Monday, April 2, 2012

The US West Coast

We’ve arrived at Dave’s place in Mountain View, just south of San Francisco and I am taking a moment to collect impressions of our trip down the US north-west coast. We started on a lovely day for a drive down the Island, and as we drove it occurred to both of us that it was going to feel very different coming back to the Comox Valley after exploring the coast to the south. In part we expected to find out more about our more immediate neighbours, whose waters we now share. And we wondered if knowing that we now share the gloriousness of the coast would soften the sharp longing that each of us has felt for years when visiting water.

Lunch with Shiela and Anne was a perfect pre-amble to getting on the “Coho”, the BlackBall ferry that took us from the Victoria harbour, across the San Juan Straight to Pt. Angeles. Our lovely clear day disappeared half way across, and it was raining when we arrived in Washington. It took us a couple of minutes to get comfortable with the km/mile conversions because Cori's SAAB does not include this on the dashboard – it turns out that our GPS not only does this, but it “knows” local speed limits and will beep when one exceeds them, which entertained Cori and made me want to throw it out the window. We had a couple of hours drive to the motel that we’d reserved for the night, and thought there might be time to take a side trip to Pt. Townsend, but the rain made that unappealing. Pt. Angeles seemed to be a pretty un-reconstructed port town that felt more like a 1960s northern Alberta/BC town than anything that was related to Victoria. And the rest of that drive felt similar – like we were in a wild, remote backwater – sleepy, kind of forgotten, very different than anywhere on Vancouver Island south of Campbell River. (It’s a bit like the difference between northern New Hampshire and southern Quebec). We came across a first hint of the politics of the place when we passed a big sign that said “No more wilderness. Working forests = Working families”. We traveled along the Hood Canal, which is very beautiful – clusters of daffodils were out, along with the occasional flowering tree. We stayed at a motel that catered to divers in Hoodsport, and had dinner at the one place that was open. The “Model T” bar & family restaurant was a pretty basic affair that had half the tables kind of separated off for the restaurant part, and a pool table and bar stools at the counter in the other. It specialized in brazed chicken that was pretty good. We played a bit with folks at the next table who were celebrating St. Paddy’s day by putting green food dye in their (and other people’s) beer, and the guys ended up singing “happy birthday” to Cori.

The next day we drove through sleet, rain, snow, hail and beautiful clear weather. We cut across to the coast through McLeary, Elma, Satsop and Montesanto – McLeary in particular was one of the bleakest communities I’ve ever been through. There were perhaps fifty small houses, all the same, possibly built during or just after WWII, in rows with fences in some disrepair, no gardens, very little paint, all lived in currently. It really did feel like the forgotten edge of an empire, or the leading edge of an empire in decay.

Our day brightened as we got out to the coast, the rain/sleet/hail lifted and we started our trip down #101. We saw the water first just outside Raymond (a big oyster area), and we had our first stop of many at a place where we could take in the power of the waves, the wonder of the bluffs and the occasional off-shore rocks that are characteristic of this coast. We crossed the long bridge over the Columbia River into Astoria and Oregon and stopped again at Seaside to walk a bit on the beach. It’s accessible from Portland, and is a much more thriving vacation/beach town with several blocks of a beach wall and walk and beachfront accommodations. The de Wolff family had been here sometime in the early ‘60s (?) and while I could find little actual memory of that time, I had a very strong sense of my mother and her love of big expanses of sand and the ocean as we were walking around. Back on the road, off the coast for a bit through hills with a slight elevation, where it hailed on us for a bit, and we began to see trees down all along the side of the road. The coast had been recently hit with a bad storm, possibly the same one we had the Monday before we left, and many trees were badly damaged.

We stopped that afternoon in Newport, which turned out to be an inspired decision. After driving by several places we might stay, we went looking for the town core where we found the Sylvia Inn, a small 3 storey, maybe 24 room place right on the water. We were shown the Agatha Christie room (among a couple of others inspired by other authors), and were completely taken by it. It made this one of the Birthday events of the trip – the room had a balcony, a fireplace (with wood & kindling), a couch for reclining, more than enough Agatha Christie books to read in an evening, spiced wine in the evening and breakfast in the AM. No TV, no Wifi, and in the morning the completely engaging company of several urban greenspace planners from Portland who were regulars, and who were friends of Goodie, the owner, who had purchased and planned the place so that she would be surrounded by interesting people.

The first gallery visit of the trip was in Walport, where we found a spectacular collection of paintings, clay, glass and jewelry (we knew there would be many more galleries associated with Cori's pottery convention in Seattle). It was warmer that day, and clear, and we began to see azaleas, along with great patches of daffodils, and some of the pines that were the northern-most cousins of those in California. Cori had been imagining finding a place to eat crab, and we found an actual “Crab Shack” in Banden - a tiny place with a big steamer outside that served whole Dungeness crabs. It was a lovely long meander that day too, and we stopped at look-outs and took our time. Past Port Orford the road hugs the coast and it’s just not possible to travel at any speed, so we didn’t cover as much ground as we thought. We stayed the night just over the California border at Crescent City, right at the top of the redwood forests. We noticed that as soon as we crossed into California the fields were cultivated, with small green veggies quite visible in the fields. We found a place that was again on the water, where we could hear the surf all night and see the lighthouse, and that also provided us with a great hot tub!

It was raining the next day as we headed into the Redwoods, but it made little difference to our experience of their magnificence. Before we left the hotel one of the young men recommended that we take a scenic parkway that parallels the #101, and it was simply breathtaking. As we left these big beauties we began to drive through stands of eucalyptus, pines and great spikey junipers, and the sides of cliffs were in bloom with succulents and something that looks like lupin but isn’t. We could have driven to San Francisco that day, but just before the #1 splits off to go out to the coast we phoned Dave and said we were having such a good time that we were going to take another day to get to him.

And then we took THAT drive (the #1 coastal highway). I have never been on such a twisty road, and was never as close to being motion sick as a driver. We were in fog, in the trees, going over several “hills” for maybe 10 miles at no faster than 30 mph. What fun, really. And then we were out on the coast, which wasn’t much different except there were longer straight-ish sections between the twisty hairpin turn bits that navigate around each and every watershed and cove along the coast. The fog lifted enough so we could see how high we were, how sheer the cliffs were, and the vast unpopulated expanses of sand beach. We came across herds of cows and sheep, but very few people for the next several hours. We were completely surprised by how un-peopled that whole stretch of coast is, all the way to just north of San Francisco. Dave told us later that California has worked hard at restricting development right on the coast, and it certainly seems to have worked. With the cows and fog and fresh green rolling grass hills we felt like we’d landed in Scotland or Ireland - very beautiful. We stayed that night in Gualala, right at the north end of Sonoma county, in another delightful place right on the water, waves crashing all night, fireplace, big Jacuzzi tub. All of the towns on this part of the coast are really quite tiny, and we were lucky to be traveling off-season – if we had done this in-season we would have needed advance bookings because there are not that many places to stay.

Twice on this route, first in Oregon and then along the # 1 we saw people walking, both heading north. The first was a black American woman pushing a grocery cart of belongings who was at least 20 miles from the nearest very small town, and another 10 from the next one. The second was an older guy along the #1, in a long remote stretch, who looked like he had nothing and indeed was carrying almost nothing with him except a small pack on his back.

We had stopped a bit early in Gualala hoping that maybe the next morning there would be less fog. When we woke up it was thicker than the night before! So that morning we drove for a couple of hours in occasionally in very dense fog, but mostly in fog that would lift enough to see the ghosts of rocks & big long breakers. I loved driving it, but think in retrospect that I am thankful that it didn’t lift enough to know exactly how precipitous parts of the road actually were. Brunch was in a little place called Jenner that had a cluster of the first surfers we’d come across and a restaurant that you might come across on one of the BC Islands that had a wonderful crab (yet again) sandwich. And then the fog lifted, and we had clear crisp blue skies the rest of the glorious trip down the coast, inland for a wee bit and then over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. The city was beautiful as we drove over the bridge, white and tiled roofs all sparkly and Spanish. We missed the turn that Dave suggested and drove into the city further than we’d intended, and the way back to our route sent us up and over one of the more dramatic hills that is an important SF experience.

Half an hour later we were at Dave’s place in Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon Valley. (Google’s headquarters are there, for instance). He left 24 hours later, and in the interim we talked pretty constantly, getting to know each other and Dave introducing us to the highlights of the Bay area. He took us to two of the local restaurants, introduced us to his neighbours, and we interrogated him about his life. We left him at the airport on Thursday afternoon, on his way back to Calgary, and we headed into San Francisco for the rest of the day. We drove in along the harbour and scouted Fisherman’s Warf first from the car. Then we spent a couple of hours in North Beach, where we found the City Lights bookstore. I knew I wanted to drop in, but didn’t know how happy it would make me. I think that was because it was still clearly a progressive collection, and that it appeared to be thriving. Also, maybe because the last time I was there I remember being overwhelmed and didn’t know much of what I was looking at, but this time much of it looked familiar. I was there last with Janice, Vic and Fred in 1968.

Late afternoon Cori & I returned to Fisherman’s Warf to take up Dave’s suggestion that we have dinner at Scoma’s. What a great suggestion!! We arrived at 5:30, so walked right in and were seated at a window looking out at the boats and the city and eventually the sunset. It was a bit more expensive than we’re used to, but we quickly decided that this was going to be another “birthday” event. Tomato based fish stew, or chioppino, is a San Francisco specialty, so we indulged and it was completely delicious. In the process we learned that our waiter had worked there for 28 years, and was one of a many who had been there a long time. So we felt that it must be a place that treats its staff well (he said it was) as well as its customer’s stomachs. When we left we realized that we had entirely lucked out – we had to work our way through at least a hundred people who were prepared to wait as much as a couple of hours to get in! We felt that not only was it delicious, but also that we had stumbled into the middle of an important heartbeat of the city.

The next day we headed in the opposite direction, back out to the coast to Monteray. Dave’s neighbours had given us their members’ passes to the Aquarium, which is one of the largest on the continent. It was a magnificent day, about 15 degrees & clear. On the way we drove through fields of artichokes, as well as other veggies that were being tended by groups of farm workers. The Aquarium is located in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, which has of course been gentrified. But the Aquarium is wonderful, and Monteray Bay was spectacular. On our walk from the car we saw a whole cluster of seals, including a day old pup, just below the Stanford Marine Research Station. A volunteer who was there with a viewing telescope got all excited because she’d just spotted dolphins in the Bay. It turned out that they decided to spend the afternoon with us, close enough in that we could see them splashing and playing – at one point we figured that we saw at least 20 on the surface of the water, which meant that there were a bunch of them out there. As we entered the Aquarium we caught feeding time with the otters who were in a large two storey tank, one a rescued pup and the other a surrogate mom, and we fell in love with them. We watched the pup for the longest time wiggle and twist and dive and hide with a buoyant toy that he just loved. There were three very large tanks, and a number of great exhibits, most notably one about seahorses (the two here are a sea dragon and a zebra seahorse), another about jelly fish, and another two storey tank that reproduced the kelp forest along the Bay’s shore. While we were visiting the latter a diver got in the water to feed the fish, including some smaller sharks, wearing a device that made it possible for him to talk to the audience. In his talk and throughout each exhibit there were very clear messages about the fragility of the ocean and the health of its creatures and what we could do about it.

This was a perfect end to a special week of travels along the coast. From here we will head back north, traveling inland via Interstate #5 through Portland to Seattle.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

International Women's Day with WOMANCENTRIC

Naked Lady Series by Cori  Sandler

Quilt Squares representing years of Protests and Festivals made from T-Shirts by Alice de Wolff

 International Women's Day Gallery Art Show


A rich celebration of the creative spirit of women will take place this Thursday, the 101st International Women’s Day at the Corre Alice Gallery in Cumberland.
The opening event of this month-long exhibit will feature 10 spoken word, vocal, instrumental and dance artists who range in ages from 14 to 70. They will perform surrounded by a stunning visual exhibition.
Corre Alice is thrilled with the response to her call for contributions to this show.
“Forty people have sent me their visual work! It’s wonderful how excited and supportive everyone has been about it, and what lovely artists we have in the Comox Valley.”
The pieces she has accepted for this show celebrate women’s beauty, some of the contemporary issues in women’s lives, women’s spirituality and struggles.
Most of the artists are from the Comox Valley, but the show includes artists from Alberta, Salt Spring Island, Quadra Island, Campbell River and Alert Bay. The exhibit includes work in oil, pastel, acrylic, watercolour, mixed media, ensemblage, fabric, photography, ceramics and collage.
WOMENCENTRIC is the beginning of the second year of the Corre Alice Gallery. She lovingly renovated Frelone’s Grocery to create the gallery space, and in her first year brought a series of monthly exhibits to our community.
Along with her own work, these have including shows that feature surrealism, watercolours, photography and group events.
The visual exhibition will hang at the gallery throughout the month of March.
The gallery is usually open Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To confirm hours, call 250-400-4099 or visit

Friday, September 16, 2011

Featured Artist at the Potter's Place for September.

Well, the potter is up and running full steam ahead.  This month I am the featured artist at a gallery  in Courtenay, BC called the Potters Place.  I have 3 shows that I am committed to over the next few months and another that I am tempted by... The question is, will these 2 hands be able to make all the work I need for another show?   I dunno!

Been making lots of fun things, like these butter dishes for instance...
I am loving working in my new studio and surroundings.  The ocean is right outside, and we have a heron that has decided that one of the trees in the backyard, is a perfect place to call home.  You should hear the sounds a heron makes at about 2 am, when all is very quiet and still - Oh My Goodness - You'd think someone has just thrown up an elephant or a large skidoo, and didn't much like the taste! 

I had an interview with a reporter today from Campbell River (this beautiful place was just featured on Rick Mercer Report if you happen to watch that hysterically funny man) as the next show/fair I am participating in is on Sept 25th at the Haig Brown Festival in Campbell River and somehow I was chosen to have an article written about me... Sweet!    Tomorrow, I will be doing another interview with a local newspaper about becoming the new president of the potters' guild in Comox and about our upcoming holiday sales. - Should be fun!~

My mom has come to visit us for a couple of weeks and we are having a delicious time with her, showing off the whales up island, the deer on the sides of the roads, and the new friends that we have made this last year.  She has been filling our freezer with her famous hearty beef/barley/veggie soup, and a brisket. - Are we lucky or what?????

Everyone in the house is  quietly sleeping or seriously thinking about it and I should do the same, so... Goodnight all.  Thinking of you and missing you,... but loving it here!!!!!

If you do the facebook thing, I seem to be posting to it quite regularly - look me up if you are so inclined.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How the garden grows

These two veggie beds are feeding us salad and greens every day. We put them right in the middle of the front yard where there is the most sun, filled them up with 'fish soil', mulch and other soil goodies, and voila, this explosion of green. Besides several varieties of lettuce there is chard, kale, dill, peas, cucumber, a couple of peppers, all flanked by marigolds. You can see from the grass that we are into the dryer part of the year, although we've had a bunch of rain this last week, which all the plants are happy about.

There weren't cherries on our tree last year so we weren't certain what it was - now we know that it has small red, almost merachino-like fruit that isn't a particular favorite. It's a good thing, because now that the tree is covered with them it's being swarmed by birds - crows, starlings, sparrows and other lbbs, finches.

Karen gave us three tomato plants this spring, and we potted them up in some of that fish soil and put them on our deck. They are doing very well. As is the purple rose on the deck. We are out there most mornings, sitting amongst this productive greenery, checking out the water and the mountains. The clematis didn't bloom last year either, but it's blooming now and I love it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What we really think about the proposed Raven Coal Mine

June 27, 2011
Union Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Rachel Shaw, Project Assessment Manager
Environmental Assessment Office
Government of British Columbia

Project Manager: Andrew Rollo
Canadian Environment Assessment Agency
Goverment of Canada

Raven Coal Mine Proposal Draft AIR

Not only have we found it difficult to know where to start with comments about deficiencies in the Raven Underground Coal Project’s Draft AIR, but we have also found it very difficult to decide whether it is even appropriate to participate in this process. But finally we have decided that it is best to put our concerns on record, and risk this effort being construed as legitimizing, or supporting in any manner the development of the proposed mine. Let there be no ambiguity: we are completely opposed to the development of this mine.

First, the joint government decision to not take this proposal through an independent environmental review has laid the ground for profound public mistrust, fear and anger. That Ministries of the Environment have, without independent detailed study, determined that there is not significant threat to a key shell-fish producing body of water and its related industry, the second most important bird area on the coast, the drinking and ground water of several communities, one of the country’s treasured old growth forests, and the Pacific Rim National Park only suggests a that there is a political “green light” for this project that has already dismissed any negative environment impact and that this whole process an expensive sham. We harbour a small and possibly na├»ve hope that this perception is wrong. We re-iterate here what you have heard over and over: the single biggest deficiency in the Draft AIR is that it relies on studies to be conducted by the company. This would be addressed by a Joint Federal / Provincial Independent Review Panel of Experts and full public hearings in all areas affected by this project. This process must include:
• a full and complete mapping and baseline testing of all underground aquifers and surface drainage systems onsite and off mapped by an independent group of experts. This must happen before any further site preparation goes ahead.
• a full accounting of the project’s carbon footprint, including the mine construction and operation, ground and sea transportation and coal combustion at destination points, and an independent expert assessment of the impact of the project’s carbon footprint on local and global climates
• an assessment of the impact of potential noise, light, water and air pollution (including dust and methane emissions) associated with the mine on all (not the small selection proposed by the proponent) species of affected flora and fauna, including the health of humans.

The Draft AIR’s sections on the economic and social impact of the proposal tell us only about sources the proponents will use to describe a limited number of “valued components”. It does not tell us how these will be assessed, or weighed, and we argue again that the proponent is not in a position to provide an independent assessment of the project’s impact. Independent social and economic impact studies must include all communities from from Qualicum to Campbell River and Port Alberni, Uclulet, Bamfield and Tofino. The studies must include:
• an explanation of how the project fits with the regional plans of all communities affected, including the Islands Trust. To the best of our knowledge, none of the local regional development plans, which are the result of extensive consultations and planning and are expressions of the aspirations and interests of the people who live here, have included coal development
• A detailed description of proposed mine and spin-off jobs, including skills and experience required, along with an equally detailed assessment of whether these skills can be found in local communities. If the skills are not available locally, the proposal must identify the likelihood of training local workers, and/or where trained workers are likely to come from and their numbers.
• An assessment of the health and safety impact of this mine environment for workers, including risk of black lung, other diseases and catastrophic events.
• A detailed estimate of the negative effect on non-mining jobs and industries, particularly the shell-fish industry, agriculture, tourism, eco-tourism and recreation
• A full accounting of the project’s public revenues and costs. The public costs would need to include highway repair and maintenance, mines and health and safety inspection, job training, increased hospital and emergency services use, and any increased school, social services and policing (see Fort McMurray). It also needs to include a realistic projection of any public costs associated with catastrophic events that could occur during mine construction, operation and decommissioning (Who Will Clean Up Our Mining Mess? Christopher Pollon, 23 May 20011,
• Detailed drawings of above ground-mine operations and tailings piles, in the landscape, as they will be seen from key locations, particularly Denman Island and the Island Highway.
• Comprehensive social studies, including surveys, interviews, and focus groups, on the project’s impact on tourism, property values and the effects of a project that is opposed by a significant proportion of residents, including out-migration, mental health and community cohesion.
• A statement of the company’s commitment to workers’ health and safety, and corporate citizenship.

On a personal note, again for the record, if the Raven mine or any associated open pit mines proceed, it will be devastating for us. We moved to Union Bay a year ago, investing the sum total of our life’s work to come to a community that we understood valued and cherished one of the most beautiful environments on the planet. One of us has asthma, and we live close enough to the proposed site that coal dust may become a factor in our ability to stay here. We can barely think about the grief we would experience for this beautiful, still abundant environment, and the possible economic and social consequences for our lives if the mine becomes a reality.

Alice de Wolff
Cori Sandler

Monday, May 9, 2011

We've Joined A Choir

We've joined a choir!!!! - Island Soul Choir

It is called a Gospel Choir but it is more of a Soul filled Choir than a Gospel Choir -
We had our first of 2 concerts last weekend - They took place in Nanaimo BC and we had a blast.
This is just a sampling of what we have been up to lately.

This first video is the song Melodies From Heaven
(if the video doesn't stream well, you can go straight to youtube to see it there. just click here

This 2nd Video is the song Woke up this morning
(if the video doesn't stream well, you can go straight to youtube to see it there.
just click here

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sea Lions

Last year we saw sea lions emerging from fog covered waters just off Heron Rocks on Hornby Island, and we have known for years that they hang out off the south east tip of Helliwell Park on Hornby. I've always thought one needed to be in a boat, or in a pretty remote location to see these wonderful, noisy, smelly critters.

But 10 days ago I drove down the Island Highway and practically went off the road when I passed the Fanny Bay warf and realized that the booms attached to the warf were covered with them. The next day Cori & I went out in the morning to see if they were still there, and indeed there were about a hundred of them (literally) sunning themselves on the booms and waiting for the herring to arrive. Bark, bark, ark, bark, growl, ark, bark - they're incredibly loud! The day after that Dad, Evelyn, Cori & I went to check them out again, and there were maybe half that many, it being not such a great morning for sunbathing. I have developed considerable sympathy for the herring - their arrival here to spawn is such a sign of spring and renewal, but that's partly because a whole array of predators arrive with them. We're particularly aware of the eagles, these guys, and the human fishers.

We got a good look at sea lion "rafting", a version of the back float, flippers in the air, sun on belly, usually side by side with a friend or two. This looks kind of like a partially submerged, inverted tree root, until the flippers move or a head emerges. In this photo there is one alone, and two together.

On Sunday we were at our neighbour's across the road, and saw what first looked like a gaggle of ducks, but then we realized that it was a 'raft' of sea lions - just off 'our' beach!

When Cori came home tonight she heard what she first thought was a dog in some distress, but then realized that it was a sea lion, and then heard the full chorus. It sounds like they are on the log booms that are a couple of kilometers south of us. We will check it out in the morning.

ps. the boat in this photo is bringing in a harvest of Fanny Bay oysters.