Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My Response to Jane Fonda

James Cameron, Leonardo DiCaprio, Neil Young....its seems that there is no shortage of celebrities lined up to bash our community and our industry.  And now, we can add Jane Fonda to the list.  Fonda is in town today ostensibly to "inform" herself about our region.  

Fonda claimed to a local resident that she is not against [us] but given the economic turmoil we currently face, to say nothing of the forest fire that devastated our community last May, I really have to wonder.

Let's be honest: Fonda is a professional activist.  She has made a career of supporting all sorts of causes and spouting all sorts of nonsense no matter how hurtful it may be to some. It wasn't until 2011 that she got around to apologizing for offending Vietnam vets on her blog.

Fonda claims that (according to the CBC article regarding her visit) "It's like someone took my skin and peeled it off my body over a very large surface."  Ah, such hyperbolic language.  It makes for a great sound byte, I'm sure.  But just how large of a surface is that?  Let's put things in perspective.  The boreal forest covers about 60% of Canada.  What percentage of Canada's boreal forest is subject to surface mining?  Turns out THAT figure is 0.2%.  Since 1967, the year GCOS (the forerunner of present-day Suncor began), oil sands mining has disturbed approximately 760 square km (roughly 294 square miles).  That's an area smaller than New York City, London or Berlin.  All of these figures can be verified on official government websites, unless of course Ms. Fonda wishes to indulge in asinine conspiratorial-types claims.  Sorry, Fonda, but your simplistic analogy utter fails.

I do have to question where she will be getting her information from.  Will she be getting it from industry leaders?  community leaders? people who actually live here?  people who actually work in the oil sands? actual scientists?  Will she be getting it from Green Peace scientists instead?  Oh yes, Green Peace doesn't actually have real scientists, only paid activists.  Has Ms. Fonda ever heard of SAGD technology? (Google it)  Of that this technology will be the way going forward.  Let me guess, she flew over Suncor and Syncrude north of Fort McMurray which employ older mining techniques but conveniently DIDN'T fly south of Fort McMurray where SAGD is employed.  If you're only going to talk to those opposed to development or see what you want to see, you only get one side of the story.  Ms. Fonda, it's called an "echo chamber", a massive case of confirmation bias if ever there was one.

She wants to claim how horrible our industry here is yet I would challenge her to visit any number of other oil-producing nations so she can compare how we stack up with the rest of the world.    Of course, Fonda won't do this.  She's more interested in publicity and Canada's industry is the low-hanging fruit on the tree.  She can show up, pose for the cameras, mouth some nonsense and fly (yes, she admitted she flew here....on a plane.....which burns oil) back to Los Angeles with no real cost to herself.   As I said at the outset, we've had a long slew of personalities role through here, fly over in a plane (again, burning oil), mouthing nonsense and leaving.  If you can't understand why some people here might be a little bit annoyed with these antics, I'm afraid I don't know what to tell you.

She's like the visitor that shows up at your door unannounced and uninvited, then enters and walks around without taking her shoes off and eats some of your food off your table before leaving.  If you really cared about people I would suggest instead that you should visit struggling families in Abasand, Beacon Hill, Waterways, Stone Creek Saprae Creek, Anzac or Wood Buffalo, areas which were devastated by last May's forest fire.  Why not visit a local first responder who lost their own home to the fire (and there were many)?  Why not visit a Keyano college student who is stressed out over whether there will be a job for them upon graduation.  Why don't you talk to Chief Jim Boucher or any member of the Fort McKay First Nation and how our industry benefits them.  (Oh right, you WERE asked that question and ducked it.)  Rather than engage in reasoned debate or even respond to a reasonable question, you simply ran away because it challenged the narrative you are trying to push.  Please, don't come here and tell us that you're not against us.

Sorry, Ms. Fonda but being a celebrity and an exercise guru does not make you informed on our industry.  Far from it.  You should stick to yoga and the things you know.  Truth is, Fonda is NOT on our side.  It's akin to playing a hockey game in overtime with Ms. Fonda over in the corner kicking around a soccer ball (or flopping about on a yoga mat.)  This doesn't mean you aren't entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year That Was

As you can imagine, for anyone living in Fort McMurray, it's truly been one hell of  a year.  Low oil prices, economic uncertainty, lay offs and rumours of lay offs, followed by yet more lay offs.  And then, of course, there was the Beast, the most costly natural disaster in Canadian history that saw roughly 88,000 people abandoning their work, their houses and their everyday routines of life and fleeing for safety.

In a very real way, I've come to more fully appreciate the value of human life and living safely.  More than one firefighter here sacrificed his home in order to help save mine.  I appreciate the value of countless people helping complete strangers with no expectation of repayment.  I appreciate second chances, making the most of each day and taking nothing for granted.

It's been quite a roller coaster ride but while the year had its fair share of angst, there were positives as well.  Chief among them would be the fact that I've navigated my through all the crazy events of the past year, either through luck or skill and sometimes both.  I've managed to stay employed through countless rounds of layoffs and rumours of layoffs and kept my tenants in place.  It really is impossible to overstate how much of relief that has been.  In other positive news,  I saw a number of great concerts with the Calgary Philharmonic and the Edmonton Symphony which I touched on on my blog here.  While the evacuation prevented me from seeing one concert I was especially looking forward to, I will get a second opportunity to see one of my favourite violin concertos performed in the coming spring.

While the evacuation also wiped out a much-anticipated birding trip to Banff, I still got to see quite a bit of the province this year (again, mainly because of the evacuation) and this in turn led to me being able to see a record number of birds for my year list.  I initially hoped to get to 50 for the year, which seemed an impossibility once the evacuation but all the travel I did throughout May and June led me to seeing at least 5 or 6 species I had never seen before.  Unless something really crazy happens in the last few hours of the year, I will finish off 2017 with 83 for my year list, so despite all the trials and tribulations of the year I really can't complain.

Other than that I really can't think of too much else.  I'm in the middle of a work shift so I'm scrambling to hack something out before we roll over in to the new year.  I really  feel as if I've turned a corner and the new year will potentially open up some exciting new opportunities for me though it might take a bit longer before they are fully realized.  At any rate, after the insane bat-shit crazy year this was, things can only look up as we stand at the cusp of taking one more trip around the sun.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Weather Was Just a Bit Brisk

Having spent the bulk of my working life either north of 60 or in the provincial "norths",  I'm rather accustomed to long, cold winters.  I've lived places where your eyelids will freeze together, I've had more than a few bouts of frostbite, I've managed through a few blizzards, I've developed (some) patience when it comes to dealing with how the cold can slow things down and I've mastered the art of dressing in layers, or at least I like to think I have.  

While I'm used to it to a certain extent, its doesn't necessarily mean that I have to LIKE it, however, and the past couple weeks were a reminder of that.  Thankfully, my work schedule meant that I missed part of it but there was no escaping the second half of it.  I woke up last Friday morning to my laptop telling me that as of 5am local time, the wind chill was a rather brisk -51C.  This was the lowest wind-chill value I've seen in the time I've lived here and I'd have to go all the way back to my Nunavut and northern Manitoba days to have experienced something comparable.  Wind chill values in the -60's were commonplace during the winter I spent in northern Manitoba but back then I had an indoor job and wasn't working 12-hour shifts.  In the early 2000's I got a nice little dose of frostbite on my face after walking in a blizzard in Iqaluit just to say I did it.  In my defense I was younger and didn't fully have the appreciation for Mother Nature that I have now.  Needless to say, that was a feat that will not be repeated.  

This past shift was particularly challenging and I don't think there was a single day that was "normal".  Something was always breaking, weather it be a furnace, a fork flit, a light plant (in or case, two of them) or a frozen water/sewage line.    As for work itself, there wasn't that much going on.   I have some pretty good clothes for working out doors  that I can layer up in and have developed a pretty good system but for the better part of three days the powers that be decided that it was too cold to be outside for any length of time so I spent the bulk of the weekend either in a lunch trailer (when the furnace was working and it wasn't a nippy -2C inside) or in a warm truck.  

As i mentioned earlier, I'm more or less used to these types of situations but that doesn't mean I LIKE it.  I made for what seems a very long shift and I was quite tired by the end of each day.  On top of the cold, we had  a pretty decent dump of snow at work so while I don't relish snow shovelling, at least it kept you moving and kept you warm.  Most of the guys at work no about the time I spent in Nunavut so I get the odd joke about how it MUST be cold if the guy who was in Nunavut is mentioning the cold.  Needless to say, I'm very glad to be off today.  It's warmed considerable over the course of the last 4 days and the mercury is expected to flirt with the freezing mark, which is downright balmy compared to what we've just been through.  

Monday, December 12, 2016


To say it's bit a wee bit nippy that past few days would be a bit of an understatement.  I supposed I've lived up north long enough to be more or less used to it, although having said that, that doesn't necessarily mean I always like it.  Thankfully I've been on my days off so I take solace in knowing that I don't have to be out working in it.  

While I've had somewhat of a sedentary existence the past week, I've been fortunate to have a few visitors around.  In total, there's something like 10 to 12 species I can regularly expect to see this time of the year without having to leave the house.  No Red Polls or Evening Grosbeaks yet but most of the regulars have made an appearance so far.

Bohemian Waxwings

I'm not really sure why such a large group showed up on the driveway since there isn't anything particularly interesting on the ground there.

The resident Blue Jay.

Not the greatest photo of a Magpie but a Magpie nonetheless.

My first photo of a Pine Grosbeak with the new camera.

...and of course, the ubiquitous House Sparrow (male and female).

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Welcome Incursion

As I'm pretty sure I mentioned in a previous post, during my last trip down to Calgary I picked up a new camera so hopefully we will now see some improvements in picture quality.  It's much easier to do some posts about my birding excursions when I have a half-decent camera to use.  (I've actually started to give some thought to starting another blog devoted just to birding, but we shall see.)  

Ironically, now that I have a new camera I haven't really been able to use it all that much, partly because we are seriously lacking in sunlight here with the sun setting just before 4pm and partly because of work.  I now leave for work in the dark and return home in the dark.  The other big complication (until this afternoon really) has been that there really hasn't been anything of interest poking about.  I'm used to filling up my backyard feeders about once a week but I haven't had to do that for a couple of weeks now and all I've seen around date house lately are the ubiquitous ravens and magpies.  

Fortune, however, smiled on me this afternoon as I was hit with a rather large incursion of waxwings.  My ash trees didn't really grow that many berries this year so I'm not sure how long they will be able to attract large flocks, making today's "invasion" all that more welcome.  

For about 20 minutes, there must have been between 80 to 100 waxwings in the front yard and while I wanted to get a wide shot of them I was too nervous about startling them away.  While they are one of my favourite winter birds, they are also notoriously skittish.  If you're looking for displays of territoriality and dominance amongst a flock of waxwings, you'll be sorely disappointing.  They all just get along swimmingly.

I had a fantastic vantage point from a couple of second floor windows so I was able to get set up and sneak in a few shots without freaking them out too much.  Given the overcast skies and that the sky will soon begin to darken AND the fact that I am hardly a professional photographer, some of my shots turned out not too badly.  Certainly they are a big step up from what I was able to manage in the past.  Anyhow, here are the best of the bunch.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Evening Down by the Bow

By the time I reached Prince's Island Park, the last place I wanted to get to before my weekend concert, the light was really starting to fade on me.  Again, I didn't see anything new but it gave me a chance to have some camera fun and grab a few close ups.  I had no shortage of willing subjects.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Urban Wildlife

After visiting the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary I headed to an urban park closer to the downtown.  I didn't expect to see much in terms of birds (and I didn't) but it gave me an opportunity to play around with my camera and see a bit of wildlife I don't usually see close up.

There actually IS a common merganser swimming around out there.

Friendly neighbourhood squirrel.

These little guys were all over the place.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


After a series of delays, many of which brought on by the May fire, I was finally able to get down to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary this past weekend.  This place had long been on my radar. and while I doubted I would see anything new for my year list at least I got there, which was just fine with me.  While it was quite overcast, it didn't rain and the temperature was a balmy 12C so I wasn't about to complain.

I should add as well that I was using a new camera I had picked up that morning (waiting for the battery to charge in my hotel room was the longest 2 hours in my life).  I brought an old zoom lens with me to make sure it would fit the new camera which it did but it made for a few challenges since I wasn't used to it.  The lighting also wasn't the greatest but at least I had an opportunity to see the place and 'm sure I'll have plenty of time to learn all my camera's bells and whistles so it was a start.

Below is Colonel Walker House, the original home named after a former NWMP office and rancher whose property later became the sanctuary.

The next couple shots are along the bank of the Bow River which forms part of the eastern boundary. Apart from the traffic on the nearby Deerfoot Trail, the place was great urban respite and for the next hour I had the place pretty much to myself.

No beavers but I did eventually glimpse a few common mergansers off in the distance.

One things I had hoped to see were wood ducks, which had been introduced in to the sanctuary.  They would have made a nice last addition to my year list.  Alas, it wasn't to be though there were plenty of other things to see that day.

It's a bit dark but I did manage to get a half decent shot of a mallard as it swam by.

Lots of deadfall around, no doubt due to the 2013 flooding.

A curious chickadee obliged my by sitting still long enough for a decent shot.

And to round things off, a hairy woodpecker.

Monday, November 14, 2016


If I could only get to one concert this season it would have to be this past Saturday evening's concert with the Calgary Philharmonic.  Featuring Beethoven's Piano Concerto #4 and the Mozart Requiem, I truly would have walked to Calgary if I had to.  Fortunately, Greyhound took me instead.  I spent a couple of nights in the city so that I would be well-rested and focused.  I also used mu time to pick up a very nice new camera and do some bird-watching but I'll get to that in a future post.

My only fear with this concert is that I've heard both works so many times I thought I might be disappointed simply because I have a very clear idea in my mind of what I like.  I first heard the Mozart Requiem back in my early teens and having played piano growing up, I've known this particular Beethoven piano concerto for probably just as long, if not longer.  Suffice it to say, I was very impressed.

Most Mozart music seems rather happy and cheerful, because it does tend to be happy and cheerful for the most part.  The Requiem comes as a bit of a shock, darker and more foreboding.  Like the Piano Concerto #20, the Requiem is also in the key of D minor, and it uses a lot of older forms, the fugue in particular, hearkening back in time to something Bach was a master at, rather than looking forward to, say, Beethoven.  Call me stuck in the 18th century, but I've always loved fugues.  I really have no idea why.  I just love how a composer and take 3 or 4 different lines of music and fit them together in such a way as to make them harmonious rather than just a mess of sound.  All this to say that the Kyrie, which was written in fugal form, was absolutely brilliant.  As an aside, I went to university with the CPO's choir master Timothy Shantz, and he did an outstanding job with the choir. Altogether, this was a little darker-sounding piece than what I was used to hearing at a slightly faster tempo and it just worked for me.  

Coming just a day after Remembrance Day, this piece seemed a very appropriate choice and I must say hats off to the CPO for having a number of military and first responders in uniform as guests of the orchestra.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

6 Months

It's hard to believe that six months have now passed since the day I was forced to leave work, my house and then my community due to a raging wildfire that has since been dubbed The Beast.  Almost exactly six months ago to the minute I was sitting in my tenant's truck outside the recreation centre in Anzac still trying to wrap my brain around what was happening before slowly drifting off to sleep.  I had no idea if my house was still standing and no idea that it would be thirty-three days before I would be able to make my way home.  I also had no idea that within 24 hours I would be evacuated yet again, fleeing down Highway 881 to Conklin, where I spent a second night sleeping in a truck before finally making it to Lac La Biche.

Today was actually very much like May 3 in some respects for me.  Like that fateful day, today was also a work day.  Work was actually shut down today as well, although this shut down only lasted a couple hours and was caused by a solid bout of freezing rain rather than a fire.  Other than this though, my experiences today diverge wildly from that day 6 months ago.  I got to go home on my work bus and catch a little sleep rather than in a panic in a taxi.  I get to sleep in my own bed tonight rather than a truck and the cat, I'm sure, is much more content curled up beside me than crammed in to a cat carrier.  Three days after the evacuation I had had plans to see the Calgary Philharmonic.  Tonight I booked a ticket to see them again and I rest assured that this time I won't have my plans interrupted by a major civil emergency.  Life is certainly much more stable than on that day six months ago and I'm profoundly grateful. 

My area of the city has been pretty much back to normal for some time now though other areas still have a long road ahead of them.  Within the past couple of weeks the sole house in my neighbourhood that was engulfed by The Beast has been levelled and a new home is quickly taking form.  Now that all the leaves have fallen, it can be hard on some days to even see  any damage in the forest around my neighbourhood, at least from a distance.  

This city had already been reeling from the effects of the oil crash and several rounds of layoffs before the Beast roared in to town.  I count myself fortunate to have made it thus far with only a few small bumps and no major concerns to have to deal with.  Six months.....it's been quite the journey since that day.