Thursday, May 5, 2016

A little biography

This is not a musical item, but my excuse for posting it is that people seem to enjoy the biographical stuff as much (ok, maybe more) than the strictly music theory stuff. I did a post on dovetailed themes a while back that has yet to attract a single comment!

I see in the Globe and Mail today that the entire city of Fort McMurray, Alberta is being evacuated because it is burning to the ground because of an out-of-control wildfire.


If that isn't sufficiently apocalyptic for you, there's this:


And the aftermath:


So what has this to do with me? When I was quite young we lived just south of Fort McMurray in a place called Anzac. Back then there was a railway station, where my father worked, that mainly served to offload freight for the nearby Department of Defence radar base, there was a Hudson Bay trading post that accepted furs from trappers in exchange for flour and sugar, and there was a small population of Cree Indians. Total non-Indian population was maybe six people, including us. Today Anzac has grown to become a "hamlet" and even has a Wikipedia entry. Current population around 700 people. This is where a lot of the people from Fort McMurray are being evacuated to.

I experienced wildfires firsthand when I lived in British Columbia, though there they call them "forest fires". A dry evergreen forest is a huge bonfire just waiting to be lit. I worked, very briefly, as a firefighter when I was just out of high school. It can be a terrifying and dangerous job. We were getting some water from a little creek when just up the mountainside a hundred feet or so a whole grove of fir trees burst into flame, from trunk to crown in seconds. On a neighbouring mountain a whole crew of firefighters were trapped on the top while the fire crept up the mountain. They had to be rescued by helicopter. A girlfriend's father flew water bombers during the summer and, since coastal British Columbia is all mountains, one day, blinded by smoke, he just flew into a mountain.

Oddly enough, I lived in another Canadian city that came close to being evacuated. In 1998 in Montreal we had an enormous ice storm that lasted for a week and looked like this:



And when you have ice rain falling and freezing for a week, those big power transmission towers end up with a few hundred tons of ice on them, with predictable results:


The city of Montreal is on an island in the St. Lawrence river. The population of around three million is served by five big power substations. After the ice storm four of these were down, meaning that the power for the whole city had to come through one substation. At a meeting with the premier of the province and the mayor of the city, the city engineer informed them that the situation was there was no power for any of the big buildings downtown, so nobody with an office job was going to work for the foreseeable future. Plus, he said, there was enough power to either supply the Metro (subway) or provide water pressure in the city. Without water pressure you can't fight fires, of course. So that was it. They seriously considered evacuating the city, but decided that would be even worse. My wife and I decided to evacuate ourselves and just after we got to the bus station, the Metro shut down. All the skyscrapers in downtown were already dark. Eerie, if not quite as apocalyptic as a wildfire. It took eight days to restore power in our neighbourhood.

All this reminds me of a poem by Robert Frost:

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.


3 comments:

Jeph said...

My heart goes out to those folks. I've been evacuated three times in the last two years because of wildfires (Northern CA). There are still traces of the water and fire retardant they dropped on my house, dreading the summer to come. At least we've had rain this year. And I had a taste of that ice storm of '98 too, I was in northern Vermont at the time. It was tough on us, but we fared better than Montreal.

Marc Puckett said...

Hope there are no recurring natural disasters likely where you are in Mexico! Earthquake, perhaps.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, California has been hard-hit lately!

The ice storm hit Montreal pretty dead on, but it cut a swath through part of Ontario and, I guess northern Vermont and possibly New York state as well.

Where I am in Mexico, there are no earthquakes. It's far away from a fault line.