Sunday, May 26, 2013

Strippers, Snipers and Waterfalls

(I promise its not what you think)

I've been rather distracted the past week, I must admit.  But I have a pretty good reason as I've been considering heading back to school.  Initially, I figured if I was going to undertake a Masters degree it would be later in life, "just for the heck of it", as I'd say.   I've been out of academia and any serious research work for a dozen years now.   Once I graduated for the 3rd (and what I thought was the final) time I needed to get out into the workforce to start paying off all those student loans (which I can proudly say I did back in 2009.)  

Lately, I've been mulling over going back to school sooner.  The advantage I now have is much more life experience than when I walked out of convocation with that diploma in my hand 13 years ago.  That, plus my interests have also filled out and broadened considerably.  The biggest challenge (but what is life without them?) is in trying to draw together all the documentation I need for applications, particularly when it comes to academic references but we'll see how it goes.  Most of the professors from my senior courses have moved on, though I've managed to contact a couple of them, one at the University of Western Ontario and another at Missouri State.  

I recall in my final year of my history degree venturing into the section of the Leddy Library at the University of Windsor to peruse a few theses just to get a taste of what they involved.  Oh the topics were vast.  I recall finding one (in sociology I believe) that had to do with strippers (no, I'm not kidding), which I'm sure would have been quite interesting though what I was really interested in were ones pertaining more to history.  One that I did find had to do with the training and deployment of snipers in the Canadian Forces during the Great War and this one I actually did read cover to cover.  Other than blogging, journaling and a few abortive attempts at writing some chapters for a possible future book, my writing endeavours tailed off after graduation.  

A few weeks ago, through random chance, the idea of pursuing more writing and research in the form of graduate studies came back to me in a rush.  I was actually looking up random photos of waterfalls online (hey, I find them relaxing) in an area of northern BC, when I came across a photo of a WWII northern BC.  Now, I've read quite a bit on Canada's contributions to both world wars, but this photo had me stymied.  Why exactly was there a crumbling bunker near the airport in Terrace, BC of all places?  I figured there must have been a military training camp there at one time and indeed there was.  It was then that I came across information about a military mutiny in Terrace in the dying months of the war.  What?  A mutiny?  I thought history was supposed to be boring?!  More importantly, I was surprised why I had never heard about it, read about or been told about it before.  It was like it never happened, which for the government of the day would have been just fine.   

Anyhow, I randomly contacted a professor I thought might know more about this incident and also to bounce a few more ideas off him.  He gave me a couple other names to contact and things just snowballed from there.  A couple even sent me short reading lists and I received a course syllabus back from a professor at Queen's.  Since then I've gotten back quite a few responses and its been encouraging.  Turns out professors are very eager to discuss their research interests.  As I mentioned, my interests in history are vast but I've managed to narrow things down somewhat to 3 or 4 areas.  It is kind of cool, I must say, to mention to an Arctic researcher that I lived in Nunavut for 6 years , visited two DEW Line sites, travelled across the sea ice and visited a future and former site among other things.  I'm not sure too many applicants would be able to mention that in a research proposal if I decided to focus on Arctic issues.  Other than my interests in WWI and WWII, there are also a few topics of local history focused on Windsor, that I've always been interested in, which would be a good way of getting back to Windsor since I loved the time I spent there back in the '90's.  I also haven't ruled out doing a thesis on a musical topic of the history of one of Ontario's wine regions (because I'll take any reason to visit a winery or three).  

So plenty to mull over for sure.  Deciding on an area of research and a school is a nice little task to set my mind to.  I'm looking at a 2014 start date at the absolute earliest to plenty of time to get the ball rolling.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Go Climb A Tree

I couldn't pass up yesterday's great weather to get out for a little birding foray and my efforts were richly rewarded with 10 additions to my year list, including 2 for my life list. My intended destination was a marsh on the end of my subdivision down by Wood Buffalo and Dickinsfield. I stopped along the way by a storm pond to catch my first Red-winged Blackbird and Grackle sightings and it was there that I caught my first glimpse of a Savannah Sparrow in the grass along the marsh edge. From there I skirted a treeline behind some condos on my way to the marsh. At this point I decided to duck into the woods just to see what I might find. At the end of a path covered in dead fall I came across this structure that someone had built. I'm not sure who put it there or for what purpose but realized it would make a nice little viewing platform. So up I went. About halfway up I realized I'm a little leery of heights but the urge to get a better view and add to my year list helped me push those fears out of mind. It was only 20-30 feet high anyhow and seemed sturdy enough.

I was rewarded for my efforts. I raised my binoculars to my eyes and spotted my first Northern Flicker resting on an old log a few metres away. Soon after that I spied a Black-and-White Warbler and some ducks (likely Mallards) overflew my position.   It was turning into a promising day...and I wasn't even to my intended destination yet.

When I did get to the marsh, I wasn't disappointed....a Canada Goose sleeping with head tucked under wing, a pair of Blue-winged Teals, male and female a Common Goldeneye which I see quite a bit of there....and then something I had never seen before.

I'm at the point in my birding that I can usually identify bird pretty good by its general shape.  A bird whizzed by me earlier in the day and I knew it was some sort of Sandpiper but I needed to consult the guide to see exactly what kind of sandpiper, for example.  Anyhow, I knew I had seen photos of this type of bird before so I was pretty sure it was some sort of Rail.  Water birds I'm still a bit weak on so I had to pull out the guide.  Fortunately, this particular fellow cooperated by not taking flight and stuck around long enough for me to id him.  He turned out to be a Sora, which apparently are fairly common here though I'd never seen one before.

I would have stayed longer but it was getting a tad warm for me (note to time take water with you) so I decided to head back at that point.  It took me a lot longer this year to find a chance to head out what with my work schedule and the winter weather that seemed to not want to end but in the end it turned out to be perhaps my best outing in terms of number of species sighted.  Not too shabby for a couple hours of traipsing around.

For the curious, here is a list of what I saw...

-- Red-winged blackbird
-- Common Grackle
-- Savannah Sparrow
-- Solitary Sandpiper
-- Black-and-white warbler
-- Northern Flicker
-- Common Goldeneye
-- Mallard
-- Sora
-- Blue-winged Teal

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Stereotype

(I intended to do this post some time ago but it just got lost in the shuffle.  Spring was late getting here this year so I haven't had the opportunity to get out and hit some trails as I had hoped and my birding list is woefully shorter than this time last year.  But with decent-looking weekend weather on the horizon I hope to make up for my shortfall of posts in the very near future.)

As with many stereotypes there is usually a grain of truth in there.  Since I think I've heard just about every stereotype out there about Fort McMurray in my short 3 years here, I thought it would be fun just to see how I stack up against some of those preconceived notions floating about out there.  Neither list runs to a nice neat "10" but I'll post this now in the interest of getting something up and dispelling rumours of my blogging demise.

How I fit the stereotype

1.  I work at site.
2.  I have a pick up truck in my driveway (although it belongs to one of my tenants.)
3.  I ride a big coach bus to work in the morning.
4.  I wasn't born in Fort McMurray.
5.  I own a lot of work boots (see this post for the shocking photographic proof.)
6.  I'm originally from what is often referred to as "back east".

How I don't fit the stereotype

1.  I don't live in someone's basement (though I occasionally wander down to my own to do laundry).
2.  I own my own home.
3.  I'm not originally from Newfoundland (though some of my relatives are).
4.  I didn't vote for the Conservatives in the last provincial election.
5.  I own a ridiculous amount of Classical music CD's (something in the neighborhood of 1100-1200....I forget the exact count).
6.  I don't own a truck with a lift kit (although my neighbor does).
7.  I've never been to Diggers (although I recall going to the Podollan Pub one night and my leaving there is a bit fuzzy).
8.  I've never been to Showgirls (no, seriously).
9.  I don't own a million dollar home.