Sunday, July 31, 2011

July in McMurray

In one week, the boys and I will begin our summer travels, driving down to Edmonton en route to the Crowsnest Pass where we will rejoin Heather and her family for our annual reunion. Heather is going down a little earlier to spend time with her mom while we enjoy the 21st interPLAY Festival. From the Crownsest we will sweep south into Montana for a spontaneous exploratory trip into Big Sky Country. We haven’t pre-booked anything, we’re just going to wing it and see where we end up. Finally, we’ll go from the great Montana plains up into southern Saskatchewan aiming for Kamsack where we will spend a number of days with the Thomas side of the family.

This is the first summer that we stayed home in July. We loved it. The weather has been perfect – not too hot, not too cold – with amazing fishing, scads of Saskatoon berries, and some wonderful close encounters with nature.

The boys have done a number of different things this month. Dylan has put some miles under his belt, going up to Fort Chipewyan with his mom on a boat, back to Fort McMurray on a plane, then down to Edmonton for the Tourangeau family reunion.

Ben took the Red Arrow down to our capital city to hang with Uncle Michael, Auntie Kathryn and Julia for a long weekend, then came back to begin his three week summer theatre camp; he makes his theatrical debut this Friday at interPLAY.

Meanwhile, Heather and I have continued to work through July. Yoga and massage therapy clients roll through the Ananda Center for Balance, always leaving happier and healthier than when they arrived. I’ve remained busy at the College and have also had a smattering of Council duties (despite being on summer break) as we’ve had a number of political figures through this month, Mayor Mandel from Edmonton, Premier Stelmach and others.

This has been a major angling month for me, catching more fish in the past two to three weeks than I have my entire life. What changed? Well, I made a major discovery that the boat launch at Gregoire Lake was a prime spot for catching one walleye after another. We also had historic high water levels on our local rivers due to the enormous amount of rain down south. As those waters receded, the fishing became extraordinary. Just the other night I caught my limit on the Clearwater for both goldeye and walleye, which had never happened to me before.

My time on the water has resulted in delightful brushes with some of nature’s finest: ospreys, blue herons, bears, and eagles. We look forward to many more as we begin our August adventures.

We’ve also spent the month doing (or monitoring) improvements around the house and yard. Several weeks ago we had a shingling crew come in and do the back half of the roof. Next weekend, we’ll have a crew of arborists come in and tackle our towering and sagging Manitoba maples in the backyard. Over 40 years old, they sport more than several limbs that extend far too much over top of our house and our neighbor’s garage, putting our structures at potential risk should we have a wind storm. Getting the roof re-shingled and the trees trimmed are not the sexiest of improvements, but we feel good about the investments.

Heather and I did some monsoon camping a few weekends back when both Ben and Dylan were away. Up on the rise, just a hop, skip and jump away from our rain-soaked tent was a delightful Saskatoon berry patch. Ripe and ever so tasty, Heather was hooked and put a call out on Facebook to find out if anyone knew of patches in town. With an overflowing tree at the College and another in our neighborhood, she has picked at least several gallons and has used her dehydrator to create dried Saskatoon berries and some amazing fruit leather.

I hope you are having a wonderful summer.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Meeting the Demon

Anyone who was in my bedroom from about 1975 to 1982 will recall disturbing images lining the walls, posters featuring the characters from the world’s biggest rock band, KISS. The Demon (Gene Simmons), with his devilish make-up, long tongue and blood-seeping teeth, watched over us at night along with the Star Child (Paul Stanley), Space Ace (Ace Frehley) and Catman (Peter Criss).

Ace and Peter have gone off on their own, replaced by Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, but Gene and Paul remain, leading the band that has defined ‘rock and roll spectacle’ for almost 40 years.

Dylan and I were given the rare opportunity by Claude to meet the band last night just prior to their performance in Fort McMurray for 11,000 guests. As we waited our turn, we sat visiting with Mayor Blake and Jim Cressman.

Jim (above to my right), now the President of the Cressman Sakamoto Agency, was a fledgling broadcaster when he lived in the basement of my house in Drumheller back in about 1994. He’s come a long way and now negotiates multi-million dollar deals with some of the biggest artists in the world. He helped secure this show for Fort McMurray as part of a tour that included Spokane, Abbottsford, Kamloops, and Dawson Creek. Ours was the only outdoor engagement, and the largest. He also helped sign Reba for a show at SummersEND in September.

We were invited behind the curtain and introduced to the band, all decked out in their make-up and costumes, Gene Simmons towering above with Eric Singer standing on a little box to even things out a little. They were incredibly welcoming, familiar, friendly. It was an encounter that lasted on the south side of 45 seconds, captured for all time by their staff photographer and Jim, standing off to the side with his BlackBerry.

The concert itself was a spectacle unlike anything seen before in Fort McMurray. The evening was perfect with no bugs, a clear sky and a temperature that could not have been better. Dylan and Ben were entranced by the experience, enjoying the pyrotechnics, loud music and the biggest crowd in our history as a community. I’m grateful that we were given access to the VIP seats, as it provided the boys (and us) a safe and secure spot to watch the fun.

In the middle of the show, their photographer took a shot of the band and the audience from the perspective of the drum riser. This shot captures the magic of what was an incredible night.

As we left our location in the VIP section to get to our car before the inevitable rush that would occur at the end of the encore, the final chords were fading from the band’s performance of “Beth”, their highest charting single from 1976 and ironically, one of their only ballads. Turning the corner from MacDonald Island on to Franklin Avenue they launched into “Rock and Roll All Night”.

“That’s the song I really wanted to hear,” complained Ben from the backseat.

“Just wait,” I said. “Let me roll down the window.”

It was an amazing night and, according to Claude, “the scariest thing” he’d ever done. The scope and scale of the event was unfathomable, even to me with almost 15 years of event planning experience. The staff and volunteers did such an awesome job in my view and provided one of the most unforgettable evenings ever. Our family was deeply grateful for the chance to be there, and to share our story about THE HOTTEST SHOW ON EARTH.