Valemount addendum

The hours of predicted rain ended up being a few drops while we were camping — and we were lucky enough to decamp in dry conditions. Now we are heading southwest to try and make our way through Kamloops despite the fire. If we can, we may pause in Manning Park for a hike. It’s 680 km from Valemount to my parents’ house, if we can take the most direct route with no detours, so there is a good chance we will sleep there tonight.


Sasha and I had a fine second day of travel. We woke in our comfortable room in Grimshaw and proceeded to Hinton, where there is a disc golf course which Sasha had praised. It was indeed excellent: ringed with majestic mountain peaks and wooded so as to add to both the beauty and the challenge. My only prior experience was a very informal round on the Toronto Island with my father and some cousins several years ago, so I largely stuck to the low-risk “hammer” technique of throwing the disc sideways from over my head, reducing the chances of an early or late release sending me way out into the woods, though I did have some 9–13 throw efforts on holes with par of 3 or 4 and I did a fair bit of searching for discs that landed out of sight in the undergrowth or which were taken in surprising directions by the sometimes-strong and gusty wind. One of those undergrowth searches brought me within five feet of a startled red fox, which bounded off immediately as I carried on the search for my ‘driver’ disc. The whole effort was a lot of fun, and Sasha introduced me to an Indigenous ritual of paying the land with tobacco and thanks partway through.

After that pleasant and contrasting athletic detour, we carried on into the towering Rockies and Jasper where, after I was put off by bistros with $30–60 dishes, we got salad and sandwich ingredients and found a scenic spot by a lake on our road forward for a satisfying picnic. En route we listened to the end of The Hobbit, and I felt the wisdom of Thorin’s dying words about how a world where food and cheer are valued above hoarded gold when Sasha lent me a fleece against the mountain cold and we enjoyed a delicious meal in an unbeatable setting.

From there we continued to our day’s objective of Valemount. Every hotel and motel was $250–300 and fully booked to boot, so we called around and found a campsite for what is predicted to be a rainy night and morning. Nevertheless, I felt glad at least before going to sleep about including a night of camping in our voyage home, in part because I brought a tent mailed to Toronto for him by my mother and because I had packed super-light for the trip in everything aside from my PhD grad gift tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and collapsable pillow.

As I bed down for as early a sleep as I can manage, I am grateful for this concentrated time together with Sasha, for all the songs we sang along to along the road today, and for the quality of his company and conversation. I was likewise grateful to catch up on some of the events and people from our years apart. It was heartening to hear how many friends he has made in the community where he taught for the past two years, and what a good impression he has made on people there.

During one of the spans where I had cell phone service (I do not have it in the campground) I sent a selfie of us both with soaring mountains behind to friends and family.

There is a terrible fire near Kamloops, which is part of both efficient tracks home from here, so there may yet be delays and detours. With luck we will drive to Manning Park and have a hike there before proceeding to Vancouver. We budgeted a week for what could have ideally been a 3–4 day trip, so we may have some time together in Vancouver or a hike there too, or perhaps I will be able to go all the way to Victoria with him before returning to Vancouver at the end of the month for the second part of this west coast visit — my first since the Christmas Greyhound journey in 2009. Over the course of the drive we crossed the Mackenzie, Athabasca, and Fraser rivers, a who’s who of major watercourses in western Canada.

Yellowknife to Vancouver drive, day 1

Sasha and I woke early at our B&B in Yellowknife and after a simple breakfast began our drive south. Tragically, we were never invited to meet the proprietors’ 24-year-old parrot Cosmo (possibly “Gosmo”) McBeaky, which I heard when booking from Toronto and had been psyched to meet north of 60°.

In Yellowknife and during the NWT and northernmost Alberta parts of the trip, the air quality was at 11 in the Apple weather app, whereas I never saw worse than 7 in Toronto. We drove past Sasha and Mica’s former school in Edzo, and then down toward the route through High Level which we had chosen to avoid wildfires near the Liard highway.

For most of the drive, we swapped between our respective Spotify libraries (mine only in the minority of spots with cell coverage, because there is no space on my phone for downloads) and sang along to the many songs we both know. We also listened to Serkis’ reading of The Hobbit from the battle against Smaug in Esgaroth to the very cusp of the eucatastrophe in the Battle of Five armies before pausing in High Table to share a large Mediterranean pizza.

We added another 300 km to our earlier 700 and got to Grimshaw as a severe thunderstorm was starting. We opted not to camp due to the expected bad weather and checked into the last available room in a hotel full of fire-fighting teams and lost power ten minutes later when Sasha was in the pool and I was doing an intense 25 minutes on the elliptical machine (my first time since the U of T gyms closed for COVID). I feel like I’m fitter than I remember being then, but part of it was surely desire to move my legs after a bus and three flights followed by the three hour Oppenheimer screening we attended last night, plus today’s driving.

I saw more ravens in a day than I think I ever have, and we got a close look at twenty or so bison of all sizes standing around and atop the road. They have truly impressive bulk and presence, and seemed utterly unperturbed by us, though willing to slowly shift off the road while we watched them and took some photos.

We are monitoring wildfire locations and road closures, but presently planning to drive into BC via Jasper and to camp tomorrow night if we can find a good spot and decent weather. To leave space in the Mazda for Sasha’s move I packed as light as possible, omitting a fly for my tent and all my rainy weather clothes (indeed, I brought just three shirts, my two intact-ish pairs of cargo trousers, and fresh daily socks for a five day trip).

I am hugely grateful to my parents and especially my mother for making the trip possible by helping me secure an apartment as guarantors. The chance to spend one-on-one time with Sasha is a true blessing, and the trip will doubtless be a source of memories and stories between us for life.

Libraries as sanctuaries

At least since elementary school, I have loved the combination of charms offered by libraries, perhaps chief among them the provision of a serene space for concentration and thought with the freedom indiscriminately granted to take an interest in anything from the collection. I remember at my elementary school library, at Cleveland Elementary School, there were wooden-drawered filing cabinets for index cards. I remember the age-yellowed peculiar tinge and feeling of the index cards, perhaps made by hand on a typewriter, and the feeling of avenues into knowledge being revealed through the process of beginning with any topic of interest and working from books to index to books to begin tracing paths on rivers of thought and language that exist to help us each understand the world.

The first massive library which I was free to explore was the colosseum-inspired Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library, which was approved by referendum in 1990 and opened for public use in 1995. My friend Chevar and I were excused by our parents from school to attend the grand opening, which included a massive chocolate cake in the shape of the building’s unique form. For visitors to Vancouver, I strongly recommend going up to the appropriate floors to try the sky bridges and outer seating areas available on the far side of the central atrium. It’s a place where I read happily until I stopped being a Vancouver resident, and I can still remember the way the brand-new-library smell evolved into a stable characteristic odor with a hint of escalator oil and rubber as base notes.

Another example of Canada’s dishonest climate policy

These linguistic evasions demonstrate both our continuing lack of seriousness about climate change and how the public policy agenda remains captured by the fossil fuel industry protecting its narrow interests:

Western premiers push back as Guilbeault calls for ‘phase-out of unabated fossil fuels’

We know that greenhouse gases are the cause and there is no solution to climate change without fossil fuel abolition, but we are stuck talking about a “phase down” instead of elimination, and using the magical idea of “abated” fossil fuels to use a technology that does not exist at scale (carbon capture and storage) to justify continued fossil fuel development.

Still Robarts-ing

After defending my dissertation in December and collecting my diploma in March, I have been watching my U of T benefits gets deactivated one by one. They cut off my dental insurance between when I defended and when I graduated. My campus wifi access was withdrawn several months ago. As of July, my T-card no longer provided access to Robarts or Gerstein libraries.

I feel it would be a shame to live in a city with a library system like U of T’s and be unable to access it. Luckily, as an alumnus I can get a borrower card for $70 per year. It comes with the very annoying restrictions of no campus wifi use, and no off-campus access to electronic databases — but it does provide access to all U of T libraries, allows you to withdraw fifty (50!) books, and allows access to services like research consultations. I now officially have permission to use U of T’s vast library resources to research anything of personal interest or importance. It’s also a great place to hide from summer heat if you don’t have AC at home.

Open thread: The worldwide crisis for renters

When people hear about my miserable 4-month search for an afforadle, available, and non-awful room to rent in Toronto, the glib answer is often that I should leave the city. After all, Toronto’s housing market is notoriously punishing.

I call the answer glib because it doesn’t reflect much awareness of what is also happening in potential alternative cities. Vancouver is about 10% more expensive, and cities with far fewer employment options like Guelph, Hamilton, and Barrie are only marginally cheaper. The crisis for renters is both multi-causal and global.

For instance: The UK housing crisis isn’t just about mortgages – private renters desperately need help too (“Three-fifths of private renters cannot afford a decent standard of living”)

Wildfires are doubling Canadian CO2 pollution this year

A popular argument among those who want Canada to ignore climate change and keep exploiting fossil fuels is: “But we have so many trees that our emissions must hardly matter! Maybe the world should pay us!”

The argument is deficient on several levels, not least because a tonne of carbon in a tree doesn’t negate a tonne of emissions from fossil fuel burning. The tree only holds the carbon while it is alive, whereas CO2 in the atmosphere will partly remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years.

The argument also fails when our forests themselves become a cause of worsening climate change:

Hundreds of forest fires since early May have generated nearly 600m tonnes of CO2, equivalent to 88% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions from all sources in 2021, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reported.

More than half of that carbon pollution went up in smoke in June alone.

If you think Canada should get extra permission to pollute because of our forests (questionable) then we also need to be responsible when those forests become net carbon sources.


2023 mayoral by-election

Sometimes the student life of unstable and often-changing housing makes it hard to vote, but I was able to do so easily in today’s Toronto mayoral by-election using my student co-op short-term residency agreement and health card.

I was surprised a couple of weeks ago to see how closely my Vote Compass answers matched up to Olivia Chow, and I was happy to vote for her today and see her win tonight.

The results — left-leaning in the urban core, right-leaning in the suburbs — fit into a major and long-running electoral pattern. In the Toronto case particularly, I will confess to having little sympathy who are willing to let infrastructure and city services decay for the sake of low taxes. It is the dynamism of Toronto that attracts people to all those endless suburbs, and they are killing the golden goose by allowing the city to fall into decay for the sake of lower taxes. If you want ultra-low taxes and no services, go start a subsistence farm in a rural area. If you just want a giant rural-style house from which to drive your SUV to your job at the bank downtown, you need to pay taxes at a level that keeps the city going. You might feel like a capitalist superman who shouldn’t be weighed down by funding parasites, but all that money you’re making comes from the economic dynamism of a place where individual prosperity normally relies upon good underlying social conditions. Things have clearly been badly eroded by the psychological harm of the pandemic, and it will take investments in areas like social services to the unhoused and mental health supports to get Toronto back to where it was pre-2020.

It’s an open question how an ideological sandwich of municipal, provincial, and federal governments will work for Toronto, but at least we don’t have another low-tax ideologue as mayor.