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The one that didn’t get away

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Ryan Judd consoles himself with the thought that it’s a dry cold, as he patiently waits for a bite.

Brad Knowles doesn’t care much for bananas. Not when he’s fishing, at least.

“Did you bring bananas?” he asks from the driver’s seat.

I check with my son Ryan, sitting across from me in the back of Brad’s truck. No, we didn’t bring bananas. We check our packed lunch. No bananas, although the hot chocolate seems to have spilled.

Bananas will jinx fishing every time,” says Brad, who double checks that his assistant guide, Matt, has not brought bananas. Matt, a bass fisherman from Mississauga – where he’s known to some as “The Bassassassin” – knows better than to bring bananas.

We’re on our way to Blackwater Lake, about an hour out of Whistler, east of Pemberton. From mid-November to late-March, give or take, the 6.5-kilometre lake near D’Arcy is ice fishing country.

6.5-kilometre Blackwater Lake, about an hour out of Whistler, east of Pemberton.

At this time of year, Brad’s company, Pemberton Fish Finder, runs ice fishing tours. “It’s for people who want to escape the Whistler bubble and experience the lakes, wildlife, catch some fish and listen to some stories,” says Brad.

Brad has lots of stories. He grew up in Pemberton and is something of a local celebrity, starring in his own fishing show on Whistler Cable for a while. Together with running a fishing store, Pemberton Fish Finder keeps him busy year round.

My only adult fishing story involves a crab trap and a capsized canoe. I had always assumed ice fishing would involve a flight to Prince George or Edmonton.

Brad Knowles, owner-operator of Pemberton Fish Finder.

Blackwater Lake is idyllic. Serrated peaks loom all around us and under blue sky, the ice is blinding. The air temperature is just below freezing, there’s no wind, and the sun is flirting with the clouds. But for a creek in the distance, the only thing I can hear is my heart beating.

“Australians lose their marbles when they see this,” says Brad. “They ask me, ‘You’re sure we can stand on this?’ I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m 300 pounds, you can stand on this.’”

Brad sets about cutting holes in the ice with a gas-powered auger. He and Matt set us up with rods and we bait the hooks with freshwater shrimp, which are native to the lake. Everyone gets an upturned bright orange bucket and a thermal pad to sit on.

And that’s it, we’re ice fishing.

We immediately get bites. Brad and Matt coach us on setting the hook, otherwise known as the hook-set – a quick upward thrust of the rod before reeling in. One by one though, we lose the bites and rue our bad luck.

“Well there’s a reason it’s called fishing and not catching,” says Brad.

After about an hour, Brad carves out new holes and we spread out. Under his guidance, I switch bait from shrimp to trout roe. Ryan and Matt are several hundred yards away but the air is so still, it’s easy to talk without raising our voices.

A lone whisky jack keeps us company, occasionally stealing a shrimp from the bait bucket, and otherwise mocking us.

A lone whisky jack steals bait and taunts us.

Brad’s been fishing in this region for about 35 years, chasing all five salmon species, plus pike minnows, steelhead, cutthroat, bull, brook, lake and rainbow trout. Together with his dad, Ivan, and his brother, Sheridan, Brad has carved out a living here and now employs his wife in the guiding business while raising three kids.

“There’s not a day I don’t wake up and look at the mountains, excited to go to work,” he says. I can see why. Fish or no fish, Blackwater Lake is quite an office. There’s a small forestry campground nearby with a dozen sites and in summer, lily pads and extensive weed beds flourish here. And somewhere beneath our boots and buckets today are rainbow trout ranging from 10 to 25 inches and weighing as much as six pounds.

Just as I’m beginning to think the shrimp bait looks tasty we decide that it’s lunchtime.

Brad carves pairs of holes a few inches apart and sets up a shelter in seconds. We’re not cold but from inside the shelter the water appears even clearer through holes that take on a luminous quality. “Sometimes you can see the fish before you catch them,” says Brad. For now, we watch our bait descend beyond sight and remain ever hopeful.

No bites but the sandwiches help.

As 2 o’clock nears, Brad suggests we concentrate on a shaded corner of the lake. We exit the shelter and set up one last time, trying to ignore the creeping cold. I start to wonder whether one of us is actually carrying a concealed banana. Then I think back to growing up in the UK. As a schoolboy, I used to accompany friends on night-fishing trips in the Kent countryside. In two years of those fishing trips, I never caught anything but a cider hangover. It occurs to me that not only have I never caught a fish, I’ve never actually seen anyone else catch a fish.

Perhaps I’m cursed?

One rainbow trout, about 10 inches long and just in time for dinner!

I decide not to share this thought with Ryan, and instead concentrate on the hole, which I realize is freezing before my very eyes. Then I’m shaken from my thoughts.

“YEAH!” shouts Brad. I turn just in time to see the rod bend for a moment and a plump rainbow trout flop into Brad’s palm. “No way we were going before we got one,” says Brad as we celebrate the catch. It’s closer to the 10-inch end of the scale and a beautiful looking fish.

Hopeful of more to come we continue fishing for another half an hour, but to no avail. “That’s fishing,” says Brad philosophically as he drops us back in Whistler. Ryan and I both warm up while a friend cooks our catch. It’s more than worth the wait: fresh, flavorful and not even a hint of banana.

nevjudd.com

If you go

For more information about guided ice fishing trips with Pemberton Fish Finder, visit pembertonfishfinder.com.

Do not bring bananas.

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L.A. on two wheels

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Developer Abbot Kinney built the canals of Little Venice in 1905. A few survive today and restoration work in the 90s made Little Venice one of L.A.'s most desireable neighbourhoods.

Developer Abbot Kinney built the canals of Little Venice in 1905. A few of the canals survive today and restoration work in the 90s made Little Venice one of L.A.’s most desirable neighbourhoods.

At the corner of Cynthia Street and North Doheny Drive in Los Angeles stands a bland-looking triplex. With so much architectural extravagance across the road in Beverly Hills, the gated compound at 882 North Doheny is on the West Hollywood side of the street and barely warrants a second look.

Until Erick Martinez tells us to take a second look.

We dismount our bikes and catch our breath. We’ve been following our guide, Erick, mostly uphill from Bikes and Hikes L.A.’s store on Santa Monica Boulevard.

“In 1952, this used to be a five-unit apartment complex with a very famous resident in apartment 3,” says Erick. “Any guesses?”

The Judd family is still catching its collective breath.

“James Dean?” I offer between gasps. “Bette Davis?” guesses my wife, Leah.

“None other than Marilyn Monroe lived here,” says Erick. Turns out she wasn’t the only famous resident because Frank Sinatra lived next door.

Today, the building is on the market for $4.2 million, a modest amount compared to the Carolwood Estate up the road in Holmby Hills. Once owned by Walt Disney, it’s now selling for $92 million.

Bel Air residents don't get angry at intruders, their sculptures do.

Bel Air residents don’t get angry at intruders, their sculptures do.

On a 32-mile (51 kilometres) bicycle tour of Los Angeles, you quickly realize that everything is relative. And everything has a price.

Unsurprisingly for a city synonymous with smog and freeways, L.A. is not known for cycling. One magazine has described it as “a pathologically unfriendly bike city”. My friend Lars, a long-time L.A. resident now living in Canada, offered to rent us a car when he heard of our bike plans. He also wondered whether we were crazy.

But then getting somewhere wasn’t the point. We were on vacation and with just four full days in the city, we were more interested in the journey rather than the destination. Which in L.A. is just as well: several times during our seven-hour ride, we passed gridlocked motorists.

We crossed Sunset Boulevard, stopping briefly to look east at the Whisky a Go Go nightclub, where The Doors, Motley Crüe, and Guns ‘n Roses got their start. A block farther east is the Viper Room, where actor River Phoenix died of drug-induced heart failure in 1993. We cycled west, passing the 31-storey Sierra Towers, where Lindsay Lohan lived for a while after being kicked out of the venerable Chateau Marmont for partying too hard. At least she got out. The Chateau Marmont, built on Sunset Boulevard in 1929, is where actor John Belushi partied even harder and died of a drug overdose in 1982.

You don’t have to scratch L.A.’s surface too hard to find its seedy underbelly, which delivers titillating fodder for Erick’s tour. Even the handsome-looking Greystone Mansion – 55 rooms behind a mock Tudor façade, amid 16 acres of exquisitely manicured gardens – has a scandalous past.

Greystone Mansion - 55 rooms and a murky past.

Greystone Mansion – 55 rooms and a murky past.

Oil tycoon Edward Doheny paid $3 million to have Greystone built for his son Ned in 1928, making it California’s most expensive home at the time. In 1929, four months after he and his family moved in, Ned died in a murder-suicide with his secretary, Hugh Plunket. There are plenty of theories for the tragedy and Erick knows all of them. More memorable for me though was a different tale about a large spotlight mounted on Greystone’s roof. So concerned with security was Ned’s widow Lucy, she had the spotlight mounted as a means to alert Beverly Hills police down the hill in case of intruders. According to Erick, the spotlight later inspired the Bat-Signal used by the Gotham City Police Department.

Today, Greystone is owned by the City of Beverly Hills and is maintained as a park. It’s a glorious place to dismount a bike and wander the grounds, and it’s no surprise to learn that the location appears in dozens of movies, including The Big Lebowski, The Bodyguard, X-Men, and The Social Network.

Erick led us west, stopping briefly to look at homes once owned by Tom Cruise, David Beckham and Lucille Ball, who used to personally answer trick or treaters at the door every Halloween. We cycled past the Bel Air Golf Club, where membership hinges on a tidy $2.1-million fee and approval by the board, and then past UCLA, built in 1919.

Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Brentwood and Westwood all have their share of climbs, but they are quiet, bike-friendly neighbourhoods. And even back on Santa Monica Boulevard, where we headed west to the coast, a dedicated bike lane made for smooth passage.

More hair-raising was cycling the beach path from Santa Monica Pier to Venice Beach (think Stanley Park seawall in summer and directionally challenged pedestrians) where we stopped for a picnic and watched boarders defy gravity in the skateboard park. Inland a few blocks, we lingered at Venice Canals, my favourite part of the tour.

Big hair at the skate park in Venice Beach.

Big hair at the skate park in Venice Beach.

To me, the audacity of attempting to recreating Venice, Italy, almost 10,000 kilometres away in Los Angeles, California, epitomizes the American dream at its eccentric best. Developer Abbot Kinney built the canals in 1905, complete with decorative lights, gondoliers and arched bridges. Promoted at the time as “America’s most unique attraction,” Kinney’s vision of a cultural mecca failed to materialize. Amusement parks and freak shows proved more popular with the locals and the advent of the automobile led to most of the canals being filled in to create roads. The canals are a fraction of their former size, but restoration work in the 1990s has since made the neighbourhood one of L.A.’s most desirable.

We circled Marina del Rey and its seemingly endless flotillas of yachts and speedboats to Ballona Creek. Now entering the seventh hour of our tour and with the December sun setting behind us, we picked up the pace on the Ballona Creek Bike Path. Like the canals of Venice, much of the Ballona Creek corridor succumbed to concrete in the 1930s, with dire results for the area’s wetlands. What’s left of the estuary has been contested by developers and environmentalists for decades. Oblivious to the numerous ongoing court battles over the area, and in spite of being surrounded by dense development, Ballona Creek still supports a wide array of wildlife, including monarch butterflies, and great horned owls.

Twilight on the Ballona Creek Bike Path.

Twilight on the Ballona Creek Bike Path.

On our final leg of the tour, the indefatigable Erick continued to supply us with an impressive array of anecdotes. In Culver City we stopped at the Culver Hotel, whose six storeys made it a “skyscraper” in 1924 when it opened. Legend has it that Charlie Chaplin lost ownership of the place to John Wayne in a game of poker, while in 1939, the hotel was the scene of wild parties thrown by The Wizard of Oz cast, most notably, the Munchkins.

It was dark by the time we returned our bikes to the Bikes and Hikes outlet on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. After nearly seven hours on and off a saddle, I felt tired but elated to have seen and learned so much. I spent weeks in this city during visits as a backpacker in the 1980s. Yet in one day on a bike, I’d discovered more of L.A. than all those trips combined.

  • The L.A. in a day bike tour costs $162 per person, covers 32 miles (51 kilometres), and takes about six hours. Visit bikesandhikesla.com for more details.

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Creature comforters

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SPCA branch manager, Cindy Krapiec, with Chicklet.

SPCA branch manager, Cindy Krapiec, with Chicklet.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

–          Mahatma Gandhi

At three feet tall and 200 pounds, Jiggy is hard to ignore: especially when he’s hungry. He’ll nudge you if you’re in his way and he’ll wag his tail when he’s happy. Only a cruel person would say he waddled. He sashays.

Jiggy is a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, formerly known as Jerry. A while back, Jiggy achieved local notoriety on the Sunshine Coast when the SPCA sought a permanent home for him. That search ended in West Sechelt where Jeri Patterson provides a home for some of the Coast’s unwanted animals.

“Two Jerrys would have been too weird so I renamed him Jiggy, but a lot of people remember him as Jerry,” says Patterson. “He’s considered a farm animal and most rescue properties prohibit farm animals – chickens, pigs, etc. My property is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve so after several foster homes, he came here. Now he’s home!

Jiggy - not a hungry pig to be truffled with.

Jiggy – a hungry pig not to be truffled with.

“All of us want to be made to feel special. Animals are no different.”

Patterson loves animals. Thankfully she’s not the only one who cares. Volunteers up and down the Sunshine Coast care for unwanted animals. Some open their homes, taking in abandoned cats, dogs, bunnies and the like. Others help by knitting toy mice or by raising money via yard sales, recycling, trivia nights and sponsored dog walks. Their work is essential because on the Sunshine Coast, the number of abandoned pets is rising.

It’s a pattern repeated during economic downturns, says Patterson. “When you see food banks so busy you realize that some people are barely able to feed themselves, let alone their animals,” she says. “It’s cheaper to help people keep their pets than to care for them in a shelter.”

In 2013, the local SPCA attended more than 50 investigations of possible animal cruelty, many of them requiring multiple visits. January 2014 has already been record-setting with 13 cruelty investigations. In Gibsons the same month, 37 stray dogs were reported by the district’s animal control officer.

“Thirty-seven strays is a massive amount for a community of 5,000 people,” says SPCA manager Cindy Krapiec. “I think most animal lovers and pet owners are aware of the extent of the problem with unwanted pets, especial through social media, but otherwise people have no idea.”

Happy Cat Haven volunteer, Marcia Timbers - aka The Cat Whisperer.

Happy Cat Haven volunteer, Marcia Timbers – aka The Cat Whisperer.

Together with her three staff, Krapiec run the SPCA in Wilson Creek, fulfilling the organization’s mandate of ‘speaking for animals’ by caring for abandoned creatures, investigating possible cases of cruelty, and educating the public about spaying, neutering and animal care. They receive no money from the government and rely almost entirely on fundraising. Far from being beleaguered though, Krapiec considers herself lucky to have “stumbled into” a job that brings something different every day.

“Even after three years, the learning curve is massive,” she says. “We spend a lot of time speaking with potential adopters, meeting animal owners and following up on cruelty cases. We try to educate first to find a solution. Litigation is a last resort.

“There’s a lot of science-based research to provide the best care for animals and that’s constantly changing, too.”

And then there’s the “never-ending” cleaning at the Solar Road facility, which last year handled 447 animals, including 196 dogs, 178 cats, 17 puppies, 36 kittens and 11 rabbits.

Krapiec acknowledges the extraordinary network of volunteers working alongside the SPCA, from business and community fundraisers to front-line animal rescuers like Clint Davy and the Gibsons Wildlife Rehab Centre, Violet Winegarden and the Happy Cat Haven, and Pam Albers of Pawprints Animal Rescue.

Violet Winegarden in her element at the Happy Cat Haven.

Violet Winegarden in her element at the Happy Cat Haven.

Then there are the veterinarians. “Local vets absorb a ton of cost,” says Krapiec. They are also among the first places she calls when homes are needed for abandoned pets. At the end of the line are people like Meghan Graves.

“I have no shame about calling Meg with a litter of animals,” laughs Krapiec.

Graves is a registered animal health technologist and the office manager at Sechelt Animal Hospital. She’s also vice-chair of the SPCA’s community council, which meets monthly to organize fundraising, community relations, and advocacy. At home with her husband and two young children, she’s fostering two rabbits (in addition to one she owns) in her living room, along with two dogs, Winnie and Gunnar, plus five cats – all abandoned at some point.

“You end up doing stuff like that,” says Graves. “All staff at the clinic fosters or have fostered. It gets very personal. It’s never ending.

“There are not many jobs where you take this kind of work home with you. You stay up all night long. It’s like having a newborn, or multiple newborns.”

As for the family dynamic, Graves admits that Winnie and Gunnar don’t get quite so many walks now she has two young children. “But they get story time now, which they both seem to really enjoy!”

Smooshie refuses to say 'cheese'.

Smooshie refuses to say ‘cheese’.

Violet Winegarden can surely relate to a home full of animals. On a tour of her Gibsons home I lose count of the number of cats but Winegarden – who knows them all by name – estimates there are 55 to 60. Outside there’s an HIV pen for Laredo, Clancy, Blue and Rebecca. In a neighbouring pen are Chamberlain, Whiskers, Tiger and half a dozen more all crowding around Marcia Timbers, a Happy Cat volunteer to whom Winegarden refers as “the cat whisperer”.

“Violet works harder than anyone I know,” says Timbers. “Her phone never stops ringing from people asking advice about spaying or neutering.

“So many people say they just want their cat to have a litter. There’s no reason for a cat to have a litter,” Timbers adds, exasperated.

Inside the home, Winegarden shows me the Seniors Room for cats as old as 26; the Forever Room for sick cats like Bijou, (“27 pounds, fat and happy,” says Winegarden) who are in their final days; and the Adoption Room for healthier cats. In between is the kitchen where two cats take up residence in my camera bag as other cats wander in and out.

Amid the clean litter boxes, medical equipment and bags of cat food I notice a Governor General’s Award hanging on the wall. Since 1992, Winegarden and her band of volunteers have cared for more than 7,000 animals. During that time she’s witnessed the effects of unspeakable acts of cruelty. She’s bonded with countless cats, including one that used to play the piano with her. And with the help of Dr. Justin McLash of the Sunshine Coast Pet Hospital, she’s ensured that cats are spared unnecessary suffering.

black cats

“I can tell when cats are going to die,” she says. “We shouldn’t have to suffer to die.”

At 85, Winegarden continues to rise at 5 each morning for long days of cleaning, caring, fundraising and managing a sanctuary with monthly expenses of $12,000. I’m tempted to ask why, but during the course of a long conversation that afternoon, I don’t have to.

“I think I was born this way,” she laughs. “I’ve been in trouble over animals all my life. I just don’t see animals as any different from us. We’re all the same beings on earth. We’re here to be together.”

It’s hard to imagine one person taking over Violet’s work, just as it’s difficult to contemplate the Sunshine Coast without the SPCA and other pet-rescue organizations. Jeri Patterson knows as well as anyone that SPCAs do close down. After Chilliwack SPCA closed, Patterson, once a resident of Agassiz, got involved with cat and rabbit rescue at her licensed kennel at the request of the municipality’s animal control officer. (Surrey’s SPCA has also closed.) She continues to look after animals from that jurisdiction.

“People need to know this about the SPCA: If you don’t value it, you may lose it.”

  • There are numerous ways to help those helping abandoned animals. Visiting http://www.spca.bc.ca/branches/sunshine-coast/ is a good place to start. So is spaying and neutering your pets. If you witness animal cruelty, call 1-855-622-77221-855-622-7722.
  • Drop off grocery receipts and Canadian Tire money at Happy Cat Haven collection boxes at IGA, Super-Valu and Clayton’s stores. Or drop off cans and bottles for recycling at Happy Cat Haven, 760 School Road, Gibsons, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. Yard sale items can also be dropped off. To volunteer, call 604 886-2407604 886-2407.

Written by nevjudd

April 5, 2014 at 10:10 am