wordsfromanneli

Thoughts, ideas, photos, and stories.


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Life in the (not so far) North

This is a post from three years ago, before I had many followers. My apologies to those early readers who have already seen it. I thought it was a good wintery post, especially since we are having another cold snap. It’s a bit of reading, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.

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Have you ever had someone ask you, “What was it like in the olden days?” My first impulse is always to say, “How should I know?” but I suppose, to the young people of today, I must seem ancient.

When I was little, I lived in the north. I found out later that Dawson Creek wasn’t all that far north. Still, judging by the winters we endured, I was sure we didn’t live far from the North Pole. So, I’ll tell you what it was like—up there, in the “olden days.” Not easy!

Kids walked to elementary school, some as far as a mile, in -20 or colder, all bundled up like mummies, with only slits of eyes peering through a scarf at the snow that swirled around them. I was lucky, living close to the school, but often I saw my friends arriving late, bawling their eyes out from the pain of the cold. How did parents allow them to walk that far in those bitter cold temperatures? What if the kids had fallen and not gotten up? I know how tempting it was to stay curled up in the snow after falling down in it. The indentation in the snow felt so warm, out of the wind, like a little cave. Luckily, my mother had warned me not to be fooled or I would freeze to death.

“You’ll fall asleep and never wake up,” she said. When I told her about my friend Linda crying when she got to school, she said, “You have to try not to cry when you get cold or your tears will freeze on your face.”

She was probably right. I never tested her theory, but I know that the air was cold enough to sear my lungs when I took that first breath as I stepped out of the house, and I was instantly aware of my eyebrows as they froze in the first few seconds.

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Still, we were pretty tough as kids. We played outside as long as it wasn’t too extreme, making snowforts, throwing snowballs, and building mountains of snow to slide down. Our mittens were soaked in no time and after going through two pairs of wet ones, we used old work socks instead. Every few minutes we came into the porch to ask for another pair of socks. Now as an adult, I can see my mother’s dilemma: keep handing out work socks and let the laundry pile up, or make the kids come in and have them underfoot.

In high school years I had farther to go to school—a couple of miles—and still, car rides to school were a rare thing. In those years, girls were not allowed to wear pants in school so it was an extra cool walk home. In elementary school we often wore pants under our skirts, but in high school, we didn’t always bother. Stupid conventions, looking back on them now; double layers of clothes for the double standards of the day.

A snowy trail packed down to ice by the tread of dozens of feet wound its way through fields that are now housing subdivisions. But back in “the olden days,” this trail was the connector from town to the outlying houses. Walking home from high school, the trick was to stay on the path and not slide off it into the foot and a half of softer snow next to it. Once that snow went inside the boots, forget about keeping warm. All the while, my ribcage ached from being so tensed up from trying to close every pore against the cold.

Crossing the railroad tracks one day, I slipped on the metal rail. I scrambled to get up and hurried home. When I got in the door and took off my snow-filled boots, I noticed a trickle of dried blood on my shin. I had a cut on my knee and didn’t even know it. So I concluded there was something good about the “natural freezing” of this harsh place. Who needs anaesthetic when you’re already numb from the cold?

I’ve frozen my feet so many times that even now, my toes suffer from permafrost. In those early years in Dawson Creek, without the benefit of modern technology to keep feet warm inside of boots, I came in from the cold with feet like icy clubs. I took off my boots and socks and sat near the heater. The pain of thawing my feet was worse than the pain of freezing them.

Now, many years later, living on Vancouver Island, I always marvel at what wusses people are here. They close the schools if there’s a snowfall of a few inches. If that applied in the north, there’d be no school for six or seven months of the year.

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But to be fair, I complain a lot about being cold when it’s raining and well above freezing. Now that I’ve joined the wusses, I wonder how I ever survived northern living.


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I’m Dreaming of a …

December on Vancouver Island often means high winds and vigorous waves. Lately it has been blowing and raining buckets sideways so often that we are surprised if the sun comes out, and we wonder what that bright light is. Before we can point it out to anyone, the moment of sunshine is history, so we don’t get too excited about a peek at the sun.

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The road that goes along a spit of land below our house has wild waves on the exposed side and relatively calm waters on the inland side. Still, today it was choppy on the sheltered side too.

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We drove to town taking the long way around, passing by the beaches and the bird sanctuary you see below. For most of the year, the sanctuary is a marsh in places, but these past weeks the water level has come right across the road, making the marsh look more like a lake.

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The walking trail that follows the edge of the marsh has almost become a part of it. High boots are needed to walk there today.

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Driving on, we see that the second access to the ocean is even wilder than the first. Anyone foolish enough to stand in front of these waves would disappear in them and be tossed around like the logs that tumble around in the frothing surf and end up flung onto the high tide line.

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At most times of the year, it’s very pleasant to sit on a bench and watch the waves. The benches had no visitors today.

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Just when I was feeling sorry for myself about the weather, I dug around in my photo folders and found one of the winter of 2007. No flooding then, no high waves, but also, no power when the heavy branches broke and fell onto the power lines somewhere down the road.

The snow is pretty, but when you sing, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” you have to be careful what you wish for. I don’t want a snow-laden bough to cut off the electricity to the oven just when my Christmas turkey is half done.

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So I think “Dreaming of a White Christmas” is okay as long as I don’t really wish for my dreams to come true.


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Coming Through

This is a post from almost four years ago. Only a few of you will remember it from then.

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“Hey! Just in time. I’m starving,” Captain Gary called as I arrived at the wharf with sandwiches and coffee. “i knew you’d come through for me.”

“Didn’t want you to have to stop working.” Like most fishermen in the last weeks of May, Gary was racing the clock to get the boat ready for opening day of commercial fishing.

He gallantly set up a sun-bleached lawn chair for me on the deck of the salmon troller. I protested, but he said, “No, you go ahead and have the lawn chair. I can sit on the galley chair,” and he hauled out an old wooden thing from the wheelhouse.

We chit-chatted away while Gary ate his lunch. “Sure you don’t want one of these sandwiches?”

“No, thanks! I had one at home.” I spread out my arms to the sky. “What a great day! So good to see the sun at last.” I slid a little lower in the lawn chair to try to catch every last ray of sunshine.

“Oh, hi there, Fraser. Want a cup of coffee?” Gary raised his mug to a fellow fisherman who came by to talk about the merits of cold cure epoxy.

As they compared notes on the best temperature for using cold cure, I tuned out the fish talk and slouched even farther down in my lawn chair. God, that sun feels good.

The sharp cracking of plastic had all eyes turning my way. I did a split-second search for the source of the noise and watched an arm of the lawn chair snap in two. The crack was followed by the caving in of the lawn chair seat, another crack of the second arm, and the thud of my rear end hitting the deck.  There I sprawled, legs out front, elbows pointing skyward, and bottom on the deck.

“Are you okay?” the visiting fisherman asked.

I nodded, feeling my face heat up.”I guess I really came through all right.”

As Gary extricated me from the tangle of the broken chair, Fraser kindly and discreetly hurried away.


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Dreams in the Mist

Yesterday was Emma’s first time to visit the beach. The fog and mist hovered over the water and close to shore, but that’s typical on BC’s West Coast.

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Emma looks so funny with her ear flopped backwards over her head, but I thought how sweet and innocent she is, that she’s not at all aware of how she looks. The word “guileless” comes to mind.

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And because she is not one to sit still very long, she asks, “What are we going to do now?”

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Just then two girls come strolling up the beach towards us. They must be investigated.But first let’s watch and wait to make sure they won’t harm us.

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We wander down to the other end of the beach where the grasses try to grow. They are continually washed over when the tide comes in. It must be a type of grass or seaweed that is used to living in salt water.

037I love the look of this kind of picture. Would love to paint it if I had the talent.

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We are about to leave when a lady and her horse arrive at the far end of the beach. It’s foggy and I’m using my zoom, so the photo comes out exactly how it looks in real life – foggy and unclear – but I can’t resist posting the horse pictures anyway.

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Seeing the horse and rider put the finishing touch of magic on our trip to the beach. Reminds me of a song by Heart, “These Dreams,” where she sings about a wood full of princes, and dreams in the mist.

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Perhaps she’s riding into the woods to look for her prince. (She may find a frog. It would be a start….)


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Smoked Salmon

Being married to a commercial fisherman has its downsides for the wife who stays home to look after the house and pets. Spending long summers alone takes getting used to. I read a lot in the evenings.

All the yardwork is my very own to deal with. No help from the absentee man of the house.

I’ve learned to do a lot of jobs that  are usually considered the man’s responsibility — jobs most women don’t ever have to deal with (like changing the electrical switch for the burner on the cooktop when it starts coming on by itself and it’s Sunday and there’s no repairman available).

I stay home a lot because there’s no one to look after the pets if I were to leave town for a day or so. Sure, there’s always the kennels, but the dogs have asked me please not to leave them again.

But when the fisherman comes home, all of the above has been worth it.

Among other things, it’s the fisherman’s duty to bring home a few of the salmon he’s caught so the poor deprived fishwife can have a taste of seafood. It just happens that the fisherman has learned how to make an excellent cold-smoked salmon product. Some people like smoked salmon done in a hot smoke so the fish is cooked as well as smoked. Some people like it done “lox” style, where it is cured with salt and sugar and then lightly smoked while cool air is blown over it with a fan. We like both, but prefer the cold smoke.

The preparation is a huge amount of work. The salmon has to be filleted, and alternately salted, sugared, air dried, oiled, and “rummed,” The fisherman enjoys the last part best where the oil is removed by wiping the fish down with rum. Sometimes the air is a bit nippy, so what else can you do but have a nip of rum to keep the chill off? If it’s good for the fish, it’s probably good for the fisherman too.

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The sides of salmon are hung in the smoker. Underneath  is a hot plate where woodchips dampened with water are set to smoke. A fan blows the air around so the smoke tars don’t settle on the fish. You can see the fan hiding in the center of the smoker behind and below the two door latches. Depending on the thickness of the fillets, it can take up to 20 – 22 hours of smoking to cure the fish. When it is done and chilled, the bulk of the fish is cut into smaller pieces to be vacuum packed and frozen for use throughout the year.

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Of course we always save a piece for the test kitchen. We have to be sure it’s okay to eat.Thinly sliced, it is put on a piece of bagel with cream cheese and red onion slices. Nothing tastes quite so good.