Monday, March 29, 2010

Extra-terrestrials attempt first contact with Fort Simpson....

Greetings from Fort Simpson, where a warm front has brought us this glorious weather this morning..........

Where do I start? So much has happened since my last post. Truly another bustling couple of weeks in the North.

Probably the single biggest piece of news was the return of the owners/operators of the Sub-Arctic Kitchen. "The Sub" as it is known locally, is the only real restaurant in Simpson (there is The Nahanni Inn.....but it's just plain gross) and it is primarily a Chinese food joint. The owners are real-deal Chinese and every year they spend a month back home in China. The fact that they essentially have a monopoly on the food biz in town combined with the fact that they actually serve up some decent grub means that Fort Simpson seems to go into a state of quasi-panic when they leave for the month. And then, when they do return, you can almost hear the entire town breathe a collective sigh of relief before everyone stampedes to be the first in line for some Sub Grub. Alas, the girlfriend and I succumbed to this herd mentality.....and it was delicious.

Yet another big happening, or should I say two big happenings combined to produce what I like to call an Uber-Happening. Last weekend was the NWT Dart Society Championships and yes, the event was held right here in Fort Simpson. And as luck would have it, the dart players would be brought in from Yellowknife by major television celebrities...The Ice Pilots. That's right, the coolest guys on the History Channel since the Ice Road Truckers. Buffalo Airways came in with one of their DC-3's full of the north's finest small, pointed projectile throwing athletes. As you can well imagine, it made for another crazy weekend in Fort Simpson. Friday night activities included a social for the dart players. Not being a dart player or a TV celebrity, I did not attend these festivities, but the girlfriend had volunteered to work the bar that evening. I almost feel like I was there, however, vicariously through her, and as a result, I pretty much had an indirect brush with celebrity. You see, being the beautiful girl that she is, it seems that one of these "Ice Pilots" was trying to pick her up. Wow, my girlfriend. Hit on by a celebrity. I've arrived.

As it would turn out, the next day the dart showdown began and saw 4 players forced to withdraw from the competition in true Northern style. Unfortunately they tested positive for performance de-hancing drugs....they were too drunk/hungover from the evening before to play.

On Sunday before the dart teams and TV stars left, I had a flight that was to stop in at the main airport here in Simpson where I was able to snap this shot of my little taildragger C-185 and the now famous big DC-3 taildragger.

The last couple weeks have seen the number of flights start to pick up. I had a huge trip from Fort Simpson to Trout Lake to Hay River to Yelloknife back to Fort Simpson in the 185. Even though the ice bridges are still in, it seems this particular passenger didn't want to drive this long lonely highway to Yellowknife.

There was also a particularly interesting trip to Nahanni Butte. Below is a short video clip of a herd of bison on Swan Point near Nahanni Butte.

Now, while seeing wildlife is always interesting, it was not the most interesting part of this trip. Actually it's quite the norm to see herds of bison in or very near Nahanni Butte. In fact, in the summer you usually have to shoo them off the runway before you can land. No, the truly interesting part of the trip was what I saw on a frozen portion of the river called "The Snye" right beside the golf course in town. I'm sure you're all familiar with the phenomenon of crop circles; well, I spotted a series of perfect Slats' Snye Snow Circles! (Being the discoverer of this 8th wonder of the modern world, I feel I should get to coin the new term to describe them.) I'm not sure just yet what these circles signify, but undoubtedly it is an attempt at first contact by alien life forms who have a message for Fort Simpson. I will be keeping my eyes to the night sky henceforth, you can be sure.

The warmer temperature we had for the Beavertail Jamboree gave way to the more usual cold and snow which in turns gives way to hibernation, at which Rocky is an expert.

Buddy is not quite as good at hibernating as his step-sister; his under-the-covers burrowing technique is non-existant. He is too busy with the orange, bouncy object of his obsession, anyway.

Lately, I have been mulling over the idea of adopting another sibling for Buddy. This is me weighing pros and cons:

Actually it's me after waking up from hibernating as well......
Anyway, lately there has been a semi-stray hanging around doing his best to look pathetic. His name is TJ and his owner has all but abandoned him. He is all skin and bones (and a lot of fur) but he is a beautiful, friendly dog.

He has managed to scam a few free meals out of us. I'd love to take him in and give him a home, especially when I think of the fate that awaits him out at the local dump if he ever gets caught by the bylaw officer. But the problem is that there are so many nice dogs in the same situation as TJ. If I bring one in, where does it end? Before I know it, I'll end up with a dog ranch and I'll never be able to leave.
Anyway, Buddy and I have taking full advantage of the empty field across the street which is perfect for fetch, now that his hip is recovered enough that he can run without too much trouble.

Every now and then some of his stray friends stop by to join the festivities........
Even his girlfriend and mother of his puppies showed up........

Stay tuned for dog adoption updates and alien message interpretations.............

Friday, March 12, 2010

The latest exciting happenings from the Deh Cho.....

Oh, exciting times in Fort Simpson recently folks, exciting times indeed! A couple trips to the big city, a concert by professional musicians (which included a Doppelganger sighting) and a good old fashioned jamboree!

The fun times began with a maintenance trip in the Navajo. It had developed a healthy (or unhealthy I suppose) oil leak. We would come to find out that the culprits were a leaky prop governor and a leaky turbocharger wastegate.
The destination of my maintenance run was Fort Nelson, my nemesis. Fort Nelson is a small town in the oil patch of northern BC. When most people hear mention of BC, they almost always think of beautiful unspoiled wilderness scenery. The problem with Fort Nelson is that it's an oil patch town, and looks exactly like most every other oil patch town I've ever been through which is something along the lines of this:
Ah, glorious semi's as far as the eye can see! Tankers and rig trucks and wireline trucks and frac trucks abound on dirty streets, unhindered by any signs of natural beauty. I suppose I shouldn't be so hard on Fort Nelson and oil patch towns in general, after all, they are a major engine driving our economy. It's just that after seeing so many of them when I worked on the rigs, the old "oil patch town layout" is a little stale: highway runs through the middle of a bunch of gas stations, hotels and fast-food joints and with all the money pumping through there, no one gives any thought to aesthetics or beautifying the town.
But I digress. Instead, I should be looking at the silver lining, the inevitable bright side that comes with the opportunity to make this trip to the big city. First and foremost...the sweet company ride!
Yes, that is a 1980's vintage Chevy Caprice Classic, or as I like to call it, "The Blue Boat." It reminds me of my grandmother's old 80 Cadillac Sedan DeVille. Has that same unmistakable ride. And while it looks like a piece of junk, it runs great. Sits for long stretches of time, often in minus 30 temperatures without the block heater being plugged in, and it fires right up every time with just a little pump of the gas pedal. Strangely, a cool old car.
Another upside to making the trip is the chance to get to real stores and the opportunity to buy things that you just can't find in Fort Simpson like fresh fruit and vegetables that are NOT on the verge of rotting, milk that will last in your fridge for longer than 24 hours without going sour, personal hygeine items and other variety of groceries and items at a much more reasonable price than in Fort Simpson. Oh, and ammunition for my new .45-70 shoulder cannon:
So, while Fort Nelson may not be the most beautiful or exciting spot in BC, or the north, I suppose it is not without it's advantages for someone like myself, visiting from a place like Fort Simpson.
Oh, I almost forgot...the "piece de resistance"...the glorious view from my hotel room:
Stunning, I know.
Fortuntately I made my escape from Fort Nelson just in time to make it back for one of the single biggest entertainment events I've had the chance to enjoy in Fort Simpson: "The Double D BFN Tour." My friend and co-worker Tim (also sometimes referred to as Peter-it's another story) who is himself a very talented singer/songwriter/musician has an older brother who is a professional musician from Kelowna. His brother, Dan, is the lead singer, songwriter, guitar player for his band, The Malibu Knights. Dan wanted to take a trip up to Fort Simpson to visit Tim and their other brother Tony who is a helicopter engineer in town here. Dan has an adventurous musician friend named Devon (who also has his own band) who decided to take the trip with him, in true starving artist his van. En route they would play shows together at bars in the various small northern towns until they reached their goal of Fort Simpson, hence the "Double D (Dan and Devon) BFN (butt .....I'll let you figure that one out) Tour."
The show was excellent. Needless to say, Fort Simpson doesn't see too many professional musicians pass through to put on shows. There are a few good local musicians here in town, but these two guys really were excellent and very talented and played to a very happy and excited crowd that seemed to really really enjoy the show, enough to hoot and holler and yell for an encore late in the evening just when they thought they were done, and had exhausted their repetoire.
The most remarkable moment of the evening for me happened as soon as I walked in. I witnessed a phenomenon which I had previously only heard and read about....The Doppelganger. I walked into the bar and thought for sure my eyes were playing tricks on me because I could have sworn I was looking at my good friend and former Wolverine Air pilot, Cayce. Devon is a dead ringer for Cayce. And everyone there who knew Cayce couldn't help but comment on it. I had to get a photo for proof so that you could all see what I was talking about. Below is a photo of Devon followed by a photo of Cayce. You can clearly see what I'm talking about:
Remarkable isn't it. As I understand the Doppelganger is usually a bad omen, I was happy to find out the next day that Cayce was alive and well. Strangely, he informed me he had seen my Doppelganger...a baggage handler at an airport in Alberta. Maybe 2 Doppelgangers cancel each other out and that's why we both survived the bad luck.
As you may know, me and the girlfriend moved to a new place in town. Our old place was much nicer in the looks department than our new digs. But hey, at least it's easy to explain to people where we live: "We're the second unit in the 'Remember this...Get crunk' building." "Oh, OK, I know that place."
Despite the many-year-old graffitti, the place isn't actually as bad as it seems from the outside. The convenience of living in town and being able to walk everwhere definitely has it's advantages.
But, to make the place feel a little more "homey" we decided (meaning "she decided and I didn't care either way") we should do a little decorating. So, we (meaning "she") found these crazy wall decals. Apparently we were bringing the outdoors into the kitchen. Unbeknown to me, this was to be a relationship-building event, or at least I'm reasonable certain that was an ulterior motive. But it was successful on both fronts. Not only did the decals go up well and add some much-needed feng shui to the place, but we got to practice compromise. Compromise between her approach of "We HAVE to take our time and follow the instructions TO THE LETTER!!" and my approach of "It's putting stickers on a wall for god sake we don't need instructions for that!"
Not only does the kitchen look smashing now, but it had the unintended benefit of adding a source of unexpected and unplanned entertainment.........KITCHEN HUNTING!

This weekend was the next big happening in Simpson....The Beavertail Jamboree. Just in case you HAVEN'T been living under a rock and are asking, "What in the name of all that is holy is the Beavertail Jamboree?"......well, it's ONLY the COOLEST celebration in the Deh Cho!
Obviously at the Beavertail Jamboree you can enjoy such events as a feast and drum dance and my personal favourite, one of the most exciting competitions known to modern man, the tea boiling competition. I know, I know, and you'll be even more jealous to learn that I was able to observe this pinnacle of sport from my bedroom window!

Yes, as you can imagine I am still winding down from the excitement.

Well that just about has us up to date. Obviously it has been a wild and crazy week and I know you will all be booking your trip to The Beavertail Jamboree for this time next year.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Yeah....could you NOT stab your buddy before a big hockey game please!?

Some of the interesting things about flying in the north are the reasons for which you occasionally get called out to go flying. Most often it’s pretty simple: Jonny Mosquito needs to get from Point A to Point B. Sometimes it’s a little more interesting. “There are canoeists overdue. They were canoeing from Leftrook Lake to Nelson House. Go up and see if you can find them.” Or, “Yeah….we’re gonna have to get you to go and pick up a dead body from Thicket Portage. It’s OK though, it’s in a body bag.” Creepy. Sunday was one such interesting trip. No, my passenger wasn’t deceased. No small thanks to his drinking buddy though. I was thoroughly enjoying my Sunday, watching the Olympics and looking forward to the Canada/USA round robin game. You remember: the one we lost despite generally out-shooting and out-playing them entirely because our goalie was playing well below his usual level and theirs was playing well above his usual level. Anyway, I got a call from the boss telling me I had to go flying to Nahanni Butte to take a passenger back there. As you can well imagine I was less than pleased to have my general Sunday sloth interrupted for the purpose of flying to the Butte for roughly the 4,763rd time in my life. Especially because if the passenger was late, I might miss the puck drop. When I got to work I discovered the reason for the trip; it made me even more mad. Apparently, the day prior, my passenger (let’s call him Jonny Chestwound) had been stabbed by his supposed buddy (let’s call him Tommy Stabsalot) and he had come in to town to get patched up and now needed to get back home. The catalyst for this event was? Any guesses? If you said alcohol, you are correct. How surprising. The reason is a mystery, probably even to the two parties involved, because I imagine they were both too drunk to remember. But I imagine it went something like this:

THE SCENE: Tommy Stabsalot sitting inebriated in his 1970’s era tweed and duct tape Barcalounger, drinking straight from his bottle of Smirnoff vodka. Jonny Chestwound enters through door on stage left and plants himself in the white plastic patio chair next to Tommy.
JONNY: “Hey, Tommy, what you got there?”
TOMMY: “Have a drink.”
Glug glug glug…cough…glug.
TOMMY: “Hey, give it back.”
JONNY: “Hold on, one more swig.”
TOMMY: “Give me the *expletive* bottle.”
JONNY: “Hold on, one more swig.”
TOMMY: “You *expletive**expletive*!!”

Ok, so I took some artistic liberties in my interpretation of what may or may not have occurred. It just strikes me that the only thing that could possibly spark such a stupid alcohol-fueled happening would just have to be something equally stupid and quite likely, totally insignificant. These sorts of violent happenings are much more rare in this part of the north than in other areas I have worked. In northern Ontario and Manitoba it’s a daily occurrence; a way of life practically. In the NWT people seem to be a little more mellow, but it still does not surprise me in the least. I just shake my head. At least he was on time and I made it back in time for the game.

The rest of the week was much more straightforward, albeit unexpectedly busy. Environment and Natural Resources was doing a week of caribou collaring, that is, putting radio transmitter collars on local woodland caribou. At the last minute, they decided that to save money they would have me go out in the 185 (much cheaper to operate than a helicopter) to go out ahead of the chopper and locate caribou for them so all they would have to do is go directly to the locations I gave them. Then they use a specialized gun that shoots a weighted net over the caribou, trapping it. They then land, take blood samples, strap on the collar and move on to the next location. Needless to say it was a fun way to break up what would have otherwise been a slow, boring week.

And of course there was the Olympics which I watched, thanks to a “borrowed” television and satellite receiver. I’m too cheap to pay for satellite, not that it would matter since I don’t own a TV. But thankfully my friend Tim was away for the month of February. And thankfully he doesn’t bolt his belongings down to the floor, if ya know what I mean. I could go on and on about the Olympics but suffice to say that it was spectacular, in my opinion. Those that know me well, know that I’m a very proud Canadian, so it felt so great to see millions of Canadians coming together and expressing those same feelings of national pride. It was a really special time in this country and my only regret is that I didn’t have the time and available finances to go and be a part of it at ground zero in Vancouver. But hey, thanks to a goal from Sidney Crosby that will go down in history as one the biggest this country has ever witnessed, it pushed us not only to the top of the hockey world, but also to the top of the pile of Olympic gold and even more impressively made 30 million Canadians (who normally couldn’t agree on the correct pronunciation of poutine) all jump and shout in unison.