Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ice Fog

Ice Fog has hit the whole town as the temperatures have dropped and seem to be hovering around the -40 t0 -50 degree mark. Last night when I walked the dog I looked back along the street and in the light of the streetlights I could see a series of small clouds retracing my route. There was no wind so as I walked the condensation from my breath was freezing immediately. They stayed for a few moments then a breath of wind blew them away. Today the fog stayed on the river and never quite lifted from the town. At the grocery store someone said 'Glad that the Cold has broken a bit! It's finally over -40' and a friend from Whitehorse called to gloat that it was only -27 where he was.... I guess everything is relative...

Even Barclay is finally feeling the effects. It hasn't seemed to deter her joy about leaping into snowbanks, but today when she came back from her walk her whole face was frosted with the cold...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


- 40 Celcius before windchill. Ice Fog this morning covering the town. Lisa and I walked down by the river and watched the sunrise before the cold forced us home. The dog went mad with joy over the cold and plunged deep into snow banks and tossed tiny blocks of ice around the path leaping around like a lamb in springtime. On our arrival home we were so amazingly cold...I think the picture says it all...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Cold Perspectives

Have been stuck in the house fighting with midi recording programs so I thought I'd just throw up some random images from last couple of days that I liked.... You have to use your imagination for this one... it's a 'panoramic' shot (without a panoramic camera) from the mountain across from Dawson... And Lisa...

Friday, February 16, 2007

he drove in, he drove out

So we headed across the ice bridge to the local campground that's been taken over by the Yukon Quest to see the departure of Lance Mackie. They have to wait 36 hours in Dawson City while they rest and the dogs rest and any repairs are done to their sled. All the media were there (I bet they're not there for the mushers who leave at 4 am) and it was quite a sight to see the whole team head off down the river. They follow the routes of the old dog teams that carried the mail around the north for years and years, so it was it also cool from a strictly historical point of view. I imagine by now he's in the middle of nowhere camped out with his dogs. It must be a strange sport to be so isolated for so long on the trail....

The other mushers are still camped out waiting for their time to arrive. They rest their dogs in straw under these tarps. Apparently letting them stay acclimatized to the cold is better for them then putting them into warm kennels... they look pretty cosy.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Stayed up till almost midnight to watch the arrival of Lance Mackie, current leader of the Yukon quest.. an amazing sight... We saw the light from his headlamp way down the river, all the media people poured out of the visitors centre checkpoint and then he pulled in to the crossing point on Front St.

The most amazing thing was that after doing 500 miles of the 1000 mile race in just over four days and in the last 24 hours crossing 100 miles of deep snow and climbing and crossing the 4000 foot King Solomon Dome he looked great, and his dogs were desperate to keep on going!!...

Some later teams arrived and their dogs just curled up the moment they arrived at the finish line. There was some gossip later on about what Lance's technique is, since to do that and arrive four hours in the lead is apparently extraordinary (expecially since he just recovered from cancer treatments ) and one of the options discussed was that perhaps he and his dogs were actually aliens... personally from the way he gave off a great energy then and when I saw him later I think it was something to do with simply having an amazing attitude... strange how far that will take you...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Not the toe....NOT THE TOE!!!

Ok. I really don't know what is more disgusting about this photo: the fact that she's holding a human toe or the fact that it's black, or the fact that someone just had this thing in a drink and its now going back to be repacked in ice, or the fact that she has pen scribbles on her hand at the same time. It is just gross. But... we're in the land of the wacky and intense and drinking hard alcohol with human toes in them is simply part of the process. And it wasn't me. I have to admit that I'm just not up to it -- which probably shows some kind of weakness... or some kind of sanity....

The Downtowner Inn has a 20 year tradition of folks daring to swig a beverage (the Sour Toe Cocktail) with a human toe floating in it. And if you drink it and hold the toe in your mouth then you get a certificate. Apparently the first toe is now long gone due to various drunken accidents(!?!), and the next, and the next and now folks around the world, when they lose a toe, mail it off to the Downtowner in the hopes that they can be part of this venerable tradition.

Maybe you just gotta be a lot drunker before even considering this idea... I have trouble even looking at the picture much less seeing it bob around in my glass...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Dogs are loose

The Quest has started from Whitehorse, and it should arrive in town on Tuesday... I'm reading a history of the race and these people are monsters of survival... One guy doesn't even take a sleeping bag with him: just throws a couple of trees on a fire and beds down in -60C weather on a blanket. Ayiee!!

Stories about building a fire on the river ice but it being so cold that the fire couldn't melt the ice it was built on. And these tough little dogs that pull these sleds a 1000 miles... Ayiee!! They should be pulling into town between tuesday and sunday: apparently the sound the town fire alarm (day or night) when the first one comes in... I'm really looking forward to seeing them

Fighting with the Software

spent the day trying to make my home studio software produce something as an end result that sounded like what I was putting into it. It kept on producing bits and pieces of music that sounded like they were recorded underwater, or in a cathedral with me at one end and the mic at the other and the piano up in the bell tower. Finally got something up that resembles what I recorded... a version of My Funny Valentine. Its up on . Getting it uploaded through this slow connection was yet another story. I once had a friend who designed large software programs for companies and he said that if he could get the ratio between the amount of work negotiating the program and the amount of productive work done by the user on the program to about 60/40 then he was pretty delighted... After today I know what he meant...

Monday, February 05, 2007

swiss knives and wood glue

Well, the incredible humidity in the north... or should I say the incredible lack of humidity... finally got to my little concertina. The action board, where the keys are sprung and the holes are drilled for the reeds, dryed out and cracked and warped and the poor little thing needed some emergency repairs.... I'd heard the problem developing earlier so I ordered Dave Elliot's repair guide, and happily the tools necessary were all contained within my trusty swiss army knife (Thanks, Peter). So following his advice I got some PVA wood glue and I took the the little thing apart to get to the inner workings...

That's the action board removed and the inside of the bellows and the reed pan... and there are the little white dots between the holes where I patched up the cracks... with the cardboard from one of Barclay's biscuit boxes (thanks, Barclay)...

So the little thing has most of it's tone back. I have to do one more repair on a spring on one of the keys that seems to be stuck. Now it lives in the bathroom with the humidifier on it at all times... it seems happier. It's such an odd little instrument... I'll paste a short history below..

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a new group of musical instruments arose in Europe, whose origins may be traced to the arrival of examples of the Chinese free-reed mouth organ or sheng in Europe in the late eighteenth century (1). The main varieties of these new instruments were the mouth organ, developed in Germany around 1825; the accordion, patented in Vienna in 1829, and the concertina, invented by Charles Wheatstone around 1829 or 1830, initially as a scientific curiosity, but marketed from 1836 as a serious musical instrument.

The Wheatstone concertina rapidly achieved acclaim as a serious solo and ensemble instrument, not only becoming highly popular amongst musical amateurs, but attracting numerous virtuoso performers and composers.

Lord Balfour (British Prime Minister 1902-5) was in fact an ardent concertina player, and the explorers Shackleton and Livingstone both acquired Wheatstone concertinas (2).

A number of sonatas, concertos and chamber works involving the concertina appeared in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, by composers including Tschaikovsky, Macfarren,Benedict, Percy Grainger, Charles Ives, Molique, Regondi and Silas (3).

By the early years of the twentieth century, the concertina's popularity had broadened, giving rise to the working class concertina bands of England's northern mill towns, and the instrument also found a niche as a populist addition to the instrumentation of the Salvation Army band.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


So they build on ice up here. Well, actually permafrost: frozen dirt. After a foot or two down the land is permanently frozen. Well, OK. Not permanently... ice is actually classified as a type of liquid... just a very, very slow moving liquid. And so the permafrost shifts and flows under the landscape. It's one of the reasons that there are so few high buildings. It's costly and sometimes impossible to put down foundations through the permafrost to find solid ground. Sometimes it seems bizarrely to be not taken into account - as with the local swimming pool... which apparently was not insulated against the permafrost and so is unusable in winter.

The house we are in shifts and pops and creaks all through the night. The house is built in two sections - an older wood shack, and then the kitchen/bedroom addition - and from the line between the two buildings comes a constant discussion about which way the structure is going to lean at any moment.

Dawson is full of buildings that have concluded that discussion in a variety of ways. Left, right, back, front... into the middle.

They're all pretty spectacular in their varying stages of repose. I guess after a certain period they all sink slowly into the cold ground.

I saw a story teller up here who is born and bred in the Yukon (Ivan Coyote) who talked about how appealing she found the idea of building on something that actually wasn't solid at all. That the weight and heat of you living in the building changes the way it sits on the land. That the original buildings of the gold rush miners were the practical ones - up on blocks, with a good layer of air insulating the permafrost from you (and not the other way around).

I like the idea very much. A building that's in constant negotiation with the ground that it's on. That talks to you about what's going on between it and land. Whether your weight is changing they way it's co-existing with the land... whether the weight of a Raven on its roof is changing something about its own particular hard-fought and negotiated sag.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Adapting to the snow

So, -22 is starting to seem mild and we've hitched our dog up to a sled (not that she agreed to actually pull anything - that doesn't seem to be in her genes). We've been curling.... our neighbours took us under their wings and showed us the ropes... as a scots/canadian I felt like I was fulfilling some kind of biological need.

And we've spent our first night at the 'Pit', which is a bar with a true northern feeling to it. Some previous owner painted head and shoulder paintings of old time townies so the walls are filled with these ancient enigmatic faces staring out. There's a layer of nicotine that gives everything a warm yellow glow... it's the kind of look that ironic bars in New York pay trendy designers hundreds of thousands of dollars to create, so 20somethings from the suburbs can sit around in trucker caps and drink $18 martinis... Here they just have chilcoot on tap.....

And OK, the band surprised the hell out of me. I thought it would be late teenage thrash. But no, it's an older group of guys who start off the evening doing pretty standard covers - route 66, freebird etc etc At one point our new friend Rae Spoon got up and played her brand of country with them to the cheers of the crowd.

- and then at about midnight one of them cracks open the fiddle and they start playing intricate little fiddle and dance tunes... and it's only then that the bar gets dancing. Then another guy turns up on guitar and harmonica and they just get better and better: the fiddle and harmonica trading licks and the bar folks dancing beside the stage. An old diamond miner decided to adopt us, or he adopted Lisa anyway, and spent the evening telling us tells of his youth in the same bar when he'd use his belt buckle as a weapon and take out anyone he disliked ... he laughed - said he'd been a 'bad guy' when he was young. He didn't seem like a bad guy anymore... but he looked like he'd been around more than a little...