Category Archives: impressions

Helicopter ride over Baffin Island (gallery + videos)

(scroll down for photo gallery + videos)

Aerial view of York Sound during Operation Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner
Aerial view of York Sound during Operation Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner


When the military invites the media for a tour, it’s safe to assume there’s nothing really worth seeing–at least not journalistically.

So when my colleague at Nunatsiaq News told me there was a seat available on a military-chartered helicopter to York Sound, about 175km outside Iqaluit, to visit an encampment set up as part of Operation Nanook–an annual military exercise–I didn’t really jump at the chance.

But I ended up going and it was worth the trip, even though it was excessive, pampered and, from a news perspective, sterile.

The Views, The Pilot

Military-chartered helicopter lands at York Sound Aug. 27, 2014, for a tour of Op Nanook. Photo: Thomas Rohner

At an altitude of 3,000 feet, the bay sparkled beneath, every wave reflecting a shard of sunlight.

“Those waves are as tall as houses down there, don’t fool yourself,” the civilian pilot said over the headset.

Oblong isles of rock and the odd ice floe drifted by beneath.

Back in Iqaluit, before takeoff, the pilot had given us a stark and graphic safety briefing.

“If something horrible like a crash happens, please don’t leave me in the helicopter. Rescue me. Even if my legs are gone, I’m on fire or unconscious—whatever, please save me. I wouldn’t leave you in there. Nobody should be left in the helicopter if we crash, OK?”

He told us where to stand, and where not to stand when the chopper blades were turning, and what the consequences were if we erred.

“I’ve never heard of an injury. You die, that’s all.”

The view from a helicopter en route to York Sound from Iqaluit, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner

He was like a character out of an adventure novel: confident, outgoing, friendly, aggressive and a little lewd.

“They don’t send me places where there’s no mosquitoes, with lots of booze and hookers,” he said of his employers on the way up to York Sound. “They only send me places where there’s  lotsa bugs, no booze and no hookers.”

He was due for some time off, he told us. “I’m going to abuse my liver, that’s what I’m going to do.”


The Camp: bacon and cigarettes

Groups of soldiers loitered throughout the camp, most in groups, huddled together, talking, smoking cigarettes. Three rows of tent–dark green, white and bright orange–extended from where the helicopter landed. Backpacks were piled high in a few spots.

ATVs buzzed around the camp, and there was an almost constant coming-and-going of helicopters and twin otters.

I was surprised to smell bacon.

“They’re our rations,” a search and rescue technician wearing a neon orange jumper told me. “I had a sausage breakfast this morning,”

Tent latrines at Op Nanook, York Sound, 2014: do your business in a bag, deposit bag in blue barrel. Photo: Thomas Rohner

The day before he had parachuted from a helicopter.

I was bored by the interviews and footage the other media personnel were obliged to record for their outlets. I didn’t have the same obligations, so I looked around.

On either side of the cluster of tents, standing 15-20 meters away, were a few booth-like structures, similar in material as the tents.

They looked like port-o-potties, and that’s exactly what they turned out to be. Beside the tent latrines were bright blue, plastic barrels. The latrines use a bag system. You go in a bag, and then put the bag in the barrel.


Rangers: polar bear, caribou, whales

Of the 32 rangers helping out at York Sound, around 30 are Inuit from the Baffin region, one ranger estimated.

Their main job is to carry out predator patrol along the perimeter.

Members of the Baffin region rangers at York Sound, helping out with Op Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner

They’ve seen a few polar bears so far, another ranger told me, including a mother and cub. The bears may have been attracted by the caribou the ranger shot and killed.

“We spread the meat out on the ground, covered it with a tarp so the ravens wouldn’t get it, and it’s still fresh,” he said. “I’ve fed all the rangers with the caribou,” he laughed. A few more caribou have been shot since, which has raised some questions considering there are apparently not that many left on the island.

The rangers drove us down to the beachside on their ATVs, where a tent and small encampment was set up as the command centre for the grounded cruise ship in Op Nanook’s mock emergency scenario, about a kilometer offshore.

The military rep told us that, if we were lucky, we’d see some of the 50 actors hired to feign injury brought back to shore from the cruise ship and up to the triage tents in the main camp. Some of them would even be transported back to the hospital in Iqaluit, she said.

Be all you can be. Or something. York Sound, Operation Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner
Be all you can be. Or something. York Sound, Operation Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner

But we weren’t lucky. It was quiet down on the seashore, a handful of participants in Op Nanook—including a man with a “coroners” armband—mulling around a tent. After a few minutes we rode back up to the camp and piled into the chopper.

If only the media had been invited out to York Sound the previous day, when Stephen Harper visited the camp. We could’ve saved on jet fuel, maybe even asked the PM a question or two.



Harper’s in Iqaluit: so what?

Would it matter if, when Stephen Harper arrives in Iqaluit this week, we just didn’t show up to the photo-ops and PR stints so carefully planned and thoughtfully communicated to the media by his communications team? Would he smile to an empty room, shake hands with phantoms?

Most people know his annual trip to the North is a token gesture, a symbolic visit devoid of real significance. So why do we, especially in the media, still scurry to his events like lap dogs? An event needs an audience, and if the media deprived him of that, what would be left?

Photo by Remy Steinegger, courtesy wikicommons.
Photo by Remy Steinegger, courtesy wikicommons.

The media has grown too dependent on communication officials.

Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman published a propaganda model of media in 1988 predicting that, contrary to popular democratic belief, news media is not independent of power centres in society and actually “mobilize support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity”. The model is, by now, one of the most well-tested and proven models in all of social science.

The model is set up as a series of filters which potential news has to pass through in order to reach the public. Filters like advertisers and capital investment to create news media. One of the filters is a “sourcing bias”.

The sourcing bias is pretty simple: media rely on communications from governments and companies as an authoritative source of news. The resources of governments and companies are far greater than the resources of the media. Media can save money and time by relying on official communications.

The disparity in resources ensures this is an imbalanced relationship. But the imbalance doesn’t end with a sourcing bias; it only begins to explain how the general public, and the media, are kept at an arm’s length—a long go-go-Gadget arm’s length—from meddling in governmental affairs.

A commentary in the Toronto Star by Gregory Thomas earlier this month revealed that the Conservatives are spending over $260-million on communications personnel this year—for core public services alone—which is $48-million more than when they first came into power. In comparison, that amounts to about 80% of the payroll for the House of Commons. And, as Thomas points out, it’s not like communicating with Parliament Hill has gotten any easier under the Conservatives.

Photo courtesy wikicommons. Graffiti in Toronto on Danforth Ave.
Photo courtesy wikicommons. Graffiti in Toronto on Danforth Ave.

“Canadians are seeing a quarter-billion dollars of their money used against them: not to provide them with information, but rather to delay, conceal and spin the information to enhance the image of the party in power,” Thomas wrote in the Star.

Sourcing bias. Excessive spin doctors. And then there’s that nagging accusation that the Conservatives are muzzling scientists.

An article published last week by Postmedia’s Margaret Munro revealed through an Access to Information request—one of the last tools available to journalists asking meaningful questions—that scientists from the Canadian Ice Service, an arm of Environment Canada, were denied their 2012 wish to hold a “strictly factual” media briefing to reveal how ice had disappeared from the Northwest Passage. Their request to have biannual “Media Tech Briefings” so that Canadian media wouldn’t have to rely on American data which were “missing the Canadian details” didn’t make it through the government’s nine-level approval process that ensures their “communication plan”.

“Communication plan.” How quaint.

A communication plan isn’t about communication at all, at least not in the sense of a dialogue. It means communicating with an agenda. There are no direct answers given, so why bother asking direct questions?

Harper doesn’t think an inquiry into the tragic number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women is necessary, for example, because it’s not a “sociological phenomenon”, he said last week while in Whitehorse. “It is crime against innocent people, and it needs to be viewed as such,” Yukon News quoted him as saying.

“No need to fret over the toxic brew that contributes to the many troubles faced by Canada’s aboriginal communities,” Yukon News editor John Thompson wrote in a scathing, impassioned editorial lambasting Harper’s “stupidity”. Thompson listed a few sociological

Photo courtesy wikicommons.
Photo courtesy wikicommons.

aspects that Harper glossed over: high unemployment, substance abuse, overcrowded housing, low education levels and “not to mention the terrible traumas inflicted during residential schools that continue to be passed from one generation to the next.”

More to the point, though, Harper’s not really answering the question: should we have an official inquiry? Instead he’s selling his tough-on-crime shtick. He’s shticking to a communication plan.

Sourcing bias. Excessive spin doctors. Muzzling scientists. Communication shtick.

Just for the exercise, what could Harper be addressing, instead of being wooshed from one venue to the next, handled by handlers whose soft hands see Jergens five times a day and cotton swabs for their cuticles? Just for the exercise…

John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club had some good suggestions in an editorial last week for Troy Media.

He wants to know why the National Energy Board is considering relaxing safety measures it adopted after the Verizon catastrophe in applications it’s currently reviewing from Chevron and Imperial Oil. “Will the PM be talking about drilling safety on this trip through the North?” Bennett asked.

He also wants to know why the scientists from Canadian Ice Service aren’t allowed, as scientists, to inform the public of scientific facts, as scientists.

I’m new to the North and have much to learn about reality and complexity of life up here. There’s a million real questions I imagine people would love to put to Mr. Harper that I don’t know about yet. But Harper’s shtick—shucks, that I’ve seen since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.

If only, Kids in the Hall.



Pearson tarmac, en route to Iqaluit

Pearson tarmac

August 4, 2014



When I left for Austria, Daniel came to the airport with me. Tata had dropped us off. Tata’s always offered a ride to and from the airport. He may not be the most emotionally-accessible father, but he often means well and is consistent and sincere in the help he can think—or is willing—to offer.

“Call me…one time,” he said when dropping me off to fly to BC a few months ago.

“I’ll call you…one time,” I said today when he dropped Alex and I off.


Daniel and I ate at Swiss Chalt while we waited for my flight to Vienna all those years ago. Only four or five years, really, but it feels like a lifetime. Daniel’s dead now. And so is Mama. And now I sit, waiting on the Pearson tarmac, en route to Iqaluit, with a definite purpose, a focus I never had before, though focus isn’t everything. Daniel cried when it was time to say goodbye. That surprised and touched me. I always struggled to recognize and appreciate his sensitivity. I blame it on being a stupid man. I’m pretty sure he paid for Swiss Chalet, because that’s the kind of guy he was.


I’m always the one leaving. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand the grief or sadness at parting. It’s not fair, really. Excitement, novelty and self-serving, egocentric desire is palpable for me when I’m in an airport. But for those I leave behind, an anticipated absence.


Alex held it together today. I almost cired when we were hugging and kissing, saying goodbye. The only other time I almost cried was an hour or two earlier. I was standing in the living room, making sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, when I became aware that I was standing on the exact spot Mama died, in a hospital bed.


Places. Home. Geography. I’ve always struggled with understanding how a place I feel deeply connected to can continue to exist if I’m no longer there to witness it. Egocentric. Existential. Romantic.


We’re all born on one exact spot, and die in one exact spot. I could contemplate that for hours.


I orbit, revolve around places I love, never sure, never certain, that I will return, but maintaining a clear vision of each place. A feeling and a knowing.


In this way people are like places: they can only be in one spot at any one time, and they inspire a knowing, and tether me to the ground, even though my head drifts constantly into the clouds.



Atop Swift Creek Lookout


a joint, a view
a joint, a view

A fear fueled by weed and my urban paranoia—but of bears!—saturates. I sing, I whistle, I bang two rocks together in rhythm. I have no desire to die by a bear’s brute force.

Before hiking up Swift Creek trail I asked the woman at the hardware store about their bear deterrents.

Bear Spray: $39.99

Bear bangers: $29.99 (scare them off with a loud bang)

Machete: $24.99

“You could just get a can, fill it with some marbles if you got some. Rocks’ll do too. Even just a pop can,” she said. “Tie it on your backpack.”

“I feel like the machete might be my best option,” I said.

“I’d hate to be close enough to a bear that I could use a machete.”

“Well, from how far away does the bear spray work?”

swift creek bridge
swift creek bridge

“Depends,” she said. “If you’re downwind…” She trails off, but makes big eyes.

Would I really be aware of the wind’s direction if a bear was close enough—advancing on me, teeth bared, claws at the ready—to use bear spray?

A few weeks ago, the paper reported a grizzly attack near Jasper. The grizzly attacked a hiker, who had curled into the fetal position, only to bite into a can of bear spray in a pocket of his backpack. The hiker was suspended above the ground, his backpack in the mouth of the grizzly, at the time. The bear dropped the hiker and ran off. The punctured aerosol can leaked the remaining liquid onto the hiker, burning his skin. He jumped into a river. So the story goes.

I used to tell people I had a “feeling” I would die fighting off a bear. I spent a lot of time in nature, growing up and in my adolescence, and a lot of that by myself. Besides, I’d just finished reading Song of Myself and Thoreau.

“People have seen a grizzly up there,” the woman at the hardware store said. “And there’s definitely a black bear up there.”

“Were there any cubs?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Some people say to wear a bell on your backpack, like a dinner bell…”

“Ya that’d scare them…”

“…that way they know where dinner is.” A broad smile, and big eyes again as if to say, I’m kinda joking. KINDA joking!

My solution: a battery-powered radio. Preferably with a tape deck or CD player for more variety. A buffer of safety created by noise. So that I can enjoy the view. And my joint. And do some writing or reading. Next time.

pondering bear
pondering bear

A story for Daniel

Going back to Prince George, and visiting the UNBC campus, evoked strong emotions for me. How could I separate the place from Daniel? How could I forget the youthful excitement we shared in coming out here in 2001? Seeing the Rockies for the first time; moving away from Toronto for the first time; flexing our newfound freedom from high school and Etobicoke; the world seemed like such a big place then with endless possibility.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in reflecting on the two days that I spent there this week. So to keep things simple, I’ll relate the experience through a story I know Daniel would’ve been entertained by.

I drove there with Andru, the mayor, and Laura, the newspaper owner; my roommates. The 4-hour drive was spectacular, winding along the Valley floor with the Rockies on one side and the Caribou Mountains on the other. The weather alternated brilliant sunshine with sudden downpours, leaving a trail of arcing rainbows in the rear view mirror. We saw black bears and deer too. We stopped at an ancient rain forest along the way, where a newly constructed boardwalk lead through towering cedars that twisted awkwardly into the sky. I felt like I was in a cartoon where the world was enormous and I was miniature. Daniel and I saw similar trees when we went camping out on the coast near Kitimat.

We got into Prince George around 9:30pm. Andru had to go to a Regional District meeting the next day, and Laura wanted to pick up her car from the mechanic, which had been nearly totalled by a run-in with a moose two months before. Laura and I were going to crash in Andru’s hotel room, but before going to the hotel Andru wanted to stop at a bar where a friend of his—and somewhat of a musical legend in Valemount, especially with my roommates—was hosting an open mic. After a few beers we were ready to leave. But when Andru phoned the hotel to let them know we were coming, he was told his room had been sold because he didn’t confirm earlier. We had nowhere to sleep.

Andru’s friend hosting the open mic, Raghu, offered to let us crash at his place. He lived with his partner and her child. Back at Raghu’s we sat outside on his back deck and smoked a joint. The conversation was immediately easy and edgy and intellectual and funny.

“That flag over the roof there is from the Sikh Temple.”

“Is that a sickle on it?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Maybe it’s a turban, that’d be more appropriate.”

“Or a bomb. Sorry, that’s not right.”

I zoned out for a bit, and when I came back Raghu was talking about Shiva. I listened intently and then said, “I can’t even wrap my head around all of the characters in the religion that I grew up with. I can barely begin to with other religions. Say Archangel Michael. Was he good? Bad? Rebel?”

Converation turned to Greek mythology.

“Theseus was interesting. They say his story is an allegory for the birth of language.”

“But what’s a speed belt gotta do with it?”, Laura asked.

“Nothing,” we all said.

“No, but how does it compare to a speed belt?”

“It doesn’t, only in your head,” we said.

Laura wasn’t even stoned.

When I lay down on the inflatable mattress in the spare room stuffed with bookshelves and a little girl’s paraphernalia, I noted that this was certainly not a hotel bed. Andru and Raghu had spent 15 minutes pumping the mattress up with a foot pump, except they used their hands trying, in vain, to mute the squeaky, farty sounds from waking up Leah, the little girl. I slept alright, considering every time I moved a muscle I was woken up by the sound of twisting latex.

The next day Laura and I spent an hour on the campus of UNBC. Among the stories that Daniel and I used to tell when we waxed nostalgic about that time:

-we had the idea of setting up a business in our residence room offering home-cooked meals to poor, malnourished students. We did a few trial meals for some friends, but that was about it.

-we’d test each other’s tolerance for mould and filth. One time Daniel left a pot of rice on the stove in the kitchen for weeks if not months. Green and grey and turquoise fluffy mould started poking over the edge of the pot. Eventually Daniel just threw the whole pot out. I clogged the toilet one time and it stayed that way for days. Man Daniel hated me for that for a while.

-we signed up for a natural resource class that promised wilderness first aid and survival skills. The class was a bust. Our field trips were cancelled because of a cougar in the area. And our teacher was a master’s student who couldn’t get his grammar in order on the exams.


An uneasy emotional premonition. Self-chastisement for giving in to the irrational, as though I had a choice. What is a place? I’ve learned it can change by unrelated events in a time removed. Suddenly a place can don the cloak of significance never imagined and unwanted.

Small town politics aren’t so different, sadly


“Thanks for breaking my balls,” the mayor said to me when I came home for lunch.  He cracked a smile. “Nah, It was a good article.”


Things had been tense for the past week or two while I worked on a story about an accident on an unsafe accessibility ramp at the local community hall—owned and operated by the Village—that left a 98-year-old man and a pregnant woman injured. The tension was mostly in my own my mind, but not entirely.


Email communication I had with the Mayor’s office and other Village staff in researching the story was chafing me.  It had been convoluted and difficult.  And the complications of living with the Mayor, being friendly with Village staff on the streets, bumping into them in the most informal of settings like the grocery store or coffee shop, was starkly contrasted with the inaccessibility and formality of official correspondence.


For example: I had emailed the building inspector and public works officer at the Village requesting interviews to cover this story. I got an email reply from the Chief Administrative Officer saying that all media requests went through the mayor, “his Worship”. Balking at the formality, I wrote an ironically formal email to the Mayor with the same interview requests. That irony was lost, though, as the mayor didn’t respond, and then the weekend was upon us.  He avoided the topic when I saw him at “home”, so finally on Sunday night I asked him what the status of my interview requests were. He told me the CAO was going to handle it after all. So on Monday I emailed the CAO asking when I could have an interview. She had forgotten to send me an email the Mayor sent her before the weekend in response to my questions. She had vetted the email, added some comments (who knows what other edits) and then forwarded it to me.


My initial response was akin to rage.  Could an interview request really be satisfied by an officially vetted email response?  If physical interaction can be made obsolete between journalists and interview subjects then journalism fails. I was angry at the Mayor, who used to run his own newspaper because it was a “great way to stir up shit”, for not acknowledging the journalistic principle at stake here. I was angry at myself for assuming that communication between media and municipal officials in a small town would be more straightforward and honest, not like the antagonistic and cynical rapport between media and municipal officials in Toronto.  And I was disillusioned with the CAO who I thought was a very sweet person on the few occasions I’d met her, and now had no choice but to view her kindness as a façade behind which she operated, foremost, as a bureaucrat.  The kind, sincere bureaucrat is a journalist’s formidable foe.


But whenever I have a strong emotional reaction to a situation, and especially when righteousness is involved, layers are revealed with time and the simple, strong conviction I first felt is burdened and enlightened with context.


“I’ve been making a documentary about my fall into politics,” the Mayor said to me on the night after my story was published.  He had been working on a documentary in private for the past few years, chronicling his transition from media into politics, which he obviously had a guilty conscience about.  In an honest attempt to be a good politician, and probably to mitigate the guilt, he was reading books on non-violence, Abraham Lincoln and diplomacy.  “Maybe you can help me with the documentary. We have to get you comfortable in front of a camera,” the Mayor said.  Unlikely, but I appreciated the Mayor’s candor and personability, despite the constraints and challenges in mixing formal and informal life.


In fact it inspired me to wax idealistic.  This antagonism between media and politics is unnecessary, I said.  And this situation of living with you, the mayor, in a small community was a perfect situation to prove that. What it boiled down to, I said, was being conscious of communication.  The influences that made us react defensively or offensively found controlled but unacknowledged outlet in “formal” communication.  We could hide behind the facades of our professionalism. The structures in place not only made that possible, but encouraged it; in fact nearly dictate that we nurture an antagonistic rapport. But if we committed ourselves to monitoring those defensive and aggressive reactions in our communication, which are emotionally based, we could define a new type of relationship between media and politician.


I’m not sure anything will come of those ideals, or even if they’ve been formulated and articulated carefully enough to be true. But in trying to navigate the complicated boundaries between reporting on municipal affairs and living with the mayor, two of his often-expressed sentiments come to mind: government can’t please everybody and shouldn’t try to, on the one hand, and the insecurity of what people are thinking about him on the other.  He has good intentions and noble ideals and his attempt to bring those to office is inspiring. But his desire to appear honest and his conviction in communicating honestly leaves something to be desired. And without an ongoing, frank dialogue on motivations, that discrepancy will only become entrenched. The best way to appear honest, after all, is, simply, to be honest.


A stoned moment: my view from the bleachers

I took a joint to enjoy the sunset with me and this was my view.  One of the local baseball diamonds, close to where a cougar was seen.

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

It’s gotta be one of the prettiest on the planet.

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Before this joint, a few days ago, I found a roach sitting on top of a garbage can outside the back entrance of the hotel, and I took it.  It was sitting on top of the can. But I feel the stigma. I’m on par with George Constanza, who swore the eclairs was sitting on top of the garbage pile.

Turns out potheads in BC aren’t hard to find. Go figure.  I love when stereotypes prove true.

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset

Valemount, Valemount sunset, Robson Valley, Robson Valley sunset, rocky mountains, rocky mountain sunset
looking down the third base line into left field.

Amish and Asian Invasion at the Best Western, Valemount

Last night was my last shift as porter at the Hotel.  Thank God.

The job itself is excruciatingly boring.  Most of the time I’d wander the generic corridors of the hotel, judging the generic artwork hanging on the walls, trying to think up ways of killing time.  The highlight of my 7-hour shift was usually picking up cigarette butts and garbage around the premises, because that way I could at least be outdoors and get lost in thought with the mountains as my witness.

On my last porter shift the hotel was at capacity, filled mostly with two busloads: one of Asian tourists (that cliché is internationally known btw) and one of Amish folks from Ohio.  The Asians arrived first, and there must have been at least a hundred in the hotel lobby for over an hour.  They pillaged the free coffee and hot beverage dispenser that, as porter, is my responsibility to keep fully stocked. There was a line up at the free beverage dispenser for at least 30 minutes.

The Amish were no less gleeful with the free drinks.  I had to restock the beverage dispenser three times in the course of my shift.  And in keeping with stereotypes, I had to instruct a number of the Amish on how operate the gratis technology.  According to a CNN story, most Amish groups from the midwest don’t reject technology outright, but on a case-by-case basis, often after negative consequences are learned.  Nonetheless, it was, well a spectacle to see 80 or 90 Amish men and women and children, in gender-specific uniforms, the men with long, scraggly, moustache-less beards and rather bow-legged, and the women in plain, starched dresses and little white bonnets covering their buns (hair, that is).  I was genuinely curious to see them interacting with or even simply walking by the regular tourists the hotel sees:  travelers from Alberta, environmental assessment contractors and, yes, the Asians.

But, thankfully, I won’t have to kill time doing that job at the hotel any more.  On Sunday the delivery and subscription and billing boy at the Goat quit. So starting immediately I’ll be able to work 25-30 hours at The Goat doing newspaper-related businesses-side shit, and spend the rest of my time doing investigative stuff.  It’s not ideal; I’d rather be able to focus on the investigative stuff entirely.  But at least I’ll be learning more about the day-to-day operations of a newspaper, and (imagine) actually getting paid for it.

The best part of the portering experience was meeting Ron, the 5-day-a-week porter who trained me for 14 hours.  Porter training does not require 14 hours, rather it requires learning how to kill time so Ron and I talked a lot and perfected a leisurely gait.  Ron’s somewhere in his 50s and is fighting a relapse into cancer.  He has a real calm and thoughtful, even Zen, demeanour.  Everything he showed me on the job—whether it was changing the garbage, restocking the beverage dispenser or stocking the pool with towels—he had a methodical and exact way of doing it and, inadvertently, would insist I do it exactly like him.  He had developed a pretty logical system for doing every aspect of one of the most boring jobs I’ve ever had (“I always told my kids,” Ron said to me one shift when I was complaining, “that being bored’s a waste of time”).   Sometime towards the beginning of my first training shift with Ron he told me that he doesn’t have TV or a computer or the internet; that he spends most of his time reading.  I knew I’d like Ron from that point on.  We spent the rest of my first training shift talking about books and authors and the meaning of life.

It’s 9, by the way. The meaning of life is 9.

Media swag from our friends at Trans Mountain Pipeline

swag from our friends at Trans Mountain Pipeline
swag from our friends at Trans Mountain Pipeline
media swag from Trans Mountain Pipeline put into context
media swag from Trans Mountain Pipeline put into context

The Rocky Mountain Goat office got a media package from their friends in the Trans Mountain Pipeline media team last week.  A letter explaining how they’re making it easier for media to access information accompanied three sets of nifty sunglasses (made, probably, from petroleum products as most plastics are).


I haven’t been able to bring myself to wear these shades yet, despite needing a pair and having to constantly squint against the bright sun reflecting off the glaciers and snow-peaked mountains.  As I pondered the appropriate context to receive this gift in, another story came to mind.


Recently, the newly hired associate editor of RMG news received an email from the Trans Morgan public engagement team. She was a select invite to attend an information gathering session at the local Best Western. Clad in matching green velvet blazers, the lucky 12 invitees were fed a buffet dinner, with desert, before being asked for their input.  The associate editor wrote an editorial on the meeting, noting that any information they asked for was framed for them in appropriate forms of response.  One of the TM employees at the meeting confirmed that what they were looking for was “categorical comments” to provide “high level information” to those with a vested interest in the pipeline project.


And then it hit me. The perfect context to receive this gift in was to produce images like the one on this post.  My only lament is that I couldn’t find a fresher, steamier pile of shit.