Canada, we are back!


Aug. 21-22
It was rainy the morning we left the Heil's at White Bear Lake, MN to go East.  Today, we wanted to push as far as possible beyond Chicago.  All was good until we neared the vicinity of this mega-city.  It seemed all roads lead to Chicago, and all roads collect tolls.  Although each toll station collected a quarter here, thirty-five center there, they add up.  When we reached Gary, Indiana,we have used up all coins. 
We overnighted in Economy Inn in Brenton Harbor, Michigan.  So, today, we touched the grounds of five states:Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.  We also learned that Lake Michigan is surrounded by four states: Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.  Good lessons in geography, eh?!
 August 22.  We drove across Michigan.  The only place we intended to visit on the way is Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. 


I visited this museum about twenty years ago and would like Din-sue to see it, too.  Much has changed--at least the place was very different from what I remembered.  And, to be honest, I am rather disappointed.  I remembered it as a museum for the automotive industry as witnessed by the life and work of Henry Ford.  The place is vast for sure. As we had only  about two hours to spare, a volunteer suggested that we focus on the major hall.  In the major exhibition hall, we saw a hodge-podge of many things on display occupying different corners and sections of the huge hall, including the key moments of civil rights movement  and the chair on which President Lincoln was sitting on when he was shot in the Ford Theater.  By the way, is that Ford Theater in any way related to the Ford family of Dearborn?

Canada--we are back!

Shortly after leaving Ford Museum, we managed to went on the Ambassador Bridge which leads us back into Canada.  There is a CD$4 toll for crossing this international connection.  This bridge looks new and elegant.  Is this why this rather high charge for crossing?

Point Pelee National Park

The highlight for today is Point Pelee National Park, about 20 minutes from Leamington.  We checked in to a Sun Parlor Motel on the no. 3 road and hurried to the National Park.  This park is unique because it is the smallest of Canadian National Parks and the southern most point of Canada.  It is very popular partly because of its easy access, and mostly because of its rich offering. 
Only a third of this park is dry land, the rest are marshland and sand dunes. 

When we entered the park, the cloud was hanging low and threatening rain.    Supposedly, this is a great spot for birding as both the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways cross over here.  But the only wild animal we saw were a few wild turkeys which wandered onto the road.  Perhaps this is not the right season.  Not the right time.   Oh well ....


Old Friends in the Twin Cities


Aug 13-20

The Firchow's new home is in Bloomington, just south of Minneapolis, right on the edge of a golf course.   They spent a few months to make the apartment wheelchair ready before moving in.   But Peter only got to enjoy it for about half a year.  For Evelyn this place is ideal because she loves the manicured grass and the large oak trees standing  in front of her window.  And the pools and sauna just down in the basement.  This served as our base camp during our visits with old friends in the area.

I first came to Minneapolis in 1974 to study in U of Minn.  Some of the precious friendship started then and has lasted for 35 years!  And we were very lucky to be able to visit many of them:

Visiting old friends brought back so much precious feelings!  While age never was mentioned in any of our visits, it is just amazing to count the years that have gone by and see how the new generations have been growing.  When I think about how these friendship has developed through the years, a powerful sense of gratitude fills our hearts.  Thank you, friends, for being such friends in the stream of time!


Happenings in and around Fircove


[August 2-13]

We cross the border and entered the US at 10:10AM.  It was Sunday morning, and we were the only travelers on the road.  Although Canada is a petroleum producing nation, gasoline is about 35% cheaper cross the border.  And the road condition was good.  the rolling hills in the northern part of North Dakota were very beautiful.  All these contributed to a very good driving experience.

Lake Ojibway, at last!

We arrived at Fircove on Lake Ojibway at around 7 PM Central Time. It was four years ago that  we came here last and stayed for a couple of weeks.  At the time, they had just expanded the cabin to accommodate the requirements of two very diligent and productive professors as they would like to spend more time up here.  Sadly, Peter passed away, totally unexpectedly, last October, and Evelyn had great difficulty facing the world without him.

Evelyn looked very thin, but she said she is already re-gaining her weight.  For months after Peter's sudden death, she could hardly eat.  A few  times she even felt that she could not make it.  Being able to come out here has been helpful because they both loved the place dearly and she felt life slowly return. 

For us, Fircove has always been a warm place of friendship and good time.  But Fircove without Peter takes some getting used to.  So much was amiss--no more home made pancake for breakfast, no more zazziki for lunch, no more witty conversations over whatever, no more spontaneous laughters.   And the physical presence of the 6'3" Peter.  The house felt so much more spacious and quiet.

But we managed.  We talked, cooked, visited with neighbors,  picked mushroom and raspberry, and enjoyed the rich offerings of this lovely place. 

The dreamy Lake Ojibway

A fishing boat is merged into the picturesque lake

Stones for Peter 

One major task for this summer is to search for a piece of stone suitable for a memorial for Peter.  Even though Peter left rather unexpectedly, Evelyn was not totally without a clue as to Peter's preferred way of "burial".  Peter's ash was scattered around the "Philosopher's Walk",  the picnic area overlooking the lake.  But Evelyn would like to put a stone there with their names and years engraved so that those who inherit this land and lake will know the first settlers of this lovely Fircove.  This stone, naturally, ought to come from their land. 

In the many summers they were up here together, they walked every inch of trail in the woods which they claimed their own.  They rested on the few big stones that left behind by the last glacier to watch all that were there to watch.  Since Peter had his back surgery in 2005 and had not been able to do much in the woods, grass and bushes have grown back on  the more remote trails.   A higher-clearance vehicle is necessary to get through those trails.  So, Evelyn enlisted Joe for help.

Joe and Kay Knuth is a lovely couple that the Firchows befriended.  Joe used to be a mason and knew his trade well.   He came in his grand Ford Explorer at around 10 AM.   We all went along.  Slowly he drove uphill, following Evelyn's directions.  We stopped at every stone of good size, sometimes getting off the car and waded through the grass further into the woods.  Joe would offer his suggestion as to the approximate size, weight and appropriateness for the use.  Altogether, there are three candidates.  Din-sue suggested that all three be taken and placed at proper places: one for the memorial, one for the entrance from the main road and the third for the small road which fork into the cabin.  So it is decided, and Joe will help get the people with the equipment to move the stones and arrange for the engraving later.

A Busy Sunday of Many Visits

Evelyn's old butcher, the Meyers, were celebrating their golden wedding anniversary and invited everybody in town to a reception after the Sunday Mass at Our Lady of the Pines Catholic Church. More than a hundred guests gathered for the festive occasion.  Fr. Duane Pribula, noticing that we were new to the Church, enthusiastically showed us around and explained to us the tempura icon of "Our Lady of the Pines".  Learning that Evelyn was still paining from the traumatic loss of Peter, he further offered to show us to some interesting spots in the area that very afternoon.

Our Lady of the Pines, an icon by Mary Charles McGough, OSB

He arrived at about 4PM, in casual shorts.  We sat  in the porch and chatted a little before leaving in his car. He drove north to the vicinity of Lake George. The first stop was a campground whose entrance was a tiny cabin with a beautiful plaque "Sergent Andrew Nelson, Welcome Center".

It turned out that Andrew is Fr. Duane's 22 year old nephew who served in Iraq and was killed just recently.  He was an eagle scout and loved outdoor activities.  His family donated this welcome center in memory of him and everything he loved.

Next we went to Camp Courage North, a large camping ground "where abilities, disabilities become possibilities".  The vast land on the lake was a gift from the Deubener Family.  Deubener made his fortune from the patent of shopping bags.   By putting handles on regular paper bags for groceries, his invention brought new convenience into shopping.  After his death, this piece land was given to a foundation for the disabled.  Now, Tom and Mimi Fogarty are full time managers of this camp.  In the summer months, there are various programs for people with different challenges to come to play, to learn and to grow.  The rest of the year, they are busy raising funds and prepare for an even better next season.

Courage North
     Tom Forgarty: 888-276-3611; Box 1626 Lake George, MN 56458
tom.fogarty@courage.org;   http://www.courage.org

Although it was getting dark, Dr. Duane had one more place to show.  After many turns, we came to cabin still under construction.  This small lot is on a steep slope overlooking one end corner of Lake George.  This will be a retreat cabin for women, max capacity: eight persons.  In the deepening dusk, we could see the more or less finished chapel and the 13 stations of road of passion winding up the slope.  This is again a donation from a successful local son who ran a successful business.

A scene of tranquility--a great plus for the retreat cabin

Our Last Few Days in Fircove

Before leaving for the city on Aug 13,  the cabin should be cleaned, the boat taken in, and all food properly stored or packed.  Evelyn had her regular helps for cleaning and yard work. We helped with all other chores.  One morning, without expecting it, Joe showed up in the front door, holding a beautiful wild blueberry cheesecake.  They had hand picked the berries and Kay made it.  And it was delicious--the best blueberry cheesecake I ever tasted.   Farmed berries just don't have that refreshing flavor!  And of course, the cake was gone in just one sitting!

The best blueberry cheese cake there is!

Kay Knuth is very creative.  When they were still running a gas station in a nearby town, Kay would bake a few cheese cakes and pies for sale everyday.  She used no recipe; she just knew what makes the food taste right.  She also makes beautiful quilts.  She gave two cutest baby quilts for Evelyn's grand daughter who is due late in August.  And, we later learned that she has already made a quilt covering for every bed in the retreat cabin that we visited.  Wow!  Apparently she also has a heart of gold!  Before we go, Joe brought us another surprise from Kay--a beautiful Bargello quilt!  It is such a precious gift that we will treasure it and find a good spot to show it.

Bargello Quilt by Kay Knuth

Neighbors got to know that  Evelyn would be leaving and began to drop by.  The dining room with the million bucks view is naturally the spot for chatting.  Fircove has not seen so many guests the whole summer!

Evelyn just loves it  here, calling it "the good life in the backwoods."  We have also grown to like the simple life and the good people here.  Good bye!  Fircove--until next time!


A Day on the Canadian Prairie


[August 1, 2009]

Today is a day for driving on Canadian prairie .  Many fear the monotony of driving across the prairie.  But that didn't seem to bother us.  We were just happy to move along smoothly with clear blue sky above and wide open fields guiding our sights.  And there are surprises, too.

Chaplin Lake
 Midway between Swift Current and Moose Jaw is a small town named Chaplin, population 300.   Nearby is a Chaplin Lake. It is not very large, only 15,000 acres.  But it is not your ordinary lake.  It is a sodium sulfate mine.  A processing plant sits right by the side, with the white stuff piling high.

Although far from any sea, this saline water body is a rich feeding ground for migrating seabirds.  So essential is this a rest spot for the birds, it is designated Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve.  More than thirty kinds of shorebirds were recorded here.  Each year, tens of thousands of birds re-fill and recuperate here.  So this is an important birding spot.  The Nature Center also doubles  as a visitor center, with some very good displays of birding information.  Shorebird watching in the middle of Prairie!  Imagine that!  Webpage for Chapline Nature Center

The Noisy Woodlawn Campground

Tonight we camp in the Woodlawn Park, in the south of Estevan, Saskatchewan.   Located on Highway 47, this spot is less than 15 km to the border.   We were able to get in tonight because there was an RV cancellation.  Obviously, this is a popular spot.  And indeed, the place is packed, much reminiscent of camping ground in Taiwan.  The ground surface were uneven, even bumpy, due to the heavy  RV.Our site is considered a good one because a stream flowed by it.  All facilities looked very much in need of repair.   And the most incredible is the noise --kids laughter and scream, radio playing, people partying well into the night.  Is there any management in this site? 


Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park


July 31, 2009
The rain finally stopped at around 8 AM.  We shook the water off the tent, packed  and took off. As the cloud was still hanging low, we decided skip Banff and head directly for Elkwater, Alberta, our destination for camping tonight.

Cypress Hills

We chose this place because we learned that this hill, elevation 1,466 meters, is the highest point East of the Canadian Rockies, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.  Its nearest town is Elkwater, just 40some kilometers east of Medicine Hat. We turned onto Highway 41 from Highway 1, going south.  This is a very quiet road--all along the way, we hardly saw any town, any human, even cows and hay bales were sparse. 

After about half an hour we saw a good sized lake, tucked away in the bend of some rolling hills and Elkwater is hidden in a wooded area in a bend.    This quaint little town, population 107, is like an oasis in this wide stretch of prairie.  Though attractive, we did not stop in the town because we would like to get to the campground first.   Camping in this provincial park  is $22 per night, reservation is additional $10.  As we were not familiar with the camping situation here, we felt the reservation can help avoid some possible mishap such as not having
 a place to stay overnight.

The camping site is quite crowded.  We were surrounded on three sides by large RVs.  Luckily our four person tent is tall enough that we didn't feel too diminished.  Our concern, though, is that the noise from the generators and air-conditioners of the RVs will take away the quietness of nights which we so treasure on camping.  Actually, I almost has an aversion against RV because it is equivalent to carrying your bedroom, kitchen and washroom on wheels--in the name of convenience.  It is not just a question of the cost of energy.  There is a moral element in this phenomenon.   Here, on this campground, we had our first sad realization that RVs are taking over the camping.  Later, we find again and again,RVs are in.  Roll over, tents!

Lost?Just ask Fred and Cathy

After super, we went to the Visitor Center to fetch whatever information we could about the area.  The Center was already closed but area maps were available for picking up.  As we tried to figure out our where to turn to head for Reesar Lake, an SUV behind us pulled up and a bearded man came to us, said, "You look lost, maybe we can help you out."  That's how we met Fred and Cathy.  They both love the area so much that they camp around Reesar Lake during the summer months and volunteer as Cypress Hills Park Watch.   Happily, we followed them.  When we came to a outlook point up on a plateau, he stopped and began to explain to us the special features of the area.

"Glacier never covered this area,"he said, "and due to a caprock which protected this land from erosion, this plateau is high as it is." "Although this area doesn't look very high, the township of Elkwater has higher elevation than the township of Banff." We can detect a sense of pride in his voice and, indeed, this fact would strike most people as extraordinary. 

Project Black Sky 

Another interesting character of this area is its darkness.  The light pollution in this area is so minimum that  this area is ideal of star gazing.   Some nights, one can even see satellite with bare eyes.  It's included in NASA's "Black Sky" project.  And in 2004, this park area is declared "Dark-sky Preserve".  Not far from the outlook point is a star watching station.  Star buffs would lie flat on the picnic benches there and count the stars they observe.  In wintry nights, one even see aurora borealis here.  This really sounds tempting!  To see northern lights in such low latitude is worth trying!

After we left the lovely couple, we checked out the star watching station.  It's fenced in so animals would not get in to cause injuries. When we arrived, the sun was setting and extreme quietness surrounded us.  On the Southeastern sky hung a half moon, pale against the darkening blue sky, so peaceful, so elegant.  We took all these in, in silence.

Sunset at Horse Shoe Canyon

On the map, there is a Horse Shoe Canyon to the West.  It is so named because the land caved in, forming a chasm in the shape of a horse shoe.   As the sun set, it crisoms into deeper and deeper red.   We couldn't help but to compare it with the sunset over the sea in Richmond.  Here, the sea line is replaced by the land line which stretched into where our eyes could not tell where.  Instead of the dancing shiny waves created by the reflection of the setting sun on the water, here we saw layers upon layers of different shades of the land, the sky and the sun.  No need to have the accompaniment of clouds, just the red setting sun.  Just that.

It was getting rather cool.  But we insisted on bidding goodnight to this setting sun.  We stood there, watching the sun shed it bright rays, the fire ball turned from bright red into purplish, the sphere gradually eclipsed into half, then a sliver then vanished completely into the horizon.

 Good Night, Sun!

When night fell, it got to be quite cold.  The temperature dropped to the 40s (F).  I went to sleep wondering if I would get up in the middle of the night to watch the stars.  I didn't, but Din-sue did.  He came back exclaiming excitedly, "Oh, so many  bright and clear stars, each was shining like a diamond!"   These stars brought back to him his childhood memories.  "For how long have I missed the starry nights! " He sighed, recollecting the  star gazing summer nights in his distant farm house in Tainan.  He said, he didn't see any satellite.  Perhaps we need more patience and time.  A little luck, too.

Well, we should like to come back again, to this surprisingly interesting and challenging place.


Banff National Park Once More

在較大的地圖上查看Lake Louise

We left at about 9AM and continued eastward on Highway No.1. This is a lovely drive, with beautiful mountains and lakes along the way.

In Revelstoke, we stopped to fill the tank, purchased our Discovery Pass to National Parks and Historic Sites and general information gathering. The last time we came by here was on our way back from Banff and we drove the winding road all the way to the Alpine meadows of the Mount Revelstoke National Park. It was late in the season so we missed the wild flowers, but the beauty of the town and the Park left their impressions. This time, we learned that there are hourly free shuttle bus to the meadows and it is the high season for the flowers. but since we have long ways to go, we just have to come back again for this Park, as well as the Glacial National Park, whose snow-capped peaks were so inviting, especially under a clear sunny day like today.

3:30 PM. We arrived at the camping site in Lake Louise.  The change of time zone cost us an hour, so actually it is 4:30.  This National Park camping site lies in the shadow of Temple Mountain with the singing Bow River running by. As we now are one day more experienced, we quickly set up the tent, had our supper and set out to Lake Louise while there are still sufficient daylight.   We love this lake because its tranquility and elegance seem contagious.  During our first visit here five years ago, we had afternoon tea in the Chateau.  Seated under the window directly facing the glacial lake and the mountain, with beautiful harp music played live, we had a most memorable time.  Since then, coming to Banff has been like visiting a friend--some good basis upon which new experience can be weaved into a rich tapestry of memories. 

Moon Rise over Snow capped Temple Mountain

Day 2 in Banff.  Sunny and Clear with a few clouds.   Never had such good weather before.  Yeh!  We want to first visit  Moraine Lake and the famous Ten Peak surround it.  As this is a must visit for Banff National Park, we were advised to to before 10AM or after 5 PM to avoid the crowds. 

Moraine Lake

To approach the Lake, we must drive through a rather narrow road cut out from woods.  Then high mountain peaks begin to show.  This year, due to the heavier than normal snow, we can still see snow piled on many of the mountains  The water of Moraine Lake is translucent turquoise.  The color combination and the exquisite contour of the rocky peaks are at once strikingly beautiful to behold and awe inspiring.   Next to the parking, on the edge of the lake, there is a huge pile of moraine, a very popular ascent because it provides a higher angle  to look into the far end of the lake.

We took the small trail along the lake.  The high mountains sit quietly across the lake, as if watching over us.  A few canoeists paddled by, their bright life vests and bright canoes provide yet another strong element into the picture.  The water is so clear that the canoes seem to not touch the water at all.  All is quiet, except for a few bird chirps and occasional footsteps.

When we left, cars were beginning to stream in and parking has become increasingly difficult.

Bow Lake

Bow Lake is another lake that dreams are made of.  It is right on Highway 93 so we can get a glimpse of it while driving  If Moraine Lake is a coy maiden that one gets to know only by carefully exploring, then Bow Lake is a passionate woman that openly displays her beauty to invite you to get to know her.   Highway 93 is in itself a uniquely scenic drive, with  spectacular mountains rise on both sides, each with its own unique form as if to compete for attention and admiration. 

In front of the Bow Lake is a viewpoint where travelers can really get close to the lake.  Across the open lake are Crow mountains and glaciers.  The color of the lake is again turquoise, but appears to be of a deeper shade.  The surface of the lake does not reflect the blue sky nor the white cloud, not even the shadows of the mountains.  Wind alone seems to be capable of interacting with the water, bringing ripples and wrinkles to the beautiful face of the lake.

On our return, we took the scenic Highway 1A with Bow River right along it.  It was about four in the afternoon, but thick rain cloud has gathered, hiding the top portions of some mountains.  We had barely reached out camp when it started to rain.  Sitting in the tent, listening to the raindrops falling, is quite a thrilling experience. 


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