Ah, the luxury of hot running water!

Glorious bathtub!It took two years from the time I bought Monkey Valley until there was hot running water to fill the beautiful claw foot bathtub in the upstairs bathroom. The bathtub was the first purchase I made after getting Monkey Valley. It weighs hundreds of pounds! Hugh and I brought it up in the ice blue Volvo station wagon I had at the time. With another friend helping, three of us managed to carry it up the stairs. Then it took two years for Hugh and I to install the solar power, the water pump, and get all systems going so that hot water was flowing through the veins of the house.

Plumbing has been one of the biggest challenges here, because it seems to be impossible to totally drain the house. I have a routine that takes about 1 ½ hours to do, to shut down the house when leaving it in winter time, which I have refined after various expensive mishaps involving small leaks, huge gushing leaks, expensive repairs, and even more expensive service calls:

  • turn off the power to the pump
  • open all the taps to drain the water
  • drain the line down at the pump house
  • open the screw under the Bosch flow-through propane hot water heater to drain the water in its pipes (failure to do this led to two very expensive repairs)
  • drain the water filter system (forgot to do this once and the whole thing busted)
  • drain the lowest line in the house
  • attach a hose and drain the line to the outside tap, which is even lower
  • drain the tap from the cold water tank
  • drain the washing machine, which has a tiny little tube at the bottom for this purpose
  • scoop remaining water out of toilet bowls (two)
  • put salt or environmentally-friendly anti-freeze in the p-traps (basically, down each drain), toilet bowls, and toilet tanks

Now that there is a solar hot water heating system added on to the original plumbing, Russ Hughes of Active Mechanical in Merritt (who installed the solar heating system, and is sadly now deceased—may your spirit be at peace, Russ) advised that I shut off the line to the new propane-heatable hot water tank, and leave the pilot burning. On sunny days, this gives the solar boiler a large body of water to use for heat exchange. Leaving the pilot burning is supposed to prevent the water in the tank from freezing during spells where there is no sun. This is a new element in the system, so I am not sure how well it will work, but this time around it worked fine.

Anyway, as you can see, the whole thing is a goddam pain in the ass, and sometimes it makes me wonder why I bother living out here! This time coming home there were no leaks. But before I could turn on the water system I needed to:

  • close all taps (remembering the cold water tank tap, which I have forgotten to close in the past, resulting in a gushing flow when I turned the water back on)
  • put the screw back in the Bosch flow-through
  • open the valve in the line from the hot water tank
  • turn on the power to the pump, which uses a step-up transformer to convert the 110 volt house power to 220 for the well pump
  • light the pilot on the flow-through tank

Plus, always, light the pilots on the stove and fridge to get those running again.

This time around, it only took an hour to make the fire, get all systems going, and unload the car. Plus another half hour to unpack food, clothes, laptops, and so on…

And then it was time for a nice hot bath!

The mystery of the dead animal in my living room

What can I say? It\'s a mouse turdI saw the first sign on top of the fridge: smaller than a grain of rice, and dark brown in colour: a mouse turd. But smaller than the average mouse turd. Which made me wonder if it might have been emitted from a shrew or vole… There was no question that some member of the rodent family had been in the house. Then I caught a whiff of putrid decay. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but trusted that all would be revealed in due time. Since I had a lot to do upon arrival at Monkey Valley, I let the matter lie… (but not the turd!).

Turd denial

That evening and the next day I discovered more turds, in the usual places: on the window sill by the kitchen sink, on the peach satiny loveseat (always an attractive place for rodents, and who can blame them), on the floor at the edges of the living room, on the window ledge in the upstairs bathroom. They varied in colour from reddish-brown to black. With one turd I could be in denial, and hope it might have just fallen out from a crack in the logs, and actually be an old turd. But with all these turds on places I had cleaned and swept only a week ago, there was no denying it was new rodent activity.

Then came further proof, in my footwear by the door. In one slipper was a small piece of rodent bait, carried and stored there by the enterprising creature. In the toe of my snowboot I found an almond, chewed by tiny teeth at either end. The little animal had been caching food for the winter. This is a little bit delightful, giving me a glimpse into the ways of the wild creature, while also annoying me because it’s not really possible to wash all my shoes every time I come home to Monkey Valley, and who wants to put her foot in a shoe where there has recently been mouse turds and rodent poison?

Mouse, shrew, or vole?Still, I let the mystery continue to unravel. The second morning home, I had some phone calls to make, outside on the top balcony, in the -6 degree morning. So I put on my snow boots and parka, and spent almost an hour on the phone calls. When I went back downstairs to put my snow boots away under the shelf, I noticed a greyish shadow. Aha!, I thought. I bet that’s the little creature. And it was, a little grey mouse with brown fur on its back. Very desiccated. It must have eaten some of the poison. I was glad the mystery was solved, and that the mouse would no longer be leaving little turds all over the place.

Ahimsa: the practice of non-harming

(If this seems callous to you, dear reader, I hope it might improve your opinion of me if I tell you how I have struggled over the years with humane ways of catching mice in live traps, and releasing them into the wild, and crying when Donald catches and kills them. It is not something I take lightly, to kill a mouse, and in the end I decided that having a hygenic space was more important to me than the life of the mouse. This is the one exception I make to my practice of ahimsa or non-harming of other living creatures. It sounds like an excuse, and I know the Jains would do it better. But I do lay each little corpse under a tree outside and wish it blessings on its soul.)

Then I noticed something that almost made me throw up. There were white things, bigger than a grain of rice, all around the mouse. They weren’t moving. Luckily. But there was no doubting they were maggots. Yuck!!! One of the grossest, most disgusting things on earth, in my experience. I guess they must have frozen to death before they could spread very far. A point in favour of letting the house get cold while I am away…

So the immediate order of business was to get rid of the mouse and maggots, and clean up all around there. The universe has such nice ways of showing me I am not in control… I sometimes wonder (well, often, actually) what the hell I’m doing here! But then there’s silent snow falling through the trees, or a deep, starry black night, and I’m glad to be at Monkey Valley.

November 25 – Frosty homecoming

Karen freezing at Monkey Valley - visual effectEach time I return to Monkey Valley it is an adventure. There’s no telling what I will find. This time I arrived about 7:15 pm, well after dark. The outside temperature was -4 degrees, and the inside temperature was 0 degrees! In the power room it was a bit warmer—4 degrees—due to the solar boiler keeping a tank of hot water warm.

So the first order of business was to turn on the power (let there be light!), then to make a fire. If any of you have experience with heating a house that is 0 degrees, you will know that by bedtime the house was still much too cold to go to bed! With constantly feeding the fire as soon as there was room to put more wood in, I managed to raise the temperature to 10 degrees by midnight. I tested the feeling of the bed upstairs, and it was way too icy to get in! So I brought the down comforters downstairs, pulled the couch close to the wood stove, and settled in there for a few hours. Around 4:00 am I went upstairs with the warm blankies and was able to stretch out full-length on my bed and get some comfortable sleep. In the morning it was 8 degrees in the living room, and time to get that fire going again!

By bedtime the second night the temperature in the house was up to a balmy 18 degrees downstairs, and 20 degrees upstairs in my bedroom. Heating is obviously very important! I have a backup propane heater, which is due to be repaired on Friday. So hopefully after that I will be able to keep the house a little warmer while I am away for short winter trips. For longer trips there’s nothing to do but drain the water, put anti-freeze in the p-traps, and hope for the best. If heating is the top priority, plumbing is also very important (second priority), and has been a continual struggle. So has pest control, which can become top priority in a flash… (to be continued)

More cowboys!

Bull on the rangeThis morning when I was up on the roof for the daily conference call with my client, the wind brought men’s voices over the tree tops. I looked to the southwest, but couldn’t see anyone, and figured it must be hunters at the top of the ridge. After I was finished with the call I went down to the barn and circled around it, just in case they’d come down the hill from the ridge. I called out “Hey!” every now and then, so they wouldn’t accidentally shoot me if they caught a glimpse of movement.

I didn’t see anything, except to notice how the once-bare muddy ground is covered with a layer of moss and grass now. Eight years ago the ground was a diesel- and oil-soaked mess, on account of the previous owners’ carelessness in feeding their five 10KW generators. I had a lot of help to clean up the physical mess, and afterwards my mom and I did some energetic cleansing using Reiki. In fact, my mom gave me the master’s-level attunement out there one summer day while we were cleansing the land around the barn. I still recall the glorious green light shining through the plants as I knelt on the ground to offer healing to our dear earth mother.

Anyway, no sign of hunters, so I went back to the house to get a fire started. I was on theCowboy balcony by the master bedroom, when my eye caught the movement of a bird high above the field outside the gate, so I paused to watch it, listening for its call. Soon enough I heard the raven caw. Then I spotted two riders on horseback down in the field below the raven. I called out a greeting, and walked down to the gate.

Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl… Hey! Up came two young cowboys, Riley and Wacey, and their black-eye-patch cow dog, Pirate. We passed the time of day a little. Nice morning. They were looking for stray cows. November 12, and the range laws say all cows have to be in from the range on October 31. So they’ve got to find all the loose cows before they run amok!

It is a glorious sight to see cowboys doing cowboy things. They were wearing round-brimmed hats, and those long overcoats called dusters. The horses were brown, robust, and lively. Each cowboy had a rope coiled over the saddlehorn. Even though I’m a vegetarian, I like seeing these older ways of life continue. Ways of life that are close to the land and living things. May there always be cowboys, out on the range!

Bandit: more about the dog from Missezula Lake

Bandit at Monkey ValleyA while back I told you the story of the New Year’s Eve visitor who resembled a wolf, and scared my friend Dorrie as she was sitting on the porch one evening. I recently went through some boxes and found a picture of the dog, and a thank-you card from his owners.

The dog’s name is Bandit. His people are named Chuck and Pat Krastel, and they all live in the community at the east end of Missezula Lake. Bandit is a favourite friend in the community, welcome at many homes. When he was missing, lots of his friends called Chuck and Pat to ask if they’d found him yet. He also has some kitty friends, Dancer (shown here), and Chico. It’s amazing how the feline and canine species can get along!Bandit and Dancer

Missezula Lake is about a mile south of Monkey Valley. Shrimpton Creek flows down into the lake, and I’ve followed the creek down to the lake a few times with friends. The way is tangled with fallen trees in places, but it’s a fun outing to hike down to the lake for a skinny dip!

There’s a campground at the west end of the lake, and a few fishing cabins along the north shore, and then the Missezula Lake community over at the east end. It’s a popular community, fully serviced, with year-round residences and cottages.

Bandit doesn’t really look like a wolf, but remember it was dark when we first saw him. He was an emissary of love, who still reveals to me that part of my heart that is longing for the universe to bring me someone to love. Someone black and white and furry!

Goodness gracious, great grizzlies gallumphing!

Grizzly bears in BC and AlbertaThe Western Canada Wilderness Committee, of which I am a member, has a campaign on to ban grizzly hunting in BC and protect grizzly habitat. They believe the grizzlies are in danger of extinction, and I find their evidence convincing.

If you are interested in finding out a little more, here is some info on their web site.

I wrote a letter to the premier. If you feel like making some slight changes and sending a similar letter to Gordon Campbell, you can email it to premier [at] gov [dot] bc [dot] ca. Please do!

November 16, 2008

Premier Gordon Campbell
Government of British Columbia
Room 156 – Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC V8V 1X4

Dear Premier Campbell,

I am writing in support of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee campaign to protect grizzly bears from extinction. I enclose a report from WC2 that describes our view of why grizzlies are endangered.

It is my understanding that when the Liberal party came into power in the 2004 election, you made the decision to go against the wishes of 80% of the BC population and reintroduce trophy hunting of grizzly bears. At that time I participated in a campaign to end the trophy hunting. To my knowledge, you have not taken the steps we called for to reinstate the ban on trophy hunting.

My personal view is that humans need wilderness and wild animals, even if many people live in cities and don’t get to see them. We need to know they are there, for our psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The human race will be a very lonely species once the wild animals are gone. Grizzlies are an integral part of our biosphere, and each species that becomes extinct creates a hole in the fabric of the earth system that supports our life. I am concerned that the magnificent grizzly bear will soon be extinct unless you take action soon to reverse some of the trends that are leading to the habitat destruction that has so threatened our grizzly friends.

So there are three things I request that you, as leader of my province’s government, do:

– reinstate the ban on trophy hunting of grizzlies in BC.
– develop and implement a recovery plan for each grizzly population in southern BC. This will require protecting core habitat and working with U.S. border-states to protect grizzlies on both sides of the border.
– create a community education program to teach people how to co-habitate with grizzlies and other wildlife such as cougars and wolves.

Please write back to let me know what steps you are taking to protect grizzlies and their habitat.

Kind regards,

Karen Rempel, MA (Ecopsychology)
Monkey Valley Enterprises Inc.

Cougars: spirit guides on the vision fast

She-cougarWhen you are on a vision fast or medicine walk, you enter into a mystical realm where all events and encounters take on a significance that is bigger than what most of us experience in ordinary waking life. During this time, an encounter with an animal is not just a coincidence. (If it ever is!) Usually a particular animal will appear to you with a message or lesson that only that animal can bring. And of course, the circumstances of the encounter will help you to understand more about the message or meaning. Also your own history, belief system, and connection with particular animals will help you to know what the animal is saying to you. Therefore, the information provided here about cougars is a possible starting point, but may not touch on the fullness of what a cougar means to you, or the gifts that your own encounter with a cougar may hold.

Ted Andrews, author of Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small and many other books, is my favourite source for reading about the significance of animals in different mythologies. Ted says that the cougar symbolizes coming into your own power. This is easy to see, given that the cougar has the many powers described in other postings: physical strength, leaping ability, power of hearing and sight, stealth, beauty. Ted writes, “If cougar has shown up in your life, it is time to learn about power. Test your own. Most young cougars learn how to use their power through trial and error. It strengthens them and hones their skills. When cougar shows up as a totem, much of the trial has been worked through. Now it is time to assert.”

One of the things I like about Ted’s writing and understanding of the animal world Animal Speakis the connection between predator and prey. Given that the main prey of the cougar is the deer, which symbolizes gentleness (including a gentle beckoning into new adventure), the deer is also significant in understanding the message of the cougar. Ted suggests that in learning to use our power, we can do so with the gentleness of a deer, when that is appropriate. This is a lesson I keep needing to learn! The cougar knows with decisiveness when to attack forcefully, but its prey teaches us that we can also exercise power with gentleness.

One thing that sometimes prevents us from showing, owning, and using our power, is the fear of loss of those who will not approve of or like it. I would suggest this might be especially challenging for women, who are socialized to appear weak and helpless. Cougar medicine can help all, male and female, to assert ourselves, show our capabilities, grow and stretch. And this means risking upsetting those around us, who may want us to stay the same. Are you willing to risk loss to realize and express your true nature? This is a question cougar asks.

Recently I was seeing a naturopath to learn to balance my power and weakness. My Cougar cubstrength was distorted into outbursts of rage, which covered up feelings of helplessness. When we explored the animal that I identified with in these situations, it was the cougar. I felt that I had the wild, magnificent power of the cougar, but I was repressing it because I felt those around me would reject me if I showed this strength. I had a dream during this time, in which I was in a hospital room, awaiting surgery. The doctor came in, and pulled a limp cougar out of a dustbin, where it was covered with grey dirt and garbage. There was another similar bin in the room, containing another cougar. I knew the doctor was going to use some of the cougar’s life energy when she operated on me. The cougars were being kept in these bins for that purpose. I was shocked and horrified that this is what I was doing to my wild, fierce, free true nature; I was keeping it in a bin, covered with garbage, and just allowing the tiniest portion of it out to sustain my life. This dream made me wonder what it would be like to allow the cougar out of the dust bin. To allow her the fullness of her expression in my life. This question is intimately related to my spiritual journey of expressing the mystery of my true nature as I live in this world. How can I know this mystery, and learn to express it? The dream has only awakened questions, not answers. But it is clear to me that the cougar is speaking to me to set me on the path to exploring these questions.

If you are ever out on a vision fast and a cougar comes to visit you, know that it is a rare and remarkable gift. While remembering the information about how to survive a cougar attack, also try to open into communication with the cougar. Observe everything about the cougar’s physical relation to you: direction of approach and leaving; what the cougar does around you; whether you can sense a feeling-tone coming from the cougar; or even hear the words or thoughts of the cougar. In the sacred space of the vision fast, it is unlikely that the cougar has come to harm you. More likely it has come to teach and to give you a gift and a wonderful story for your people.

Cougars: fun physical facts

Cougar in the bushes“Puma, cougar, catamount; Felis concolor, the shy, secret, shadowy lion of the New World, four or five feet long plus a yard of black-tipped tail, weighs about what a woman weighs, lives where the deer live from Canada to Chile, but always shyer, always fewer, the color of dry leaves, dry grass.” Thus writes Ursula Le Guin in “May’s Lion,” a story in Sisters of the Earth.

An adult cougar weighs between 90 and 200 pounds! Including the tail (which is counted as part of its body length, oddly enough—at least, this seems odd to a vertical bi-ped with a mere vestigial tail), a cougar can measure 6½’ – 8′ in length. This is a big cat! But if you take off the tail length of 2 – 3′, it is a mere 4½’ – 5′ in length.

Part of the problem for me is that the oft mentioned Mammals of British Columbia, which I consult for my animal facts, provides all its measurements in metric, so it has been hard to figure out how big the cougar really is. I hope these imperial conversions will help you avoid the same confusion! (Unless you are under the age of 40, in which case it is no help at all.)

The cougar’s perfected, low-energy hunting method is to ambush prey from a tree or ledge, attacking from behind and biting the neck. They hunt by day and night. Cougars prefer to avoid humans, and likely will hear you and vanish long before you come into contact with them. The exception is young cougars, who haven’t yet learned to avoid humans and still have the curiosity that comes easiest to the young.

Pussy cat lounging in the waterCougars live where deer, their main diet, are abundant. Usually they need about one deer a week to survive. In the winter, if a carcass freezes before they get a second feeding, they can starve to death. Their teeth are not made for biting frozen food. In addition to deer, cougars eat sheep, goats, elk, moose, American beavers (a mammal unrelated to the famous aquatic Canadian beaver!), mice, rabbits, birds, bobcats, porcupines (!), and domestic dogs and cats. In the winter, they will prey on other animals that have been weakened from starvation. In a pinch, they will eat insects too.

Young cougars become independent of their mothers anywhere from one to three years of age, during late spring or summer. These young cougars might need to roam for a long way to find unoccupied territory. This is the time when they are most likely to come in conflict with humans. Tracker Barbara Butler has seen tracks of two cougars side-by-side, and reports these were likely the tracks of two den mates who had just left home and set out into the wild world together. Otherwise, it is unusual for two adults to travel together.

Barbara also writes, in Wilderness Tracks: How to Sleuth Out Wild Creatures and Monkey Valley cougar-kittyWayward Humans, that cougar leaps of up to 47 feet have been reported! They track their prey to within about 30 feet, if not waiting in ambush, and then give a short burst of speed for the attack. However, they can’t outrun a deer for very long. They have very keen hearing, sense of smell, and eye sight, and can hear prey a mile away! They can swim a mile, too! Cougars have been known to live up to 18 years in the wild.

The physical characteristics described here overlap with and influence the mystical and spiritual qualities that cougar can teach us… (to be continued)

Cougars: sign of the cat

Cougar on snowWhen you are out in the wilderness, it is helpful to know the signs of the cougar, which might tell you that the cat has been by recently, and could still be in the area. This information can be helpful for self-protection, but it is also interesting for its own sake, to be able to understand and interpret the clues in nature.

Cougars leave the same types of signs as many other animals: scat, marks on trees, and tracks. A cougar might also leave uneaten food lying around for a while. Depending on the size of the animal it has killed, it might take a few days for a cougar to consume the entire body. The cougar covers its food cache with a thin layer of dirt and leaves. If you ever find such a cache, you might want to leave the area immediately, as it is very likely the cougar is nearby. But perhaps take a minute or two to look for signs of the kill, such as blood on the ground or drag marks. The cougar will also mark the cache by leaving the scent of its urine nearby, scratching up dirt to cover the urine.

Cougar claw marks on trees are a rare and precious find. With territories as big as 100 square miles or more, the chance of finding the tree a cougar has scratched is smaller than finding a needle in a haystack! Cougar scratch marks can be as high as six feet from the ground, or lower down. Sometimes cougars will use the same tree several times, so there could be multiple sets of claw marks. According to Barbara Butler, author of the fascinating book Wilderness Tracks: How to Sleuth Out Wild Creatures and Wayward Humans, the spaces between cougar claw marks are narrower than those of bears. However, this isn’t that helpful unless you are familiar with the width of the space between bear claws! Barbara luckily provides some additional information: the fore print of a cougar is 3.5″ wide, versus the print of a bear, which is 3¾ – 4″ wide. Ian Sheldon and Tamara Hartson, in Animal Tracks of British Columbia, provide a bigger range: 3.3 – 4.8″ width for cougar fore prints, versus 3.8 – 5.5″ for black bears. Clearly, there could be quite an overlap, making identification based on the claw marks alone unreliable.

However, there are usually other signs nearby for the watchful tracker. Cougar scat is often composed of chunks of dense whitish matter, about the size of charcoal briquettes. There is usually a lot of fur in the scat. Whereas bear scat is usually a big pile or several pieces of looser material, ranging from blackish to reddish, depending on what the bear has been eating. In the later summer and fall there will be lots of berries in bear scat. At other times grass and twig bits are more common. 

Monkey Valley cougar tracksAnd then there is the track itself. It is easy to distinguish between a cougar print and a bear print if the print is clear. Look for animal tracks in mud, soft sand, snow, or bare dirt. Bear rear foot prints look almost like a human foot print, longer than wide, with tapered heel, and often all five toes displaying clearly, with the claw mark well in front of the end of the toe. Cougar prints are roundish in shape, with four toes, and the claws seldom show. Barbara says that cougar claws register about 5% of the time.

I took this picture of a cougar track beside the barn at Monkey Valley, a few springs ago. I spent quite a while looking around the area nearby, but didn’t see any other signs of the cougar. The hind print is slightly smaller, almost registering over the front print in this example. It seems the cougar must have had its thick winter fur on, obscuring some of the details of the print, such as the front lobe, which is usually clearly divided in two, and the toe prints. Here the front middle toes have blended together. Notice that the prints are wider than long(to be continued)

Cougars: planning for an encounter

Cougar pupJust kidding! A little hubris was creeping in there…

Even if the chances of a cougar encounter are very remote, and the likelihood of an attack even slimmer, we must all be aware that the possibility exists, and prepare ourselves with a plan for what to do.

Children: Remember, most cougar attacks have been on children and youths under the age of 16. Cougars are especially drawn to small children, perhaps because their high-pitched voices and erratic movements make them harder to identify as humans and not prey. So keep your kids close by, and if you encounter a cougar, pick small children up off the ground immediately.

Adults: If you meet a cougar while hiking or working in cougar country, follow these guidelines:

  • Never approach a cougar. Normally they will avoid a confrontation, but they can be dangerous when protecting their young or their food. All cougars are unpredictable.
  • Leave the cougar an avenue of escape.
  • Face the cougar and remain upright.
  • Back away slowly. Do not run or turn your back to the cougar.
  • Stay calm. Talk to the cougar in a confident voice. “Good kitty, that’s a good kitty…”
  • Make yourself as big as possible. Pick up sticks or branches and wave them about. Raise your arms in the air.

If the cougar becomes aggressive:Angry cougar

  • Convince the cougar you are a threat, not prey.
  • Throw rocks at the cougar.
  • Speak loudly and firmly.
  • Brandish a big stick. (Or cattle prod, if you happen to have one handy!)
  • If the cougar attacks, fight back.

Many people have survived a cougar attack by fighting back with rocks, sticks, bare fists, fishing poles, back packs, and so on.

Now you have a plan for protecting yourself and your children if you should encounter a cougar. And you also know that the chances of encountering a cougar are very small. You run a much greater risk of being harmed by a bee, another human, or a car.

In the next few postings I will talk about cougar signs that you can watch out for, neat facts about cougars, and the special circumstance of encountering a cougar while on a vision quest or vision fast(to be continued)