Technology doesn't have to be something that divides us from nature. It can be a tool through which we can explore the natural world...

Monday, 5 September 2011

Another Day of Fishing

"who could make up something like that? And there were no planes..."

In the late 1990’s my wife Bev and I both got quite serious about fishing. We had always fished – it was part of the many outdoors activities that we did, but at one point we began to do less hiking and more fishing. Fishing is one of those things in which you have to pay your dues. I would catch the odd fish or two and sometimes have a good day, but as I began to spend more time fishing I began to consistently catch more fish. As I became a better angler, it became something I wanted to do more of. It was the proverbial vicious circle and verged on fanaticism.
One of our favorite places to go was near the forks of the Livingstone and Oldman Rivers. In the fall we would pull our old Boler trailer west through “The Gap” into the "Old Man’s Playground" and camp near the forks for two weeks. A familiar pattern would begin. Every morning we would have breakfast, pack our lunch, sort out our gear and we were off...
The area west of the Livingstone Range presents many fishing opportunities. Our trips would usually begin with a warm-up day catching small cutthroat trout above the Oldman falls. We would fish the area between the falls and the forks for larger cut-throats and bull trout. There were massive bull trout in the Livingstone River and in the Oldman below the forks, along with larger cutthroat/rainbow trout hybrids. Fishing “The Gap” (where the Oldman River cuts through the Livingstone Range) can be especially challenging and rewarding. It is difficult and dangerous wading, but the cutthroat and rainbow are larger and feistier and the rocky scenery is amazing.
We are not fly-fishers, but we use lightweight 5’6 rods with small reels and light (4-6lb.) line. Our technique is to present small spinners and plugs (fashioned to look like minnows or small rainbow trout) to our quarry. We often wear neoprene waders and felt soled boots, with fishing vests and ball caps. Polarized sunglasses are also indispensible accessories. This isn’t the placid angling most people expect. We would walk miles of river every day. Those of our friends, who say they like to go fishing, would only come once. Most evenings we would return to camp, eat supper and retire to bed. Even we would tire of this pattern of living and every so many days would take a break.  This would often consist of doing some "lazy-man fishing" at our favorite Arctic Grayling fishery; Bear Pond.
One particular autumn we drove north along the trunk road and then turned east, passing south of Plateau Mountain and over Wilkinson's Summit to Bear Pond. It wasn't the electric blue fall day that we expect in Alberta. Instead it was gray and overcast. We walked the half mile up the hill and found the pond shrouded in fog.  The weather didn't stop us. We had a fantastic day, chucking oversized spoons to the voracious grayling. Between the two of us, we caught (and released) nearly 40 fish. I won't say who caught the most, but her name begins with Bev. It was one of the best days of a wonderful two weeks of fishing. We couldn't resist stopping to fish a pool full of cutthroat near the Livingstone River Bridge on the way back to camp. I tried to tune-in a radio station for a weather report, but all I could get was one endless stream of country music with no commentary. The sky closed in on camp and it began to rain. We warmed up in the trailer, cooked supper and went to bed...
The next day was a beautiful day. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. I notice a couple of people in the campground and I got chatting with one of them. He was an ex-navy man from Seattle, which didn't surprise me. I seemed to meet many Americans there in the fall. He said they were supposed to drop their son at the Calgary airport that day, but of course there was no need for that now. When I asked him why not, he looked at me strangely and asked "you don't know, do you?” The things he told me after that left me disturbed and incredulous. It was September 12, 2001.
The first thing he said was "have you seen any planes overhead for the last day or so?” I thought about it and realized that I had not. He went on to tell me about all the things that had happened on the previous day, while we fished. We went down to the Livingstone that afternoon. As we walked the river, I couldn't get the things he had told me out of my head. I could scarcely believe them, but who could make up something like that? And there were no planes... When I got back to camp, I found a copy of the Calgary Herald on my picnic table, with a front-page picture of the towers and the plane. After a week of pondering what had happened, I got home and turned on the television. The images I saw were still shocking.
Ten years have come and gone. Next weekend will find us camping in nearby Kananaskis Country. On Sunday, September 11 we will make the drive south to Bear Pond for a day of fishing and remembrance. I will never forget the day we fished, while the world around us changed forever.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Six Things I'm Doing to Destroy the Earth

One day, I found myself day-dreaming about my latest involvements with a favorite environmental organization. I began to feel smug as I counted all the things the organization was doing to educate people about the environment and help make our planet a better place. The self-congratulatory tone of my thoughts soon changed as I pondered my own contributions and I began to weigh those meager efforts against the balance of my life's work. My recent conversion to environmental causes pales in comparison to my damaging lifestyle. Guilt is a terrible thing and perhaps I need to own, if not embrace my evil ways. I decided I would make a list - a brief confession if you will:
1) I was born. Almost immediately I was off to a bad start. My very existence was already contributing to the demise of the world. It wouldn't have been quite so bad if I had been hatched as a peregrine falcon or California condor, but as a human being my contribution to the Earth's bio-mass was sure to be fraught with blame.
2) I am a North American. This one is actually a bit of a relief for me. Like most of my worst character defects and failures - I can blame it on my parents, who brought me to this part of the world in the first place. Actually they may have more than a passing blame for confession number one as well. It is said that we North Americans share more than our proportion of responsibility for the ills of the planet. We contribute more greenhouse gases and suck up and pollute much more than our per capita allocation of air and water. The fact that I am also an Albertan probably puts me well beyond the pale.
3) I drive a car. I can still remember the excitement I felt when I got my driver's license and became the proud owner of my first automobile. Perhaps it wouldn't have been such a happy day if I realized what evil I was about to commit against the environment. My whole life has been built around the automobile. I'm a commuter and I drive 70,000 kilometers a year.  I'm sure some folks might disagree, but this must be the most atrocious habit I have ever developed.
4) I have a job as a technician in the office products industry. The reams of paper I cause to be consumed every day are enough to deforest an immense section of boreal forest. Every machine I repair is likely to consume much more paper than a non-working one, which leaves me in a quandary - to fix or not to fix? I take pride in my work, so I suppose I can boast that my job clears great swaths of pine in order to slow the advance of the mountain pine beetle.
5) I own a cat. At the risk of offending the surly cat lover lobby, I included this one, because studies have shown that kitty isn’t the cute furry pet that we have come to love. They are killing machines. Perhaps we won’t get too up in arms about field mouse predation, but it has been shown that 24 percent of their kills are birds. Our love of felines is contributing to the decimation of native bird species. It’s funny how my cat never brings home invasive species like house sparrows or starlings. Apparently like me, she is very discerning.
6) I can't stop eating. Besides contributing to my considerable girth, this nasty habit probably does more to contribute to greenhouse gas, pollute our waterways and cause the clearance of land and the destruction of whole ecosystems. I used to enjoy a good meal, but now I can barely tolerate it as I struggle to choke down pounds of lovely Alberta beef.

I'm sure I could probably make a longer list of my sins, but my Twenty-first Century attention span doesn't seem to allow for much more (Facebook and Twitter beckon). Besides, thinking about all the ills I have committed takes me out of my "happy place". Being a liberal and an environmentally-conscious Albertan already brings plenty of angst to my life.