Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year That Was

As you can imagine, for anyone living in Fort McMurray, it's truly been one hell of  a year.  Low oil prices, economic uncertainty, lay offs and rumours of lay offs, followed by yet more lay offs.  And then, of course, there was the Beast, the most costly natural disaster in Canadian history that saw roughly 88,000 people abandoning their work, their houses and their everyday routines of life and fleeing for safety.

In a very real way, I've come to more fully appreciate the value of human life and living safely.  More than one firefighter here sacrificed his home in order to help save mine.  I appreciate the value of countless people helping complete strangers with no expectation of repayment.  I appreciate second chances, making the most of each day and taking nothing for granted.

It's been quite a roller coaster ride but while the year had its fair share of angst, there were positives as well.  Chief among them would be the fact that I've navigated my through all the crazy events of the past year, either through luck or skill and sometimes both.  I've managed to stay employed through countless rounds of layoffs and rumours of layoffs and kept my tenants in place.  It really is impossible to overstate how much of relief that has been.  In other positive news,  I saw a number of great concerts with the Calgary Philharmonic and the Edmonton Symphony which I touched on on my blog here.  While the evacuation prevented me from seeing one concert I was especially looking forward to, I will get a second opportunity to see one of my favourite violin concertos performed in the coming spring.

While the evacuation also wiped out a much-anticipated birding trip to Banff, I still got to see quite a bit of the province this year (again, mainly because of the evacuation) and this in turn led to me being able to see a record number of birds for my year list.  I initially hoped to get to 50 for the year, which seemed an impossibility once the evacuation but all the travel I did throughout May and June led me to seeing at least 5 or 6 species I had never seen before.  Unless something really crazy happens in the last few hours of the year, I will finish off 2017 with 83 for my year list, so despite all the trials and tribulations of the year I really can't complain.

Other than that I really can't think of too much else.  I'm in the middle of a work shift so I'm scrambling to hack something out before we roll over in to the new year.  I really  feel as if I've turned a corner and the new year will potentially open up some exciting new opportunities for me though it might take a bit longer before they are fully realized.  At any rate, after the insane bat-shit crazy year this was, things can only look up as we stand at the cusp of taking one more trip around the sun.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Weather Was Just a Bit Brisk

Having spent the bulk of my working life either north of 60 or in the provincial "norths",  I'm rather accustomed to long, cold winters.  I've lived places where your eyelids will freeze together, I've had more than a few bouts of frostbite, I've managed through a few blizzards, I've developed (some) patience when it comes to dealing with how the cold can slow things down and I've mastered the art of dressing in layers, or at least I like to think I have.  

While I'm used to it to a certain extent, its doesn't necessarily mean that I have to LIKE it, however, and the past couple weeks were a reminder of that.  Thankfully, my work schedule meant that I missed part of it but there was no escaping the second half of it.  I woke up last Friday morning to my laptop telling me that as of 5am local time, the wind chill was a rather brisk -51C.  This was the lowest wind-chill value I've seen in the time I've lived here and I'd have to go all the way back to my Nunavut and northern Manitoba days to have experienced something comparable.  Wind chill values in the -60's were commonplace during the winter I spent in northern Manitoba but back then I had an indoor job and wasn't working 12-hour shifts.  In the early 2000's I got a nice little dose of frostbite on my face after walking in a blizzard in Iqaluit just to say I did it.  In my defense I was younger and didn't fully have the appreciation for Mother Nature that I have now.  Needless to say, that was a feat that will not be repeated.  

This past shift was particularly challenging and I don't think there was a single day that was "normal".  Something was always breaking, weather it be a furnace, a fork flit, a light plant (in or case, two of them) or a frozen water/sewage line.    As for work itself, there wasn't that much going on.   I have some pretty good clothes for working out doors  that I can layer up in and have developed a pretty good system but for the better part of three days the powers that be decided that it was too cold to be outside for any length of time so I spent the bulk of the weekend either in a lunch trailer (when the furnace was working and it wasn't a nippy -2C inside) or in a warm truck.  

As i mentioned earlier, I'm more or less used to these types of situations but that doesn't mean I LIKE it.  I made for what seems a very long shift and I was quite tired by the end of each day.  On top of the cold, we had  a pretty decent dump of snow at work so while I don't relish snow shovelling, at least it kept you moving and kept you warm.  Most of the guys at work no about the time I spent in Nunavut so I get the odd joke about how it MUST be cold if the guy who was in Nunavut is mentioning the cold.  Needless to say, I'm very glad to be off today.  It's warmed considerable over the course of the last 4 days and the mercury is expected to flirt with the freezing mark, which is downright balmy compared to what we've just been through.  

Monday, December 12, 2016


To say it's bit a wee bit nippy that past few days would be a bit of an understatement.  I suppose I've lived up north long enough to be more or less used to it, although having said that, that doesn't necessarily mean I always like it.  Thankfully I've been on my days off so I take solace in knowing that I don't have to be out working in it.  

While I've had somewhat of a sedentary existence the past week, I've been fortunate to have a few visitors around.  In total, there's something like 10 to 12 species I can regularly expect to see this time of the year without having to leave the house.  No Red Polls or Evening Grosbeaks yet but most of the regulars have made an appearance so far.

Bohemian Waxwings

I'm not really sure why such a large group showed up on the driveway since there isn't anything particularly interesting on the ground there.

The resident Blue Jay.

Not the greatest photo of a Magpie but a Magpie nonetheless.

My first photo of a Pine Grosbeak with the new camera.

...and of course, the ubiquitous House Sparrow (male and female).