Monday, September 29, 2008

Too Angry to Learn

As a child, things or people that were different always fascinated me, there were so many things to learn. Apparently the rest of the world didn't think that way.

I recall a conversation with a friend in grade 5. She was of East Indian descent and told me one day that some kids picked on her because of her skin colour. I honestly couldn't understand that. I mean, I couldn't wrap my head around the concept of someone not liking you or making fun of you because of your skin colour. I kept asking her Why?, but she didn't know either. I don't know if I ever thought to ask my parents why or even a teacher for that matter. I took what my friend told me to be true, that some people thought she should be teased because of something over which she had no control, but I remember thinking that it wasn't right to think that way. It didn't make sense.

In grades 8 and 9 I was teased and bullied every single school day and sometimes on non school days. I was small for my age, a late bloomer, smart and keen on school. (I was honestly mistaken for a boy at the age of 14 - which was when my folks let me get my ears pierced, in the days before it was vogue for boys to get theirs done.)
The summer before though, I was outside riding my bike in the neighbourhood. One of the kids who lived close by came out of his house. His name was Butch (I kid you not), he was chubby, and he was mean. He asked me what I was doing (I thought it obvious) and when I told him I was just riding around he asked me to wait on the street, he'd be back in a minute. He came back a few seconds later with a bucket full of water. "I want to pour this on you," he told me. "Sure," I said, thinking he was an idiot. "It is kind of hot and the water will probably feel good." He got ready to throw the water at me, when I said "Wait! Let me take off my shoes and socks." And he did. He wound up again. Again, I asked him to wait so I could remove my hat. He did. I stood in the middle of the road away from my shoes, socks, hat, and bike. Butch hefted the bucket of water and as he threw it, I sidestepped it. The water went flying harmlessly past me onto the road and I laughed hysterically as Butch stomped off, muttering under his breath. I spent the rest of the afternoon riding my bike around the neighbourhood, probably examining rocks and bugs, and wondering why Butch thought I would stand there and let him throw a bucket of water on me. He truly was an idiot but to this day I don't know the reason for his behaviour. (It wasn't until years later I mentioned the incident to my mom. She knew all about it as one of the neighbours had watched and heard the whole thing. She had laughed as well and then phoned my mom to tell her about it.) I had to deal with idiots like this almost every day for two years, girls and boys.

In grade 10, a girl who had picked on me for two years approached me at my locker and asked to speak with me. I was wary but said yes. She then told me she wanted to apologize for anything she had ever said or done that was mean to me. She said she was an alcoholic and as part of her recovery program she had to atone for wrongdoings. She gave me a small pewter pin and asked me to accept it and would I also accept her apology? I was dumbfounded. I accepted of course, hugged her, and we became friends. 30 years later and I still have the pin. We lost touch after I went off to university and she moved away a few years later, but I think of her often. I came to learn about her life at home and the physical abuse she and her sister had to endure and it's no wonder she became an alcoholic and a bully.

When I was 19 I ran into one guy who used to tease me and he apologized for all the teasing and name calling. I knew a little bit of his background by then (very abusive home life) and had come to understand his reasons for it, not that it was OK, but his behaviour made sense then.

I also ran into another bully a few years ago, a person with whom never a pleasant word was exchanged. He approached me at an event I was attending and introduced himself, asking if I remembered him. I'm sad to say I told him I remembered the hell he put me through. I should have said "No, your name doesn't ring any bells," but at that moment I was seeing red. He said he recalled great conversations we had and my wit and humour (!!??!!) and I said they never happened. This was the guy who accepted a bet that I would dance with him if he asked me. I didn't accept his invitation to dance as he was a bully and I actually left the dance in tears, knowing that something was up. After running into this guy as an adult I had a conversation with a school mate about him and asked her if I was losing my mind? Was it possible I had pleasant interactions with this man that I didn't recall? She backed me up completely. I was sane and correct in my recall of events.

When I was 14 I saw the movie Star Wars. I didn't think it was all that great at the time, but for some reason I was really taken with Darth Vader. I wouldn't admit that to anyone as he was the bad guy, but for years I seemed to be more interested in him than any other character. I didn't see the next two Star Wars movies until the 90s. I watched the first 3 movies and then the prequels. Ahhhh. Some things started to make sense about Darth Vader. His evil behaviour could be partly explained by his experiences as a young man. Interesting.

Darth Vader experienced a number of losses, from body parts that limited his mobility to a wife he was madly in love with. He lived during a time of unrest in the universe and he was always on the edge of good and evil, with evil finally taking hold. Darth Vader's limit was reached.

Like the bullies I went to school with, and Darth Vader, we all have our limits. Sometimes it's something lacking in our life, like a parent, guidance, a good role model. Sometimes it's too much of something - too much lenience by parents, physical abuse, ot too much chaos in our world. Sometimes things are taken from us. We lash out in anger at those lives we do have some influence on because of our inability to control our own lives. Are bullies truly happy with the people they have become? I don't think so. They are unable to learn anything from the curveballs that life throws at them. How can anyone be happy if they can't learn?

Yes, sometimes a period of anger is appropriate. When you start to take out your anger on other people (or the dog) or you begin beating up on yourself, it's time to stop being angry and do something about it. You might learn something.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Walking and Waiting

We were supposed to get a bunch of rain yesterday in advance of hurricane Kyle so we didn't get out for a bike ride. Instead we went for a walk and found a few interesting things.

I also thought the round marks on this tree limb were rather interesting. They remind me of the craters on the moon:

Racoon tracks:

Close to where I live is an office building with sunflowers out front. Of course they're hugs and almost ready to disperse their seeds but I was so focussed on checking out the bugs on the plant I forgot to take a pic of the flowers themselves.

Ants are such incredible animals. They are farmers, shepherds, builders, and soldiers. I don't know which species are in the above pictures, but these ants are shepherds. They shepherd the leaf-hoppers, milk them for their honey-dew, and also protect them from other predators. The leaf-hoppers drink sap from plants and are actually a pest, though not on a grand scale, and the ants then take their excrement. Apparently, if any of the leaf-hoppers get eaten by a predator or blown off the plant by wind, the ants will replace the missing ones with leaf-hopper larvae. So you can add nursery attendant to the list of jobs that ants do. Cool.
The last pic, I believe, is an assassin bug. I will have to wait for a positive ID from someone who knows more than I about these things. It made me think it was a New Mexico import, though, with the pattern on its back.

So now, we wait for Hurricane Kyle to land this evening. 5 years ago this weekend, Hurricane Juan hit the Maritimes and left a path of destruction in its wake. 8 people were killed, including an EMT who was on the job at the time. It was another one of those times when the best of people came through, though. Thousands were without power for up to weeks at a time, massive neighbourhood BBQs were held because of all the food in people's fridges and freezers going bad, and as power was restored, sometimes one house at a time, people were opening up their homes for others to come in for a shower and a hot meal. I was without power for a week and camped out at my folks' place for a night and my co-worker, Lorna's house for a night.

Anyway, it looks like Kyle will pass just west of the city and wreak havoc on the Annapolis Valley. I know the farmers in the Valley have been out harvesting as much fruit from the trees and crops from the fields as they can for the past two days in anticipation. The Wookie and I will tackle another walk today before it gets too blustery. And I'll keep my fingers crossed that we don't have any trees come down on our building like we did with Juan.

I have batteries, water, a flashlight and candles so I'm ready.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Clinging to Something

For my friends K and J

I went for a quick ride the other afternoon to Jack's Lake again. It's the spot about a kilometre from where I live, though the ride is about 7-8 k round trip. The day before I had felt a sore throat coming on but thought I'd fight it anyway. At the lake's edge I startled a 6 inch garter snake, several giant grasshoppers, a tiny frog, and a couple of bullfrog tadpoles. All of these creatures were too quick for me and my net or the camera so I just enjoyed the moment.

On the ride back home, just as I was nearing the main highway, I caught sight of a few pine trees clinging to the side of a cliff. They are maybe a year old but intent on growing somewhere.

Both are about a foot tall. I always marvel at the ability of living things to take hold and thrive in the most inhospitable places. Consider mountain sheep or goats, the ones the big game hunters go after in the Rockies. Or bacteria in our gut. Or trees on cliff edges.

Last week I read an obituary in the paper about a woman who was a pastor in my city. I had met her once several years ago and she was a good friend (and pastor) to friends of mine. Her life ended quite suddenly. I sent a note to my friends about their pastor and the response I received has stayed with me. I'm paraphrasing here, but K said that life isn't always nice when people like their pastor die so young and people like me have MS, but that's why faith is called faith and not certainty.

So true. If it was certain, there'd be no gambling, literally or figuratively. And no need for faith.

If things were certain, there'd be no anticipation of that first kiss. No enjoyment of the small victories we experience like passing that huge geometry test. No fun at watching someone open the "perfect" gift you found for them after searching high and low for it.

Life wouldn't mean as much to us if it was fair and certain. We could not just enjoy the moments. And we could not glean deeper meaning from a year old tree clinging to a rock.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bikes, Bears, and Beef

The Wookie and I went out on a logging trail today. About 6 k in there is a series of hiking trails set up by the logging company that owns or manages the land. They maintain the trail at their own expense. We didn't take the bikes on the hiking trail though it's apparently possible according to the two cyclists who emerged from the trail as we approached it. We could hear their bells long before we saw them. We have to get bells, too, for some of the trails we bike have bears. The two cyclists said they saw lots of bear signs, scat and tracks.

About 1/2 k from the hiking trail we came to a gate in the road. At the gate is a tiny bridge going over a fast moving stream where we stopped for some pics. First, the dragonfly that posed so patiently:

Then into the woods a few yards for a better look at the stream:

And finally, one of me.

All together it was a 14 k ride with a lot of rocky road uphill. Coming back was a relative breeze. On the way home we stopped at a local beef and chicken farm as it was Open Farm Day in the province and about 100 farms were participating by having "open house". I chatted with one of the farm workers about the beef cattle, we had burgers (and I felt a little guilty eating a burger in front of the animals), and the Wookie bought a free range chicken for beer can chicken later in the week. All in all a good day.

Fall arrives tomorrow. *sigh*


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Scientific Method

Scientific method is an accepted way to investigate events and to acquire knowledge about them.

From Wikipedia:
To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.

This method of observation and testing aims to get at the truth of something. Aside from gossip about Paris Hilton, we want the truth about things. And while some things may seem obvious to us, a scientific approach to them is what gets researchers and authorities to take note, perhaps throwing more money to causes to find out more.

Anecdotal evidence as defined in Wikipedia:
- information that is not based on facts or careful study
- non-scientific observations or studies, which do not provide proof but may assist research efforts
- reports or observations of usually unscientific observers
- casual observations or indications rather than rigorous or scientific analysis
- information passed along by word-of-mouth but not documented scientifically

When the results of scientific studies are released, the methodology of collecting data or conducting experiments is also released with it. That allows others in the scientific community to scrutinize the studies and allows for reproduction of the studies as well as statistical analysis of the results.

If a scientist publishes a study but does not fully disclose methods or is found to have falsified results, there is hell to pay. The scientist may be censured or lose funding.

We in the MS community "know" a lot of stuff about our illness. We "know" that heat can wipe us out, we "know" that stress can be bad for us, and we "know" that our hormones can exacerbate symptoms. I put "know" in quotation marks to indicate that while these statements hold true for many of us, they don't for all of us; that's why we need studies of the effects of heat and stress and hormones (and a number of other things) on the course of MS. We need to either prove or disprove things about MS in order to treat it.

In the early days after my diagnosis, a lot of well meaning people came to me with stories about friends or friends of friends with MS who took such and such and then miraculously recovered or had astounding improvements. That's nice, I would respond, and then try to figure out if the magical cure had any merit. Few did. Some involved participation in some sort of marketing scheme of the product. And the product would be expensive. Similar results could be gained from a not so expensive product, like a bottle of vitamins. I started asking questions of the people telling me the stories, like "what is the mechanism of action of the product?". After a while, people realized that I wanted scientific evidence so would stop trying to "sell" me on a product and they became more selective about what they told me, only referring me to scientific studies. They don't know it, but I was slowly educating those around me about the scientific method.

I like this one:
"non-scientific observations or studies, which do not provide proof but may assist research efforts". If an idea has merit, it will be studied. For a number of years, many people were touting bee sting therapy as a cure for MS. So the scientific community took notice and began to study it. The results of the studies are mixed at this point, but at least the idea is being studied. Other alternative treatments have to be studied as well. And when they are, and results are favourable and repeatable, and don't require me to market a product in some sort of pyramid scheme, I'll jump on the bandwagon.

The point of all this is that there was a big meeting of a whole bunch of international MS researchers in Montreal this week. I've been following the news and press releases and many of the studies may have some in the MS community shaking their heads and saying "Well, d'uh! I could have told them that!". But in order for the scientists and researchers to get to the bottom of MS they have to use scientific methods. And that takes time. (As well, they are researching some anecdotal events.)

Do you want the truth? Or do you want to spend time and money, possibly risking injury or death on something that hasn't been tested?

I want the truth.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Little Things, Big Ideas

The world shall perish not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder. J.B.S. Haldane

No thing is too small to know and no thing is too big to attempt. William Cornelius van Horne

The insignificance of insignificant things is often of the greatest significance. Me, circa 1979.

The first two quotes mean a lot to me. They inspire me to maintain a sense of curiosity about the world (though I really don't need much as I always seem to NEED to know stuff). If I hear a word used I've not heard before or one I've not seen before, I have to look it up. Where did it come from? When was it first used? If I see an insect I've not encountered before, I google it. What is it related to? What can I learn from it? If I hear two different songs with a similar sound or style I look up the writers of said song to find out if they were both written by the same guy or gal.

The third quote came about as a result of a piece of creative writing I had scratched out in an attempt to make a very mundane subject more interesting. It was also an exercise in descriptive writing. The piece was about a chunk of chocolate that was melting on a sidewalk. I have to admit it still is one of my favourite pieces. I described the "careless child" who had dropped the chocolate, the ants approaching it and eating it to take back to their nest, the "hurried businessman" who trod through it and "spread it like a virus with each subsequent step". After I had written the piece, I realized there was a lot more to the story. I thought about the child who would have been upset about the loss of her precious candy, the windfall for the ants, and the unmindfulness of the businessman to his surroundings that he would walk through the mess.

After considering all these things, I realized I had accomplished what I set out to do. I took a rather insignificant idea and found greater significance to it. And then it hit me. Life is kind of like that sometimes. Ever try to light a fire without a lighter or matches? A 2 dollar item can make the difference between freezing to death and surviving til morning and rescue.

So what does all this have to do with MS? If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you knew I'd make the connection sooner or later (and in this case, later). First, a sense of curiosity is necessary to figure out the whole MS puzzle. Scientists NEED to want to know how to put it all together. Second, we need those scientists to consider every part of our brain and body when studying this disease, from the teeniest molecule of fatty acids to the larger systems. The CNS is a part of the process of MS, but not the only part. Our nerves may be small but the system they are part of is huge, literally and figuratively. And third, when we do figure out this puzzle, it will be because someone thought of a two dollar widget that can fix it.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Warp Speed

So the Wookie and I went for a relatively short but intense bike ride this morning. I had a flat tire before the bike even came off the car, but we fixed the inner tube and were off. On the way to a lake about 5 k away I stopped to inspect a yellow wooly bear. It's the larva of a dagger moth, though it could also possibly be the larva of a Virginia tiger moth. Not really sure as the caterpillars are very similar and we do have tiger moths here. Anyway, it kindly posed for pictures and we were on our way.

Once we reached the end of our ride, I checked my stats on the bike computer. It tells me how far I've gone, how much time was spent riding the bike, my average riding speed, and my maximum speed. To be honest, I'm not much of a speed demon. I sometimes check my speed on steep down-hills and anything above 25k usually frightens me. But I just about died when I saw this:

105.9 k/hour? That's like 66 miles an hour!!

No way did I do that. There's gotta be something wrong with the computer. But the Wookie asked if I was going to try for warp speed next weekend.


Saturday, September 13, 2008


Recently I came across an article on an MS website that read like a PR campaign for alternative products. The headline was sensational and the article was described as having come from a newspaper, indicating it was a researched story from a reporter.

Halfway through the article I realized it WAS an advertisement for another website belonging to someone who was peddling alternative treatments, supplements, and books about the benefits of these things.

As a member of the media and a sometimes PR person myself, I recognized the "article" for what it was - an ad. I informed the author of the MS website of what he had just published and what it actually was, and he removed it from his site.

Am I against alternative therapies or complimentary medicines? Generally, no. If it works for you, it's not draining your pocket book at the expense of "proven" medicine, and it does no harm to you, then go for it. But remember, most of these therapies or supplements or regimens are not FDA approved (Health Canada in Canada) nor have they any scientific evidence to back them up. As a matter of fact, the website I was directed to, said at the very bottom in small print that nothing on that website had been approved by the FDA. But too many CAMS (complementary and alternative medicine) rely on anecdotal evidence to prove they work.

People with catastrophic illnesses or situations are targeted because many are desperate for a cure or relief from symptoms. As a student of science and the scientific method, I have a healthy skepticism about any treatment or supplement touted to be the "next great cure". Any time I come across these things, I check to see what studies have been done to back up the claims. No scientific studies, no consideration on my part.

If a CAM has a plausible mechanism of action, I will consider it. And chances are good, that if it has a plausible mechanism of action, there are probably current studies under way to determine effectiveness. For example, evening primrose oil has been recommended to me (and other MSers) as a supplement to help with MS symptoms. Turns out that the oil contains essential fatty acids (the good fats) necessary for good health and body function. So a recommendation to take evening primrose oil supplements has merits. But rather than spend money on the supplement, I choose to add nuts and seeds to my diet as a source of both protein and the essential fats I need.

The point of this whole diatribe is to encourage everyone to be aware of any recommendations made to you. Ask questions about why something is being recommended, if anyone gains from the recommendation (besides you), and always remember if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.


Friday, September 12, 2008

End MS

I have been MS-symptom free for a while now; any aches and pains can be attributed to the recent fall from my bicycle. Which is a good thing. But after having checked my stats this morning I have discovered that a number of people came to the blog via

I had been checking that website for a while but hadn't seen anything interactive so had knocked it off my radar. Until this morning. I believe I had mentioned having been asked to be the Halifax MS spokesperson for this campaign, the start of which has been delayed a little bit because of the big MS conference happening in Montreal next week. So I am expecting a little more to write about by next week as far as MS goes.

Anyway, I checked the website this morning and I'm on the blogroll cool! So to all you readers coming from there, Welcome! Enjoy the posts about bugs and bikes and life in general. The brains part will be back soon. I am always reading and researching events, discoveries, and studies, and always formulating posts. It just takes a little longer to write those posts.

In a way, it's interesting to me that from reading the past several posts, one would think I lead a very normal life and not know what lurks beneath the surface of my scalp. I find that comforting; to think that a person with MS can be normal, without the obsession of illness constantly hovering is an idea that 10 years ago would not have occurred to me.

I had a brief chat with a caller yesterday, a woman I have never met, and she mentioned that she knew I have MS. She asked me how I was doing etc., and after I hung up I realized that sometimes I "forget" I have MS. How lucky am I that I need to be reminded from time to time? It struck me as a little bizarre, the elephant in the room sometimes disappears.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Picture is from The Halifax Daily News, September 11, 2001.

Tomorrow is the 7th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the US. While I expect my American friends, family, and bloggers to be reflecting on this, I don't expect you to be wondering about how we Canadians think about this date.

Quite simply, it will be forever in our memories as well. But perhaps more for what occurred in our cities in the immediate aftermath.

Halifax became the landing pad for the majority of air travelers on the Eastern seaboard. The skies above the States became closed to air traffic, with the rest of the world soon following. But for those planes still in the air, Halifax became destination number 1.

The second week of September is not prime time tourist season, but there is still a bit of that traffic here then. So what were we going to do with the thousands of people who were going to need accommodations? We'd have to find beds somewhere. And food. And showers. And phones. And places for cranky toddlers and kids to burn off excess energy.

We put people in arenas, service club halls and church halls; we set up gyms like army quarters; the Canadian Red Cross set up information areas for those stranded to give and receive messages from family; the Salvation Army stepped in to help feed the masses and both they and the Red Cross put together care packages of toiletries for those who needed them.

Many Haligonians went to the various aid areas to help, offer rides to shopping areas for the travellers, or to take families for an afternoon or evening of sight seeing. Many families in the Halifax area took in some of the stranded travellers, offering up their homes or cottages. I know one woman's family who hosted a couple who had been on their way to their own wedding. With a couple of days' notice this woman arranged an impromptu ceremony for the couple, complete with a wedding meal afterwards.

Those of us in the media were spending our time on air updating the scenes of carnage and passing along information as fast as we were getting it. Some of us were putting in extra time to man the phones and to direct people to the right contacts for assistance. And we were instructed to NOT play any song having to do with planes, flying, New York City, or anything fire-related.

Something like 9,000 people from 40 planes (the most aircraft to have landed anywhere in the wake of the attacks) were stranded in Halifax. The Halifax International Airport looked like a parking lot for used airplanes; they were lined up and parked like cars at a discount dealer's. I can only imagine the skill required to fit and park all those planes.

And a few days later, it was the whole thing in reverse, with planeloads of people leaving. The logistics of fueling and lining up all those planes staggers the mind. Getting thousands of people back to the airport at the right time and on the right planes...I am simply amazed at the organizational abilities of the airport staff for dealing with what they did. (The above link to the airport goes to a page detailing what was done at the airport)

That Halifax was able to do all this doesn't surprise me. I think partly because of the city's long military history, partly because of the city's long tourist history, and partly because on that day we were all Americans in a way, we were able to be of assistance. I'm glad we were here.


Cycle to Walk

This morning as I pulled in to work I happened across a guy who is hand cycling across Canada to raise funds for Polio eradication. He was doing interviews with the local TV station.

Ramesh's story is quite incredible. Adopted from India by a Canadian couple he had contracted polio at 6 months of age. He began his cross Canada journey in April and is nearing the end of his trip.

I recall reading and hearing about polio as a young child but it wasn't until the 1980s that I really understood what the disease was all about and the fear it instilled in parents. To this day I don't understand why people don't vaccinate their children against a disease, when the risks of developing the disease are much greater than risk from side effects of the vaccination. Ramesh is hoping to promote vaccination and raise funds to eradicate the disease in developing nations such as India (he didn't receive a vaccination).

He's an inspiring young man. you can check out his website and blog at

Later today or tomorrow, you might even see a pic of me with some local construction guys posing with Ramesh.



I have been a kind-of fan of science fiction for a long time. Some sci-fi I can really get into, but others I just can't. The closer the sci-fi is to real life, the more interested I am. For example, early Michael Crichton is my absolute fave, like The Andromeda Strain. Spider Robinson's humour keeps me reading even when he's into the space travel stuff. I adore the Alien series of movies, I'll watch the Star Trek movies, but mostly for the character stories, and MIB type movies are just plain fun.

I never got into the whole X-Files hype. I enjoyed the Terminator movies, but not the TV show. Lost has been a source of entertainment and frustration for me (polar bears in the South Pacific? Come on!).

But last night I watched a new TV show that I think will be great. I'd call it an X-Files meets The Conspiracy Theory type of show. Only better. It's called Fringe. I think I'm hooked.

When I was a kid, my dad would watch Bugs Bunny cartoons with me. Then I would watch Hockey Night in Canada with him (a Canadian tradition). Little did I know that dad was really enjoying the music of the cartoons. Thing was, dad could always predict what would happen on the cartoons. I was always amazed at how smart my dad was. I would accuse him of having seen the cartoon already, which he denied, but as I got older I was able to predict myself what would happen on a TV show or movie. And I would lose interest in it. I always wanted a twist, to be surprised, to learn something I didn't know.

I wanted to learn about biology and human behaviour. I wanted to know why people and animals did the things they did. Nature or nurture? It's no surprise that I studied psychology and biology in university but what surprises me is.... I'm still surprised by biology and human behaviour. That doesn't mean that I haven't learned anything. There are plenty of psychologists out there who have failed relationships and medical people who don't know the hows and whys of certain diseases. It means that we haven't learned enough. I want to know things and understand them as they apply to my world. That's why most "alien" type shows are merely entertainment for me. I will suspend my beliefs for a short period of time, but ultimately I need to come back to the real world and real bad guys and real conditions. Like MS. That's MY reality. MS has affected my biology and my behaviour, so I need to know why. And sadly, for many of us, it's not sci-fi.

Dad's favourite sci-fi movie? Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Pockwock Watershed

We got out for a bike ride yesterday as I planned though we were foiled by a fence and thick woods so had to turn back after 10k (more about that later). Still, 10k in and 10k out over rocky hilly terrain was quite the workout. Our journey hadn't even begun when the neighbour's rabbit hopped over to say hello. This was at the Wookie's house by the way. His neighbour Robert is the world's best landscaper and lawn keeper. He has a few pheasants that roam the area as well as the rabbit. I don't know how this WHITE rabbit has survived any number of predators. The Wookie lives about 17k from me and is much closer to deep woods than I am.So off we went. The area we were headed to is actually very close to where the Wookie lives. It's part of a protected watershed, with a water treatment plant 10k into the woods. There are some logging roads but very limited logging is going on. My first stop for a picture was a noticeable pile of sawdust in the middle of the road. Closer inspection revealed a decaying piece of wood.
And even closer inspection reveals a hole in the wood where a boring insect, probably a beetle, has gone into the wood. This is how some beetles live, boring holes into decaying wood and eating stuff. If it weren't for beetles eating crap, we'd be a really stinky planet.
Anyway, the trek continued on and at about the 5 k mark, the road became an overgrown trail. We could still make out where the tire ruts were but it was maily overgrown with grasses and weeds. We wondered about the frequency of trucks coming back on this part of the road as it appeared few, if any, had been here in the past year. By the time we got to the water treatment plant, we realized why. There's a shiny chain link fence around the plant and all kinds of no trespassing signs. We couldn't get through the fence and the woods apeared too thick to walk the perimeter. According to the trail maps and google earth we should have been able to go right around the lake that is the centre of this watershed. I particularly wanted to see the damn at the lake. So we turned around.The way back was going to be a little easier as it was generally a downward slope. There were still some hills to climb, but overall it was easier. Until I got to one hill and my chain slipped - and so did I.
It was a harder fall than my first one a few weeks ago and what the picture shows is just a tiny bit of the damage. Both legs are bruised up a bit as is my left hip/butt. I seem to be fine today, no worse for wear.

The Wookie of course.
One of our rewards for the trek. At this point we're about 8 k from the main highway and where we parked. It was mostly a gray day with some mist and fog early on, but we had a few breaks of sunshine here and there.
Of course there were some butterflies; this one is now part of my collection. It was on its last leg, so to speak, as it only had 3 legs (evidence of close calls with other creatures) and its wings were quite shabby. We also managed to see a gorgous milkweed type butterfly that eluded capture. The Wookie said my picture must be posted at the Butterfly Post Office as I could barely get near it.
There were two of these paw prints on the road and no others. No human tracks nearby. Probably coyote.
Another reward. These little "swamps" are all over the place and are miniature worlds all on their own. The next trek in that area will involve taking the right road as opposed to the left and we'll get to the lake going that route.

We've had very little rain since last night and it looks like Hanna will hit the Bay of Fundy which is north of us so we'll be spared (or at least less affected).

Now to plan the next ride!


Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Short Ride and Lots of Poop

Yesterday I fought sleepiness around 2 with an extra cup of coffee. And then realized I'd be able to go for a ride after work. Previous to that I was seriously considering a nap. Because of the amount of construction and roadwork tying things up I decided to ride close to home this time. I rode to Jack's Lake, which is about 1k from where I live, as the crow flies, but a longer trek on bike of course. The trail leading to the lake is rough, strewn with rocks, and the first k is all uphill at about an 80 degree angle. OK, so I'm slightly exaggerating, but it's steep. It's also surrounded by trees so no cool winds. By the time you get to the top of that first hill you're beginning to think it wasn't such a great idea. Anyway, once at the top you travel about another k to the turnoff for the lake. We've had so much rain that the trail at this point is washed out quite a bit. Lots of ruts and exposed soft sand. And grasshoppers leaping all around me.Again you're thinking, not such a great idea. But I carried on. I reached the top of the rise on this portion and took in the stillness. Gorgeous. I saw a few dog and master tracks in the mud, a few off road vehicle tracks, and racoon tracks. Oh, what's that over there? A big pile of black poop in the middle of the trail? Yup. And no visible tracks near it. Hmmmmm....too big and black for a dog and they like to do it at the side of the trail. Too big for coyote, who seem to like to poop in the middle of trails. Bear poop? Uh-oh. Could be, but I'm no expert. Haven't heard about any bears in this neck of the woods (so to speak) so I carry on.

I reached the entrance to the lake. The trail goes through heavy woods at this point for about a half kilometre and it turned out to be extremely wet, boggy, and strewn with downed trees. I had to get off the bike to get through and it's a good thing I did as even just pushing the bike I snagged a branch and got it caught in my rear wheel. I shudder to think of the fall I would have had if I had actually been riding when I snagged it. Well, I'd probably still be in the woods listening to the stillness and hoping that whatever left left the big pile of black poop didn't come my way.

A few feet from the lake I saw what looked like a 3 foot wide pile of deer poop (I really didn't plan on this theme) and wondered about a communal defecation pile for deer. It was actually a pile of pine cones, old ones at that, that looked as if they had been placed there. Cool.
Finally, water. The lake lay before me in all its glory. Standing at the edge, with dragonflies zooming around, I could make out tadpoles in the water. This year's crop of bullfrogs. Most frogs spend a few months as a tadpole, but not bullfrogs. These guys (and gals) overwinter in the mud as tadpoles and by the end of next summer will be bullfrogs. And there were a couple of squirmy things at the edge of the lake, too. A closer look revealed they were leeches. Very cool! I extended my hand into the water to see if I could scoop one out for a closer look, but they were not interested in me. I did snap a picture though (you'll have to click on it for a better look).
And my reward for the trek, mud, and stifling heat?

It's a small lake, about half a k wide and long but it's pretty. Total distance to and from the lake is 7 k, so not a long ride, but a good workout. Today, the Wookie and I are off on another trek, at least 25 k. Bad weather is coming in later this afternoon with the remains of hurricane Hanna expected to reach us tomorrow evening. It's been downgraded to a tropical storm but it'll take weeks to dry out from the expected rainfall so I wanted to get out this morning. I've charged my cellphone and camera battery, my bike bag is ready with supplies and the bug kit is ready, so off I go. See ya' later!


Thursday, September 4, 2008

My Bit for Nova Scotia Tourism

I thought I better check in to let you all know that I'm still breathing up here in the Great White North (though these days it's better known as the Great Wet North). It has been raining off and on for several days with brief moments of dryness. The thunderstorms we've had have driven some people to the relative safety of their closets until probably November. Today ended up fairly nice and it looks like tomorrow will be good as well. I got a short bike ride in today and will try again tomorrow after work, too. And the Wookie doesn't know it yet, but Saturday morning we'll be doing a longer ride. Hurricane Hanna will be visiting Sunday so I've got to make hay while the sun shines...or it's at least not torrentially pouring.

On the topic of longer rides, on Labour day we scouted out a little bit of an old logging road that we're going to tackle on the mountain bikes soon, but it's going to be a day long trek at least. This province I live in is full of lakes and ponds and rivers. If you're ever lost in the woods here you won't die from thirst. If you check out a map and see where we are located you'll notice that we are almost an island, connected to the rest of the country by a swatch of land. Unless sea levels dramatically rise very quickly we'll not be unconnected, but we are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. Actually, in Nova Scotia you are never more than an hour away from the ocean, no matter where you go. I live less than half a mile from the ocean and see it almost every day.

The only type of terrain we don't have in this province is desert. We are a giant bunch of rocks covered with mixed forests. We have a fertile valley in the north-western part of the province, hills that were mountains and are part of the northern part of the Appalachian chain, mountains in the eastern end that are hills compared to the Rockies but older than that range, and wildlife that can take your breath away. Eagles, osprey, and many other raptors, moose and deer, bobcats, coyotes, weasels and foxes, bear, racoons, and a kajillion black flies. Just off shore are the whales (big and small), seals, and in September the sea turtles. At one point in time, we even had walrus. Actually, if you take the ferry between Halifax and Dartmouth, you sometimes can see the pilot whales or dolphins and in late winter, the seals.

In the mid eighties I lived on Cape Breton Island. In November I'd go to the Canso Causeway linking the island to the mainland to look for tuna. They had arrived from the Northumberland Strait chasing herring and the fisherman followed them of course. I'd watch for a shimmering on the surface which indicated schools of herring. The tuna would chase the school and at the last moment the herring would dive just as they reached the surface. The tuna, having gained a lot of momentum, would come straight out of the water before they crashed back in. 1,000 pounds of fish. Pretty impressive. Pretty ugly, too.

So on our up-coming longer trek we hope to see a little bit of the wildlife. Except for bears. We can do without those while on a bike. And if we come across a tuna in the woods, I'll know we should have taken a left at Albuquerque.