From Loon Lake Road – Crunching snow, dancing birds and internet

Barbara Hendricks monthly column of community news and events in Loon Lake.

No retreat from the cold

Cold enough for you this winter? Canadians talk about the weather a lot and this winter has been no exception. The storms and power outages in Toronto and Atlantic Canada around Christmas time and early January prompted some people living on the west coast to flaunt their palm trees and golfing dates on social media and suggest that smart Canadians choose to live in lower mainland BC.

Well, after the cold that has covered most of BC in early February, I wonder just how many of those much bragged about palms and other tender plants in the Vancouver area will be anything other than brown compost come spring. Minus 10 Celsius is a bit rough on palm trees. On Feb. 6 the thermometer measured -28 degrees C at my house. It would not have broken any records if records had been kept, but it was cold enough to freeze the nose hairs. February 21 marks the 125th consecutive day with snow on the ground in my yard – it has been a long winter.

The sounds of winter

What has intrigued me this winter has been the sound of the ice and snow. At -24 C the snow was making very audible, squealing protests as I walked on the packed snow paths. At -28 the sound became considerably louder – and the tires of a vehicle slowly moving over the driveway made so much noise that it drown out voices speaking at regular pitch.

Noisy snow, imagine it squealing because it is being walked on. And yet – when the snow first fell in November- what was remarkable at that time was the silencing effect of the snow. So why does snow sometimes create that great white quiet and other times snow is so noisy that you can’t hear yourself think?

Scientists say it has to do with the differing characteristics of the snow at different temperatures and times. Light fluffy snow falling at temperatures around -5 C accumulates with a lot of air pockets in between the flakes and thus acts as a silencer blanket as the snow reduces vibration and sound transmission. Walking on snow in these temperatures is quite quiet as there is still a very thin film of water that serves as a lubricant between the snow crystals. When it gets much colder and the snow has been around for some time so the air pockets have been reduced, then snow gets noisy as any pressure on it, like a person walking, is actually breaking up the ice crystals and the bonds between the ice grains – thus the crunch, knirk, scrunch and squeak when walking.

I found the following comment on the web “Snow squeaks ‘cause of frigits.” I never thought breaking up ice crystals could be so noisy. Isn’t nature fascinating?

Mating dance doesn’t impress

Mid month brought the Great Backyard Bird Count. During my observation period I was greeted by a male ruffed grouse in full display – and he was very impressive, however the hen just kept pecking away at the food and wasn’t so interested in all the fuss and preening. It seemed somewhat early for any spring courtship displays but it was Valentine’s Day so maybe he was just showing off. Large flocks of pine siskins are feeding on the bumper crop of cones in the spruce tree tops and they must be finding lots there because they are not interested in the bird feeders. I can also hear the Pine Grosbeaks up in the tree tops. The year’s first male redwing blackbird arrived in time for the count, arriving on the 17th.

What’s my name?

As of Feb. 20, 12,340 Canadians had submitted counts to the GBBC recording 234 different species of birds – a record number from Canada.

Submitting the results of my count this year was an exercise in frustration. As I had entered my numbers last year I was asked at the website to sign in using the user name and password I used last year – and of course I could not remember it and couldn’t find it in the papers from last year.

This whole computer security is really getting to be quite troublesome. The experts suggest you make a unique user name and password for every site to reduce the likelihood of a serious invasion of your computer – but how in the world can they expect ordinary people to keep track of all of them when just about every site demands that you sign in? I can remember those I use frequently but not one I used once last year.

The information from the count helps scientists improve the knowledge about bird locations and estimated number of the population.

Rural mobile services

On the TNRD front, the board has written a letter to the federal government requesting that there be improved mobile communication possibilities in the rural areas in connection with their recent $5.27 billion auction of wireless spectrum.

In principle it is a good move – we need better communication services, and they could have asked for better landline services at the same time.

Don’t hold your breath for that however. The major communication providers are already getting millions of dollars of government subsidies to service rural and northern areas and they have certainly not used the money to improve services. This past month landline phones along Loon Lake Road were working on and off- it seems almost like some kind of game was being played – now it’s working…now it’s not.

The new wireless spectrum owner in BC is Vidèotron, owned by Quebecor and there is a big question whether they will develop a system in BC or just hold onto the license and eventually sell it to someone else; whatever happens you can be sure it won’t be at a reasonable price for rural users.

The federal government has also given huge subsidies to high speed internet companies to provide improved services in rural areas and yet all the companies are offering is very expensive satellite service with little capacity. It is well known that rural users pay three to five times as much for poorer quality internet services than do users in towns.

I think it’s time for the TNRD to do more than just write a nice letter to the federal government. The recent development in the town of Olds in Alberta, for example, shows just how a community can change and the economy improve when good broadband service is available to schools, businesses and private homes.

Toxic fish

Ice fishing is a popular activity right now with Loon Lake Road residents and those fish sure taste good.

I saw a government ad recently which just floored me. It was a fish on a weigh scale and the ad read: “Trimming fat off fish cuts down on dangerous toxins. A Government of Canada tip on how to keep your family healthy and safe.”

The audacity of it – the government cuts all research programmes and environmental regulations and monitoring, won’t let research scientists speak freely and has destroyed research documents from past years… It has reduced or eliminated means that would contribute toward keeping water clean and reducing the amount of toxins that accumulate in fish and then it spends money advertising to people that the government of Canada is keeping them safe and healthy by telling them to cut the fat off the fish!!!

They should be making sure our water is free of pollutants and that fish are safe to eat. And who is checking and reporting on radiation in fish from the northern Pacific these days?

We all have heard about ongoing federal government ads for programmes that don’t exist or were stopped years ago. Now they are spending huge sums of money to tell us we can just cut the toxins off before eating fish and in that way they are keeping us safe and healthy. I know where I’d like to see some fat eliminated.

Barbara Hendricks

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