Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thanks for Not Driving

Once more, I give thanks that I get to walk or bicycle to work this way instead of sitting in a car in traffic.

This is the river end of the connecting path to Innovation Place. It wasn't that many years ago that it was a dirt track between a field and the railway tracks. The trees on the right between the field and the path are growing up nicely. And I have to admit that when it's wet the paved path is nicer than the mud used to be.

And here's a shot of a solitary end of season flower taken with my iPhone on the way to work.

The Smaller Majority

If you like nature and don't mind "creepy crawlies" have a look at The Smaller Majority by Piotr Naskrecki. Your local library probably has it (the Saskatoon library did).

The photographs are amazing and the text is great too.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Only in Saskatchewan

Shelley and I had planned to go kayaking this weekend but the weather didn't cooperate (rain and 50 km/hr winds) so we went down to Regina so Shelley could take part in the police memorial parade. Looking for somewhere to stay, I googled for "regina boutique hotels" and this was one of the top results:

Pretty sad when a Holiday Inn Express is the "premier boutique hotel"!

We ended up staying at the Hotel Saskatchewan - the price wasn't much different (via Expedia) and it's a little classier :-)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weather Ups and Downs

I just got back from an overnight kayak trip on the Hanging Heart Lakes and Crean Lake near Waskesiu. (Shelley was on call so I was on my own.)

The two days of weather couldn't have been much different. Saturday was 30c, sunny, very little wind. I started at the dock at Heart Lakes. (satellite view is best) There were all kinds of people out enjoying the day. The paddling was easy and relaxing. I kept going until the sun was getting ready to set.

It was too hot for the bugs on Saturday. ( I wonder why they don't operate in hot weather?) I sat outside and ate my supper and watched the sunset and wasn't bothered by a single mosquito. But as soon as the sun went down and the temperature dropped a few degrees swarms of them appeared like magic and I quickly retreated to the tent. Of course every time I went out and came back in it took several minutes to eradicate all the mosquitoes that snuck in with me.

This morning (Sunday) was much cooler at 7c, windy, and raining. I camped in a relatively sheltered spot but once I got out in the open water it was ... interesting. The waves bounced me up and down, spun me around, and slapped me in the face. It was a bit like a Disneyland ride, only I didn't have to pay, there were no lineups, and it lasted two hours. Crean is a pretty big lake (over 10 km across) and the growing whitecaps made me a little nervous. But the kayak is pretty stable and the spray skirt kept most of the water out, and I was close to shore if I did get tipped. Despite going mostly against the wind I made steady progress.

In the middle of this, two bald eagles appeared and flew around me for a while. I had to be careful not to get too distracted watching them and get creamed by one of the bigger waves. 

Once I got off Crean and into the Heart Lakes it was a lot calmer and I could relax, although I started to get cold once I wasn't exerting myself as much. Despite the rain gear and the spray skirt I was still pretty wet and sitting in a puddle of water. I can see why paddlers wear rain gear that seals around your wrists - getting a wave pouring water down your sleeve is a tad unpleasant!

Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the paddle back through the rain. Out of the wind it was quite peaceful. I had to stop a few times and listen to the sound of the raindrops hitting the lake. It was an almost musical pitter patter. The loons were also adding their own accompaniment. (When I searched I also found this video of a poem about loons.)

One advantage of the bad weather was that there were no other people anywhere to be seen. I was especially happy to be rid of the power boats. If you ask me, they should ban powerboats on at least some of the lakes. But that would no doubt be so unpopular as to be impossible.

I'm pretty lucky to be within relatively easy reach of more or less unspoiled countryside. The moss on the forest floor and the lichens on the trees, the ducks and loons and eagles - it's all pretty magical. I should get out here more often.

(sorry, no photos this time)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Summer's Final Fling

The weather lately has been gorgeous, warm and sunny and not even too windy. I've been trying to make the most of it - running, cycling, having coffee where I can sit outside. It's supposed to get up to 30c today!

Of course, it is the middle of September and the days are getting shorter, the leaves are starting to fall, and the Canada geese are congregating.

Although our winters are harsh, I still love the cycle of seasons we have here. If you compared winter to summer you'd think it was two different places entirely.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No Fly Zone

It's becoming increasingly obvious (to me) that flying isn't sustainable due to it's impact on climate change. Depending on whose numbers you believe, it's about 10 times worse than buses or trains. And unfortunately, there are no obvious (or even obscure) ways to make flying sustainable. You can have cars and buses and trains powered by electricity generated in sustainable ways. But airplanes require a concentrated fuel. Even hydrogen isn't a good fit.

The trip to Peru we've got planned this winter will contribute somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 tons of CO2 per person - more than what we should be producing in an entire year. I can buy carbon offsets but that doesn't change my impact, it just means I expect someone else to cut back.

So after Peru I'm going to quit flying for a while. For someone that loves to travel that's a hard pill to swallow. But if I'm not willing to sacrifice, how can I expect other, less motivated people to do anything?

People are willing to do things that don't require much sacrifice - changing light bulbs, recycling, insulating their house. But that will only go so far. The changes we really need require a lot more sacrifice and that's a show stopper for most people.

It's not all bad. In a way I'm excited about the possibilities. Constraints often end up encouraging enough creativity to more than compensate for the limitations they impose. I don't intend give up traveling entirely - there's lots of places I'd like to visit in North America that I can reach by bus, train, bicycle, etc. Even our Prius with two people in it is a lot better than flying. (And I'm less likely to travel as far by these means so that helps too.) Saskatoon is a Via Rail stop so I can get east or west that way. I could even get to Churchill Manitoba to see the polar bears before they're gone. The Amtrak rail network in the USA goes lots of places and connects to Canada in Vancouver and Quebec. Unfortunately, it's not easy to go south from Saskatoon - neither the trains or the buses go across the border except in Vancouver and out east. And once you're in the US the trains primarily go east/west except on the coasts.

Traveling by bicycle would be even better, but distances in North America are large. One option might be to travel by train or bus with my bike. For example, I could take the bus to close to the Saskatchewan border, bike across and then use buses or trains in the US. Of course, that might be a little tougher in the winter! Maybe I need a Montague folding bike (there I go again falling into the trap of needing more "stuff")

Shelley thinks I'm a little crazy, and she's not the only one. Of course, they're right, but not necessarily because of this :-)

Too many people are keeping their heads in the sand, even people that are supposedly committed to solving the problems. For example, I recently ran across the International League of Conservation Photographers. It sounded great so I went to see what they do and found they're organizing a conference in Merida, Mexico. So a whole bunch of people are going to fly long distances to go and talk about how they can save the planet. Maybe they'll talk about not flying?

The standard defense is the old "the end justifies the means" - that the good they're doing makes up for the damage. Come on, can you really get people to stop doing something by doing exactly what you want them to stop doing? Bah!
The campaign against climate change is an odd one. Unlike almost all the public protests which have preceded it, it is a campaign not for abundance but for austerity. It is a campaign not for more freedom but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just against other people, but also against ourselves. - George Monbiot, Heat

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tofino Sunrises

I've been working my way through my photos from our recent trip to Vancouver Island. It's taking a while so I thought I'd post a first batch. When we were in Tofino I got up for the sunrise a few mornings to take pictures. I even used my tripod. Thankfully it was late enough in the summer that sunrise wasn't too too early.

2009-08 Tofino Sunrises

Leopard Frog

It was a beautiful day yesterday and I was out roaming around on my bike. This Leopard Frog (probably a Northern Leopard Frog) jumped out of a puddle on a trail close to the river. It's nice to see it around because they're not doing so well these days. I'm not sure where it came from, as far as I know the only permanent water around is the river and I don't think they can breed in moving water like that. Maybe it came down the river from somewhere else. Or maybe it they are breeding in people's backyard ponds.

I took the photo with my iPhone since it was all I had at the time. It does a surprisingly good job for a phone. The fairly wide angle lens means you have to get quite close but I moved slowly and the frog cooperated for a few shots before leaping off into the undergrowth.

A couple of years ago I did a series of blog posts on some Leopard frog eggs that I brought home and raised:

Tadpole Progression
Tadpoles Grow Legs
Tadpoles to Frogs
Formerly Known as Tadpoles

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Saskatoon Bicycling Paths

At Jan Gehl's talk in Saskatoon recently the city was handing out a brochure on "Spaces and Places to Ride in Saskatoon".

It's nice to see the city thinking about bicyclists. Saskatoon does have some good paths, along the river and a few other places.

Saskatoon has two "Exclusive-Use On-Road Cycling Lanes" - along part of Preston and part of Spadina. I use both regularly and it is really nice to have a separate lane for cyclists. Of course, because the lanes are "just" for cyclists, and because they're at the edge of busy roads they tend to get full of gravel, which doesn't make the nicest (or safest) cycling.

On the map in the brochure the most prominent network, outlined in red, is "Shared Use On-Road Cycling Lanes". It also has the most "Proposed" sections. This is the one type of "path" that is not explained in the brochure. As far as I can tell, it simply means a road that bicycles are allowed to use. In other words, a regular road. Having cycled on many of the outlined streets, I don't recall anything special about them - no signs or markings.

In other words, the big red network is hype. Bicyclists will realize this. The problem is that non-bicyclists (most people) will see it and think "what are these bicyclists whining about, look at all the cycling paths they have".

And that's not the only part of the brochure that's hype. The map in the brochure shows the Spadina section extending from 33rd to College Drive. This is pure fabrication. Spadina on this part is barely wide enough for one lane in each direction plus parked cars on one side. And on top of that, it's full of potholes. As far as I'm concerned the only time it's safe to bicycle on this section is when there's no traffic (e.g. when Shelley goes to work at 5am). There's certainly no "exclusive use cycling lane". They are currently resurfacing this section (which should at least fix the pothole issue) and maybe they plan to add a cycling lane, although I doubt it because there's no room for it.

I don't think this hype is conspiracy or malicious or even deliberate. I just think most of the people involved are out of touch. I bet they haven't even looked at most of the paths in person, let alone cycled on them. The other symptom of this is discontinuous paths - bike lanes that suddenly end and sections of path that don't connect. They look ok on paper and add to the stats, but they're not so good for actual use. (Check out the path along Whiteswan, it's a crazy collection of discontinuous pieces.)

I think, at least unconsciously, there's this image of cycling as being something you go out and do on a sunny Sunday afternoon along the riverbank. Not something as mundane as trying to do your shopping or commute to work. That's pretty obvious when you look at where the good trails are - along the river. Where the shopping is it's almost impossible to cycle. This is true even in areas that are supposedly more "enlightened" like Broadway. Try maneuvering between stores on 8th Street on your bicycle.

It's also obvious when there is absolutely no provision for pedestrians or cyclists, only cars. For example it's almost impossible to get from my house in Richmond Heights to the restaurants and shops very close by on 42nd Street. You have to play Frogger and dodge traffic across 6 lanes of busy Warmen Road, then get across the train tracks (ignoring the no trespassing signs) scramble up and down the embankments, and then cut across a car sales lot. And it's even more fun in the winter with the snow and ice.

Studies show that traffic expands to fill the available space. Enlarging roads or parking to reduce congestion almost always has the opposite effect - it just increases traffic. The best way to reduce traffic is actually to shrink roads and parking. So on Broadway, for example, where people would say there's no room for a bike lane, we could just convert the parking lanes into bike lanes, at least for the summer. Of course, the drivers would complain and they have a bigger lobby so it's unlikely to happen.

It would also be nice if the city demonstrated a little more interest in input from people. Deliberately or not, the brochure did not give any way to contact anyone. No phone number, no email address. Only the web site for the city as a whole (saskatoon.ca) There is an advisory committee for cycling in Saskatoon, but from what I hear, the city primarily uses it to announce what they plan to do, not to actually get input.

Oh well, I shouldn't complain, it's nice to see some attention to cycling.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Where Are We Headed?

I'm in the middle of reading Heat by George Monbiot.  It's a few years old but still an excellent read.

Check out a couple of his recent blog posts.

Not Even Wrong

Should We Seek to Save Industrial Civilisation?

I find it very hard to know what to think of our current situation. Should I retreat to a cabin in the woods and attempt to live a pre-industrial life? But a few people doing that won't save us. Or do I give up and live it up while I can?

The middle ground of making some feeble personal attempts to "reduce, reuse, and recycle" seem almost pointless when the people around me are buying SUV's and McMansions. And when I, myself, hypocritically continue to travel by air, eclipsing any savings I might have made other ways.