Saturday, April 24, 2010

Birchwood Trail

Lisa had a bit of a headache this morning and the kids seemed a little more rambunctious than usual so in order to give Lisa a break and prevent the kids from killing each other I decided to take them along with the dog out for a walk and explore the Birchwood Trail. The Birchwood Trail is actually a whole series of smaller trails lying between the Thickwood and Timberlea areas of town. I'm not sure how many kilometres of trail there are but it is used quite extensively by the local ski and running clubs and anyone else, like ourselves, out looking for a touch of nature. The trails are all named after different animals - Raven Trail, Bear Trail, Moose Trail, Squirrel Trail and so on. Maps are posted at various points along the way and while I did pick a map earlier in the week I had left it back at the house.

Due to last night's snowfall I wasn't really sure what kind of condition the trails would be in but decided perhaps to just head down one a little ways before turning around and heading back.

Tamara and Nicholas at the head of the trail system. Hot chocolate provides some good insulation.

We had a choice between 3 different trails so we picked the middle of the three and headed down into the valley. Once out of the wind the going was much easier. The trail was a little slushy in spots but overall much easier to navigate than expected. And our sense of adventure kicked in. What began as a quick look-see turned into a 3+ hour nature hike.

The Raven Bridge, the first of 3 three bridges we crossed.

Here the kids have conquered Fuzzy Hill, the first big hill we attempted. The trail winds back on itself several times as it rises so you don't really get a good idea of just how long and steep it was. My knees could certainly tell you though.

We saw quite a lot of bird life and Tamara is getting quite adept of picking movement out of the thick boreal forest. Along the way we spotted the ubiquitous raven, two downy woodpeckers, a black-capped chickadee and a couple robins. With the exception of the raven and the chickadee, Tamara saw them all before I did and proudly pointed them out to me. The robins were the first ones I've ever seen here in Alberta. Funny how I've spent a good chunk of my career living in boreal forest and have never saw robins like I did growing up back in Ontario. When Tamara pointed them out, I mistakenly corrected her thinking they weren't to be found this far west. She seemed convinced though that she had indeed seen a robin. A few seconds later the matter was cleared up as some movement caught my eye and I saw a pair of robins quite distinctly not too far into the bush. She was tickled to prove me wrong and I was grateful to have an extra pair of eyes to help me out.

The trails cross back and forth over 3 branches of a creek which winds its way through the valley. Erosion and dead fall had done a number on parts of the trail and washed out at least one bridge, or at least the ground on the other side of it.

A partial view of the valley looking back the way we came. The picture just doesn't do it justice.

Pee break.

Kids being kids. I think Nicholas was pretending to be some sort of reindeer. Since he was more interested in looking for bigger wildlife and we didn't come across any along the way, he took it upon himself to invent his own.

In the end we came out of the trail system at a totally different spot from where we had entered. What can I say. A few years on the Nunavut tundra have apparently dulled my bush navigation skills (though in my defense I didn't have my map with me as I mentioned). In the end though it wasn't too far of a walk to get home.

It was a great little outing and the kids are itching to head back since was covered only a small portion of the trail system. Now that I know what kind of scenic views and bird life are to be found there I can't wait to head back with binoculars in tow. We are very lucky indeed to have such a nice rural get away so close by.

Built To Last

I did have another picture on my laptop showing the sorry shape our little backyard tree was in after our last big snow storm but I just haven't been able to breathe some life into my Mac so I can't show it. It's probably just as well. I really thought the poor thing was history so best not to relive old memories. As it turned out it has recovered quite nicely. (A couple branches will have to go but all in all I can't complain.) Score one against Mother Nature.

The other thing this picture shows that held its own against the deluge of snow was the nice little shelving unit to the right of the tree. My soon to be father-in-law built it out of small limbs cut from around the property at our old house in Janvier and lashed it together quite tightly. It served as a nice boot shelf in our basement and we were glad to be able to bring it with us to Fort Mac. where it will now serve as part of our future garden. The storm dumped so much snow on it that there reached a point where I was kicking myself for not trying to get it inside out of the elements or at least into our backyard shed. But a quick inspection once everything had all melted off it showed now breaks or cracks. Now that's some good craftsmanship for you.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Get Up And Go

Things are coming along rather nicely here at the Chateau. We finally managed to get our internet connection set up here at the house this morning so for those of you wondering about unresponded-to emails, I wasn't ignoring you,I've just been understandably sidetracked by a myriad of other things.

Last week, we went to something called "Get Up and Go" at the rec centre. This was an opportunity to peruse some tables set up by various groups in town to give newcomers such as ourselves an idea of all that is available. I took a pass on the belly-dancing and scuba diving lessons but I did pick up some good info on an amateur theatre group and some good information on recreation events and some tourist brochures. I also got hold of a decent map of the Birchwood Trails. This is a local trail system here used by the local running and skiing club among many other people and a place I've been itching to explore for some time now. I also bumped into a lady I've been playing telephone tag with the past couple weeks over some contract work.

I also hope to get some pictures up soon. I've been a bit delayed with that since aside from having no internet until today, my Mac, which was been dying a slow death for some time now, seems to have given up on me for good. I still have hopes of resuscitating the thing but that will have to wait for the moment. We have a new Gateway computer with a nice wide touch screen. I just have to adjust to using the new keyboard.

Lisa has started the daycare a couple weeks early. People work some pretty crazy shift work in this town. Lisa's first clients arrive at 5:30am and the last child leaves at 6pm. Yesterday we had 7 kids in the house aged 6 and under. Three of them were our own of course but it made for a busy day. Yesterday was the first day we had had that many and the week has been a good test run. There is still plenty to do and it keeps us on our toes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Bird's Eye View

I spent a little time playing around with Google Earth today and thought I'd post a few images from our little corner of the world. Here then is Fort McMurray. The large river for anyone not familiar with the city is the Athabasca. The river feeding into it is the Clearwater which flows in from the east from Saskatchewan and joins the Athabasca just to the north of Fort McMurray at a place known as MacDonald Island. "Mac Island" is home to the rather impressive rec. centre I've mentioned a few times in the past.

Anyhow, as you can tell, Fort Mac is chopped up into several well-defined areas, determined by the crazy geography of the place. According to my map from the municipality, on the east side of the Athabasca you have Prairie Creek, Gregoire, Beacon Hill, Waterways (the oldest and historical part of the city), Abasand Heights, and Lower Townsite (or downtown area). Across the river you have Thickwood Heights (where we live), Dickinsfield and Timberlea, the newest (and rapidly expanding) area of town.

Here is a closer view of our stomping grounds of Thickwood.

And here we have our immediate neighborhood. Westview Public School is the bottom-most of the 3 large buildings at the top of the picture and is where Tamara and Nicholas started school earlier this week.

Winter's Last Gasp

Here are a couple pictures I found from the The Weather Network of last weekend's big dump of snow since I don't have any pictures of my own on me at the moment. I take comfort in the knowledge that this latest snowfall won't last long as we expect to see temperatures pushing 20C over the coming days. I can't really tell where in town these photos were taken though my guess is that the first picture is from up in Timberlea which isn't all that far from where we are.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It's Just Like A Year In Provence

A few summers ago while visiting my parents in Ontario, they introduced me to the mini-series A Year In Provence, based on the autobiographical book by Peter Mayle. The reason I mention this is that now that the euphoria of buying a new house wears off and reality sets in, all the little quirks we are finding with the new place remind me of this couple's experiences with their place. Admittedly, we don't have to deal with the mistral winds mentioned in the book. There is no annoying morning rooster (though the dog makes a pretty good stand in at times) and there are very few people French people engaged in long-winded conversations but as with any new place, there are a few quirks that need attending to.

The biggest eyesore has to be the upstairs bathroom. The house was built in 1980 and I swear it still has the original linoleum floor. Now, I will admit I will never be accused of being up to date on fashion but this floor has got to be the absolute ugliest thing I've ever laid eyes on. The other thing about this bathroom floor is that it squeaks.....a lot. It is impossible to make a nocturnal bathroom trip and stay quiet. The water coming out of the shower also doesn't stay warm for very long too for some reason. Hmm....methinks there might be gremlins lurking in the pipes or in the walls somewhere. The bathroom can also be accessed through the master bedroom where there are a couple "his and her' closets. The plan is to eventually take out the existing wall between the bathroom and the closets and enlarge the room and update all the bathroom fixtures. For the time being we do our best to tread lightly on the floor and not look down at it.

The deck out back is quite nice (or at least it would be if it wasn't for all the snow on top of it at the moment). Apparently, the idiot that built the thing a couple years ago unhooked the A/C unit and never bothered hooking it back up when he was finished his job. Not that it matters at the moment with all that snow on the ground but still....

We replaced the refrigerator, stove and dish washer with brand spanking new ones and even managed to get a few bucks from selling the fridge and stove. The kitchen tap is another thing. It was old and leaking and we had a plumber take it off, though we haven't quite gotten around to replacing it yet. Using the kitchen sink has turned into a bit of a delicate ballet now. I don't know how many times I've turned the thing on, and in a moment of inattention managed to shoot a giant stream of water all over the floor.

Lisa managed to find the fancy type of light bulbs that we needed for the downstairs rec room to replace that ones that needed to be replacing. We also had to buy a bunch of child-proof covers for the electrical outlets for when the daycare gets up and running. For the most part, I had no problem putting these on but in the living room I couldn't get any of the covers to fit because the bottoms of the sockets extended below the top of the baseboard and the new coverings were just a little too wide to fit into the notches cut into the baseboard.

We had our phone hooked up and ready to go with a new number and arrived expecting to have service only to hook up our phone and discover we have no dial tone. I was finally able to get in touch with the phone company earlier this evening. For blogging purposes I'll refer to this company as TELUS. Now, apparently, the problem is with the phone jacks but who knows. We had the exact same problem last August when we moved into our house in Janvier and it took several weeks before we finally got that mess straightened out. I find it funny that we should have the exact same problem twice in a row. Maybe telecommunications devices just have it out for me. Yeah, that must be it.

And of course, as I mentioned in my last post, Mother Nature wreaked havoc on our poor tree in our backyard. I'll likely have to hack off a couple branches (Darcy in a tree with a hack saw...that should be fun) but I'm confident the poor thing will pull through. This picture is from a couple weeks back, before the big storm and while it doesn't look like that much now, we've been told it's full of colour when it blooms.

And, since I'm on the topic of trees, I've been wracking my brain as of late trying to figure out the type of species a couple of trees on our property might be. if anyone can tell me what time of tree this is in the photo below I would be very grateful. They grace our front walkway and produce these small red berries and add a wonderful charm to the house.

I'm also curious to know what type of tree this big bushy fellow next to the "sold" sign is.

Oh yes. How could I forget about the birch tree in the above photo right along the property line. It's only really half of a birch tree. Lisa told me that a neighbor had told her that a couple of years ago the poor thing had been struck by lightening so there isn't much left of it now. So, in keeping with the idea that we've discovered many quirky things about our new house, apparently it is also a magnet for lightening strikes. Wonderful. Good thing lightening never strikes the same place twice. Hmm, maybe I'll just avoid that tree for now.