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I had three nights and three tries to see and photograph the Northern Lights over Churchill, Manitoba.
The first night, after flying in to the small airport on the edge of Hudson Bay and checking into the Tundra Hotel, after dinner in one of the two restaurants open during the winter season, we climbed into the massive Frontiers North Tundra Buggy, the vehicle that carries tourists close to the polar bears that overtake the little town each fall. We lumbered out onto the frozen Churchill river, navigating around massive tidal hummocks and drifts of deep snow.
Finally, at the edge of the wide, bare, tundra we stopped. The Northern Lights were already spreading across the sky just above the horizon, shapeshifting slowly, almost imperceptibly changing from swirls to vertical streaks to a wide arc overhead. We quickly gathered our gear and rushed out of the buggy, leaving the warmth of the two big propane heaters, and stepped out into the frigid March night.
The air was as clear and sharp as glass.
My gloved hands fumbled over the controls of my camera and when I freed them to adjust the settings and touched the frozen metal of my tripod, the tips of my fingers burned. My breath instantly froze in my nose and in the scarf around my neck. Even layered in fleece and wool and heavy boots, my toes began to chill and ache but I didn’t want to give in. My eyes watered, making it hard to focus through my viewfinder, but I kept pushing the shutter as the lights shifted, moved and teased. They faded and then returned, growing stronger then disappearing only to reappear in another place.
There were others on the ice nearby, hunched over their tripods or gazing up at the sky, but the silence was broken only by the sound of our footsteps on crusted snow that crunched with a peculiar dry, hollow, sound. The deep darkness separated us with more than distance and we didn’t just watch the lights, we were immersed in the experience. But finally, at 2 a.m., when it seemed as though the show was over for the night and we were growing slow and clumsy with fatigue and cold, we surrendered, packed up our gear and climbed back into the warmth of the big vehicle.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise, nature usually gets the last word, but as though waving farewell, the lights suddenly reappeared and pulled together until they coalesced in the sky directly above our tundra buggy. Someone called out and the group spilled back out into the cold as the lights began to dance above us, weaving and undulating as we tipped up our faces to watch. This time we were unencumbered by heavy cameras and gear. There was nothing to distract us. All we could do was gaze up and exclaim.
The next night was cloudy and dangerously cold—with a windchill of almost 60 below zero—so we stayed in the hotel, trading stories and comparing photos. But the third night the clouds blew away and we loaded up again. The trail over the frozen river had been swept clean by the scouring wind so we headed out— this time in smaller vans—to a dark road just beyond town.
Doug, our guide, had told me that sometimes the light show begins with a faint glow just over the horizon. Keeping my eyes above a row of tall spruce trees, wiping away the frost where my breath crystalized on the van window, I waited. At first I was sure I’d imagined it, but soon others in the van could see the gathering brightness. The Northern Lights were back. Again, we grabbed our cameras and hopped out into the night.
It was even colder than our first night out but this time it didn’t bother me as much. Perhaps it’s because we were more experienced, better prepared for the cutting wind and bone-deep chill—I’d added a layer and tucked extra handwarmers into my pockets and mittens. Maybe it was because we knew we were running out of time. Our adventure was almost over.
The lights were even more brilliant than they'd been before, painting the sky in wide strokes, streaking down toward the ground like silent fireworks. I pressed the shutter again and again but I’d already decided that whatever kind of photo I brought home with me wouldn’t matter. The real magic had imprinted in me and I knew I would never forget it.
But frozen fingers and all, I did manage to get a few photographs. So I have proof of the adventure and a reward for standing in the dark Manitoba night, tracing the stars with my eyes, watching a cold and distant fire sweep across the sky.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org You can read previous ‘Home Planet’ columns at www.spokesman.com/blogs/homeplanet
A Canadian talking about growing up in the six-team era is referring to what?
FISHING — Not unexpected….
On Monday, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada listed 42 species as at risk, including the bull trout, which is Alberta's provincial fish. — Calgary Herald
Seattle-based Nordstrom, like another major US retailier (Walmart) has cast its eyes toward our northern neighbor.
A story in today's WSJ lays out the key details: Nordstrom plans to open four stores in Canada, including three in high-profile former Sears Canada locations, as the high-end U.S. department-store operator makes its first foray outside the U.S.
From the story:
Seattle-based Nordstrom is the latest U.S. retailer to enter Canada, teaming up with Toronto-based property developer Cadillac Fairview Corp. The shoe and apparel chain will take over three locations—in Calgary, Alberta; Ottawa; and Vancouver, British Columbia—from Sears Canada, which is vacating the leases next month. The fourth store will be newly built in Toronto.
“This is a significant milestone for our company,” Blake Nordstrom, the company's president, said at joint news conference with Cadillac Fairview in Toronto.
Nordstrom could potentially open two to five more stores across Canada depending on the availability of prime locations, but will remain focused on these initial four, he said. The chain already has 15,000 credit-card holders in Canada.
Nordstrom said it expects to hire 1,000 workers across Canada. The first store is the one in Calgary and it's due to open in the fall of 2014, the story noted.
If you cannot discuss the September 1972 Summit Series.
It's not exactly an international incident, but some Bellingham Costco shoppers are requesting American-only hours because they complain the warehouse is overrun by bargain-seeking Canadians. They've launched a Facebook page, named “Bellingham Costco needs a special time just for Americans.” The page complains the Canadian shoppers “can be rude. The lines are crazy. We aren't on a vacation and have an RV to hang out in like those Canadians. We just want to go shopping, not go on an adventure. Costco used to have special opening hours for preferred customers. Why cant [sic] they do that for us loyal American customers?” the page says. Photos on the page show cars with Canadian license plates taking up multiple parking spaces and crowding Costco gas station lines, while comments also complain about Canadians buying too much milk/Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com. More here. (AP file photo for illustrative purposes)
Question: Is this a problem at local Costco?
A Canadian man suspected of sending United States defense materials to China is in jail in Spokane.
Kevin Zhang, alias Zhao Wei Zhang, 41, was arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol near Metaline Falls on Monday. He’d been wanted since January 2011 on a sealed warrant in federal court in San Diego that accuses him of conspiring to send devices used in tactical missiles and drones to the Chinese.
The charge of conspiracy to export defense articles without a license accuses Zhang, who is a naturalized Canadian citizen living in Calgary, of finding U.S. citizens to legally purchase gyroscopes and send them to China or send them to Canada, where they would then be shipped to China. Zhang has family in China, according to court documents.
Gyroscopes are classified defense materials, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of State. Though available for purchase in the U.S., shipping the material abroad requires a license. U.S. policy prohibits exports of such materials to China.
Investigators say Zhang contacted a man in San Diego on April 6, 2010, and discussed purchasing Gyroscopes “at a premium price for the purpose of circumventing United States export laws and illegally shipping the Gyroscopes to China,” according to court documents.
Zhang also emailed an unnamed co-conspirator and client in China the next day and instructed him to find an export/import agent who does not “play by the rules” to help them get the Gyroscopes into China, the indictment alleges.
Zhang sent another email to the man in San Diego on May 25, 2010, suggesting that he find someone to smuggle the Gyroscopes on an airliner. An agreement was finalized on Oct. 1, 2010, for Zhang to ship three Gyroscopes to China in exchange for $21,000, according to the indictment.
A federal grand jury in Southern California indicted Zhang on Jan. 14, 2011.
He was booked into jail Tuesday about 8:20 p.m. and ordered to stay there to await transportation to California after he appeared Tuesday before U.S. District Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno.
Court documents say Zhang faces a maximum of 5 years in prison if convicted.
lot of people are threatening to leave the country. The Twitterverse was alive with people proclaiming that they were so upset over the Supreme Court’s upholding of Obamacare that they were moving to Canada. Rush Limbaugh threatened to move to Costa Rica. This ruling had the critics packing their bags, hypothetically and sarcastically. “SCOTUS holds up free health care for everyone?!” Tweeted one twit. “Screw this commie country, I’m moving to Canada.” Some of these people presumably know that Canada and Costa Rica have universal, socialist health care, and are operating at some other level of sarcasm – perhaps mocking liberal threats to leave the country if Dubya got elected. But some of them clearly didn’t see the irony in fleeing to a socialist country to protest “socialism,” and liberals had a lot of fun at their expense. It was more or less standard political warfare, cheap-shot edition. But, seriously, there are some people who ought to consider moving to Canada: poor kids in Idaho/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.
Question: Have you ever thought of moving to Canada?
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
I see a thousand automobiles every day. They’re all around me. They roll down my street in the morning and late at night. They ride in formation in front, beside, or behind me on the highways and freeways. And yet, never does it occur to me to wish I was in any of those steel cages. They hold no mystery. I suspect, for the most part, they are going to work, to the grocery story, to have the dog groomed or on any of the countless necessary but mundane trips I take each week.
But when I see a train, when I hear the whistle blow in the night or early in the morning, I automatically stop to listen; to wonder if it is a freight train or passenger train. To wonder where it is headed and where it has been. I put myself onboard, on the other side of the wide windows, and my imagination settles down onto the steel rails and is pulled forward with the chain.
I’m not alone. I hear others say the same thing. There is a romance to train travel that time and progress haven’t managed to dampen. A train is going somewhere slow and steady, rolling through valleys, over mountains and on high trestles spanning wild rivers. Even animals seem to catch the spirit, drawn to the fenceline beside the tracks and then stopping to lift their heads to watch the boxcars or coaches rumble by.
The last time I was on the Rocky Mountaineer, the luxury excursion train that snakes across British Columbia and Alberta, winter was closing in. We left Vancouver in the darkness of an October morning and pulled into stations in deep twilight at the end of each day’s ride. The rivers were low and slow and grasses and shrubs painted the hillsides with autumn color that flamed at the feet of tall evergreens and the pale skeletons of Pine Beetle-damaged pines.
But this trip I gazed out at the fresh green of a late Western Canada spring. Sipping coffee over breakfast in the dining car, we left the big city behind and moved out into the countryside. In mid-morning we watched eagles and Osprey fly over rivers that were swollen with snowmelt and spring rains. in the afternoon someone called out “Bear” and people popped up like Prairie Dogs, craning to see a big Black Bear grazing at the edge of the road. Bighorn Sheep perched on rocky outcroppings, tails flicking as they watched us roll by.
The next day we reached the Rocky Mountains and cameras clicked all around me. Many of the passengers were making the trip of a lifetime: a dozen or so from Australia, two women from Chile, a couple from Wales, another from Scotland. All were there to see the iconic Canadian landscape of the west, and Mother Nature happily obliged. Just as we pulled into Banff, as if cued to provide the grand finale, a grizzly sow and her cubs stepped out of the pines and stuck around just long enough to be photographed before melting back into the shadowy forest.
Listening to others in the coach talk about the bears, about the mountains and the places we’d passed on the trip, I was able to put my finger on one of the aspects of train travel that is so appealing: It is a community experience. It is a journey in the company of others who share the love. And, really, when you think about it, that’s what we’re all looking for in everything.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com
Note: The Rocky Mountaineer has added SilverLeaf service for the 2012 season. Find more information about it here.
PARKS — Fewer people will be taking care of fish, wildlife and the land in Canada's Banff National Park this year.
Parks Canada has eliminated 49 vacant positions on top of other job losses in Banff National Park and employees are being warned not to publicly talk about the federal government’s budget cuts – or face disciplinary action.
That figure had not been previously publicly revealed, but the elimination of the 49 vacant positions is on top of 34 other “impacted” positions in the Banff field unit alone.
Read the Rocky Mountain Outlook story.
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
I had a few October days to myself so I spent them in the little town of Banff, in Alberta, Canada. While there, it was impossible not to catch the energy of autumn, flagged by the flashing gold of the aspen leaves as they trembled in the breeze and the way the grasses and shrubs closer to the ground spread out in a fan of color, a wave of crimson and soft gold climbing up toward the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies. The sky was a dome of brilliant blue and the sun warmed me. It was the kind of perfect fall weather we cling to because we know, especially those of us who live in the Northwest, winter is only waiting for a chance to slip in.
I strolled through the town. I rode the gondola up and walked along the top of one of those mountains, looking down on the fairytale town below; a picturesque valley complete with a winding river and a castle—the historic Banff Springs Hotel—whose towers and steep sloping roof dominate the landscape. I walked along the Bow River and watched the water tumble over the falls. I bought a cup of hot chocolate and wrapped my fingers around it, letting the steam rise onto my face as I took each sip. I marked the end of summer and the short, sweet, season that brings us the prettiest weeks of the year.
But the day I was to fly back home, I awoke to a world that was painted in shades of gray, wrapped in thick white clouds that hung low and heavy obscuring the mountains and settling down onto the valley. A soft-focus, black-and-white view of the places I’d been a few just a few hours before.
Riding down the highway toward the airport in Calgary, I sat with my chin in my hand, gazing out the window. As the world slipped by something in the air shifted and, as if in salute, the layer of clouds parted, the way a curtain is pulled back on a stage and the change of scenery is introduced. I could see the first snowfall of the season had dusted the tops of the mountains.
After a few moments, the sky closed around the mountains again and the wreath of clouds settled again. But, having seen the sign, I pulled my sweater tighter around me and sat back in my seat.
It won't be long now. Autumn is fading fast and winter is already waiting impatiently for its turn.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing the editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
SALMON FISHING — A salmon big enough to feed the Seattle Seahawks was caught and released off the Queen Charlotte Islands last weekend.
Chris Lewis broke the Queen Charlotte Lodge's 10-year-old record with a king that topped 84 pounds on Saturday.
Lewis was fishing with lodge guide Derek Poitras along the kelp beds just east of Klashwun Point when both rods went off in a matter of seconds, according to the lodge's website.
While Lewis played his fish, fishing partner Stephen Mason played and boated a hefty 31 pound king.
After a half-hour battle — the guides recognized quickly by the “shoulders” that the fish as extraordinary — the chinook was measured at 51.5-inches long, 35-inches in girth for a for a score of 84.12 pounds.
It was photographed, appreciated, and released.
David Stocker holds Storm in Toronto earlier this month. Toronto couple Kathy Witterick, 38 and Stocker, 39, are raising their four-month-old child, Storm, to be genderless. They have shared his or her sex only with sons Jazz, 5 and Kio, 2, a close family friend and two midwives who helped deliver the baby. Story here. (AP Photo/Toronto Star, The Canadian Press, Steve Russell)
Question: Which gender do you think Storm is? And/or: What do you think of the plan by Storm's parents to allow Storm to choose his/her gender when s/he's old enough to do so?
PARKS — Canadians have been telling Parks Canada they don’t want new thrill-seeking activities or special events in Banff, the country’s flagship national park – but Ottawa chose to ignore them.
The Rocky Mountain Outlook has the story on the disturbing inclination to turn a treasure like Banff National Park into an amusement center.
Parks Canada last year approved national policy that paves the way for adventure activities such as via ferrata, zip lines and hang-gliding in a bid to boost visitor numbers in parks across the country, including Banff.
But, according to an internal letter obtained through Canada's Access To Information, there was virtually no support for such thrill-seeking activities during Banff’s controversial management plan review.
Law enforcement is again warning of a swindle known as the grandparents scam after a 79-year-old Spokane Valley woman sent money to a con man claiming to be her grandson.
The woman called Crime Check on Monday and said a man claiming to be her grandson called on Dec. 9 and asked for money to bail out jail in Canada.
The victim believed him and sent a $2,750 money order to a man named “B” in New Jersey, according to the Spokane County Sheriff's Office. She later realized it was scam.
“Citizens in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s grew up in a more trusting era and are particularly susceptible to this type of fraud,” according to the Spokane County Sheriff's Office. “Suspects can pick their victims from obituaries where the children and grandchildren are occasionally listed by name.”
DEER LODGE, Mont. (AP) — A Montana judge today scheduled a Jan. 31 execution date for the only known Canadian on death row in the United States.
District Judge John Larson’s order for Ronald Allen Smith’s execution came two days after a Helena judge issued an order staying the execution.
Smith, 53, of Red Deer, Alberta, is seeking a court ruling on whether the state’s method of carrying out the death penalty is unconstitutional.
Larson said the Helena judge’s ruling on Monday “attempts, in my view, to render what I have just done annulled.”
The Missoulian newspaper reported that Larson will ask the state Supreme Court to look at the apparently conflicting orders and clear up the issue before January.
Smith was convicted in 1983 of fatally shooting Harvey Mad Man, 24, and Thomas Running Rabbit. At the time of the 1982 deaths, Smith was 25 and had crossed the Canadian border on foot the previous day with two friends and a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle.
Prosecutors alleged that he robbed the Browning cousins and shot them execution-style in the woods near East Glacier.
Smith pleaded guilty to two counts of deliberate homicide, as well as two counts of aggravated kidnapping. In February 1983, he was offered a plea agreement that called for a 110-year prison sentence, but he rejected that in favor of a death sentence.
Smith changed his mind in 1984 and has been fighting his death sentence ever since, arguing he had ineffective counsel.
His appeal took the case to the Montana Supreme Court in 1986, which upheld the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court declined last month to hear the case.
Mr. Bloggy: Mr_Bloggy is about to discover hope. Hope, BC, that is. Mr_Bloggy is co-piloting an adventure! He and his squeeze are driving to Anchorage Ak thru BC and the Yukon Territory. He will endeavor to provide daily dispatches, as it were, of the trip as he knows many of you readers, especially the kids who don’t have driver’s licenses yet, are pondering this trip one day, themselves. Mr_Bloggy has had the Alcan in his bucket list forever. And now!
Question: When did you last go on a road trip?
We were talking with a nice couple from Calgary last weekend when the husband asked, “Do you really like Canada or are you just saying that to be polite?” Awww. That’s so Canadian. We don’t say things to be polite. We’re Americans. So for me, at least, the answer is yes, I really do like Canada. And I am particularly enamored of that entire country right now, having just returned from a trip to Cranbrook, Fernie and Waterton Lakes National Park (the park that sits atop Glacier National Park like a tuque)/Jim Kershner, SR. More here.
Question: Do you really like Canada — and Canadians — or are you just being polite?
Manny Arop scored 20 points and Kelly Olynyk added 12 but Canada lost 67-65 to Puerto Rico at the U19 world championships. More here.
Incoming Gonzaga recruits Mangisto Arop and Kelly Olynyk helped Canada advance to the second round of the FIBA U19 championships, despite a 1-2 record. Arop scored 17 points and Olynyk added 10 points and 13 rebounds in Canada’s 82-75 loss to Spain on Saturday.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks on as President Barack Obama waves to the media after signing the guest book upon his arrival on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Thursday. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Tom Hanson) Question: What do you know about Canada?
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks on as President Barack Obama waves to the media after signing the guest book upon his arrival on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Thursday. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Tom Hanson)
Question: What do you know about Canada?