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For the past twelve days the Georgia Strait and surrounding areas have been enveloped in a miasma of smoke from the wildfires (to which I made reference in this earlier post) which are still ablaze in the BC interior. The image at the head of this missive (and at the top of my last post) give an idea of the impact that this effluvium has had.

There have been mornings on which my customary first gaze out of the windows has given the rapid impression of a seriously hazy day, only for the realisation to dawn that the layer of vapour was not the result of any early morning micro-climatic condition, but rather a dense layer of smog lying immovably atop the sea.

The more northerly view from our deck normally reveals Moresby Island, with the higher Pender Island pair behind. On a clear day we can see further – all the way to the mountains behind the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver. The more southerly view stretches out across Sidney Island to the American San Juan islands beyond – and then all the way to distant Mount Baker.

For the last several weeks it has been just about possible to make out Sidney Island, but even Moresby has occasionally disappeared into the murk, leaving only the Little Group visible in the immediate foreground.

It really has all been quite depressing.

The reason that this cloud of noxious fumes has hung low over the sea (and of course over Greater Vancouver and beyond) for so long is that a ridge of high pressure became wedged over the BC coast – depriving the region of the usual cleansing zephyrs that should have dissipated the pollutant.

Finally, yesterday (Saturday), the weather system began once again slowly to move, the winds changed direction and – as if by magic – the banks of smoke dissolved, leaving ‘not a rack behind’. The sun renewed its efforts and Mount Baker became once again illuminated by the late afternoon glow.

Then, as an evening of croquet and good cheer in the garden with our dear friends from Saanichton entered its twilight phase, the first rains for nearly two months began gently to fall.

Today the world (this part of it at least) is a different place!

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid
Smoke from wildfires in the BC interior hangs heavily over the Malahat mountain opposite Brentwood Bay on Tuesday night.

2017 is already one of the worst years for wildfires in recent times and the situation is expected to deteriorate further as the province heads into a heatwave over the next few days, with temperatures soaring into the high 30’s Celsius in places.

More than 800 fires have been tackled since April 1st – of which some 138 are still active and currently being fought by around 3,700 firefighters. Additional firefighters from other provinces are joining the battle as well as – for the first time – more than one hundred from Mexico.

Whereas the early part of the year was marked by above average rainfall (with records for precipitation set in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria during March) it has not now rained in Victoria since the middle of June.

No sign of Mount Baker either…

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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“Sweet April showers do spring May flowers”

Thomas Tusser

Well – this winter has turned out to have been endowed with a drearily long tail here in British Columbia. Once the snows and ice had cleared and the winds had receded we all scampered each morning to our windows to gaze expectantly out at the big wide world without, hoping to welcome a glorious springtime. Instead the temperatures remained stubbornly low and the rain fronts continued to sweep in relentlessly from the Pacific.

There are at last – however – signs that the weather is about to pick up now that May is here. In any case the garden (yard!) has decided that it can wait no longer and is starting to burst out in all of its verdant glory. These vernal blooms – and many others – are greeted joyously…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid“It’s kind of like doing surgery with a chainsaw instead of a scalpel. We had pieces and parts flying everywhere. It turned out in our favor. We’ve just got to clean it up the next time around.”

Mike Leach – football coach

I have made reference before in these reflections to the fact that in this part of the world our mains power arrives courtesy of cables strung between tall wooden poles. It is, in fact, not just the power that does so – phone lines, cable television and broadband data circuits are all delivered by the same means, using the same poles. As may be observed in the attached illustration this frequently results in an extensive cat’s-cradle of cables which runs the length of every rural thoroughfare.

The adoption of this delivery mechanism does, of course, make perfect sense. The distances concerned and the lumpy terrain mitigate against the burial of such services, on grounds of cost and practicality, and the ready availability on all sides of tall straight poles makes the chosen solution what is, I believe, oft referred to as a ‘no-brainer’.

The downside – as I have certainly mentioned before – is that the winter winds have a habit of bringing down the branches of neighbouring trees onto said power lines, resulting in outages at just the point that electricity and other cable-borne services would come in particularly handy – for heating, cooking, watching TV and surfing in the InterWebNet and suchlike.

By way of amelioration of this regular occurrence the provincial power company – BC Hydro – engages each spring a clutch of trouble-shooting tree specialists who are briefed to roam the byways looking for potential problems that might be averted by means of a little chainsaw butchery. Any tree branch that so much as glances in the direction of a power line is immediately whacked off and ground up into sawdust.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThus is was that – one day last week – a sizeable swarm of trucks, pickups, cherry pickers and suchlike descended locust-like onto the verge outside our residence. The sound of chainsaws and chippers being fired up rent what might otherwise have been a sleepy afternoon. Half an hour later they departed like a swarm of angry wasps looking for another target, having committed an act of savagery on our lovely Arbutus and left an integument of detritus beneath it.

On being appraised of this visit The Girl wondered (somewhat provocatively) whether our neighbours might have ‘shopped’ us to the power company. The Arbutus is a beautiful tree but has the unusual distinction of shedding its foliage in the summer months whilst remaining resolutely verdant throughout the winter. One afternoon last summer – as our dear friend from Saanichton was helping us to widen our driveway in anticipation of the arrival of the good ship ‘Dignity’ – the little old lady from next door sidled up to me and enquired hopefully as to whether we were having the tree chopped down.

When I told her that we were not she looked most disappointed!

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

 

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No-one could suggest that Vancouver Island – which so often seems to be uniquely blessed when it comes to climate – has not experienced a proper winter this year. The past few days have found us buffeted by a serious storm which many of us are hoping is the very last gasp of this particular winter before it surrenders to the impending spring.

Fingers firmly crossed!

In the meantime, some pictures of snow and ice…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

 

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reidwild and woolly

Definitions

a. rough, untamed, barbarous
b. (of theories, plans, etc) not thought out

 

At the top of the New Year it feels as though the weather here in Victoria is determined to blow away utterly any echo of the year that has recently stumbled to a close. The winds over the past few days have truly been ‘rough, untamed and barbarous‘ (not to mention that they add a significant chill factor of anything from -6°C to something considerably worse) and show no signs of abating anytime soon; indeed the half a gale that is blowing as I write is supposed to go the whole hog later tonight.

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

The sea has taken on a mean look. Protected by the Gulf Islands the Haro Strait never sees more than mild whitecaps but this belies the ferocity with which the winds can whip across its surface.

Though the land temperature merely hovers around zero the wind chill rapidly dissuades one from spending much time outside.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidIt is at such times that we are grateful to live in a well insulated house equipped with a heat pump, the which does an excellent job of maintaining the internal temperature at a most pleasant 70°C. With our new gas log fire we can face down the external conditions and remain toasty warm inside whilst watching the elements raging outwith our picture windows.

For those unfamiliar with such things the trick – incidentally – with heat pumps (which work in a manner similar to air-conditioning) is to maintain as close as is possible the same temperature at all times. It is considerably more efficient (and cost effective) to run the system constantly than to allow the temperature to drop and for the hear pump then to have to struggle to raise it again. Though this may seem counter-intuitive to those who are familiar with the sort of central heating systems more commonly found in the UK, one rapidly gets used to the idea.

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“And I rose in a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days”

Dylan Thomas

Following a gloriously dry, hot summer it was probably inevitable that – when the weather finally broke – Autumn would offer a complete contrast. It has accordingly thus far been emphatically wild, wet and windy. When it has not been raining the skies have – in the main – resembled more closely those with which I am familiar from the old country.

Every now and then, however, something shifts and we awake to find a sunrise such as this:

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid…or end the day with a sunset like this:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidLast weekend we ventured north to Nanaimo to pay a visit to the Kickass Canada Girl’s mother. As is our wont we took the shorter but slower (and considerably more relaxed) route via the Brentwood Bay/Mill Bay ferry. That particular day was not sunny!

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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Three storms

Image by NASAHot on the heels of the first storm of the season – mentioned just a couple of posts back under the banner ‘Pillaging just for fun‘ – the end of last week found the coastal region of BC under threat of attack from three more storms. These vigorous systems were the tail end of Super Typhoon Songda that had tracked across the Pacific, making landfall on the northwest coast in waves on Thursday, Friday and Saturday last.

Environment Canada were taking no chances with their forecasting – predicting that each storm would be stronger than the last, climaxing on the Saturday night with winds approaching 100km/h (62mph) – one of the severest weather events over southern Vancouver Island for a decade or more.

Now – we Brits have form when it comes to the forecasting – or mis-forecasting – of serious weather conditions. Weatherman Michael Fish made something of a career out of having infamously told a lady caller that the rumours that she had called to report of a hurricane approaching the south of England one evening in mid-October 1987 were false – the night that trees over swathes of the south east were laid waste by winds gusting to 130km/h (81mph). Ever since that night the Met Office have – to all appearances – tended to exaggerate the potential for damage rather than run the risk of getting caught out again. As a result Brits tend to take these things with a hefty pinch of salt.

I was not altogether surprised when some of the dinner guests we were expecting for Saturday evening cried off during the morning – sensibly not wanting to get caught out in the storm. Given the regularity with which BC’s pole-carried power lines are taken out by tumbling timber (and of course the fact that pretty much everything in our home operates courtesy of BC Hydro) it also seemed sensible to purchase a few precautionary items from Canadian Tyre… a propane cooking stove and some battery-powered lamps for example. I was a bit taken aback upon reaching the store, however, to find that the shelves were largely empty of such items. It would appear that everyone else hereabouts was also taken by surprise by what is, after all, a pretty common occurrence. I took the last propane stove and improvised with some garage (shop) working lights.

Back at home and well into late afternoon the nearest of the Gulf Islands abruptly disappeared from view and the pines and firs surrounding our small estate started to pitch and toss vigorously. The weather channel played continually on the TV as we waited for the power to cut out at any second. We fired up our new gas log fire and hunkered down to sit it out.

Within half an hour all was suspiciously quiet again. The nervous looking weathermen continued to predict the apocalypse to come – but outside our windows the weather stubbornly refused to play ball. The weather system had apparently had a change of heart and buggered off further up the coast.

Anyone need a propane stove and some battery-powered lamps?

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“The autumn wind is a pirate. Blustering in from sea with a rollicking song he sweeps along swaggering boisterously. His face is weather beaten, he wears a hooded sash with a silver hat about his head… The autumn wind is a Raider, pillaging just for fun.”

Steve Sabol

It is a matter of enviable fact that during 2016 the southern end of Vancouver Island enjoyed a seriously spanking summer. Dry and hot much of the time for a second year in a row El Niño conditions saw western Canada basking joyously, though British Columbians’ feet were kept firmly on the ground by the inevitably wild, wet and windy winter that separated the two summer seasons.

There is even talk that the La Niña event that usually follows El Niño may not after all happen this year, which means that the winter may be less extreme than it might otherwise have been. There is – nonetheless – no denying that over this Thanksgiving weekend the autumn (fall!) has put in an early appearance. The first storm of the season stuck on Thursday evening and the first power outages followed shortly thereafter. We lost our supply for about an hour and a half in the middle of the evening and we were very grateful that we now have lovely gas log fire in our drawing room to keep us toasty warm (our furnace being electric!). On the Saturday we had rain… solid rain… all day…

Today, however, we got out and about and I took the chance to grab some autumnal photos.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

 

 

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Image from Pixabay“There was a time in my life when I did a fair bit of work for the tempestuous Lucretia Stewart, then editor of the American Express travel magazine, ‘Departures’. Together, we evolved a harmless satire of the slightly driveling style employed by the journalists of tourism. ‘Land of Contrasts’ was our shorthand for it. (‘Jerusalem: an enthralling blend of old and new.’ ‘South Africa: a harmony in black and white.’ ‘Belfast, where ancient meets modern.’) It was as you can see, no difficult task.

Christopher Hitchens

Driveling or not (and Hitchens is indeed mostly correct on that one) I think I can safely state that – with regard to the weather if nothing else – Canada truly is a land of contrasts!

This past week has seen Victoria – along with the rest of western Canada – basking in some exceptionally early summer-like weather, with sunny cloudless skies and temperatures well up into the mid-twenties. Across the southern end of Vancouver Island (as well as in the interior) temperature records for April have been smashed. These figures for Victoria are from a couple of days ago:

Victoria area
New record of 24.3
Old record of 19.4 set in 1934

Victoria Harbour area
New record of 20.0
Old record of 17.8 set in 1897

The same day on the far side of the continent the situation could not have been more different. Parts of Newfoundland experienced ten hours of blizzard conditions with more than forty centimetres of snow falling. Temperatures struggled to get above zero and winds gusted close to 90 kilometres per hour in places.

It is perhaps little surprise that when those not local to the northern American continent discover that one lives in Canada they immediately think of snow, freezing temperatures and long winters, and are moved to inquire as to how one can stand it. I am happy to go on disabusing such folks of this notion – at least when it comes to the west coast – just as I am happy to be living in the best part of the country.

Picked up a bit of a tan mowing my lawn yesterday!

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