Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chetwynd, The Round House, Peace Valley Threatened

I've got quite a few pics to put up here and not enough time today, but I'll be back to flesh out this very interesting chapter of the journey. Suffice to say that the breathtaking drive down Hwy 29 from Fort St. John to Chetwyn was overshadowed by proposals to flood this area for hydroelectric power. The Peace River Valley is rich ranchland with a bold and rugged beauty that cries out for protection. I'll be exploring the issues and reporting back...

OK, I'm back... (almost as if I had never left you)...

Rolling out of Fort St. John, I take in a little sprawl on the highway. It's a boomtown, not a pretty town. Oil and booze have left their smudges on this place- and indeed they are never too far from the surface here to extract at a glance. Quite by accident I have breakfast with an Inuit throat singer and healer. I come away feeling a little charged. Like the blues, or moreso, throat singing is or can be healing music. The throat singer tells me that when she was young she used to sing casually, but now her singing is more "purposeful." I like that word today, and I am carrying it with me like a gift. It's a little jewel I am turning around in my brain as I navigate these winter roads.

Yeah, that's the sign I need. Goodbye to the Alaska Highway. I turn south and west on Route 29. It's not the GPS route of choice, but I can tell it will be my kind of road.

Neat and tidy here, but with hints of horizon and hills to climb.

Now I burst over the top of the clutter. Peace River Valley. It unfolds before me like magic.

I really can't capture it well. I am reminded of taking pictures on my first visit to the Grand Canyon. Any three or four of them would of been fine. Fifty of them all look the same! You can just keep on grabbing images until they lose their meaning. Life is like that, too, perhaps. There are signs along the way warning of the impending battle against flooding this historic valley for a giant hydroelectric project. The concept shocks me, but I reflect that humans have long done this kind of thing. And what are the arguments? Human needs— consumption– vrs vast beauty. And beauty, as always, a fluid concept, perhaps more a Platonic form in the mind of the beholder, transitory, sometimes a memory, sometimes like bold fingers reaching to touch you in special ways in special places.

Nobody seems to know what Hudson was hoping for. Perhaps it, too, lies hidden and ripe in this valley, ready for drowning.

The afternoon seems to be turning. These days are short, and a blue tinge reaches out across the snow.

But now, a solar encore. There's a tremendous glare as the road twists to point directly at the sun. I am reminded of one of Huxley's books, (no, not Huxley... who?) where the narrator concludes the story by staring into the sun, destroying his eyes. I'm wearing shades and using the sun visor to try and avoid this kind of conclusion! I'm not at all weary of this world, although it is getting harder to see sometimes.

Chetwynd ahead. I roll through and search for my destination address. Remarkably, my GPS takes me right to the edge of the long and twisting drive to the Round House.

There's nobody about and no lights on. Just a huge dog barking at me. I do as I've long learned to do in the southwest– wait in the vehicle for a respectful period of time when approaching a country home. If there is someone at home, they will know you've arrived, and they will have a few moments to compose themselves and make ready to greet you. I've also learned that you don't get out of your vehicle unless there is an owner for any roaming guard dogs!
I sit outside the house in my car for two hours before someone comes out, calls in the dog and welcomes me to Chetwynd. It's not too cold, but I'm glad to get inside and set up for this evenings show.

The house is pretty nice— round, with big thick walls. It is also a good deal larger than it looks in these pictures. My host, Ian, makes coffee, a bite to eat, and before I know it the place is filled with people. Folks have come up from Dawson Creek, down from Fort St. John, Hudson's Hope... Wow. I better be good, eh? I'm a little surprised that everyone has been able to find this very rural location on such a dark Tuesday winter night.

The show is really fun this evening. I have a great time, and am so busy socializing between shows that I don't sell any cd's! However, I do make a pile of new friends– which is actually even better.

At the end of the night Ian and I hang out. I have a glass of wine, and listen to some of his songs! Ian is a fingerstyle musician and teacher who is well known up and down the valley. I'm quite flattered that so many musicians actually came out to the show this evening.

The only downside to the day, from my point of view, is the lack of indoor plumbing here! When I run outside after the show, I'm soaking wet with sweat, and I feel the chill. I'm not such a whimp, but I'll be making this same trip again during the night, and don't look forward to it. The sky has now cleared, and there is an amazing starry night above. The woodstove is crackling quietly, the smell of sweet smoke gentle in the air, all is still as I crawl into my bed.

The Peace River Dam project is way too complex for me to get into at the moment, but I do want to underline that this is a serious proposal, largely underway, and that Canadians need to look carefully at the choices being made. Significant portions of the Peace River Valley will be lost if the project goes ahead. Some basic Google searches may give you all the information you need to take a properly informed position.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fort St. John... Cuttin' Time

I'm rolling out of Dawson Creek this morning, not too early, not too late, very well fed by Dave, my host. We've talked politics, boats, cars, and now I'm back in the Lincoln tooling out to look at this high prairie once again.

Coming down the main street downtown it is kind of quiet. There's a sprawl of ugly strip malls and chain stores along the highway.

There's the Lincoln in front of the landmark Alaska Hotel with it's Dew Drop Inn bar and saloon. The owners came out to my show last night and even MC'd the Gallery Concert. Nice folks. We chatted a bit and they invited me to visit the Alaska. Nice room downstairs. I notice that my friend Tim Williams has played here. Maybe I will, too. It's a very friendly town, and big enough to suggest a return visit.

I don't need shoes today. Actually, I want boots– western boots– Tony Lamas to be exact. So I need a good western store. This is really oil country now, more than cowboy territory. Lots of country music on the radio, but lots of rock as well. And enough folks pouring in here to enable roots artists like myself to follow. I notice that Fred Eaglesmith, Valdy, Ray Bonniville (did I spell that right?), and even Guy Davis have been finding their way up into this frontier, boomtown area.

Here's where one big road starts. I'm not going to ride it too far today, but I'll get a taste. The Lincoln purrs, waiting.

OK, I'm off! I get an extra big coffee from Tim's, and point the big car north. It is a little greasy today, but I'm taking it easy and haven't got too far to go. Couple of hours of drive should do it. Not much traffic at this moment either. That's good. These northern roads are surprisingly busy with big, commercial truck traffic. That means stones, water and ice thrown up from the road constantly. I've been through buckets of washer fluid, the car is caked in dirty ice, and the windshield has been broken in three places. Next northern trip I will budget for a new windshield right off the bat. We lost one last year on the road to Prince Rupert under similar conditions, so I guess it's just the price of passage for southern wheels.

Looks like this today...

Yeah, getting steep!
Curved bridge! Wild, eh?

Peace River valley, I believe. Big plans to flood this for hydro electric power. Big fight. It'll all be underwater in a few years time if the big guys get their way.

Here's the gig! It's a small, but friendly head shop-bookstore. I stand by as display cases are moved and the place is converted to a small concert space. It's a good, if quiet night. The big, Canadian football game is on tonight. The Grey Cup. We suffer for it, but the folks who are out are with me!

After the show we do a little jamming. This was really neat! When was the last time you saw an instrument combo like this!? Yup, he's playing a saw, with a bow. He's got little dampers and things on it. Amazing Grace never sounded so good! Home Routes will have to start running in both directions.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dawson Creek, BC- An Elevating Experience!

It's not too long a drive today from Grande Prairie. I can't find breakfast, and I spend considerable time in a Canadian Tire parking lot– purchasing and adding fluids for the Beast. Oil, washer fluid, antifreeze, fuses... The air suspension has frozen into the low position again, but she perks up when I gift her some new fuses. Compressor kicks in, mutters, and the car rises. We're still several feet lower than the trucks parked around us.

Find a gas station and fill up. More fluids. Expensive morning. More than I made last night pouring into the Lincoln. The windows, as the rest of the car are almost totally obscured by a thick, greasy dirt. It's a messy, messy drive on these highways. The side windows are almost obscured, and it's a good deal of work to get them cleaned off, much less the windshield, headlights, brakelights. I set to work with a squeegee and paper towels, and eventually the grime is cut down to safer levels. Tires are good. I'm into a Tim's for coffee and on the road!

A dull sort of day. These flaming stacks can be seen here and there from the highway. Burning off sour gas, I'm told. There's plenty of debate between the ranchers and the oil people about the environmental safety of these burning beacons.

Here's the venue! Wow! Right at Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway! Not many buildings like this one left on the modern prairie. They've done a great job converting this one into a museum and public galleries.

Nice, eh? I will play right in front of the giant Christmas tree. Very festive! Everybody is nice. I get set up, and have a nasty fall on the ice outside. Shook up. But OK. I'd hate to break a wrist or an arm at this point! Bruises I can live with! My hosts take me out to dinner, and then it's showtime.

An early start and an early finish here tonight. A good, friendly crowd. I'm able to meet quite a few people. The evening ends in an encore and, of course, not before awarding the Tour jacket to a lucky concert goer!

Back to Dave's house for a scotch and some conversation, and then it's time for a big sleep. A pretty nice day.