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The 2015 Fox Report

“Oh we ain’t got a barrel of money, maybe we’re ragged and funny, but we’ll travel along, singin’ a song, side by side …”   Side by Side © 1927 Harry Woods

Spring was tinder dry across Canada’s northwest, and lightning strikes started one of the worst fire fighting years on record.  We went on a road trip to Vancouver, and it seemed that fires were a theme everywhere we went.  We had great weather all the way, and fire smoke rolled in, along with road closures, either just before we arrived or just after we left each destination.

We stopped in Jasper, our favourite place to holiday. I got quite hungry hiking Maligne Canyon and the tea house kitchen was closed.  The only packaged snack I could eat was a 3 inch gluten free granola bar for $4.99! I bought it begrudgingly.   Don was having a smoke with a stranger outside – looked like a tourist to me. I approached them showing the price of this snack announcing “Look at this rip off!” Don started laughing and said “This is the owner”.  My strategy was to go on the offensive rather than apologize, so I turned to him and told him what a rip off his prices were, and as I cracked the bar open and bit in, I told him that it was also stale.  He laughed and agreed with me about the rip off, and told me to come back some time when the kitchen was open and be his guest.  We did that the next morning and he had his chef serve us up a $50 breakfast, on the house!

From Jasper we went to Radium Hot Springs and over to the Kootenay mountains in BC.  In Creston we connected with my old friend Karen and her family, who I found on facebook, having lost track of each other 20 years ago. The reunion was as if we never parted. We continued on to Nelson, but to save money we booked a room in Ymir, about 30 min out.  The Ymir Palace used to be the Ymir brothel during the turn-of-the century gold rush. The ground floor was renovated into two, two-bedroom suites with a rock shower, fully equipped kitchen and living room.  Upstairs were dorm rooms. We love the Kootenays because life moves at a different pace and money doesn’t rule the day. We were greeted at the hotel with a note on the door – “hey Dawn and Don, go in and make yourself at home.  I’ll be around in a couple of days.”  We had not even left a credit card over the phone to reserve the room.

From the Kootenays, we wound up and down the Crowsnest highway all the way to Surrey BC to visit Don’s sister and family, and have a 22 km bicycle ride around Stanley Park, Vancouver,  with a chance to watch the ships and put our feet in the Pacific ocean.  In Vancouver, we felt like we were in the tropics.  The gardens were amazing.  We were mesmerized by this plant like a giant rhubarb, with leaves as tall as me, and 3 feet across. We kept wondering if it was carnivorous (too many sci fi movies).  It was strange to be in Canada and definitely be the visual minority. Good thing we had relatives driving us around because we had doubts about getting English directions from any of the locals. We also felt an age gap, seeing few people in Vancouver over 35 yrs.

In Surrey, our family wined, dined and entertained us like royalty.  We really enjoyed Redwood Park, 113 acres of diverse mature forest with 50 different species of trees, including European Beech, English Walnut, Chinese Chestnut, Douglas Fir and of course, Redwoods (Giant Sequoia). We enjoyed pondering the Monkey Puzzle tree, which has spikes all over the trunk all the way up!   The Park was created by twin Brown brothers who travelled the world to create this beautiful collection of trees. The Redwoods in Surrey are still babies at 5-6 feet across and 100 feet high. Don has twice visited the giant Redwoods in California, the largest of which weigh over 2 million pounds, have a circumference of 100 feet and stand 300 feet tall.  The giant Redwoods own the title of largest living organisms on the planet. Going to see them is on my bucket list.

From Surrey, we took the Coquihalla highway to Valemount.  Since everything in Valemount is 100 meters from train tracks, and trains run through every half hour, we started feeling like we were in a Blues Brothers movie.  Nevertheless, we had a nice hike along the river and spent a pleasant evening there.  We had a quaint hotel with no front desk – just pay the bartender.

The next day we headed back to Jasper via Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. We had a nice, long hike to Berg Lake at the foot of the mountain, about 9 km.  As we were coming back, it clouded over and began to rain.  When we left it was warm and sunny, so we were dressed in shorts and tank tops.  According to the trail sign, we were still 4km from the trail head when heavy rain turned to hail.  We arrived back at the car in high spirits, if soaking wet, since it seemed an ironic time for the second rain of the trip.

I get lucky in Jasper.  When I called the week earlier to get a reservations, I was elated to discover Miette Hot Springs still had one of the cheap $99 motel rooms available.  At peak season accommodation in Jasper is very expensive, if available.   Miette is a scary drive - 20 km, mostly straight up with hairpin turns, no shoulders and long drop offs.  It was wet and foggy, but hey, anywhere else was over $300/night.  When we got to the top, it turned out that they overbooked but couldn’t reach us.  They felt so bad about it that they booked us a room, at their expense, in Pocahontas resort at the foot of the mountain, and gave us free passes to the hot spring.  Back down the scary road we went.  Pocahontas front desk was expecting us but they too apologized that all their motel rooms were full.  They asked if it would be ok if they put us up in a deluxe cabin, free of charge, with our choice of a complementary DVD. Gosh, let me think – well – ok.  The rain stopped, we had a great evening hike and a fabulous night in the 5 star cabin, all for free! Like I said, I get lucky in Jasper. After leaving the mountains, we had wonderful visits with old friends in the Edmonton area on our way home.

Watching the ships in the ocean gave us an idea.  When we got home, we ordered a used 40 foot sea can.  This has allowed us to move out a lot of junk to declutter our living space and store the stuff safe from critters, bugs and weather.  We love it.

In the fall, we enjoyed a visit from Bramm, (Don’s son) and his friend April.  In the spring, Bramm became the 2015 world champion long distance knife throwing champion. Bramm has been throwing knives with his dad since childhood.  He is now part owner of the Toronto Knife Throwing Organization, where he does some teaching on top of his carpentry business.  It’s a hobby turned booming business.  The owners credit Don for the inspiration, and joke about putting his photo up in the club in a velvet frame like they do in cheesy Chinese martial arts films to give reverence to “the master”.

I’m still teaching Business at the College, although they have made some programming changes. They will be resting my program every 3-4 years and I’ll be unemployed.  I will teach next year and then have a year off.  I’m looking forward to having big chunks of time for adventures and creative projects.   

I love to laugh, and I find myself really funny, especially when I do something stupid.  I had a student out with a nasty virus.  He insisted on coming in to write missed tests. As I collected his papers, I was concerned about germs.  A student, who was a nurse, suggested I throw them in the microwave for 30 sec.  I forgot to remove the staples!  I took them out, slightly toasted, smoking, and glowing around the staple.  I gently blew on the ember to put it out.  Whoosh! The papers were super-heated and my breath made them explode in flame. “Ahhh!!!” I dropped them on the carpet.  Profanity! (which the students found very funny) and cell phones started snapping pictures to record the event.  I grabbed the burning papers and ran them outside to stomp on before the fire alarm brought the big red engine and evacuation. I couldn’t teach the rest of the afternoon because I couldn’t stop laughing.  I told the student whose tests they were that anything I couldn’t read to mark would get 100%.  He was happy. Naturally, it was a highlight of the student address at grad.

Speaking of doing stupid things … It’s tradition for me to report highlights from the Darwinian Awards (“Chlorinating the Gene Pool”) in the newsletter.  I look forward to reading about the outrageously stupid acts that people do. I laugh more at our species than the person.  If I should die doing something stupid, please write me up as a candidate so the entire world can laugh with me, as I bow for an Award post-humously.

They Awards have criteria.  The event must be verified. The candidate must be an adult, capable of sound judgement.  His actions must cause his own death and in so doing, demonstrate “an astounding misapplication of common sense”.  Accidents are separated from true stupidity.  For example, guys who shot themselves in the head trying to prove an unloaded gun were considered accidents, and disqualified. The guy who played Russian roulette on himself using a semi-automatic (which puts a bullet in the chamber every time) instead of a regular hand gun (where the cartridge is spun to give a 1 in 6 chance the bullet will fire) qualified as truly stupid.  

I use sexist language on purpose. A statistical study of 20 years of Darwinian Award candidates has proven that men engage in high risk, unnecessary behaviour far more often than women (88% of candidates were men).   Most events have eye witness accounts because men do these things in groups.  They encourage each other, in pursuit of “bragging rights” and male bonding. To prove victory, events are often filmed.  It is proposed that a survival of the species “gene culling” drive creates competition in men to challenge the odds, and it has been with our species since the beginning.  Alcohol fuels things because it makes men feel invincible.   For example, 3 men were discussing an unexploded land mine dug up in Cambodia.  A drinking game started where they took a shot then ran out and jumped on the mine.  This well-documented event led to an Award.

Stupidity often follows from building anger and impatience.  Take the candidate who tried to cut into a grenade to remove the gunpowder to use in home-made fireworks.  The casing was thick and he grew impatient by gently working it away.  In a fit of frustration, he took a chain saw to it to speed things up.  Sometimes stupidity comes from forgetfulness.  A letter bomber candidate did not put sufficient postage on the envelope.  He used his own return address (?) and when the letter came back, he opened it!

Honourable mention is given to people who survive their stupid acts.  Vanity is often at the heart of these cases.  A tour guide was making a video swimming with alligators.  He wanted to do something really over the top.  He got the brilliant idea of feeding them marshmallows from his mouth.  Another brilliant idea came from a guy who disassembled his microwave to remove the magnetron, which he mounted on a stick as a weapon.  He filmed himself blowing up of things in his yard.  Unfortunately, he was not sufficiently shielded from the radiation. 

Oh man … that was fun!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, prosperous and not too stupid 2016.

Take care

Dawn and Don