Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Importance of Having fun

One of the most influential people in my entire 32 year career was a landman by the name of Syl Kramer, a jovial fellow I worked with at Esso from in the 1980's.

Syl had the kind of infectious attitude that made coming to work a lot of fun. No matter the challenge, Syl was up to it, and he enjoyed doing it. Syl was not a young guy. When I first met him, he was in his early 50's.

Back in those days (and probably still) Esso went through waves of growth and downsizing. Esso's population was generally older, and their defined benefit program was expensive to the company, so Esso commonly tried to downsize by offering enhanced early retirement packages. In about 1983, the package was opened up to people 50 & older, and was so good that the company had a 96% uptake Canada wide. But not Syl.

I asked Syl why he wouldn't take that rather lucrative retirement package. I remember his words to this day:

"Because I'm having fun," was his reply. "Having fun is everything. As long as I'm having fun, why would I leave? But if I ever stop having fun, all the money in China won't make me stay."

Three years later, Syl announced his retirement. There was no program going on at the time. He just decided to retire, and so I went to see him and ask why.

"Because I stopped having fun" was his answer.

He explained to me that there were indeed times in his career that it wasn't fun, but they were short and he could readily see his way through to when it would be fun again, or when he could make it fun again. He told me that in the previous 6 months, he had stopped having fun, and couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel (the late 1980's was a terrible time in the oil patch, and for Esso in particular. I was in planning at the time, and things were looking pretty bleak). So he retired.

I asked him whether he was sad about leaving all the money he could have had on the table. His answer was "Not a chance". He had had three years of a lot of fun doing his job, and that was worth more to him than all that money.

I have lived Syl's advice for 30 years, and I personally think it has resulted in nothing but positive outcomes. In your work, or in your personal life, things are just a lot better when you're having fun doing them. I have been disciplined in life to only do things that are fun, or that I think I can make fun. I have learned to leave "not fun" situations, and am the better for it (though the leaving part, and the decision to do that, are never easy). In any circumstance where I have been required do something "not-fun" I have suffered for it, physically & mentally, and the fact that I was often paid scads of money to do "not fun" stuff didn't make it better. I left one "not fun" job for a lower paying "fun" job, and it was the best move of my entire career.

And now, I do a LOT of things in retirement, and each and every one of them is not just fun, they're a riot and I love them all. Because if they're not fun, and I can't see them becoming fun, I stop doing them. One of the joys of retirement is I don't have to do anything I don't want to. When I tell people that in retirement, I only do things that are fun, I don't think they really understand what I mean.

And when I tell people that I only do things that are fun, it's because of Syl. As far as I know, Syl is still around and active in the Esso Annuitants Club, though I think he lost his wife in 2012. I wonder if he knows just how influential he was to a 22 year old engineer?

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Feed the birds...

I like having birds in my 'hood. While I'm sitting at my desk at home, it's fun to see them flitting around, and for the window from November 1 to April 1, I put up feeders to try to get them to hang around and stay. Canmore has restrictions on bird feeders in the summer to reduce bear attractants; we don't, but I like the concept. We put up hummingbird feeders in the summer, but only put up our seed feeders in the winter.

I know that my local birds don't need my food. They can do just fine on their own. Hummingbirds become "addicted" to feeders, so once you start feeding them, you can't really stop without causing issues. But that's not true for the seed eaters.

After attending a talk by local Conservation Officer and bird lover, Glenn Naylor, I changed the food I feed my birds and now get many more birds that I used to. Turns out the only winter foods the birds around here eat are:

  • peanuts, preferably shelled;
  • black oil sunflower seeds, preferably shelled; or
  • suet cakes.
In the past, the mixed bird seed I tried using was thrown on the ground and eaten only by the deer mice. I started off feeding just peanuts, but watched as they went through more than a pound in a day (but I sure got on their radar screen), and peanuts are expensive. My new seed mix is 50% sunflower seeds in the shell, 25% shelled peanuts and 25% shelled sunflower seeds. My little pigs love it.

Normal visitors I see every day are:
  • Red breasted Nuthatches (peanut pigs)
  • White breasted Nuthatches
  • Black Capped Chickadees
  • Mountain Chickadees
  • Boreal Chickadees
  • Clark's Nutcrackers (pigs in general, but especially peanuts and suet)
  • Blue Jays
  • Downey Woodpeckers
  • Pine Grosbeaks
The Clarks are worst. There are about 5-6 around my yard, and when they come in, they chase other birds away. These bad boys will:
  • Chow down a suet cake in under 24 hrs. If I put out 2, they're both gone in 24 hrs.
  • Jam a cup of shelled peanuts into their crop, fly away, then come back and do it again and again until the peanuts are all gone
  • Take every peanut in the shell I give them, fly away with it, and come back for more. I now see squirrels plus other birds with peanuts in the shell, as they find where the Clarks are stashing them
  • Fling everything out of a feeder to seek out just the peanuts.
But they're pretty
It became clear on Day 1 that I had to do something to stop the Clarks from getting everything. So I built a cage around my main tube feeder. It's 1" mesh, so I cut a whole lot of 2" x 2" ports in it. Small birds can get in, but the big ones can't.
Unhappy Clarks
Well, Clarks are corvids (like crows and ravens) and corvids are smart. It took the Clarks 24 hrs to find out there wasn't a bottom on the cage. Even though it was a struggle, they flew in from underneath. I partially blocked it, and they figured out a way around that.
Sneaky bugger
So I put a full bottom on the cage, and they haven't been in since (though they still occasionally try to jam their heads through the 2" portholes).
Back to being mad
I like them around, though, so still throw out a handful of peanuts in the shell each day.

So now I get daily shows of birds doing cool things.
Male pine grosbeak 
Red breasted Nuthatch with a peanut 
Female Downy Woodpecker on the suet before the Clarks got to it 
Male Downy inside the cage 
That male making off with a peanut
De-bugging my fence
My next door neighbour feeds on the other side of the fence, and she started hand feeding the Chickadees a few months ago. So I had to try.
The Chickadees and Nuthatches both try to feed while I'm trying to fill the feeder. I've had birds fly into the cage to feed while I was trying to hang it. If I stand outside, it's not unusual for the Chickadees to fly right up to me. Today I was standing next to the cage, and there were 8 Grosbeaks on the ground around me, basically ignoring me.

Watching the intra-bird dynamics is interesting. Some don't mind having other birds in the cage. Some freak if ones fly by. The Nuthatches are quite happy to chase the Chickadees away. The Grosbeaks are normally tree feeders, but never go near the feeders, preferring to scour the ground for discards. If a Clarks is around, he'll chase other birds to try to get them to drop their peanuts. There's a suet cake hanging inside the cage, but for some reason, the Chickadees will try to eat from the one outside the cage in competition with the Clarks rather than use their own.

It's true they don't need me. But I don't care. I just need a new budget line item to pay for all the freaking peanuts they eat.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Go ahead, mice. I dare you.

Today was "get at the one spot we couldn't get at" day in the war against the mice.

I cut a small trap door in the deck to expose the corner where they are coming in.
A porthole in the deck
I moved a few rocks to gain a really good sightline to their entry point.
See the chewing?
Then I filled the whole freaking space with expanding anti-pest foam.
Immediately after application 
10 min later, the foam is still expanding
It took the whole can, but there's no freaking way they're getting through that.

Come on, dudes. I dare you. The house is now closed, buddies.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Larches and pikas and bears, oh my

The larches are turning, and I really wanted to get up to my favourite place to go see them. I have been to, and written about, Sparrowhawk Tarns before -- here, here and here. But I rarely hit the larches in their peak colour.

Larches are to Alberta what maples and oaks are to Eastern Canada. They are one of the few things that change our green forests to a beautiful colour in the fall. I wish they would last longer; they go from pale green to yellow to gold to gone in a matter of 10 days. Sparrowhawk has a magnificent grove of larches.

We started by picking up our friend Monty at the Canmore Nordic Centre, where the aspens and poplars are magnificent.
Mt. Rundle in the background
As you can tell by looking across from the Sparrowhawk trailhead, fall colour is not the "norm" here.
Still green
About 45 min up, we looked and found the day's first pikas.
Posing for me 
They don't sit still long.
Running away
The fall colours of the bushes on the way up are brilliant.
Looking up at Mt. Sparrowhawk
When the larches start, everything just goes magnificent.
The first of the larches 
A solo 
Larch after larch after larch 
And even more
Groves, looking back towards Read's Tower
We passed even more pikas in this section...
Contemplating life from a rock
...and saw a Clark's Nutcracker rooting for seeds.
On the ground 
In the larch
We emerged from the larch forest and got into the upper basin proper just in time for lunch. We stopped at the top of a knoll, sat down, and started to eat lunch. A few ravens were flying around, making a lot of noise. I followed them and saw something in the distance.
Our lunch view. But there's something there
We pulled out binoculars and saw something large and brown and moving...
Hey, that's a...
...which looked from our distance (of ~500 m) to be a grizzly bear. He was digging and rooting around a lump in the ground, and the two ravens were trying to get him away from whatever he was digging for.
Digging with company 
The ravens won't go away
After a few minutes, the bear lay down on the lump, but the ravens would not leave.
"Go away"
I shot a short movie of him.
Knowing fully well I would lose picture quality, I turned on digital zoom, and continued shooting.
Fuzzy, but
When we got home and looked at these photos, it became clear that this is not a grizzly, but a cinnamon coloured black bear. Ah, well. Seeing him was just awesome.

We left the bear to be (after each taking about 100 photos), and continued into the basin, making a heck of a racket. We passed awesome streams...
A low down creek 
Amazing green next to a creek up high
...tarns with some water in them...
Tarn 1 of 5
...the spectacular basin...
The route up Red Ridge
...hunting camps...
Tables and chairs out of stone
...and just beauty everywhere.
Looking back into the basin
On our way back, we just had to see if Mr. Bear was still there where we first saw him. He was. Lounging.
That's chilled.
The light wasn't nearly as good on the way down, but the larches were still nice.
Lovely colour
We saw more than just bears and pikas today, but not much. We did see the odd chipmunk.
Cute. And eating
What a fantastic day in the mountains. The larches were perfect, seeing the bear was amazing, and of course there were pikas.

And I hiked 17 km, climbing 780 m. Which is why I am now dead tired. Not bad for a guy recovering from a broken leg.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

More de-mousing

After Jello and us caught 12 mice in under 3 weeks, we decided we needed professional help. Again. For the 3rd time. I wrote here how we pulled up the deck and thought we found the problem: a hole around the casing of a window we didn't even know was there.

The exterminator came, and looked, and found a few things we didn't see. The mice actually come in under a section of deck we did not remove (and who's removal would be VERY tough).
Look carefully
Two things are visible in the photo above.

  1. Where the concrete foundation wall of the house meets the siding of the garage, dead centre of the photo above, the garage siding has been chewed to make it bigger.
  2. About 5" to the right of this, hiding but visible is a grey conduit pipe. This is the wire that leads to the garage.
There's also evidence that the mice are using this as their main entrance. There are trails leading around and over that rock in the middle.

We also found a few other things:
  • There is a 3" standoff between the house siding and the house walls. Heaven only knows if there are ways mice can get up between the two.
  • That window we found is packed around its edges with fabric, mostly dark blue corduroy, ripped from an old pair of pants.
Bits of fabric jammed into the top of the window
The exterminator did a bunch of stuff:
  • He squirted expanding foam into the cracks around the window, including the big hole we found;
  • He put down a bunch of ZP. This nasty stuff, zinc phosphide, is a powder that gets on the mice. When the mice lick the powder off to groom, it turns into phosphine gas and they die within 2 hrs;
  • He put down some pesticide laced winter wheat pellets. 
But because he couldn't access the obvious entry point and seal it, nor access the entire wall to close off the 3" gap, we got no guarantees the mice would stop.

So Jello caught one that night. And so did we, in a glue trap. He caught another the next night...
Hunter pride
...and another the next afternoon. Then we caught another in a glue trap last night. Five mice in 3 days. So obviously, the exterminator's work wasn't successful.

I decided to try to attack the problem from the inside. We went into the basement, took down the suspended ceiling along the problem wall...
Tiles removed
...and cut portholes in the drywall above the ceiling level to access the foundation wall.
A bunch of holes
Along the way we found a dried up, desiccated mouse.
Say cheese
The way the basement was finished, it was difficult to get 100% visibility of the wall, especially in the problem corner. But we did find where the wires come in, a hole big enough for the mice, and a lot of poop.
There's room there
We also found that the expanding foam the exterminator dude squirted in around the window did indeed make it into the house. We found another couple of spots where there were holes, too. So I took some of my own expanding foam and filled everything I could see.
Awkward reaching into tight spots
Did we get everything? I doubt it. Did we get where the mice are coming in? Maybe. Only time will tell. What makes me nervous is that the conduit visible in the top photo above is 5" to the left of where the mice chewed the boards. You can see that 5" to the right of where the wires exits the house is nothing: no means of entrance. So I have to assume that the mice make it between the siding and the walls, then come in via the electrical conduit hole in order for what I just did to work.

Here's hoping.