Friday, 22 March 2013

Really Technical...

In the spring of 2012, when the provincial government started engaging the people of BC on the question of whether or not to terminate the Columbia River Treaty, one question they were asked is “What would the Columbia Basin look like if we were not constrained by the Treaty?” A year is not a very long time to try to answer such a big question, but Treaty Review team has recently released a draft copy of their results, and conferences were scheduled this week in Golden and Castlegar.

There isn't truly a rush, since if either Canada or the US decided to terminate the treaty, 10 years notice has to be given, and the earliest that notice can be given is in September 2014. The goal of the Treaty Review is to “provide decision makers with an understanding of the range of physically possible operations” under each of three high level scenarios (referred to as Treaty Continue, Treaty Terminate, and Treaty Plus, which refers to some version of additional agreements that might be reached). They want to give that information to the Provincial government in the fall this year, so that the decision makers have time to consider whether to terminate the Treaty, and also what might happen if the US decides to terminate. So this Technical Report looks at a broad range of social and environmental values, as well as power generation capabilities throughout the Canadian end of the Columbia system, and attempts to provide a high level overview of how the system could perform under different scenarios.

It is a lot to consider. The report is very technical, and I found it hard to read and understand. I would probably understand it better if I had gone to one of the conferences, but as it turned out, the conference scheduled for Golden was canceled, and Castlegar is a nine hour drive away. I did sign up to view the conference via web, but the conference really wasn't designed for that. I only got to view the slides used by the presenters, sound quality was poor, and they were only able to stream one of each of the four break out sessions. The sessions on the Kinbasket Reservoir were not streamed.

But there are definitely some interesting bits of information in the report. There is a schematic of the Columbia and Kootenay Hydroelectric Systems that I hadn't seen before, and I think it is very helpful in understanding the flow of the systems (most maps don't show direction of water flow, and even CBT maps that show direction are difficult to conceptualize). Of course, Valemount is not marked in this schematic, but it's just meant to help you understand the layout of the system. You could draw Valemount on there yourself, as a little dot next to Golden, on the edge of the big circle that represents Kinbasket Reservoir.

The Columbia system is even more complicated on the US side of the border, and there were a couple very interesting facts I gleaned from the US Treaty Review section of the conference. On other river systems in the US, they have more than enough capacity to store run-off, but they don't have nearly enough storage on the Columbia to prevent flooding, which is a major concern for them. Kinbasket is the largest reservoir in the entire system, and therefore the Treaty is very important to the US. And yet the Canadian Entitlement (the money BC gets from the US) is based purely on Downstream Power Generation. (That is because Canada got a lump sum payment for the flood control benefits for the life of the Treaty at the beginning, and that money was used to build the Treaty dams.)

One might say “Hey, Canada should end the treaty, and negotiate a better entitlement, one based on flood control as well as power generation,” but it's not that simple. For one thing, whether the Treaty continues or not, Canada still needs to provide “Called Upon” flood control to the US. What that looks like is currently being negotiated, since Canada and the US have different views on what is required. I would imagine the reviews on both sided of the border are having some effects on that negotiation.

But also there is this: Kinbasket might be very important to the US for flood control, but it has also become very important for BC for power generation. Mica and Revelstoke Dams provide about half of BC Hydro's capacity, and whether the Treaty continues or not, changes at Mica/Kinbasket are the most costly (since they have to be balanced by changes elsewhere, either by water levels in other areas of the Columbia or by power generation elsewhere in the province). Regarding Kinbasket Reservoir, if the Treaty continues, “changes at Mica are the most costly and provide limited gains for interests around the reservoir.” If the Treaty is terminated, “more radical changes to operations could be developed that could provide greater benefits to interests around the reservoir but at an even higher cost.” So it looks like Treaty or not, the issues for Kinbasket (recreation, environmental, economic) are going to be about trade-offs.

And actually, the report points out a lot of trade-offs throughout the Columbia Basin, regardless of the Columbia River Treaty terminating or continuing; I hope the Province will continue this sort of engagement on these issues once the Treaty Review process is complete. I asked that question in the panel discussion session. Unfortunately, I couldn't hear the response.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Question

Transcribed from my iPhone voice memo, recorded as I walked the dog this evening... (and I must remember to do something about the volume if I am going to try that again...)

"So Owen asked the question tonight.  No, not the marriage question, shut the fuck up.  I am talking about the writing question.  We were sitting around after supper, he got a call from a friend asking for help, they were stuck.  I said "Hey, might be fun to go, something to do... might be interesting."  And he says "Hmmm... are you going as the friend? the reporter? the editor?" And this I don't know.  Honestly.  (and here I am laughing...) Because I don't know if I am any of those things.  I thought for a couple seconds, trying to process the question, um, and really the only answer I can come up with is: Is it going to help anybody if I tell the story? Because if it's not, then I won't tell the story.  That is just what popped into my head, but I think it's true, because if I don't see good coming from me telling something, then I don't think there is any point in telling it.  I hear this phrase a lot recently: "Be the change that you want to see." And I don't think that any change can come if you are pointing out the badness, the stuff that is wrong, just to point it out.  If you don't see a better way, then shut the fuck up.  OK, well, I don't really think that, because sometimes you might not see the right way until you talk about it first.  Hmmmm..."

Of course, the cynic might pop up right away and say "well, define good... if you get paid for telling a story, that might be good for you"  and of course, that is true.  But I don't think that journalists get paid much, and spilling my guts for money feels more like prostitution than working at McDonalds did.   (Not that there is anything wrong with that...)  Of course you have no reason to trust me, that could purely be me talking out of my ass, but if you get to know me, you'll recognize that money doesn't cut it for me.  There's more to life than that (although I often feel like a slave to the credit and the loans...).  Now if I get a laugh, that usually cuts it.  Even if it's just me that laughs.  (Another thought I had this evening, maybe a logo or a mantra or something: I don't do anything quickly except laugh!).  If I shock you a bit, but not to the point you turn away, that cuts it too (just ask my step-mom!).  If it helps you understand something, or at least think a bit more about it, maybe that's the best win.  And hey, if you have a come-back that makes me think, well, that might be the ultimate win.

Anyway, I have this sort of insatiable curiosity about things, not often backed by a lot of effort to research stuff, but I feel sometimes like I have this perpetual puzzled look on my face.  I want to know where you got that idea.  Why do you think that? Why do you make that assumption?  I know we have this tendency to group and clump things, compare like with like, essentially to create our own stereotypes.  That is our nature, and I don't see a problem with that.  Problems arise when we assume that someone or something is going to fall into all of our stereotypes, just because they fall into one.

OK, there was a good dose of my philosophical streak... I think I think too much (might be why I like to drink!) I hope this doesn't all sound like shit when I wake up in the morning... because I am about to make that decision again... ;)

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Third Problem... and My Lesson

When people know you write in a public forum, it changes things. I realize now I actually have a third problem with being a writer (in my first post, I wrote about two problems). It is really the fact that what you write becomes public. I know, that sounds silly, it's kind of the point of being a writer, to have what you write printed or published. But maybe what has been holding me back is that I know some people will disagree or dislike what I write, and maybe some people I care about will misunderstand, or be hurt or disapointed. That might not be so if I was to write a fantasy novel or something, but that is not the way I write.

For example if I write a story like my last post, “I'll Help You With Dinner”, I'm under no obligation to tell the truth, but it will likely be based on my experiences and my knowledge, and people I know might recognize themselves in these situations (whether I intend it or not). If I am true to the style of writing that interests me, I may be expressing feelings and situations that I've never expressed before, that I would never actually tell certain people in real life, but it might now be out there in the public for anyone to read if they choose. I may be digging up stuff that could potentially cause harm where I don't mean to, but it also means that people may change how they interact with me in the future, since they think that interaction might become part of my writing. That is a change in my life that I may not want.

But it might already be too late, that change might already have happened for me.

I've had a couple stories printed in one of our local newspaper over the last year or so, and the editor has asked on a couple occasions if I would be interested in writing a column, or some sort of regular submission. I couldn't commit, because I was busy with other things, and because I didn't know what interested me enough. But over the past 2 years I have become more interested in local government, politics, and the things going on around me, and when the editor found out I was not currently working, she asked if I might be interested in looking into a few things. It turned out I was already interested and finding out about a couple of the issues, so I gave her a few more stories, and she printed them. I don't think that makes me a reporter, but some people seem to think it does. I guess that might just be a philosophical argument. Anyway, within the last few months, I've been told that I am free to come to the village office and ask questions, just as any citizen is, and staff will help me, provide copies of bylaws, etc. Suddenly last week, right after the stories were published, I was told that anything going to the paper must come from the Mayor, since he is the spokesperson for the Village.

Now of course, theoretically, if I am asking as a citizen, I should have the same rights and access as every other citizen; and theoretically, any Village staff person would be able to give me the same information that the Mayor would. But if it's for the paper, it has to come from (or be otherwise authorized) by the Mayor. So here is my issue – I am asking questions as a citizen, because I want to know and understand. But once I know, can I say for sure it won't become part of something I write, something that the editor will be interested in printing? So really, if I am to be truthful, then anything I learn may well become part of a story for the paper, so I can't really ask as a citizen any more (even though I am asking as a citizen). And even if I decide to never submit anything to the paper again, I am somehow already labeled.

The most ironic part is how this all played out for me. What I was currently trying to find out is whether the Village was working on a policy regarding an aspect of budgeting. I was told it was a conscious decision for the council to not be too concerned about policies, since there are more important issues that need to be dealt with (which is certainly true). I was then told that the policy that says a reporter has to talk to the Mayor is clear. My translation: budget policy, not important; policy that says reporters have to talk to the Mayor, very important. Not sure who decides which one is important, nor how it is determined who is a reporter. I guess that means I will be reading the community charter, but I wanted to do that eventually anyway.

Of course, the mayor's point (that there is a lot of work to be done, and sometimes creating policies is not the best use of one's time) is certainly a good point. There are a lot of stupid, useless and silly policies out there. And maybe I am a little over-sensitive to the issue of bad policies, or poorly enforced ones, there have certainly been times I've gotten screwed over by them. But it has really been bugging me, and I know I'm sometimes a little slow making the connections, but I've recognized my lesson. If I am going to be a writer, I have to put it all out there. I can't be scared of who I might offend, I can't hold back my opinions. There will be people who don't like it, and consequently don't like me. But we can't live our lives worried about that, now can we?? ;) Anyway, I expect it will be a decision I have to make each time I decide to publish something.  And I am just about to make the decision for this story.

This is an article I wrote that was printed in November:

And these are two of my recent articles that were published:

Thursday, 21 February 2013

I'll Help You With Dinner..

"I'll help you with dinner," he said.

"I got it." I was making beef stir-fry, my favorite meal for about the last 10 years, and I had it down to a science, just the way I like it.  The rice was started, beef was cut and marinating, and I was slicing mushrooms, the first to go into the hot frying pan.

"No, I'll help." He's looking at the vegetables I have ready on the counter, the ones that get cooked less than the mushrooms.  "You want to use this onion? Is this too much green pepper? Which knife do I use? where's the cutting board? Where's a bowl for the scraps?" I answer each question, and watch him wander off to the living room coffee table to do his work in front of the TV and I sigh.  Quietly. 

I finish slicing the mushrooms, and start them frying in the hot oil.  I like them toasty browned in some spots, and the trick is the pan's gotta be hot, and you have to let them sit a bit, not stir them too much.  I am ready for the onions, but he's not done, now he's on the phone.  He is of course sanding in the doorway between kitchen and living room, blocking, stretching the phone cord.  This is one of the conversations about softball, it will be a long one.  I turn down the stove and make my way around him to grab the stuff, bring it all back to the kitchen (no point asking him, he's on the phone and won't hear me) and finish cutting the onions.  Meantime, he's stretching the phone cord to the stove, incessantly stirring the mushrooms.  Turning them to mush.  I try to get around him without getting upset, turn the heat back up and add the onions.  I finish cutting the green peppers and add them, and he's still stirring.  Absently.  Still talking on the phone, not paying any attention to me.  He thinks he's helping.  And of course, now I have an extra knife, cutting board, and two more bowls to wash, and he's trimmed about half the green pepper away, what a waste.  And turned most of the vegetables to mush.

Finally he wanders back to the doorway (his work is done, I guess).  I remove the veggies, let the pan heat up again and sear the beef slices, then throw the veggies back in at the last minute to mix it all together.  The rice is done, and he's still on the phone, so I dish out my own, leaving his plate on the counter, turn off the stove, and make my way past him again to my spot on the couch to eat. 

A couple weeks later, he offers to help me with supper again.  "Why don't you help me by bringing in the groceries, or starting the laundry? You know this kitchen isn't big enough for two people"

"No, I want to help you with dinner," he says.  Sure...  help...  Sigh.

This of course is not Owen.  Owen is a great cook, can make entire meals all by himself, and not just for the two of us, but for friends too.  He cooked the first beef heart I ever ate, and it was amazing.  He introduced me to perogies (they exist back east, but he taught me the trick is bacon and butter... and lots of cheese...), sushi, elk meat, he makes amazing omelets and wraps.  He likes sauces and dressings, he likes to try different stuff, sometimes we create stuff together, or he will ask what he can help me with.  Imagine that, asking.  This is a picture of HIS stir-fry, and it was delicious!

That other guy was a fucking dick, and I am so glad I am rid of him.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Truck

This is our truck, and she has saved us.  Well, she took us for a little swim in the North Thompson River, but she let us get out.

She's a 1991 F150, we got her for the price of the tires, and she needed some work.  Owen has spent a lot of time on her, and she's part of the family though she doesn't really have a name.  Owen says it's a "she" because she does what she wants.  The custom flat deck with drop sides is perfect for collecting firewood, and moving stuff.  Notice the custom steel front bumper? Donation from a friend's old truck, and possibly a key player in this little story.

We were coming home from Kamloops on the evening of November 13, and it was snowing in Blue River (as it always is).  Coming up to Bone Creek, it was turning to big flakes, you could tell it had been snowing a lot through the day, wet snow that was gathering at the edges, accumulating on top of the old hard-pack snow. We were in no hurry, so Owen pulled slightly off the road coming up to the pullout just before the Bone Creek road to let a transport truck pass us, and then tried to pull back into the lane.  But the slush had us.  Obviously more slush than we though, and even though we were only going about 10 kph by this time, it was not letting us stop, nor letting us back on the road.  I remember Owen saying "Oh shit baby, shit!" Right over the edge of the pullout, with no guard at the end.  So now we are still parallel with the road, and almost stopped, but at a steep sideways angle down the bank, and I was just thinking "I don't want to roll... I don't want to roll..." Owen cut the wheel hard to the right and pointed her at the river below us, and I remember wondering why I couldn't see anything out our windshield - it's because I was looking directly at the black water, with nothing between us.  I said "Are we going in the river?" just because I had to say something, and Owen said "Yep."  I had time to get my seat belt off and get my feet up on the dash (which felt like I was getting them under me, because the incline was so steep), trying to be ready for whatever was coming, whenever it was going to happen.  We landed, surprisingly softly, but it was clear we were in the water - no idea how deep, if we are going further, or going to get swept away - and Owen's words echoed my thoughts - "Get out!" Door handle, elbow, "I can't..." "Come this way!" Owen's door was open and he was standing in the door frame.  I saw the ice we'd broken through, and that Owen's door was open above it (my side sunk deeper, and the ice kept my door closed) and I leaped toward the bank - but not far enough.  Through the ice, and I was thinking I can swim, but not for long in this cold.  I grabbed again towards the bank, and said "Sand", felt it in my fingers (nearly the last thing my fingers felt for a while), and climbed to the edge and stood up, with only my shoulders still dry.  Thank God for wool sweaters.  I knew that we needed to get to the road, and hope someone stops to help - because they won't know to stop unless we make it up there.  Cell phones are somewhere in the truck, along with everything else, but there's no cell service here anyway.  It is storming, going to get colder, and I'm wet.  Owen climbed along the side of the truck, and I followed him on a bit of a zig-zag up the bank, testing the red willow saplings I was pulling on, hoping my grip was tight when I couldn't feel my hands any more.  Steepest bank I ever climbed, dark, snow-covered, and I am freezing.  There were two spots I wouldn't have made it up if Owen hadn't pulled me, they were too steep.  I'm glad we didn't bring the dog.  Owen made it to the road before me, and put out a hand to the vehicle passing.  I just saw the lights go by, and when I got up, I saw the brake lights, and wondered if they were coming back.  It took them a while to stop, and I am sure they were wondering what to do, and how to do it safely.  They turned around and came back, and we met them on the other side, and I was trying to open the rear door of the minivan, but it was locked.  They cautiously rolled down the passenger window, and clearly they were wondering what the hell one guy was doing on the road, but now wondering more where the hell I came from.  I just remember saying to them "Our truck is in the river, and I am wet, can I get in?" Then it made sense, and they were good people, guys working for CN, on their way to McBride for a tour, they made room and offered to drive us wherever we needed.  Owen at first said "Blue River", because it's closer, tow truck, etc, but I thought - I am wet, it is storming, they are going our way anyway, lets get home to Valemount (dry and warm) and deal with stuff after that.  Yes, everything is in the truck (wallets included), but if we loose it all now, we're still here tomorrow, and that is what's most important.  There is a picture in my head of looking down the bank we just climbed in total darkness, and the only light is the eerie pool where the headlights are shining into the river, the dome light shining out the driver side door, and the only sound is the beeping from the interlock device.  (That is another whole story... or a few stories really.)

Owen went with the tow truck the next morning, and when they pulled the truck up, our cell phones and my purse were still sitting on the bench seat.  We only lost one bag of our city-trip purchases, though the tow truck (complete with flagging, since they closed the road to do it) and the repairs to a water-logged engine cost us a lot.  Owen described the bank to me, how steep and long it was, the two spots just wide enough for foot holds (the two he pulled me up on to - I remember them).  That custom bumper broke through the ice at the edge of the river and sunk the front end into the soft sand below.  If we'd been in the car, we probably would have skipped and landed farther out in the river.  If we'd rolled, or if we'd hit a tree on the way down... well.  I think we both had some pretty strange dreams for a few days.  We had a lot of laughs over it with friends - you gotta laugh and not get bogged down thinking about what might have happened, because you might as well just curl up and die now if you stop doing stuff because of what might happen. 

About 3 weeks later, a couple from Clearwater, another small community south of us, went into the same river in their car. They and their unborn child died there.  I don't know why they died, when Owen and I survived, but I will not waste this life asking, or feeling guilty about it.  I didn't know Skye and Courtney Buck, but I will remember them and their baby.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Slacking Already

I am slacking already... but I've been on an adventure! I accompanied Owen to Golden, via the Icefields Parkway (which is quite interesting driving in the winter) so he could meet with a few people about a project he is working on.  Coincidentally, our local newspaper editor found out I am currently unemployed, and asked last weekend if I'd be interested in doing some reporting.  Yesterday, she asked if I'd report on a particular topic, which just happened to be the one that Owen is working on.  Stay tuned for that, because I am going to try to write it, and maybe post it here too.  Or maybe a link?  In the mean time, here is a picture from Golden.

I clearly need to practice, since there is a bunch of things I have been thinking of posting here, but I haven't taken the time to fully form the thoughts yet.  But I will, I promise.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Starting With a Picture

So I thought I'd start with a picture today.  That's me, barefoot on the beach with a beer in my hand.  If you recognize the label, you probably know I'm from Nova Scotia, and yes, Keith's is my beer (but not my only beer).  The other foot is my man, Owen.  He doesn't so much like Keith's, but he put up with it for the week we were home.  I mean my other home, the one in Nova Scotia.  My home now is in Valemount BC, and I moved here for one reason only - Owen.  We met online about three years ago, and I flew out here to meet him.  Then I flew home, quit my job, packed up my car and my dog and came back.  It's been interesting, strange, sometimes challenging, and the best thing I ever did, and I know we were meant to be together.  We finally had a chance to go back to Nova Scotia, and for Owen to briefly meet my family and friends last Thanksgiving, and I got to show him the beach that I love (although I didn't get to swim, October is a bit too chilly for that).  I miss that sand sometimes, but, strangely, we are nestled here in the mountains and surrounded by - sand.

I've always loved the idea of traveling around the world, seeing far off places, and I did actually live in Scotland for a year.  Imagine that, a Scottish girl going back to Scotland... but it's funny, once I got home, I realized that there was still so much of THIS country I hadn't even begun to see or understand.  Yes, I'd already driven from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back, but there is so much in between that I missed, and you really have to spend more than a few days in a place to get to know it.  Seeing the different seasons, getting to know the locals and the stories, learning how the politics (that dreadful word) of a place affect the people and vice-versa.   BC is so different from Nova Scotia in so many ways, but we're still part of this one amazing country, and I feel pretty lucky.  I said I moved here for one reason only, but it's part of our luck and our blessing that Owen is from here, and had moved back here.  We were able to meet each other when the time was right, and not a moment before. 

By the way, I don't believe in happily-ever-afters, life is always changing, there's always new challenges and new joys to be found.  Owen and I compliment each other, and we enjoy each other, but most importantly, we both recognize that we sometimes just have to figure stuff out.  I am currently unemployed (no surprise, if I have time to be writing a blog, eh?) and I have tons of bills from my two houses in NS (yep, I said two houses - and that's another story entirely).  Owen does a lot of different things (you have to, if you want to live in Valemount) and he's currently working on a business case that involves Kinbasket "Lake" (mentioned in yesterday's picture).  You'll probably hear more of that if I keep at this.  I actually might get to go to Golden with him next week, which is why we spent his lunch hour replacing the front brakes on our car in the driveway (something that is technically against the rules of the trailer park... but it's not the first transgression... maybe more on that later too).  Anyway, that's enough for today, and here's a shot of us in the Northumberland Strait, October 2012.  Maybe I'll be talking to you tomorrow...