Thursday, 27 March 2014

Hale Tales on Canada's West Coast

Yesterday my yoga practice took place on a big and beautiful beach nearly as far west as one could go in Canada. I thought it was a good time to start Hale Tales up again.

Hale Tales is my blog to document adventures I have living and working in beautiful and interesting places.

I hope the stories in the blog will entertain and give you a glimpse into some beautiful and pristine places.

The place I am living and working is a small community of about 800 people on an island called Flores Island. To get here, you take a ferry from Vancouver over to Vancouver Island. From Nanaimo, you drive west across Vancouver Island until you reach the small fishing turned tourist town of Tofino. This is where the road ends, but to get to Flores Island you get on a boat and drive for 40 minutes through ocean pristine enough to be a UNESCO biosphere preserve until you reach Flores Island.

If you were on a boat yesterday afternoon and looked very carefully at one particular beach on the island, you might see two women doing yoga.

The sun felt glorious on my bare arms and the sound of surf, the lush rainforest behind , snow capped mountains of Strathcona Park in the far distance and several bald eagles circling above made it yoga video worthy.

So you would think anyway. If it weren't for the dogs who were also on the beach (one belonging to each yogi and one following us from the village.

Picture both yogis covered in wet sand (in a messy-sand-smeared-on-face-and-everything-else way, not a provocative one).

Now imagine three dogs (husky, husky pup and pug-terrier mix) tearing around the beach, chasing each other, barking, occasionally resting on the yoga mats and stealing articles of clothing belonging to the yogis.

Yoga mats became soggy with water, making for even more wet, soggy sand saturated clothing. We did a range of poses with meditation to start and end it.

Although all involved (humans and dogs) loved every second of it, we burst into laughter imagining what our yoga video would be like.

The walk home from the beach served to seal off our practice further and the entire experience was relaxing, grounding, playful and really fun.

Some highlights of my time here have been the community seafood feasts, the wonderful people and the expansive and uncrowded beaches.

To read a bit more about where I'm at, feel free to check out this article about some longboarding that came to my workplace last year and I was lucky enough to be a part of. Very cool to still see longboards cruising around here.

A bit about me if you don't know me. I am a sister, a daughter, an owner of a hyper-beyond-belief husky, a runner, yogi, avid reader, bike rider and big fan of unique people, places, and things. Despite my work taking me to the far reaches of this immensely huge and stunningly beautiful country, I am very close to my family and they are the most important part of my life.

Hope you enjoyed the sandy, doggy and yoga inspired post today. Thanks for reading and hope you come by to check out more Hale Tales again.

Warm Regards from Flores Island,


Tuesday, 12 June 2012

One Last Post

Crow Mountain
To help a friend out where you live,  you might help them move into a new house. Or help them move furniture or maybe even a boat. In Old Crow, you help a friend by bringing 15 sled dogs and 13 sled dog pups down a mountain to a new dogyard. I got to do this a few nights ago and it was so much fun! We took 3 trips down with several dogs each (I only got one or two at a time depending on how strong they were). And were they ever strong! I fell once and they pulled so hard. We were wishing it was winter so that we could be in sleds and have the dogs do the work and pull us down.

The last job was to bring the two mother dogs and two litters of pups down. We did this with the help of a quad, a trailer and two tupperware bins. My friend took care of the mother dogs while I collected the tiny few-day old pups and put them into two separate tupperware bins. We quaded down the mountain with one mother dog in a crate on the trailer and the other running beside us (this is a popular way to keep sled dogs exercised in summer time--run them beside quads). All dogs and pups were returned to their summer dog yard and the pups were safely put into dog houses that my friend had set up with straw. This entire process was so exciting and fun and I feel really luck to have been able to experience it.

Dogs taking a drink from the river after coming down from the mountain
I am writing this post on June 12th. It was a blowing snowstorm when I woke up this morning. My first thought was "At least I don't have to tree plant in this." I dressed warmly, walked my dog in it and made a big pot of tea to have with breakfast. I guess this is pretty normal for living in the Arctic, and one year it snowed on July 1st. When I walked into the staff room today, written on the white board said: 'Only two more days until Christmas Holidays' (instead of summer holidays).
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Second litter of pups

This might be my last post before leaving Old Crow as I fly out in a few days. I have enjoyed my time here and think I might be a bit taken by the Yukon so much that I'll be back here somewhere in September. Thank you all, for reading my posts and following my stories I have put here. I will leave you with a few close-up shots of the spring growth on the path beside the airport that I often walk.

Warm Regards from Old Crow,


Thursday, 7 June 2012

A Nest of Puppies

Such a proud Momma dog with her 8 pups

Last night I had quite the adventurous walk up the mountain. I will tell about it in this post. My friend and I often walk up the mountain to chat and get some exercise. There are several dog teams tied up partway up there right now, because of the danger of flooding that was present when the river was breaking up. Normally the dog teams are tied up beside the river and in the case of a flood, they would quickly drown, being tied up and having no way to escape.

When we walk by the dogs, they start barking and running around in the area they can reach. Often we comment that we hope one doesn't get loose. Well yesterday I was without my friend and one was loose. It ran up to me and luckly was friendly. I tried to get him tied back up the best I could when the action happened. My dog went over to one dog's area and the next thing I know, they are fighting, scrapping it out. I yell at my dog to get away, while simultaneously looking down and realizing the reason for the fight. A nest of puppies lies near the spot where they were fight. The fighting dog was a Mom and was protecting her pups.

A nest of 8 pups in a little hole in the Earth

At closer look, there were 8 puppies--3 black, two brown, one blonde and two white. Their eyes were closed and they could fit into the palm of your hand. The Mom looked so proud of her pups and you could tell she would do anything to keep them safe.

Spring has turned to summer so rapidly here. With it being near 24 hour daylight, it seems like the buds coming out on trees and the greening of the land is fast forwarded compared to places further South. The photo below is taken on the road up the mountain where I have taken many photos from. The view is equally stunning in all seasons. I feel so lucky to have been here to see the change in seasons. It is comforting to know that whatever is going on in your life, good or bad, that the seasons change just the same. Time passes through good times and not so good times.

Old Crow from the road up the mountain
We had a CO2 car race at the school today. It was great to see the cars that my class made (with the help of a community member) raced in front of their parents and peers. Thanks for reading my blog and more photos to come in the upcoming days.

Warm Regards from Old Crow,


Saturday, 2 June 2012

Upriver in a Locally Built Boat

A week and a bit ago this was filled with icebergs coming from the Crow River.
Before moving to the Yukon, a long time Yukoner was giving me some tips on what to bring, Yukon weather and Yukon way of life. He told me of the viscously cold winter and the warmest of the warm items of clothing that I should be sure to pack. He went on to say that in May it would be an almost immediate switch to summer. As hard as this was to believe, after the snowstorm on May 1st this advice couldn't have rang more true. The snow melted almost immediately and I went from sporting layers and a coat to wearing a t-shirt.

Twelve Mile Bluffs (cliffs seen in distance) with sun reflecting off them

Spring in Old Crow is beautiful. I once again again felt lucky and honoured to get asked to go on a trip with a family here. We went in a boat that the Father built last spring. It took him 2 weeks of on and off work to build it. The daughters helped paint it, and it is truly a useful and practical work of art. We traveled about 57km up river in the boat and saw many amazing things. I'll truly never forget this day.

The photos in this post are not from the trip upriver. I was just recently able to borrow a cable to charge my camera, so I didn't have a camera for the river trip. I will describe it the best I can. Lacking my camera on this day got me thinking about the act of taking photos on a trip and an incredible experience. Does it take away from the present moment? Is an amazing experience better without a camera lens between you and it? Are memories less potent when you experienced them from behind a lens? Or do they fade sooner if we don't have a camera to remember them by?

3 cranes flying above my house
We packed the boat with food, blankets (including a caribou hide blanket) and guns and set out. I definitely did not dress warm enough. On the river it was winter again. My amazing hosts lent me a parka and I was toasty warm for the rest of the day. We saw black ducks, mallards, swans, cranes, geese and a muskrat. They were hoping to see a caribou and shoot it, but there were no caribou crossing the river when we were out. I have been told the caribou cross at night more often than in the day.

I have seen more ravens in Old Crow than anywhere else
We stopped a few hours upriver for lunch. The girls and I explored the camp up from the river and found a caribou antler that I brought for my dog to chew (apparently great to clean their teeth and definitely gives her something to do) and so much ledie muskiit (laborador tea). The girls collected a bunch to bring home with them. We climbed to the top of the hill where we were afforded an amazing view of a lake called Fish lake and a few others. Near where we had lunch was a cabin where a woman raised 17 children and expertly lived off the land for many years.

Old Crow Airport
Swallows swooping and darting; Arena in the background

We continued up river for another few hours and stopped at a place where the cliffs were steep and towered over the river. We skipped so many stones into the river and I learned so much about the land and the history of Old Crow. We saw a section of river that chunked off in a landslide so massive that it could apparently be heard from Old Crow. The girls and I learned how to use my new GPS and followed our trip on there. The trip back to Old Crow was incredibly windy and my face looked and felt like I had been outside for much longer than one day. I wished I could have been, as this day was one of my favourited ones in Old Crow yet.

My class made lunch for their parents and some Elders of the community yesterday. They picked ledie muskiit and made a tea to serve to the Elders. It was a wonderful experience to experience and I am very proud of them for their hard work.

My apologies for the lack of posts in the past little while. It has been a hectic few weeks and my motivation is not as great when I don't have photographs to include with my writing. Maybe that comes with being a very visual person, learner and thinker. I hope you are all well. I am so excited  to see those of you in Vancouver in a few weeks, and to see those of you in Ontario in August. We will have many stories to share and catch up on.

Warm Regards from Old Crow,


Monday, 21 May 2012

Caribou Days and River Break Up

It has been a very exciting few days in Old Crow. The caribou have arrived and are migrating through Old Crow on their way from their winter grounds to their summer calving grounds in Alaska. I was walking up the mountain on Monday evening when my friend all of a sudden said, "Caribou!" And there was a caribou on the road in front of us. We saw another one on the road and several in the forest later on the walk. We have since changed our walk route, because there are many hunters up there now.

People are hunting caribou and peoples' freezers are filling up with caribou meat. For thousands of year, the Vuntut Gwitch'in have relied on the caribou for food and survival, and it is amazing that the caribou are still such a vital part of life for the Vuntut Gwitch'in.

Swimming Caribou (not my photograph)
The return of the caribou is just in time for Caribou Days, the festival that happens here in Old Crow on May long weekend. It has been a fun filled three days. So much local, traditional food, demonstrations (caribou skinning, muskrat skinning) and games and races.

A funny thing happened to me during a race called the Gwitch'in Man and Woman Race. The race is an individual one, where one person goes at a time and you are timed. The race is simulating a day out at Crow Flats living traditionally and involves the following:

-Running out of a wall tent
-Hauling a fell tree into the tent
-Pouring tea
-Sawing a log of wood
-Running with a pack filled with rocks
-Portaging a canoe around community hall (still wearing the pack)
-Setting a muskrat trap
-Skinning a caribou leg
-Saying a phrase in Gwitch'in to an Elder
-Running back into the tent and lying down

So I entered the race. It was all going well. I was pretty speedy during the canoe portaging portion and people were even cheering a bit. The trap setting went well. The trouble came when I unsheathed the knife I was going to skin the caribou leg with. I somehow managed to slice my finger while unsheathing the knife. Thinking nobody would notice my blood among the caribou blood, I finished skinning the leg, said my Gwitch'in phrase to the Elders. Drin Gwinzee. Dini Choo? which means, 'Good Day. How are you?' And I finished the race. I then had to go to the nursing station because the nurse thought I might need stitches for my quite deeply cut finger. Moral of the story: Southern Canadian teacher does not make a very good Gwitch'in Woman. Lots of fun, being in the race though.

The other exciting thing that happened recently is the break up of the ice on the Porcupine River. A sure sign of spring, and a very exciting even in the year, it happened on Friday. I lay on a beach beside the River, enjoying the sun. When I lay down I was 15 feet from the river's edge. When I opened my eyes, the river was at my feet. It had risen so much in the half an hour I was lying there! Very exciting and a very beautiful fleeting moment. The beach was long gone when I walked by the next day.

There are massive chunks of ice floating down the river. Yesterday there were caribou on the ice. I also spotted a mouse on an ice chunk. He was running back and forth, and to the top of the ice chunk trying to get off it somehow. Poor little guy was doomed, but did he ever look cute on that floating ice berg!

Hope everyone is enjoying spring. I am excited to see everyone this summer, whether it be in Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Muskoka, or Golden Beach Road. Thanks again for reading.

Warm Regards from Old Crow,


Sunday, 13 May 2012

Second Mountain

Moss campion (I think) partway up Second Mountain
Despite it being a bizzardy and blowing snowstorm on May 1, it was warm enough yesterday that I was able to cross country in a t-shirt. A party of four of us hiked and skiied to the summit of Second Mountain, which is part of the Old Crow mountain range. This is the mountain that could most easily be seen from atop Crow Mountain, as it is right beside it. It is higher than Crow Mountain and afforded an even better 360 degree mountain view of the surrounding mountains, rivers and lakes that make up Crow Flats. I must note that these aren't my photographs, but a friend of mine's who was on the trip. She was kind enough to send me her photos as I am still waiting on a camera cord that I ordered.

Cross country skis took us to the base of Second Mountain

We hiked to the gravel pit, then skiied to the base of the mountain. From there we were able to hike again, because we were hiking up the South face which had only patches of snow left. The hike to the top was enjoyable and uneventful (except for almost losing some sunglasses) and we passed the time by telling stories of past trips and exchanging knowledge about the history of the area. One of the researchers I hiked Second Mountain with recently did a canoe voyage from Ottawa, Ontario to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. The route they took was one of the most popular furtrading routes (the Northwest Route) and it was done partly through CPAWS to raise awareness about watershed conservation. He had many stories to tell about the trip. My favourite answer he had for my many questions about the trip was what he said when I asked what he did when he got back. "Barracaded myself in the house alone and watched movies and sat on the couch for 10 days," was what he said. I would have needed my alone time too, after five and a half months of being around the same 7 people 24-7.

Caribou antlers partway up Second Mountain

The view from the top was amazing. The other peaks of Second Mountain could be seen. The way down was when we found the best discoveries of the day trip. We found ground squirrel homes on the mountain side, on spots where it was dirt only. There were many beside each other--a village of ground squirrel dwellings.

Caribou antlers atop Second Mountain
The winding Porcupine River from atop Second Mountain

On the way down we also came across a half a caribou leg, hoof and all. Being eaten by a wolf was our best guess, as nobody from town has shot any caribou yet. It reminds me to mention that next weekend (the long weekend) is Caribou Days in Old Crow. This is a weekend celebration to mark the migration of the caribou past Old Crow on their way to their calving grounds. It is apparently a really exciting time and there will be many activities and feasts and community events to celebrate this important time.

Caribou leg, hoof and all that we came across on the way down
Ground squirrel holes
Skiing back to the gravel pit
Another great day with great company and stunning views of the land around Old Crow, Yukon. According to the GPS we traveled 12km each way on our trip.

The Porcupine River should break in the next few days. The rivers south of us have broken already and so the Porcupine should be the next one to break up. I am really looking forward to seeing this happen.

On Friday afternoon my friend who took me to Crow Flats by skidoo, drove me by quad up to the gravel pit. The binoculars he had were powerful enough to see every tree and to see the spot on the river that the school cabin is on. Many people are quadding up the mountain road now that it is clear, to get a view of the land around the town.

There are all kinds of birds around, and I hear them from the moment I step out of my house in the morning to when I get home from walking my dog in the evening. There are geese out on the river and I have heard and seen cranes (sandhill cranes I think). There are also robins this far north, which surprised me a bit.

Thanks for reading, and hope everyone is well wherever you are!

Warm Regards from Old Crow,


Monday, 7 May 2012

Golden Eagle and a Special Feast

Skiing down Crow Mountain a few weekends ago

Hi Friends and Family! Things in Old Crow are going generally well. I had a really neat day today and so I will discuss it here.

The school year is winding down. We had our last "Hot Lunch" today, which is a lunch program put on by the Vuntut Gwitch'in Government (VGG) every Monday and Friday for the students at the school I work at. Often the meal is locally sourced food. It will be caribou soup with bannock bread. Sometimes it is salmon from the Porcupine River with rice and veggies. Community members often come to have lunch with their son/daughter/neice/nephew/grandchild.

After school I was walking my dog on the road behind my house and I saw the most gorgeous bird I have ever seen. I am pretty sure it was a golden eagle, and it was absolutely massive and very different (more brown/gold and bigger) than the bald eagles I am used to seeing on Vancouver Island and Northern BC. It appeared to be being chased by two ravens who must have been protecting a nest or some area from the golden eagle. It was a moment that truly stopped time and had me completely and fully present in the moment.

Second Mountain viewed from Crow Mountain

After the golden eagle encounter I attended a feast at Old Crow Community Hall. The occasion for the feast was the 90th birthday of one of the Elders of Old Crow. I'm not sure if I have mentioned much about feasts in Old Crow, but they have been one of the highlights of living here for me. Everyone brings their own dishes to the feast and there is always a huge array of food and dessert. Caribou has been a staple food of all the feasts I have been at and it is always so delicious. The Elders get served first at the feasts and younger people serve them so they can stay in their seats. People chat in line, get their food and sit along the walls of the community hall to eat. Fiddle players might be playing during dinner. Laughter can be heard and stories are always being told around the large round room.

Today we sang Happy Birthday to the Elder who turned 90. She is a truly remarkable woman who is still sharp and alert and who has had 17 children and raised 6 Grandchildren. It amazes me to imagine the changes to her town and the world that this woman has witnessed throughout her lifetime. It makes me wonder the changes I'll see throughout my life. After dinner she gave a speech (in Gwitch'in, that was transalated to English) expressing her thanks for everyone coming out to celebrate her birthday. She expressed sadness for seeing so many of her close friends pass away, but was mostly smiling and so thankful for what she has done and had in her life. We played a few group games (for prizes) after her speech and it was a really enjoyable feast.

Old Crow malamute sled dog pup
My day finished with a walk above tree line with a few friends in Old Crow. This malamute pup came along after we untied him from his tree partway up mountain. Some people are starting to tie their dogs up to trees partway up the mountain in case of a  flood. The Porcupine River is thought to break up in the next week or two, and whenever the river breaks there is a risk of a flood. Dogs (who are tied up) are especially at risk for dying in the case of a flood which is why people move their dogs partway up the mountain before break up.

I am really excited to see the river break up. It will be quite powerful I think, and a very exciting time for the town. Thanks for reading my blog and for all the emails, texts and skype dates. I miss you all and can't wait to see you next.

Warm Regards from Old Crow,