Sunday, November 19, 2017

Salmon - nitrogen bomb.

Yesterday, miraculously, our scheduled trip to the Fraser River Eagle Festival at Harrison Mills coincided with a break in the rain.  Today the weather throughout the region reverted to November.

Harrison Mills is at the confluence of the Harrison and Fraser Rivers, about 50 miles upstream from Vancouver.  Before joining the Fraser, the Harrison flows around the tip of a sandy peninsula, at Kilby Provincial Park.  In this picture, facing west, the river is flowing right to left around the point to meet the Fraser flowing west on its south side.  Notice the lumpules scattered along the shore.  The larger ones are the carcasses of chum salmon.

Back around the northern flank of the peninsula and a short distance upstream the Harrison  broadens and contains a silty delta known as the Chehalis Flats, created by deposits settling out from the inflowing Chehalis River and Weaver Creek, whose winding channels continue into the flats, producing a web of sand bars and channels.  Within the faster flowing watercourses, where the bottom is sufficiently gravelly, chum salmon spawn.  And here, on the flats, bald eagles feast, hundreds at a time.  

I took no eagle pictures.  I had only my phone to record the scene, and phone pictures of eagles would be sadly inadequate.  The following images from the Eagle Festival Flickr photostream show nicely what the birds looked like: Eagles on flatseagles in trees. 

Oblivious to bird and human, the salmon fulfill their biological imperative, having spent years at sea, swimming who knows where, surviving who knows what.  

After that? Struggle upstream into freshwater while undergoing dramatic alterations in form and physiology, spawn, and then die, but not easily.  Salmon have death throes too.

But that's just the start of things:

Bears and other large mammals drag salmon from streams up to 500 meters into the forest where the remains gradually decompose and act as fertilizer.  The elements in their tissues, and in the waste products produced by carnivores then become available to the ecosystem.

In Gwaii Haanas, Haida Gwaii, it was estimated that 3,611 salmon carcasses, 63% of an entire run, were transferred from the river into the surrounding forest by as few as 3 to 8 bears.

Eagle numbers and breeding success are correlated with the abundance of salmon carcasses left behind in spawning streams.

In some places the timing  and success of mink reproduction is related to the availability of salmon carcasses.

Coastal Alaskan Brown Bears obtain virtually all of their nitrogen and carbon from salmon.

Bottom-dwelling insects in salmon-bearing streams in interior BC obtained up to 60% of nitrogen content from salmon tissue.

      Vegetation near salmon streams contain significant amounts of marine-sourced nitrogen.

The more salmon in a run, the more nutrients available to the ecosystem, and the more productive it is.  This inevitably includes an increase in the invertebrate prey species that nourish developing larval salmon.

When a salmon stock diminishes all plant and animal species within their food web are to varying degrees impacted.  This includes salmon themselves, whose decaying carcasses influence the survival rates of future runs.

It's almost as if the ocean is the lungs, the rivers are the blood vessels, the forest is the living tissue, and the salmon are the corpuscles.  Unlike the circulatory system in a single animal, however, the fish only travel in one direction, and their vital cargo isn't oxygen, required for the fueling of life, but rather carbon, and, especially, nitrogen, elements essential for its construction.

Once you start to get salmon, you realize that we spend most of our lives in a bubble of remarkable ignorance, clueless of how the heck our world works and needs to keep working for the whole darn thing to stay alive.

Chum Salmon, blessed nitrogen bomb.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Pack o' smokes.

Remember cigarette packages?  Players, Kool, Dunhill, uh... Marlboro, Pall Mall....others I forget? 

Virginia Slims!

Remember them before the government (in Canada) mandated ugly boxes with images of diseased smokers' lungs and gums and whatever else on them? 

Remember ash trays?  Some of the glass ones where beautiful.  I remember ash trays on the end tables in my parents' house.  My parents didn't smoke, but many of their friends did. They could turn a pristine ash tray into a toxic haystack in a single visit.

Remember ashtrays and cigarette lighters in cars?

Remember sour, soggy, cigarette butts everywhere?  Swarming the curb at the Warden bus loop, or scattered, a flick away, between the tracks at Bloor and Yonge?  (Childhood Toronto ref.)

Recently I became interested in Chinese cigarette packages, in an admittedly dim-witted--Hey, there's a different one!--kind of way.  There are many people from Mainland China here, either recent immigrants or visitors, and the smoking culture over there is at a different stage from here, at least with regard to cigarette packaging. I have created a brief image gallery of empty Chinese cigarette boxes I have found.

Double Happiness was the first.  I recognized the characters right away, because they are usually on the wall behind the bride and groom at Chinese wedding banquets. That it was crushed flat on the road seemed poignant.

1956.  I don't know what else to call it.  It is very elegant.

This one, I think, shows one of the buildings from The Forbidden City, but any picture I found online did not show the totem pole-like objects at the corners.  Nevertheless this is a very pretty cigarette package, the picture not doing justice to its true colour.

I have no idea.  Maybe this is the Chinese equivalent to a picture of a diseased lung.

Saturday, November 4, 2017


Steveston Harbour, looking a bit grim, as if something bad is afoot.
(So to speak.)

Steveson is a fishing village at the mouth of the south arm of the Fraser River.  It is now part of the City of Richmond, and is one of the oldest non-indigenous communities in British Columbia (and was inhabited by indigenous people prior to that).

It has a long history of fishing, especially salmon, and still is an important fishing port, a place to buy seafood right off the boat.

It's a tourist town too, but not to the degree of some seaside villages on the edges of large metropolitan areas.   It is still a vital part of the day to day lives of Richmond residents.  There are family restaurants and dental offices and a pub and banks, a bike shop, a fancy underwear store -- stuff that normal folks use.  Our dentist is on the main drag, which has a false-front, frontier town look, in a wood-sided building that was previously a fishing net sales and repair shop.

Steveston is also a common TV and movie filming location.  The ABC show Once Upon a Time was filmed here for the first six seasons, for which it was renamed Storybrooke, Maine.  That show has moved production to Seattle, but there's always something going on.  Those people dressed in black, drinking coffee, talking into walkie talkies, standing around--the endless list of names people--arrive, take over a block or dock or parking lot, and it's just the way things are.

Which can be annoying.  I was barred from walking down the dock last week by a couple of black-clad burlies.  Something was being filmed at the far end.

"What is it?" I asked, which rarely results in a satisfying answer. It is usually a pilot for something that, if produced, will be so far in the future that this conversation will have been forgotten,  or an episode of a show on a streaming service that you have to pay for.

But this time, it was another ABC show.  "Siren," the burly who was allowed to talk said.

"Oh," I said.

"About an invasion of mermaids, or something."


He shrugged, and then listened to a thing in his ear.  "Rolling," he said to the non-speaking burly.

I looked up "Siren" on IMDB.  It says, 

"In the mermaid-obsessed sea town of Bristol Cove, everyone's lives will change when actual mermaids come ashore, which soon causes a war."

Well this is going to make visits to the dentist more entertaining. 

But really.  How hard can it be to fight mermaids?  I would think they're relatively easy to outrun.  Leg-wise, they're more seal than sea lion.  You could just sort of hem them in with a few sheets of plywood.

Here is a pretty boat angling in to the dock.  I think she was about to be filmed.  Perhaps mermaids are about to flop onto her deck, and this is where the mer-attack is about to begin.

I hope Quint isn't drunk

Monday, August 7, 2017

Big orange sun.

It's been smurky (murky skies due to smoke) for five days.  The wildfires in British Columbia that have been burning for weeks are mostly hundreds of miles north of and inland from here, and their effects didn't reach the coast until the wind changed last week and started blowing westward. The following picture was taken two nights ago, 90 minutes before sunset.  Last night looked more or less the same, the sun an angry orange disk. At this time of day the sun should still be at a state where you wouldn't be able to pin down a colour, beyond "bright." It shouldn't look like a red-hot penny.

Our AQHI (Air Quality Health Index), a measure that includes fine particulate matter (particles 2.5 microns or less), ground level ozone and nitrogen dioxide, has reached as high as 7 out of 10.  Seven is bad, but other places have recently endured much worse. On Thursday, Kamloops, 170 miles northeast and near several major fires, was 49 out of 10, the greatest Spinal Tapping of any measurement system ever.  We, here, shouldn't really complain.  We haven't been evacuated, and our communities remain unscathed.

Nevertheless, this dingy sky is becoming tiresome. To illustrate present conditions:

Planes taking off from YVR (Vancouver) a few miles from our home, look like this at mid-day:

And on it goes. Every day the weather forecast from Environment Canada promises us sunshine tomorrow, but by the following morning it has turned, literally and iconographically, to smoke.

Here is what our August sky should look like:

Yes, sweet blue, and filled with large, fluttering butterflies.  

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone, or something along those lines.

Target was here, briefly.  It moved in, taking over many of the stores that had been Zellers, a Canadian discount chain, but its launch didn't go smoothly. As I understand it, they had difficulty adjusting their labeling and pricing system to metric measures and bilingualness, and opened with shelves lacking the range of inexpensive stuff Canadian cross-border shoppers could get at Targets short drives away. Target failed expectations, and shoppers pulled back, waiting for the company to find its feet, become the Tar-jet we had known.  It folded within a year.  Sigh.  Folks here really wanted it to succeed. 

The most conspicuous remains were the big red balls.  Outside each door, Target had cemented a pair of large, concrete, red-painted balls, one to the left, the other to the right.

At our local ex-Target, those balls have persisted, at least three pairs, in situ, until this week when one broke its bonds and went for a rumble through the parking lot.

Unfortunately, and metaphorically, lacking a long-term plan or guidance system, it ended up trapped within another, less conspicuous artifact of the lost retailer, a shopping cart return rack.  So there it languishes, waiting for the earth to tilt the other way.

These days, how many mall visitors even know what the big red balls mean?  The couple below, do they consider the ball before them and ponder its significance?  Do they notice its trundle-scuffed partner ensnared a hundred meters away?

Of course not.  They are blindly in love, unable to conceive of how awry a plan can go.

I met a traveller from an antique land, 
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, 
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read 
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; 
And on the pedestal, these words appear: 
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; 
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! 
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Two wheels at a time.

It's good to have a bike.  When you're a kid, before you can drive, it gives you freedom. However, once you have your license, true freedom, it doesn't mean you want to rid yourself of your two-wheeler.  A bike is always useful.  It is healthy.  It is pure. Two clothes pegs and a hockey card--fun!

The only bikeless period of my life was when I was a graduate student in Toronto and lived in a small apartment downtown. There were subway entrances all over the place, allowing me to travel relatively easily underground, short or long distances. Pop down one hole, pop up from another.

I returned to surface life when I moved to California.  Public transit was okay, but I needed a bike for quick trips around the neighbourhood, or to the parking-starved campus and back.  After about a week, I went on a mission.  From  my sixplex in El Cerrito I walked to the main strip, San Pablo Avenue, and headed south.  I believed that, without checking the Yellowpages, which still existed but didn't come with the apartment, or asking a local, if I kept walking, I would find a bike store.  I would buy a bike, a helmet, and a lock, and I would ride home.  It was a good plan.

Eventually, before even a shadow of self-doubt crossed my mind, I came to El Cerrito Cycle.  See? Good plan. I walked in.  Within fifteen minutes, I was out for a test-ride.

The man in the bike store was suspicious of my Visa card, which was issued by a Canadian bank. I had to let him hold it while I was out on the bike.  He instructed me to ride on the trail beneath the BART track, which was just out back.  So I did.  After a few minutes I discovered that he was riding behind me, as if fearing I would head for the border, ha-ha, so long sucker.

He didn't really look like a bike-store worker, who should be young and fit, or older and sinewy from all those years of pedaling.  He was a bit heavy, and his knees poked out when he rode, like somebody's dad who hasn't ridden in twenty years.

I looped back past him and got to the store first.  I bought the bike.  Here it is:

It is a Catalina Park Pre. That likely means nothing to you.  It means next to nothing to me, except that those are the words written on my bike.  I rode my C-P-P, a few years of quick, reliable getting-around in the East Bay, and then moved to this province of rain and mountains, a very different, more challenging biking habitat.  I stopped riding.

Then I did maybe one of the worst things you can do to a bike.  I left it out on an apartment balcony, exposed to the elements.  The tires went flat.  The hand-grips dried and cracked, The rims and chain rusted. Shame on me. 

We eventually moved to Richmond, which is situated on a flat pan of silty, boggy land at sea level, at the mouth of the Fraser River.  It is ringed by dykes to keep the river and tides at bay.  It has a mild climate, with very few days of snow cover.  It is near perfect for biking.

Proof of that occurred during the 2010 Winter Olympics.  The speed-skating oval was (and still is) in Richmond, which meant that the Dutch would come.  They did, located their Olympic pavilion here, and brought their bikes. For those two weeks, you would see orange-clad people riding super-sturdy commuter bikes along the dykes.  What could be more Dutch?

By this time I had successfully and guiltily nursed C-P-P back to health, and had ridden it for a year or so before deciding to upgrade to something a little comfier.  I bought a Raleigh Sentinel, which had shock absorbers on the forks and seat post, and was a joy to ride.

Raleigh was a famous, venerable British brand.  They started making their bikes in Canada too, in Quebec.  I believe my bike was built there, not long before the brand was sold to a Dutch company, which would seem a good thing, but the vortex of globalization sent production to Viet Nam, using parts from who-knows-where.  Not the same bike.  Telling youngsters working in bike shops that I rode a Raleigh no longer even rated a shrug.

I rode the Raleigh for 15 years, including to work and back every day that wasn't snowy or icy.  I figure I racked up close to 40,000 Km, which is almost the circumference of the globe.

But wear and tear.  It happens to bike riders, and to their bikes. I replaced the tires at least three times, the seat twice, the handle bars once.  There is only so much you can replace on a bike and still have the same bike.  All that remained from the start were the frame and the drive train, and eventually they wore out too.  The forks splayed slightly, making it difficult to reinsert the wheels when changing tires.  The chain and sprockets wore down, and no matter how I fiddled with the cables, the gears kept slipping.  I could no longer suddenly pump hard to get through a yellow light or up a grade.  My pedaling became the equivalent of lily-dipping, which is a disparaging canoeing term for paddling weakly with only the tip of the paddle, not the entire blade, as if you are passing through water lilies and don't want to become mired.

I was slow.  It was becoming hazardous.

I had to let Raleigh go.

This week I started a new relationship.  A G-T Transeo 4.0.  I don't know what that means. Those are the words written on my bike.

Transeo has graceful lines and goes like the wind.  We are young again.  

Well, one of us is.

Dutch person and bike, taking in the view. They clearly enjoy each other's company.
 The Dutch-- a people who understand the bond between person and bike. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017


A friend said, "There's a raptor nest visible from the road. It would be good to know what kind it is."
Subtext is the province is widening the road because they want to put a stupid TEN-lane bridge onto our island and need somewhere for TEN lanes of traffic to hang out before the clog-up at the four-lane bridge at the other side of the island.

The nest-thing was fine with me.  Get away from a keyboard and tromp around in the woods for a while.

The woods are far from pristine.  The understory is mostly a tangle of invasive blackberry that will happily kill you with a million punctures. 

We could see the nest from a distance, and scrabbled a circuitous path to the base of the tree, a tall but not impressively old cottonwood.

We craned our necks, raised our binos.  50 feet up.  No heads, adult or baby.  The nest seemed empty. It was too small, too enclosed  for an eagle,  It was too large for a Cooper's Hawk.  Red-tail was the probable owner.

"Or a Great-horned," I said.  They use old nests.  "But they should be fledged by now."

There was fresh white-wash (poop) on the ferns and blackberries circling the tree,  We started searching for pellets.  There were hemlock branches extending into the upchuck radius that could have deflected the pellets away from the trunk.  I skirted wider, and found, sadly, this.

I had a hard time mentally assembling it.  The head is upper right.  It's a baby Great-horned Owl, an owlet, starting to fledge.  Note the blue shafts of the pin feathers, lower right.

It was days dead.  I shifted it a bit so that the talons were visible. 

We have no idea how this one died. Siblicide is rare in Great-horneds, I have since read.  We had mixed emotions, contentment in figuring out the ownership of the nest, and sadness over a dead owlet.

We walked back to the car, a different route.  We couldn't possibly retrace our steps through the blood-letting blackberries.  We came across a log decorated with slime mold doo-dads. Life from death, death from life, a smelly, prickly circle, ugly and beautiful.