia is a large body of water joining two narrow channels (the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Johnstone Strait), so the earlier name makes more sense.


Someone commented on my Feb 13th diary entry by saying, "Your reasons for leaving Calgary are essentially two-fold: weather and politics." Actually, those are only two of the many reasons we are moving to Denman Island.

As I said on Feb 11th, we have had enough of city life. True, there are advantages to having services close at hand. But, we think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. We detest the anonymity of city life. City people justify outrageously antisocial conduct on the grounds that they will never meet their victims again. Whether it is flipping someone the finger in traffic, putting one's feet up on the seat on the C-Train, or committing armed robbery, the principle is the same.

While city life is pushing us away, rural life is calling to us. We long to be surrounded by nature. Not the tame wannabe nature of manicured lawns and pruned trees, but real, wild, trees-creaking-in-the-wind, critters-in-your-yard nature. We want to live where really big nature is not an hour's drive away but ten minutes' walk away.

We long for a sense of community, where people talk to each other because they are neighbours. We look forward to living where people wave to each other as they pass on the road, where "rush hour" means leaning into a friend's car window to chat in the ferry lineup, where the guy you disagree with about politics at the community hall might be the same guy who will pull your car out of a ditch with his tractor.

We look forward to looking up at night and seeing stars. Not the 17 stars that glimmer feebly through the haze and lights on an exceptionally clear city night, but real stars, in the thousands or millions, stunningly brilliant against a black velvet sky. Ever since I was a pre-schooler, I have always had a love for astronomy, yet, until now, I have never been able to do any, because you can't see the sky in the city.

Wendy grew up in Nova Scotia. Except for the last few years in Calgary, she has always lived near the ocean. Salt water in her veins. Being near the ocean is a part of who she is. We look forward to a lifetime of kayaking weekends and vacations within a day's drive (or even a brisk walk) of home.

We look forward to growing tomatoes that do not have ominous-sounding names like "Siberia" or "Sub-Arctic", carrots that can grow more than a centimetre long in one season, fruit trees, Gravenstein apples. We look forward to calling my brother in Saskatoon in January and telling him that the snowdrops and crocuses are up. (Sorry, Steve and Darlene!)

Is this a romantic view of life? Perhaps. I would say that it is a wholesome view of life. I would guess that many, perhaps most, city dwellers share parts of it. At some point, you have to take charge of your life and make your dreams come true.

We have been planning our move for nearly two years. The photo shows our planning wall, with maps, aerial photos, satellite photos, floor plans, temperature graphs, etc. of Denman Island.


When you move to a new climate, you have to get the appropriate clothing to survive the winter. Here in Calgary, it's mitts, facemask and toque. On the west coast, it's umbrella, poncho and rubber boots.

So, I just got an essential component of my Denman wardrobe. Here I am modeling them.

Actually, it hasn't been raining too much on Denman lately. The nearest Environmant Canada weather station is at the Comox Air Force Base. Lately, there have been quite a few "sun" logos on their forecast. (Here in Calgary, it's still below freezing, with snow and ice on the ground.)

Our household goods will be loaded on the truck on March 31st, and, after a night in a motel, we expect to hit the road on April 1st. We will be about three days on the road, including a brief visit with my mother in New Westminster, then we'll have to spend a day or two cleaning and painting the house on Denman before we get our furniture moved in. So we'll be moved in by the end of the first week of April.

Which may be quite late to start a garden by the local standards, but luxuriously early for us! We might be too busy to do serious gardening the first year, but it's something to look forward to in the future.


Here's one reason we will be glad to leave Alberta behind. We just about had all the snow from the last storm melted, and now it's coming down hard again. Okay, it is February, I admit. The depressing thing, though, is that it will still be doing this in May.

On Denman Island, there are only one or two snowfalls a year, and they have the good manners to melt within a few days. By this time of year, snowdrops have already flowered and tulips are thinking about it. By May, when people in Calgary are thinking about whether it is safe to plant a few frost-tolerant seeds, gardeners on Denman are alreading harvesting veggies.

This year is Alberta's centennial. If anyone asks what we are doing to commemmorate the centennial, the answer will be "leaving".

There are other reasons to leave besides the weather. Politics, for one. What can you say about a jurisdiction where there has been only one change of government in 70 years, where, once elected, the premier is effectively "President For Life"?

We live in a fairly progressive area where not everyone is right-wing. Liberals voted strategically in the federal election before last to elect Conservative Joe Clark. (Electing a Conservative may sound an odd thing for Liberals to want to do, but the alternative was the Reform/Alliance candidate.) In the most recent provincial election, NDPers voted strategically to elect the Liberal candidate. But this area is an exception in a sea of red necks.

Politics in B.C. have always been "interesting" (in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times"), but at least there, the electorate can throw the bums out once in a while.

Packing is going well. There's lots more to do, though. We have the movers booked for March 31st.

We've sold our house here in Calgary to a developer. It's a pity that it will be demolished; it has lots of character. However, only yuppies can afford to buy in this area, and no yuppy wants a 900 square foot bungalow.


Wendy and I have had enough of city life. Wendy never was a city girl, and I was always a country boy at heart, even though I have lived all my life in the city. Gang shootings or stabbings every week; insane traffic; not knowing your neighbour. It's no way to live.

How did we decide on Denman Island? It all started with a chocolate bar...

Wendy had tried a bar of Denman Island Chocolate at a writer's festival at Sechelt, B.C.. When she returned to Calgary, she realized that she needed to obtain a regular supply. So, she wrote to the chocolatiers to find out where she could obtain their product locally. That was the beginning of a correspondence with the Terrys. A year later, we were going out to the same festival at Sechelt and decided, as long as we were on the coast anyway, why not visit the chocolate factory on Denman Island? When we asked the Terrys if that might be possible, they not only warmly invited us, but insisted that we stay the night with them. When we arrived, we were immediately impressed not only with their personal generosity, but also with the physical environment and the feel of the community.

Later, when considering the possibile locations to which we could move, we had almost decided on Antigonish, N.S.. Something didn't fit: no mountains, it didn't feel like "us", something not quite right. Suddenly, the thought occurred to us: why not Denman Island?

Since then, we have purchased a house on Denman Island, and are preparing to move there on April 1st. The house is a bit too small for us, and we are considering the options for increasing the space. But that is in the future. For now, we are concentrating on packing, packing, packing.