Thursday, January 16, 2020

Beautiful winter weather here in Nolalu

Perfect for outdoor activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing
I almost canceled my planned snowshoe walk today because the thermometer showed it was -20C (4 below zero F). I thought it might be too cold for our dog, Cork, to stay outside for the 45-minute trail loop. It looked windy too and that is always what makes it feel bitter. Then we went outside to get the mail and realized the wind was only an issue in the wide open spaces. And there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The sun, reflecting off the snow was absolutely brilliant and warm. So I strapped on the snowshoes and we took off.  It was wonderful.
Four inches of snow had fallen since we last traversed this trail three days ago and that is like nothing to repack with the 'shoes. Back in the shelter of the trees there was no wind at all. I was glad I had ditched my heavy parka that I had worn down to the mailbox. I just wore a flannel shirt with a light weight parka.
We found fresh lynx tracks and my heart quickened when I realized the cat was headed toward one of my cameras. Alas, the elusive critter did what they usually do, walked right up to the camera but on the wrong side of the tree. Anyway, a group of four deer showed up on the camera card. One of them had spotted the camera and came up for a close inspection.
Chickadees serenaded us all along the way. There is nothing cheerier or braver than the tiny chickadee, my pick for Canada's national bird.
I moved one of my trail cameras to another spot that showed today's lynx tracks. I had seen tracks there the last time I was on this trail so I figure there is a chance for a pic.
Yesterday was a major firewood cutting day for me and Cork. We brought in four toboggan loads of dry balsam (about a week's worth), working up a good sweat in the process. Cork and I work as a team; I cut down the trees and saw them into four-foot lengths and Cork chews up all the branches that I cut off.
We're expecting another six inches of snow on Friday evening. Snowfalls are coming every few days now. I have what I consider the perfect machine to deal with snow, a Kubota tractor with a front-mounted snowblower. It beats a plow which gets stymied when there is no longer anywhere to push the snow, a situation that already exists. So in addition to our 200-yard drive, I also do three of the neighbours. It just takes a couple of hours to clean out all of our drives.
"What's this funny thing tied to the tree?"
Cutting and hauling out dry balsam is a great workout for me

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A canoe adventure that boggles the mind

To commemorate Canada's 150th birthday in 2017, Ontario resident Adam Shoalts, decided to make a canoe trip that had never been done before: to paddle 4,000 kilometers from the Yukon to Hudson Bay across Canada's Arctic. There were just a few problems: there are no river systems that run east and west in that region; the area is ice-free for only four months; and he had no one to go with him. He did it anyway in what was one of the most grueling, incredible feats of human endurance. Then he wrote a book about the experience -- Beyond the Trees, A Journey Alone Across Canada's Arctic.

He set out in early May near Eagle Plains, Yukon Territory, walking along the Dempster Highway that runs from Dawson City to the Beaufort Sea. Almost immediately he was charged by a grizzly bear, the first of many grizzlies he was to encounter in the next four months. It pulled up short -- a bluff charge. A good thing because Shoalts had no weapon other than bear spray for the entire trip.
He had chosen this spot to get dropped off along the road because it was the crossing of the Arctic Circle -- the latitude where the sun never sets on the Spring Solstice and never rises on the Winter Solstice. He then walked to where the road encounters the Mackenzie River and had to wait a bit because the river was plugged with ice sheets rushing downstream. It wasn't long before he took off anyway, only he didn't go downstream, he went upstream in currents too strong to paddle. So he poled his canoe along, dodging ice floes and wading up rapids.
He traveled almost all of the North's big, rushing rivers this way -- in the wrong direction, upstream -- for weeks on end, because they flowed toward the northwest and he needed to go east, even if the rivers only angled that way. Shoalts would portage from one river system to another with no trails to follow, making seven trips over each divide to haul his canoe, backpack and two waterproof barrels.
Why did he go in this direction and not the reverse, east to west? Because spring comes to the West earlier. If he had waited for ice-out in the East, he would have been caught by winter before he could complete the trip. Time was of the essence and it became a drumbeat for Shoalts.
Eventually he reached Great Bear Lake, the eighth-largest lake in the world, larger than Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. It was still plugged with ice but he couldn't wait for it to fully melt, so he paddled in and around inland icebergs, through massive waves and against ferocious winds. He crossed the lake in just 11 days.
He then had to make a long portage from the Great Bear watershed to the Dismal Lakes of the Coppermine River drainage. No trail and as always, he had to do it seven times to get his stuff across. All told, he had to travel 40 kilometers. It took him just two days!
Obviously, Shoalts was no greenhorn when it came to wilderness canoeing. In fact he has been called Canada's greatest living explorer. He is also an archaeologist, geographer and historian. The year after this trip he was named Explorer-in-Residence of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
So-driven by time on his trip, Shoalts never once stopped to drop a hook overboard although he would paddle amidst schools of enormous northern pike and lake trout.
For months the only creatures he met were belligerent muskox, curious wolves, bears and birds. As a reader, I wondered if perhaps he didn't eventually become "bushed." It's a term used here in the North to describe someone who spends so much time alone in the bush he shuns other human company. Lost persons, for example, have been known to run and hide from their rescuers.
The incident that made me wonder about this was a time near the end of July when Shoalts, after another tortuous day of wading up whitewater, dragging his canoe behind and driven nearly to madness by the hordes of blackflies and mosquitoes, had just turned into his tent for the night when a voice called out. It was a group of five female canoeists from Minnesota traveling downstream, of course. They were incredulous, also of course, that Shoalts was going the other way -- upstream -- and that he had been doing this for months.
Shoalts spoke to the party from the inside of his tent, explaining he had just killed all the blackflies inside. He mentioned that he had passed a better camping spot a mile downstream. The ladies took the hint and left.
On Sept. 4 he reached Baker Lake, a fjord-like water body with direct access to Hudson Bay and frequented by beluga whales and seals. His hair was long and wild, his beard enormous and he was scarecrow thin. But his incredible journey was over.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Thumbs-up on new Faber snowshoes

My first new snowshoes in more than 50 years
I got new style snowshoes for my birthday and I've been using them exclusively this winter for trail walking and cutting firewood. With 30 inches of snow now snowshoes are a must.
My 'shoes are made by Faber, a Canadian company based in Quebec. They are called hybrid 'shoes since they have a wooden frame but synthetic webbing.
Brenda has the same model of snowshoes, just a smaller size than mine. I'm a big guy and when getting snowshoes I always think about a customer of ours who was a woodcutter from Fort Frances, Ont., an area of Northwestern Ontario that often gets deep snow. I asked him one time what type of snowshoes he wore. "The biggest ones I can find," he said.
Mine are 11 inches in width and 40 inches long and are rated for someone up to 350 pounds. I am more than 100 pounds less than that.
I find they don't sink as much as the traditional snowshoes in new powder, probably no more than six inches.
They have a great harness system that allows you to ratchet the strap tight to your boot. The harness also pivots through the toe-hole and has a sharp cleat on the bottom that digs into packed snow when climbing hills.
They do have a different feel to them compared to my old traditional 'shoes, something that had me do a couple of face-plants at first, but now I have grown used to their shape.
Faber has come out with an intriguing model called the S-Line which stands for sliding step snowshoes. They are a hybrid between snowshoes and cross-country skis and could be a blast for people who have mostly open, hilly country to navigate.
For me though, confined by the dense Boreal Forest, the hybrid 'shoes are a better fit.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Gritty details about attracting winter birds

Goldfinches love nyger seed

I shovel off a space to allow birds access to the sand
Our friends tell us that we have more birds coming to our feeders than they do and wonder why.
One reason might be the attraction in front of our tractor shed. When we built the shed a few years ago we had a couple of dump truck loads of coarse sand delivered. The sand was used as the base for the shed and also for a drive that leads up to the door. It seems ideal as bird grit. Each morning all the birds flock to an area I keep cleared of snow and pick up grit before visiting the bird feeders. Interestingly the list of birds visiting the sand each day includes a couple of ruffed grouse.
I suppose this bird feeding tip only applies to areas like ours that have continuous snow cover in the winter.
There is sand at intersections of roads too, but the closest spot is about 300 yards away from our feeders.
Speaking of birds, our chocolate Lab, Cork, seems to have gotten the wrong idea about what it is to be a bird dog. Every time he goes outside he beetles over to beneath the feeders and cleans up any seeds or seed hulls that have fallen to the ground. The seeds seem to have a laxative effect on him which means every hour he needs to hurriedly go back outside. Then while he is out there it dawns on him there might be more seeds to gobble. And the cycle is repeated.
What else would you expect a bird dog to eat?

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

It appears lots really do read this blog

Four blog readers commented in just a couple of hours so I can figure the actual number is quite substantial.
Thank you!
I didn't think those tiny Google diagnostic figures were correct. Anyway, I will continue advancing into the blogosphere.
Again, thank you all.

Does anybody read this?

It seems to me, from what I can determine from Google's blog diagnostics, that perhaps I am blogging to only a handful of people. If so, there probably is no reason to continue.
If you read the blog, could you drop me a comment saying so? You don't have to leave your name, if you don't want. Thanks.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Say 'Cheese,' Mr. Lynx

Check out the size of those hind feet
Yesterday I moved two of my trail cameras to a new location in search of Canada lynx. Then today I went to pick up my third camera from the old spot when I noticed lynx tracks right in front of it. Sure enough, I got a single photo of a mature lynx.
Meanwhile we saw three lynx from the sunroom today and they were headed in the general direction of where I placed the other two cameras. So maybe there will be more lynx pictures tomorrow.
It appeared to be a mother with two half-grown kittens.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Deer appreciate my snowshoe trails

It's tough walking in 30 inches of snow
Doe hoists herself up to my packed trail
There is about 30 inches of snow in the bush here now and that is making life difficult for the deer.
The snow is up to their chests and makes them leap rather than walk to get through it. They gladly follow my packed snowshoe trails where their sharp hooves still sink but only a couple of inches. I also have cleared one of our main trails with the snowblower and that has become a deer thoroughfare. I clear this trail with the tractor's snowblower just so I can get in there later this winter and skid out white birches. These will be pulled down to our new woodshed where they will be split, stacked and dried for next year.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The snow is starting to pile up

We got a big dump of snow a couple days ago and turned everything into a Winter Wonderland.
My guess is we now have 2-3 feet of the stuff in the bush.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Splitting-tire prevents back aches

Old ATV tire is screwed onto top of chopping block
The split pieces of wood stay inside the tire
Bending over to pick up split pieces of firewood is one of those things that leads to back aches. You can eliminate the whole bending over process by fastening a tire to the top of the chopping block. The split pieces stay inside the tire.  It can also save on maul handles if you are one of those people who occasionally miscalculates where the head of the maul, or axe, is in relation to the block of wood.
It would be a good idea to have a couple combinations of tire sizes and chopping blocks. It is great when the tire is small enough that when you split a chunk the pieces stay upright, ready to be split again. However, you don't want the tire to be too tight when you put in the whole block as it expands once it is split and may be difficult to remove.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Dawn breaks on shortest day of the year

8 a.m. today in Nolalu, Ont.
I always try to greet the dawn and this day it is particularly special as it is the Winter Solstice.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Started as a tree, ended as a woodshed

New woodshed is handy to the wood stove in the sunroom
My little Kubota skidded out the 2-foot diameter, 60-foot spruce
Three-point hitch lifted log off the ground. Large log cut from butt will be used for tables in new cabin
A little more than a year ago I started my plan for a large woodshed. We are using the finished shed today.
Before the frost set in, I put into the ground four corner posts made from white cedar trees taken from our property. We had a very large white spruce that had its top broken off in a heavy snow and I figured that could be cut into strong beams that would span the entire 16x16-foot inside dimensions of the shed.
I felled the tree and used my Kubota B2620 tractor to skid it out to the building site. There was a crook in the tree about seven feet up from the stump. I cut this section off to be made into lumber.
Using clamp-on forks I raised the rest of the log with the tractor bucket onto short blocks for sawing.
I then fastened a couple of 2x4s, end to end, to the tree and using a device called a Beam Machine and my chainsaw fitted with a 32-inch bar and ripping chain, sawed the tree into 3-inch beams.
The Beam Machine just clamps onto the chainsaw bar and slides along the 2x4. A small bubble level lets you keep the saw cutting at 90 degrees.
I cut a square edge onto one side of each beam and left the other "live" which is to say uncut.
I did it this way because the wood is stronger uncut and I only needed one square edge to sit the rafters upon.
A ledge was cut into the corner posts and the heavy beam was raised into position by fastening a pulley three feet higher than the posts and winching the beams into position with a come-along.
Bolts secured them right through the posts.
I used finished lumber for the rest of the building: 2x8 for the ridge, 2x6 rafters, corner braces and fascia. There is a two foot overhang all around making the actual dimensions under roof 20x20.
I decided to leave the woodshed open on all sides as an experiment. Experience has shown me that the biggest factor in drying firewood is air movement. Wind can blow through the open building from any direction. Also there is room here for several years firewood and the open building can let me access the oldest firewood easily.
The metal roof was screwed to 1x4 strapping.
The firewood is stacked on cedar poles to keep it off the ground. Still left to do is to paint the gables and fascia boards. We will also put eavestrough on each side and lead the water into raised rain barrels. The rainwater can then flow by gravity through garden hoses to Brenda's flower beds.

My first cut using chainsaw, Beam Machine, and 2x4
Ready for second cut
My sawmill set-up
Beams are in place and roof framed-in
Live edge was left on bottom of beams for added strength
I pulled birch logs in July right beside the new shed for cutting
This is about three cords of birch firewood. I could have used another for this winter

Sunday, December 15, 2019

A trail camera line is a lot of fun

Eastern coyote
This buck has dropped one antler. The other is soon to follow
For years now I have had a blast photographing animals with my trail cameras, and Nolalu, Ont.,  is a wonderful place for this pastime.
I have never seen another place with such a variety and abundance of Boreal Forest animals. Right here on our own acreage we have seen moose, deer, black bear, timber wolves, coyotes, red foxes, grey foxes, lynx, fisher, marten, long-tailed weasel, skunks, red squirrels, flying squirrels, porcupine, eastern chipmunk, star-nosed mole, meadow vole, jumping mouse, white-footed mouse, red-backed vole, shrew, little brown bat, woodchuck and snowshoe hare. There is no water on our property or I'm sure we would also have beaver, muskrat, mink and otter. We have also seen some non-Boreal animals. The grey fox would be considered by most to be a more southern species but I included it in the list above because I suspect it was originally a Boreal animal that got displaced by the red fox. We saw two of these small canines for the first time last year. Three animals that are absolutely not Boreal that we have seen are grey squirrel, raccoon and thirteen-lined ground squirrel. I saw the ground squirrel the very first year we moved to Nolalu, in 1985, and have never seen another.
Capturing these critters on camera takes luck but also knowledge of their habits. There is a lot of satisfaction in setting a camera for a particular species and then successfully getting its photo. You learn a lot from the cameras too. For instance the time stamp on the photos above showed me that this deer simply didn't fear the coyote. Some of the photos showed the animals were just two minutes apart. They had to know the other was there.
If you didn't have a trail camera you might not ever know that some of these animals existed.
I would think a trail camera would make a dandy Christmas present for most sportsmen but also for children with an interest in the outdoors.
Cork and I running our camera line today

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The lynx and the hare story

Camera is aimed a bit high and is also too close
Here is what the lynx is hunting -- snowshoe hare
I got a glimpse of a lynx from the house a couple of weeks ago and decided to move my two trail cameras to an area that might be good for both snowshoe hares (we just call them rabbits) and lynx.
The recent snow made things easier by showing tracks. So I moved the cameras again. Now I see that the cameras are in the right area, just not tipped enough. We'll get a good shot yet.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Snowfall is bringing in the birds

We have about a foot of snow now
The snow is covered with birch seeds
I posted a month or so ago that there were hardly any birds at our feeders. Now they are showing up, seemingly because of the accumulating snow. There still aren't as many as normal at the feeders but we are seeing usual numbers in the bush. To date I have seen flocks of goldfinches, redpolls, purple finches, juncos and pine siskins. All of these small finches are feeding on an abundance of wild birch catkins. The snow is literally covered with birch seeds after every wind.
A few of these birds are also coming to the feeders, joining blue jays, Canada jays (whiskyjacks), chickadees and hairy woodpeckers. I have also seen a few redbreasted nuthatches in the bush but not at the feeders.

Friday, November 29, 2019

We join Thunder Bay kids' climate strike

Thunder Bay students, just like others around the globe, are holding climate action demonstrations on Fridays. They are walking out of school saying there is little reason to plan for the future when there isn't going to be one unless we all take climate action.
So Brenda and I and several of our friends joined their protest today. We found the students' speeches to be profound and their protest signs witty.
They want the City of Thunder Bay to declare a climate emergency and to start taking immediate measures. And they want the provincial and federal governments to do likewise. But they said they recognized the most significant action will come from individuals making wise climate choices.
We signed a petition to be taken to Thunder Bay City Council. A table of volunteers asked us to write about things we have seen that give us hope. I wrote about the photo I took below. The Canadian Tire store on Arthur Street has installed five Tesla EV chargers. That act probably doubled the number of commercial EV chargers in the city.
Another hopeful sign is that one of the Petro-Canada filling stations in town has installed an EV charger as part of the company's plan to build an "Electric Highway" across Canada. The Valhalla Inn in town also has an EV charger. So does the CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) office.
It's happening; businesses are awakening to the change that is coming.
Our next vehicle will be an EV. We will probably use it almost exclusively for commuting to Thunder Bay from Nolalu, at least until the "Electric Highway" of chargers everywhere is completed. But that purchase is going to need to wait until we finish paying for the internal combustion auto we now own. I suspect a whole bunch of people are just like us. In a couple of years there will be a quantum shift to EVs.
That is something that individuals can do.
Canadian Tire on Arthur Street, Thunder Bay

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Most-wonderful time of the year is here

It's Butter Tart Season!
If you don't know what a butter tart is, I truly pity you.
Wars have been fought over this tasty snack. Well, that may not be exactly true but let's just say it would make more sense to fight a war for butter tarts than for the usual humdrum reasons. It would be an unusual war, that is for sure: soldiers laying down their weapons and instead eating butter tarts until they finally curl up and fall asleep.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

'Sound of the Sasquatch:' I've heard it

The CBC radio program The Current featured a segment last week about a man who has written a book about the Sasquatch.
The book, In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch by John Zada explores how this supernatural creature seems part of many cultures.
Recently a hunter near Sioux Lookout, just east of Red Lake, heard what he took to be a sasquatch and recorded the encounter on his cell phone. Here is the link:

As soon as I listened to this frightening video I recognized I had heard this sound before, just once, up at Red Lake. I would likely also have put the call down to something supernatural because there just didn't seem to be any ordinary creature in the Boreal Forest that could make it. I didn't have a cell phone to record the hideous sound, which was a pity because I don't think most people believed me when I retold the story. I did, however, have the good fortune to actually see the creature make the sound. In fact, I was only about 50 feet away and had an unobstructed view. I also wasn't alone; our son, Josh, saw the whole thing too. We were both in the same canoe.
I did a search for the sound and the creature on YouTube and found it: Here is that link:
The creature seemed angry and we quickly paddled away.

Beautiful winter weather here in Nolalu

Perfect for outdoor activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing I almost canceled my planned snowshoe walk today because the th...