Of Canuckis going bonkers for dressing up (and it’s not even close to Halloween)

These lower mainland Canuckis I find myself with are completely crazy, I tell ya! In fact, let me qualify that – they are more or less normal during the day but at night, especially around the time of the full moon, something goes gaga in their brains and they go a little bonkers.

A few evenings ago after supper, one of the youngsters was trying on her anatomy dissection goggles, when she decided she needed just the right hairstyle to go with them. This then saw the “dress up” box being brought out from where it was stored in the garage, and the rest of the dinner guests getting in on the act.

It got so raucous that it even flowed into supper time the next evening, when we had a homemade pizza-making evening with completely different guests.

Granted, most of the participants are naturalised Canuckis, hailing from Italy, South Africa and northern Alberta. They take life a little less seriously than some of the native Canuckis I’ve met here, like the spiteful couple who locked the gate to the dock we have used all summer for evening swims, refusing to allow us one last summer swim. But that’s a blogpost I won’t be writing – it would just be too toxic.

And I’m into laughter lately.

 

Faux fur on a counterfeit child

Apparently, from some of the feedback I’ve received, the subjects of my previous blogpost – the hillbilly couple outside of town – were either way too real or not real enough.

So, today’s subject, I can guarantee, is not real at all. She is a complete figment of my camera and imagination. After all, what child enjoys riding her bicycle more than being plonked in front of a TV screen, iPad or computer game?

We have appalling, smokey air around here at the moment – with close to 500 forest fires burning throughout British Columbia at time of writing. But one thing the ash-filled air does make for is spectacular skies at sunset.

A few nights ago, the imaginary 7-year-old child told me to follow her around the block because “the light would be different along the way.” Up the hill we went, into a neighbour’s yard to see the bright red sun, and then back home – straight into the golden dappled-light of a fiery sun diving into the horizon behind the trees.

The faux child, fittingly, started with a faux fur headdress, which was ditched almost immediately and replaced with a real, sweet-smelling flower. She waited patiently for me to catch up whenever I, with wheezing lungs, lagged behind. It’s not a big block but, as she rightly suggested, the varied light as we went made for some striking photos.

Shooting real people in the Cariboo

Photography is about telling stories, right? Well, I’ve been looking for some good stories to tell for quite some time now. And then last week I went to visit a friend’s father and his wife out on a farm way outside town.

They bought the place from an elderly couple who hadn’t had the energy or health to put in any maintenance for many years, but the place now keeps them nice and busy and mostly out of trouble in their semi-retirement. When we arrived she was shelling a bucketload of peas and he was rolling a cigarette (one of many I saw him roll and smoke during my visit.) Both of them are the polar opposite of political correctness, which I love.

Their property is completely off the grid, but they have solar power, a strong-flowing spring, chickens and plenty of ginormous vegetables, which they grow in a greenhouse attached to their home. And to prepare for winter or the zombie apocalypse, she is a master of pickling, salting and other preserving goodness.  He is a carpenter, so has torn down and completely rebuilt some of the outhouses and interiors of the main house, and has several cabins, which look quite delightful if I ever desperately need a break from town life.

But I tell my stories with photos…

Real life in the Cariboo? This is about as close as it gets!

 

 

Childhood: grazed knees and mile-wide smiles

This is childhood the way I remember it, not in front of some screen but filled with adventure, fantasy, cuts, scrapes and bronzed bodies.

Last week I joined a local family and a batch of their friends at their favourite place to play, just down the road from their home. No, it’s not a playground, waterpark, trampoline park or entertainment multiplex, but a plain old gravel pit. It’s the perfect place for imaginations to run wild, to learn to fly, to pick daisies, and from which to return home with scraped knees and beaming, dust streaked faces.

Our visit was cut short when some of the kids, standing atop the highest pile of dirt, saw their dad drive by on his way home from work.

“Dad’s home,” they shrieked! “Let’s go!” And at that everyone tumbled down in a cloud of dust, piled as many as possible onto the little red cart, and ran home excitedly, the cart developing a dangerous speed wobble. There, ice lollies were waiting – perfect for washing the dust from parched throats.

(Scroll below the images, where the story continues. You can also click on the images for larger versions.)

These kids are pretty much always outside in summer.

“Can we go inside yet, mom?” one of them asked the other day. The answer was a firm “no,” at which he shrugged and went back to playing in the back yard with the chickens, or a sword, or pot lid fashioned into a shield. And then out came the watermelon, which everyone devoured before going off to find treasures that the bears had dragged out of the trash and strewn in the woods at the bottom end of the yard.

Ah, summer. Ah, childhood the way it was meant to be.

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At the end of the day …

Canada Day weekend was cold and rainy, but with tiny cracks of sunshine and clear skies thrown in to keep our spirits up. We were away on a church camp at a lake north of the city, and there was just enough good weather to keep everyone happy. For the rest of the time, we had plenty of coffee and board games to keep ourselves entertained.

One evening I borrowed a kayak and went out looking for eagles to shoot. Serendipitously, I came across two river otters, one of which posed perfectly for me, before screaming at me to leave them in peace to enjoy their supper of freshly-caught fish.

What with winter being so long, snowy and cold, Cariboo natives really do make the most of their summers. To my friends in South Africa, I’m sorry to have to do this to you. 😆

Walk-by shootings on the streets of Vancouver

Once upon a time I got to the place where I was comfortable photographing people I don’t know. Complete strangers. I guess it was while living in Madagascar, where the locals were more than willing to be photographed and mostly-unsuspicious of foreigners. Then I moved back to South Africa and began to feel like a paparazzo, having to sneak photos of people or events that I thought were cool (all because of the level of mistrust of “strangers” and what one would do with the photos). Friends asked me not to photograph their kids or to post them on my blog for fear that something perilous would happen to them.

In all my travels, I never met a Nepali or Mongolian who didn’t want his or her photo taken, Europe was similar to South Africa, and small-town Canuckistan was downright neurotic. A week into my first stay here in 2013, a Facebook post began doing the rounds asking who the weirdo was taking photos around town. The hysteria just grew from there, with parents locking up their children, dogs and collector cars when they saw me coming. This pretty much put paid to street photography in Canuckistan.

But last week, with three spontaneous, carefree, confident young adults as my guides, I ventured down to Commercial Drive in Vancouver, planning to photograph graffiti. Instead, we ended up shooting the colourful still-lifes and eclectic characters of the district. And to be honest, it really is easier asking a random stranger if you can shoot them when you aren’t alone.

The whole point of this blog, when I started it in 2013, was as an online journal, and a way to document the vibrant yet alien-to-me Canucki lifestyle through my camera lens and with my writing. Reading back over some of my 270 posts since then, I think I’ve largely been successful, and I find a flood of special memories washing over me with each post revisited. Street photography remains one of my favourite expressions of the art, and this colourful post is the perfect way to honour my original aim for my blog.

Enjoy.

 

Swing dancing is alive and well in lower Canuckistan

I have visited and stayed with the same friends whenever I’ve been in the lower mainland of Canuckistan – that is to say, around the Vancouver area. And I have heard said friends gush and go on about the wonderful fun they have swing dancing many Sunday evenings. And so, obviously, as I found myself with them on one of said Sundays, I tagged along to see what all the hype was about.

Two new friends – a dad and daughter – we had only just met the previous Thursday came along too and dived right onto the dance floor. He didn’t really find his feet, but I hear he has been practising while doing the dishes, while taking out the garbage – pretty much with anything animate or inanimate that will allow him to. In fact, we arrived at his place of work a few days later and he immediately grabbed one of the young ladies I was with as she got out of the car, and danced her around the parking lot.

I can’t tell you anything about swing dancing, but I can tell you that it was good, sweaty fun and everyone had an absolute ball – from the youngest at 11 to the spritely octogenarian.

A day in the life of two cracodile hunters

Do you remember the two brothers that I shot quarrying for veneer? And the one brother with whom I did a ridiculously cool photoshoot last year? Well, they are back, and in today’s post you get to experience a typical day in their summer vacation. Both are studying – one to be a vet and the other a chiropractor – but they work during the summer in order to help pay for their studies.

This year, they are both on a crew hunting out road cracks to fill – probably one of the most mind-numbing jobs imaginable. At least they get to alternate between driving the truck, filling the cracks and measuring the length of cracks filled. Imagine!

Then, twice a week both join friends on the local school’s sports’ fields for a wild game of ultimate frisbee, before heading to the Fraser River to cool off. On this particular day people came around for dinner, after which we retired to the sitting room to make some fine tunes together.

It was quite a day, which started before 6am and ended well after midnight, when the final family members plopped into bed. These Canucki cracodile hunters are something else, I tell ya!

Peculiar, funny wedding moments

Of course, even weddings have quirky, wacky moments – moments that often don’t make it into the main wedding album – especially behind the scenes and while getting ready. Here are a few of those, as well as a couple of my favourite shots at the wedding I shot this weekend past.

As I’m about to get on the first of four flights back home (a total of around 40-hours travelling time) I decided to post this now.

(Click on images to open the slide show.)

Throwback Thursday: The passing of a legend

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Jean Louis at the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968.

It was with deep sadness that I heard of the death of legendary Malagasy sprinter Jean-Louis Ravelomanantsoa this morning. I knew that he had been battling cancer in Lyon, France, for the last year, but it was still a shock to hear of his passing on Tuesday, aged 73.

I knew Jean-Louis and his wife, Ingrid, from Tana City Church in Madagascar, but one of my most memorable times with them was a lunch at their home in April last year. I’m copying excerpts of what I wrote about them then as a tribute to this icon and wonderful man.

… … …

Jean-Louis “Ravelo” is Malagasy, while Ingrid has a Franco-Vietnamese background. She met her husband after coming to Madagascar in the 1960s with her stepfather, who was advising the post-independence government. Her beau admitted that the best thing he got from university was having met her.

Soon after marrying, their lives took off in a direction neither could have imagined. He was a runner – specialising in the 100m. The fastest sprinter Madagascar had ever seen. He was short, stocky and lightning-fast: this was the 1960s, where raw speed and talent was the order of the day.

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Photo: Westmont College

One day he was invited to compete in an international meeting on the island, his talent was recognised, and he was offered the chance to run and study in the USA. This eventually led him to Westmont College in California, during which time he competed in numerous national athletics finals, three Olympic Games and won a world indoor title. At his final Olympics in Munich, in 1972, where he was at his peak and ranked the second-fastest 100m athlete in the world, he pulled a hamstring in the semi-finals and was eliminated.

Asked what he felt about seeing his dream of being Olympic champion die, at the final hurdle (to mix a running metaphor), he simply shrugged. “These things happen. It’s in the past. I lived a good life, and there are many better things I can talk about.”

One achievement which stands out, above even the Olympics, was at a small race called the “Stawell Gift” in Australia. Athletes are staggered at the start line according to their times – with the faster runners starting behind the slower ones. On a boggy, wet track (which rose 90cm over the distance) in 1975 he ran the 120m in 12 seconds dead from the back of the pack, scorching past the other runners in the final few metres. In 2006, at the 125th anniversary of the running of the event, his run was voted the best in its history.

Jean Louis "Ravelo" winning the Stawell Gift on 31 March 1975 from scratch. Photo: Fairfax Archives
“Ravelo” winning the Stawell Gift on 31 March 1975 from scratch. Photo: Fairfax Archives

I could hear sadness in their voices, though, when they spoke about how all the mementoes from that part of their lives – the trophies, videos, photos and newspaper clippings – had been stolen in a house burglary in the 1970s. With no physical reminders, apart from the scraps one can find on the Internet, they really do only have their memories.

We talked about life after athletics; about many years in Africa where he worked for an international organisation in finance and economics; about their children, their grandchildren and their life back home in Madagascar. We spoke about her roots, and a trip she took back to Vietnam with her sisters. We spoke over drinks, over dinner, dessert and coffee but one afternoon is way too short to truly know people.

One thing that struck me throughout the afternoon was their humility, grace and dignity: It’s not often one gets to see the simple contentment of a life lived well. I left with photos of much beauty, but a glimpse into two special lives and a reminder to listen to people’s stories – whether exciting or seemingly mundane – is what the afternoon was really about.

Jean-Louis last year with his pride and joy, Citroën 2CV.
Jean-Louis last year with his pride and joy, Citroën 2CV.

Real life: so much better than reality TV

How many people can say they know any real-life gold miners? I can, and recently I got to visit them at their claim in the heart of the Cariboo in Canuckistan, which is well-known for the gold rush in the late 1850s, early 1860s. Several towns grew up at that time, the most famous of these being Barkerville, close to which my friends are now mining.

You know those reality shows like Ice Road Truckers, Cake Wars or Yukon Gold? Honestly, I am not a fan. One thing they all seem to have in common is that the protagonists have to overcome several crises, usually in the middle of the programme, where the question is asked of them whether they will quit (or, even, gasp, survive) but they normally do weather the storm to fight another day. Yukon Gold, as I understand it, follows several families trying to mine gold before winter comes. They have to extract a certain amount before it gets too cold, otherwise they go bankrupt and lose everything they have, including relationships with those closest to them. The music is dramatic, the tension contrived, the denouement completely insignificant because one has no real emotional connection with the characters.

This is not the case with my friends the miners. Admittedly, I don’t know them well, but they seem like an amazingly-chilled couple, who love what they do, no matter how back-breaking the work can be. Although I always planned on visiting them at their claim when I lived here previously in 2013 and 2014, it just didn’t work out. This time I made a point to drive out along the web of dirt roads to experience something of their lifestyle.

Their mining method is called “placer mining” – which includes panning and the use of sluice boxes and jigs, as used in the big gold rushes many years ago. Now, of course, they get to use more modern equipment than the 19th Century gold-rush miners, but the techniques are pretty much the same. I won’t go into details about their operation, apart from to say that they work very hard: clearing topsoil, moving dirt, loading gravel and rocks into a screening plant back and forth all day, panning to check quality of the gravel, and removing tailings – all for a few flecks of the glittering metal. (If all of this sounds like Greek to you, you can read more about the mining method over on Wikipedia.)

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And after a hard day’s work they get to enjoy the most idyllic of surroundings in each other’s company, with their two dogs. It’s this lifestyle that keeps them going (sans soundtrack) on the tough days, the stressful days where it looks like they may not find enough gold in the season, the days where equipment breaks down or the weather takes its toll.  And it’s the pressure (rather than  the hope of riches unspeakable) mixed with sweet times, shared memories and working towards a common goal that make their marriage what it is.

After I shot them at work they gave me a tour of their back yard, which included a stream where salmon spawn. We marvelled at the brightest, most vibrant double rainbow and I was treated to a supper of alpaca with rosé wine.

As with the reality television show, their mining season will also end soon, as the water and ground begin to freeze. And then they will pack it all up, move into town to work their “winter jobs” before starting up again at the first thaw next year. As they said to me recently, they would have it no other way.

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I had been looking for eccentric characters to shoot on this trip of mine to Canuckistan. I wouldn’t call them that exactly, but this was one of my favourite shoots with one of the most engaging, interesting, down-to-earth couples I know.

And of course, on the way home I even hit a moose, which made me feel like a real Cariboo native!

One of the blog posts you just don’t know how to write

I had every intention to post every weekday when I started blogging here again last month. And I was doing pretty well. Until two Sundays ago, when, at around 5am, a friend of mine died. I had planned to go downtown that day to take photos of beautiful old cars, and then to shoot rednecks careening through mud in their souped-up trucks later in the day, but at ten past five my dear friend Caleb’s brother called me to tell me the terrible news.

Without going into any details, I immediately dropped everything to drive Caleb’s father and sisters to the town four hours away, where he had been in hospital after an horrific car crash. Between staying with them for a few days, and helping them out where I could in the following week, all my blogging plans were obviously forgotten.

With his family, we mourn Caleb’s passing but believe he is in a better place, rejoicing in heaven, and dishing out hugs to all and sundry. This Saturday we will be remembering Caleb at a memorial service in the town where he died. Of course there will be too many tears to measure, but hopefully also lots of laughs as we share about who Caleb was – an amazing young man who loved board games, hockey and people – especially the invisible, “unlovable” ones – amongst other things. Although he was only 20 years old when he died, I know that he will be remembered fondly by many.

Farewell, my dear friend. See you soon.

Wild Cow Milking is a thing. Seriously.

Three years ago I attended my first ever rodeo in Canuckistan, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. I had no idea what to expect, apart from what I had seen in movies or on television. I suppose I expected the bucking broncos, bull riding and a rodeo clown, but definitely wasn’t prepared for the event that kicked it off: wild cow milking.

It was complete chaos as teams of three tried to rope a cow, then hold it in one spot as one of the members milked it – all in clouds of dust, while dodging other flying, tumbling cow milkers. Just to make things interesting, the organisers released a few heifers and steers along with the “milkable” cows.

“I want to do that next year,” said one of my companions enthusiastically. He didn’t get around to it that year or the next, but when I heard he had put together a team, “The Udder Brothers,” this year, I promised that I would be there to photograph it.

His trio, consisting of a driving instructor, handyman/mechanic (who you may recognise as one of the drivers from the Crash to Pass) and himself (a church leader and volunteer fire-fighter) put up a good showing – being one of only three teams to actually get milk. Unfortunately they were beaten by a team that hijacked someone else’s cow – doing none of the hard work themselves!

It was the perfect start to a great little rodeo – so good that I went to watch them in action the next day again!

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The Udder Brothers (the three on the left) going after a cow.
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Facing down the charging herd.
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Still trying to catch one.
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Milking!
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Running to the judges with a drop of milk in a beer bottle.
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The other two teams that got milk (including the women’s team who hijacked the other team’s cow.)
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At it again the next day. (The poor cow in the background – being milked by about four teams!)
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Two teams, including The Udder Brothers, milking the same cow.

A few of the Cottonwood characters

Earlier today or yesterday (depending on where in the world you are) I wrote about a Saturday-night gathering that takes place in the Cottonwood Community Hall just up the road – 40km – from where I live. Rather than rehash the whole story, I’d recommend that you go and read it for yourself, if you haven’t already.

As I mentioned when I started blogging here in July after a two-year hiatus, I really want to focus on typical Canucki characters. You read about them and saw a few of them yesterday. Here are a few more portraits from my evening at the Cottonwood social evening.

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