Palliser Pass

backroads, excerpts, photography

snow fleas

rce_7277Willow trying to out run Gemma and the Snow Fleas.

When I was a youngster my father and I used to do a lot of x-country skiing. On one of our trips, I was probably no more than 10 years old, we stopped for lunch and noticed tiny bugs hopping about in the snow. Very unusual for the middle of winter, to say the least.

When we arrived home my father told my mother about our strange encounter with ‘snow fleas’. My mother laughed thinking it was just another one of his made up stories designed to get a laugh.

Kelsie, Tom and Cooper were out this weekend and we spent a couple afternoons playing in the snow behind Swansea. Today, Tom said, ‘what are all these little bugs’.

rce_7628Each black speck is a Springtail. Someday I am going to get a macro lens.

Sure enough it was a hatch of ‘snow fleas’. They were everywhere. Some tiny and some really tiny. They hopped about.

Kelsie got concerned for her dog Gemma when I called them fleas. I assured her they are not really fleas but ‘springtails’. They are often called fleas because they jump like fleas, but are absolutely harmless to humans and pets.

They have a protein that acts as an antifreeze. Many bugs have the same protein including the Pine Beetle. A prolonged deep freeze will kill them. In the case of the Pine Beetle, due to global warming, we have not experienced a really cold winter for many years, allowing the beetle to survive further north with devastating effect on the timber.

Conditions have to be right to trigger a hatch of springtails. We have had some warm weather, just above freezing, the snow is deep and the nights are cold, not so unusual from any other year. It is the kind of encounter in the mountains that can be missed by an hour or two on either side of the hatch.

It was good to see them. I was glad Tom was paying attention. Lisa and I were watching Cooper slide down the trail and there isn’t much room in our eyes for anything else when he is around.

Now, after this post, if you still don’t believe in small bugs jumping around in the middle of winter on top of six feet of snow, then I won’t begin to tell you about the even more illusive,’ice worm’!



Hasty Jubilee said it this way:

“It’s like being in a room with people and everyone is whispering. You can’t hear what anyone is saying, but it’s loud, because there is so much chatter; words on top of words. It’s important, but deafening, nothing can be made out. You strain to hear. You strain until your head hurts and the only thing you wish for is to be able to make out a few words and understand. But it’s not to be. It’s never to be. It becomes your life’s work to hear those voices. You know they gotta be saying something.”

Then he laughed and said, ‘I’m shitting you.”

He turned towards the tracks. They were laid like they always had been.

Time, history, sadness and ghosts roamed the world of Hasty. It was a true world, one that most would never be able to see.

hot (hopefully)


We were behind the mountain today. Deer and birds poked their heads into the sunshine. It started melting. A coyote hunted along the road instead of in the deep snow.

Last night I started fermented hot peppers for a sauce.

It is the wrong time of year. The peppers came from Spain, Mexico and the United States.


Tossed in some carrots, garlic and mangoes for sweetness. I wager there isn’t enough heat to make a decent hot sauce. We should find out in about six weeks.

It’s the best we can do in the middle of February.

snow then sunshine


Yesterday evening the Robins reappeared in the Mountain Ash. It was good to see they managed through the snowstorm. Maybe they will think twice before they arrive early again.

The temperature has risen to a balmy +1°c. Today was magnificent with sunshine. It was warm enough to shrink the snow, but not warm enough to turn everything into cold soup. It was great to shovel trails around the house and get the weight off the deck. We even got the neighbours truck unstuck. Willow ran the paths. The snow was soft enough that she would break through.

In the morning the snow will be frozen hard enough to carry Willow’s weight, while I will break through making it difficult to keep up with her. She will recognize this right away and make a game of it. If it wasn’t for me carrying small bits of cheese and meat she would probably leave me in the cold, stranded like a long legged calf moose, at the mercy of wolves.

let it snow


It has been awhile since we have seen snow like this in the valley bottom.

In the past few days about a metre of snow has fallen. The picture of Willow is before the snowfall.

We are locked out of the mountains for the time being. Plenty of roads are closed.

I shovel snow in the morning and after work. By the time I’m done it is dark, so I haven’t been able to get out and take any photos. Maybe this weekend.

Lisa and I can remember some big snowfalls when we were kids and some when Kelsie was little.

It is good to see.

chilcot report


Sirius twinkles twice as hard when it rises over the mountains. Not surprising it is often mistaken for a UFO.

The news keeps blasting on. Trump finally said something true. In his interview with O’Reilly he brought into question the United States roll in the world as ‘killers’.

Republicans and Democrats denounced his comments. Pundits on both sides were wary.

On CNN one of the talking heads brought up the United States roll in the 2nd Iraq war, when Bush and his administration went looking for weapons of mass destruction.

By the time none were discovered a half million Iraqis were dead. The area was further destabilized. The seeds for ISIS were planted and America’s reputation was tarnished beyond repair.

One of the pundits replied that it was an honest mistake.

I nearly jumped out of my skin, ‘an honest mistake’. Tell that to the people who died and continue to die because of the United States past policies.

For government, an honest mistake is paying too much for toilet seats and fighter planes. Invading and levelling a country is not an honest mistake. It could quite possibly be considered a war crime, but not an honest mistake.

While Hillary Clinton and Trump were battling it out before the Presidential Election the Chilcot Report was released in Great Britain. It documented Great Britain’s and Tony Blair’s profound mistake of blindly following the United States into an unjust war. It made recommendations how to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

In England Tony Blair gave a press conference. He shed tears, asked forgiveness but owned up to his part of killer. Outside the press conference protesters lobbied he be declared a war criminal.

In Canada, the Chilcot Report made the news. We could smugly say we weren’t part of the invasion. But we are not innocent either.We stood by.

In the United States the Chilcot Report got zero press. CNN, FOX and all the others kept carrying Trump and Clinton adolescently bashing each other. It made for good TV. The Chilcot Report would have disrupted the circus, plus nobody wants to face up to being duped.

Meanwhile George W. Bush was laughing his ass off making shitty portrait paintings in his mansion in Texas.

United States; politicians, media and citizens, do the whole world a favour and get your  fucking shit together or we’ll all end up fucked.

river walk

_lme3128Perseus and it’s double star cluster parallel the Columbia.

Willow and I were out early walking the river looking for stars. In the morning The Milky Way is turning into the east and laying low against the mountains. In the coming months more will reveal itself before dawn.

riverThe glow of the valley bottom in the distance. 

At -18°c it sure felt cold after the warm day we had yesterday. Willow barked at what I assume was a river otter on the banks opposite. I could hear it splashing in the creek. Willow came and stood guard beside the tripod while I took a few pictures.

A brilliant meteor streaked in the west while me camera pointed north. Just like fishing, sometimes you catch them and sometimes you don’t.

cancerThe exquisite Beehive Cluster in the small constellation Cancer can be seen middle, left of the frame. The twins of Gemini are below the cloud and just above the largest tree. 

The chill kept us moving and we returned home long before light, satisfied by the stars, and ready to start the day.

late january


A young moon, venus and mars lined up in the west this evening. The light from each caused faint light pillars in the ice crystals formed by the days fluctuating temperatures.


The Robins are still hanging out in the Mountain Ash. They tackle the berries slow, unlike the Waxwings that strip the trees in minutes. The Robins were much more active and looked sleek darting around in the warm -1 weather. The weather is about to dip again. I hope they have left a few berries to get them through.

so long anne

IMG_2111.jpgPhoto from the 1969, David Thompson Secondary School yearbook.

I was sad to hear of the passing of Anne Picton. Mrs. Picton was a teacher for many years at David Thompson Secondary School. She was firm and fair.

Mrs. Picton taught English to hundreds of valley high school students. I was one. I had her for my last year of English. It was a very difficult class for me. Most of my friends had already dropped out of school to join the work force.

This was common during the 70’s and early 80’s as there wasn’t much incentive for teachers to put up with any students but the easiest to teach. Logging jobs were plentiful and well paying at the time so many students chose to go to work early.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I was still doing in school. I was barely hanging on. I remember, Mrs. Picton debating me on the meaning of the Beatles lyrics, A Day in the Life. She was probably tired of another student picking rock and roll lyrics for their dissertation of fine poetry. At my early age I was yet to succumb to the elegance of JA Prufrock and TS Eliot.

As it turned out I returned to the popular song and realized there was much more than what I first heard. I wondered if it was because she was originally from England.

Somehow, I made it through and graduated.

My wife Lisa also had Mrs. Picton as a teacher. Unlike me, Lisa was a very good student, winning many academic awards.

In Grade 8 Lisa had a French teacher who would only speak rapid fire French in the classroom. You never saw a more bewildered bunch of students. He would even talk faster and get annoyed when they couldn’t understand.

Luckily for the students, and in pure teacher union fashion, he took plenty of days off, and when he did, Mrs. Picton filled in. Lisa said it was like a light turning on when Mrs. Picton taught French.

Even though Mrs. Picton was only there a few days a month she made the difference for Lisa and many others in the class.

Teachers aren’t heroes, as many like to be portrayed. In my experience, as a student, parent and working in the school system, most are adequate, with many being far less so.

Wonderful teachers are few and far between. Anne Picton was a wonderful teacher.

After Anne retired she became active in the community, volunteering at the Royal Canadian Legion and her hometown of Windermere.

Mrs. Picton proofread at the Columbia Valley Pioneer while I was editor. She would say, “You can’t say it that way, Bob.”

I would say, ‘Yes I can, Anne.”

I would explain I wanted it heard in our Kootenay dialect. Anne would inform me, I was making it tough for the reader, and the message would be lost, because we read in English.

She was still teaching long after retirement.

Anne Picton leaves a void in our community, among her family, friends, colleagues and many past students.

more robins

robin-loAll fluffed up with nowhere to go.

Counted  more than thirty Robins in the Mountain Ash tree. They pick a few berries and sit fluffing their feathers up until they are twice their size. Maybe the fluffing provides better insulation against the cold.

I relate Robins to late March, early April when the snow is in patches and the grass has a tinge of green. To see, more than a few stragglers, here in January seems odd.

Perhaps what’s odd is the absence of Waxwings this year. They usually arrive in December and January and strip the berries in record time.

I am yet to see a Waxwing this year, neither sober or drunk after gorging themselves on the fermented frozen berries.

Instead the Robins have arrived early. Picking a few berries, careful not to make pigs of themselves. Dropping a few, for the deer. Then fluffing themselves up for night.

Spring’s still a ways away.