Posted by: Dave Neads | April 11, 2013

Zen Walkway

The big spring flood of 2011 carried away the old cottonwood log that had served us for several years as a crossing over the Hotnarko. Linking Cottonwood meadow to Spruce and Waterfall meadows on the west side of our property, the crossing extended our walking territory considerably.

I did not get to it last year, but earlier this winter I found a new crossing site and decided to put in a suspended walkway between two sturdy young cottonwoods. This will allow us to once again take walks to a secret part of the valley, which has a hidden waterfalls and several small cedar trees nestled in a shady canyon. We only discovered this magic place a few years ago during a spring ramble to find the source of the roaring water we could hear from our back deck. But that is life here, there are constantly new experiences unfolding.

The bridge is sited on a straight level stretch of the river, about sixty feet wide. I choose two young cottonwoods, probably about thirty to forty years old. Their bark is just starting to wrinkle, they are about fifty feet tall and twenty inches in diameter. They should last as bridge anchors for many years to come.

The crossing has high banks on either side; the river sluices straight through here, with an overflow channel just up stream. These banks survived the flood of 2011 nicely, so I think they will be available for at least a couple of decades if not more.

Of course the river owns the valley bottom, so all I can do is to play the odds and hope that Hotnarko waits for a while until she decides to move across the valley floor again. You can see the remains of old channels snaking across the bottom from one side to the other; there is no safe ground when it comes to the power of running water. But then while a hundred years is a long time for us, it is just a moment in the life of the river: for over one hundred centuries Hotnarko has been roaming this valley bottom, constantly renovating her home here in the Precipice. So, in the short term, I think the chances of my little bridge surviving are good.

I used 3/8 inch galvanized wire rope for the support cables, tensioned them with a come-along and clamped the ends in place, allowing enough tail so that the cables can be loosened over the years as the trees grow in size.The deck is 2×6 rough cut lumber, strapped along the sides and fastened to the supports with good old fencing wire.

We all love it, even Chilko likes to skitter across, although the springiness of the bridge took him a while to get used to. It is also a great place to stand or sit and just watch the river, providing a very different perspective than looking out from the banks on either side.

A Zen seat hovering over the timeless flow of water.


Posted by: Dave Neads | April 7, 2013

The Last Time

I wrote this is a few ears ago when our Dog, Hobo, died. After the events of the past few weeks, it seems fitting to put it out there, focusing each precious breath….


When will the last time be?

The last time I walk the trail, the last load of wood, the last fire lit. The last time. To feel the sun on my face, to be pushed by the wind, the last time to hear a song the last time to feel the beat, to drink a glass of whiskey, to sit by the fire. The last time. I’ll never know the last time at the time. I always think there will be another time. The last time.

The last time to do, to experience, to feel, to become, to expand, to explore, the last time. Not morbid thoughts, but realizing thoughts, realizing the way of it, the dance of it, preparation. Preparation for the sure, instant knowledge that the last time has passed without knowing it was the last time at the time.

At the time. The last time for Hobo. The last time he went up the stair, the last time he came down the stair. The last float plane flight, the last run in the meadow, the last horse nosed, the last canoe ride, the last bone chewed, the last squirrel chased.

The last time. The last tree seen naked, the last ice walked on, the last bark, the last thought.

The last time. Precious last time. Unknown last time.

The last time.


Posted by: Dave Neads | April 5, 2013

Rescue Mission

Sometimes the snow conditions up on the plateau behind us are so perfect that they are just begging to be used. Not like the deep powder of the downhill fanatic, or the drifted snow needed for igloos. No, this snow had a different quality.
For a few days it was quite warm, even raining a bit, amd then the temperature dropped, followed by a few inches of new snow. This gave a hard surface with a nice cushion on top which would support a snowmobile with ease and give a great ride.

The day was perfect, clear blue and sparkling, so Fred, Monika, and son Philipp, visiting from Germany, decided to go cross-country to the Hotnarko Falls for a picnic. Philipp was on the second machine, a single seater.
Unfortunately, Fred’s snow machine had other ideas. Just as they were breaking out of the timber, getting ready for a glorious run in the open, his machine stopped dead. The engine ran fine, but the track sat there solid as if encased in cement.

A short inspection revealed a broken drive shaft. This is a major breakdown, not something to be handled in three feet of snow, no matter how forgiving the crust. The expedition to the falls became a weary trudge back home on the trail, three miles of tough walking, leaving the machine sitting stubbornly on the trail.

Over the next couple of days a rescue plan emerged. We would take Lee’s big trail machine, complete with banana skimmer, two other machines, wait for a frosty morning and bring the broken sled back to the shop.

We got a fairly early (for us) start, over to the shop where Barry was welding the tow bar on the old skimmer so it would be strong enough to pull Fred’s machine which weighs about 550 pounds Once welded and hooked up, we took chain saw, pick and shovel, digging bar, straps, ropes and what ever else we figured we would need to get the job done.
The digging bar and the shovel were to put a path around a large boulder that had slid down and blocked the trail on the side hill. The saw was to cut out the fir tree that had collapsed across the trail further up. The ropes and tie downs were to keep Fred’s machine on the skimmer.

Once we arrived at the scene, we flipped Fred’s sled over on its side, put the skimmer next to the track and then rolled the snowmobile over into the skimmer. So far so good. Once tied down and set on the trail bed things went smoothly.
On the side hill the new path we put in worked well, although it was tough going over the mud and clay. Once down the hill and into the yard, the tractor was put into service, hoisting the machine up on an angle, then pushing so we could manoeuver it into the shop for repairs.
Pulling Fred machine past rock
That afternoon we took things apart and found serious, but repairable damage. The parts are on backorder, it will take about a month to get them, but that is par for the course around here. Just all in a day’s adventure living in paradise.

Posted by: Dave Neads | March 31, 2013

Opening Scene

You can feel it happening. The forces are gathering, straining at the bonds of ice and snow, beginning to flex their muscles. The cottonwoods are sprouting, their branch tips swollen with brown green buds, spear tips in the sky. Not to be outdone, the aspens, alders and willows are doing the same.

There is a great tension in the air. Huge blocks of ice along the riverbanks give evidence of overflows during the deep dark nights of January. Now they are shifting, melting a little during the longer warm afternoons before being plunged back into the freeze during the clear cold nights.

No matter. Orion has arrived, riding high in the early evening sky. The warrior giant is leading the Sun’s march back into the temperate zone, his sword vibrating with the energies of the great nebula.

Not to be outdone, the moon rises, its full searchlight power illuminating the snow crystals, outlining the pines along the ridge. It is then that the chaotic cracks in the fractured ice can be seen, exposing the black water below. As the ice continues to crack and crumble, it squeaks and groans, the noise of the death rattle that signals the transformation taking place.

Some cultures used to celebrate the new year beginning on the spring equinox, not the winter solstice. In many ways this makes sense. It is in this time of balance between the forces of dark and light that the energies begin to shift. The power of light and warm begins to overpower the congealed substance of winter.

Starting in the low in the valley, then moving slowly upslope, the crackling energy of spring is felt deeply by all of us here in the Precipice. As the days continue to lengthen the faint promise first made in late December begins to take shape, manifesting itself in an infinite variety of forces, subtle yet undeniable. Hopes soar along with the liquid call of the newly arrived Redwing blackbird, a solitary outrider, showing this year’s path for the flock to follow.

These beginnings are just the opening scene in the vibrant pageant that will play out during the festival of spring.

River in spring

Posted by: Dave Neads | March 25, 2013

Spring Sunrise

This morning I witnessed the most enthralling sunrise I have ever seen. It was one of those crystal clear mornings when the mountains seemed so close you could reach out and touch them, their presence was a palpable force.

The sky was lightly overcast with a puffy white grey ceiling of clouds seeming close overhead, yet they were filled with ragged holes, letting the eye wander to the deep black blue above.

Ever so slowly, just inside the range of perception, the light began to shift. First diffuse then beginning to focus the way a spot does on stage. Into sharp relief came the peaks of the coast range, thrusting into the clouds. Slowly the spot light faded, then remerged closer on the flanks of the nearest mountains, bathing the wind sculpted curves in a creamy white glow, soft and sensuous.

Then the real lightshow began, the spotlights languidly shifting from ridge to mound to peak to headwall to serrated edge and back again. The blue holes in the ceiling shifted from light turquoise over the mountains to purples and violets overhead.

This sunrise unfolded slowly; its lotus petals opening to release warm light to melt the cold morning sky. I felt like I was sitting in the first balcony, watching the house lights gradually bring the stage sets to life.

But the most remarkable thing of all was that I not looking east at the rising sun, I was looking west into the mountains, watching them as they were animated by the light from behind.

So it was that I experienced this remarkable sunrise by turning my back to it, absorbing its energy and beauty reflected by the canvas of the mountains. This makes me wonder how often we miss the best moments because we focus on the spectacular, rather than the softer, more subtle energies flowing around us.

early marvin morning march

Posted by: Dave Neads | March 23, 2013

A Time of Passage

On a crunchy morning a couple of days ago we went to visit a very dear friend who was dying. When Mort first moved into our valley in the fall of 1988, he celebrated his 65th birthday by breaking his leg in a horse accident, so it fell to me to put up his wood and help him along with many of the chores until he was able to move on his own again.

Mort lived in our valley on two separate occasions, the second time in the original cabin on our property. He had many, many chickens, a pot-bellied escape artist goat named Charlie, Nick the spitting llama, two dogs—a three legged sweetie called Cactus who was fast friends with Bones, a cadaverous redbone hound. The little cats, Thelma and Louise, were in contrast to the giants Jake and Jimmy; Belgian draft horses weighing in at a ton each.

As you can imagine, Mort’s menagerie was a constant source of entertainment and untold adventures over the years.

Now it is the spring of 2013. The menagerie has long since disappeared, each member passing on in its own distinctive way. Some went to cougars and coyotes, some to winter’s cold hand, some to old age. They are all gone now.

When we visited him on Thursday, Mort was drifting in and out of this reality. For a few moments the old sparkle would blaze through the half closed eyes, his sense of humour would rise, commenting “See what happens when you don’t lock your doors? Guys like you can just walk right in!” At other moments, he would engage in personal conversations with people only he could see and hear.

Spring is a time of energy flows, vortices winding and unwinding, sliding, shifting, replacement of the old by the eternal new –itself a recycled reality from the stars. Simultaneously old, young, new, transmuted, unknowable all things at all times.

So it has come to pass with Mort. He has had his last spring in this plane. This morning was his time of passage into the great Chilcotin in the sky, perhaps to collect yet another menagerie.

May he ride in peace through the open spaces he loved.

We will miss him terribly.


Posted by: Dave Neads | March 20, 2013

The First Day of Spring

As many of you know, Rosemary and I are in the process of selling our beloved home in the Precipice valley. Firhome, as our post and beam creation is called, will soon become the nest for someone else living in this wonderous place.

As a result, this will probably be our last spring experience here in the Precipice.

Over the next three months I will post as regularly as possible, sharing the thoughts, ideas and projects that are filling our lives in these last times.

It will be a rough, often tearfull ride, as we run the roller coaster of emotions from the pathos of leaving to the anxious anticipation of our next life experience.

It seems the Precipice, too, has some ideas about what is an appropriate beginning to this new adventure. We awoke to a dull grey sky, full of tiny bullet shaped snow crystals streaking downward through the morning twilight.

Ice snow, on the first day of spring. How apt I thought, the long embrace of winter reaching forward past the equinox, just to make sure we all know the major engine of this climate is still alive and well.

Not to be intimidated, a few brave birds were huddled under the feeder roof, scrounging what was left by the flying squirrels overnight. These slim pickings were all that was available in this dim shrouded world, far from the promised sunny climes of spring.

The scene is set for our journey.


Posted by: Dave Neads | May 5, 2012


As you can see, I am not posting much these days. I am very busy here in Precipice, with very little time for reflection, let alone writing BLOG entries.  Thank you for the queries, I will try to get back on line in the future, but not sure just when.

Hope all is well,

Posted by: Dave Neads | January 17, 2012

Pine Leaders

What is really going on? At first glance there is nothing unusual in the way this young pine is growing. It is about seven feet tall, probably ten years old, eking out a living on the parched clay ridge. With its southern exposure it gets lots of light and the spring snow melt gives it a nice drink before the hot dry summer sets in.

All of this is normal for young pines living on this hogback above our home, but this particular young tree has an unusual feature distinguishing it from its neighbours. All the other pines in the area have long straight leaders, or candles as they are called, which point upward, guiding the trees as they reach for the sky.

The exact mechanism which governs the growth of these leaders is only partially understood. There are theories about cells sensing gravity, assumptions about biology, sunlight, nutrient transfer, genetic codes, all very well articulated scientific descriptions; however they don’t really explain the way in which a tree knows how to send one central shoot straight up and cause all the other shoots go sideways, forming branches.

There is more going on here than cell biology, more than the interplay of physics and photons.

A case in point is this young pine tree growing straight and tall on the ridge. It had lost its central leader. Maybe ice, maybe a squirrel, maybe a careless hand broke the candle off, leaving the fledgling pine directionless. But life is adaptable, finding ways around seeming impossible problems.

This youngster was determined to grow up and join its well formed, healthy brothers and sisters on the ridge community. What to do? This is where the mystery deepens. Usually, in each growth year, there is a whorl of three or four buds which start to grow out horizontally at the base of the leader as they begin to form branches. The leader grows vertically through the year and the lateral shoots spread sideways, cantilevering into space.

With no leader, the young pine used an ingenious strategy to overcome this problem. One of the normally sideways thrusting buds took a ninety degree turn and started to grow vertically, becoming the new leader. The buds on the rest of the whorl grew as usual, spreading parallel to the ground, while the former branch bud firmly established itself as the replacement spire, pulling the tree upwards to the heavens.

How did this happen? How did the tree decide to direct one branch to grow upward while the others went on with business as usual? If it were some mechanical process, then all four of the branch buds would have turned skyward, but no, just one took on the task. Was there some kind of conference? Did the nascent branches draw straws? Was it a privilege or a punishment to take on the role of leader?

There is a theory in biology called Morphic resonance. In short, it postulates the existence of an energy field which living organisms follow to become whatever being they are. That is why salamanders can grow new tails, or why one cell can become a few trillion diversified ones to make up a tree or a human body.

The Morphic field is an energy template guiding the life process, the same way software tells the hardware in your computer what to do, only this matter energy interaction is orders of magnitude more subtle and sophisticated than the most powerful supercomputers imaginable.

It is also a total mystery. The youngster on the ridge followed a pattern that has been successful for millions of years, an energy force unseen, unknown but fully manifest in the structure emerging as a healthy new pine.

Is this a conscious choice? Can this be called thinking? Where are the boundaries demarcating free will, energy fields and so called hardwired, unchanging outcomes?

In my view, this young tree made a choice; a deliberate action was taken to conform to the life model and physical structure of pinedom, fulfilling its destiny.

Posted by: Dave Neads | January 12, 2012

Time Travel

Every day I travel back in time to the mid nineteenth century. Currently the span is 148 years, five months. Of course I could go back several thousand years or just a dozen or so, but this particular distance has special relevance.

The Precipice is the junction of at least five very old trails connecting the interior plateau to the Bella Coola Valley on the coast. One route in particular interests me because it crosses over the ridge just above our home. This path goes by various names, but the usual one today is the Lunos Trail, after the Lunos Brothers who used it as a trade track in the 1890s.

But that is not the reason I time travel. Each day I visit Lt. H. S. Palmer R.E, F.R.A.S, who walked this very trail in August of 1863. He was surveying a possible route for the Canadian Pacific Railway to Fort Alexandria on the Fraser River just below Quesnel, from the head of North Bentick Arm at Bella Coola.

Lt. Palmer and his party walked, packing their supplies and equipment on their backs, from the lower sections of the trail to the Fraser River. It was just another survey to him, but when I look back on it from this perspective it seems like a gigantic effort.

When I read his journal, the matter-of-fact presentation belies the difficulties he must have encountered during his journey through the dense coastal rainforest, a steep climb up the river to the valley and then another rugged climb up and over the Precipice.  At this point he does allow himself some emotion as he describes the “dizzying path” climbing the last hundred yards in elevation to summit the vertical basalt cliffs of the Precipice itself. From there  it was a slog across the plateau, traversing bogs and swamps to the point that “never did we make camp with dry feet.”

So each day, as I walk the short section of the old trail on the ridge, I visit Lt. Palmer, usually making a comment or two, reaching back in time.

This is not so odd as it may seem. When I view the old fir trees, the fire blackened stumps, the wind torn tops, the leaning moss covered trunks supporting contorted branches clawing at the sky, I know that the Lieutenant saw the same trees, walked under and beside them the same as I do now.

The same old firs, that were already two or three hundred years old when he saw them, the same trail, the same view of the coastal mountains and the Precipice Valley. Nothing has changed in any substantial way.

That is how short a span of 148 years is. In just a flick in time I can be connected to the Lt. by the firs, the bed of the trail, the sense that time is porous, full of tunnels and passages for the mind and the spirit to wander into.

Good afternoon, Lieutenant!

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