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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Censored Mom

As part of my continuing quest to digitize the Woods family photos, I scanned this image of Sean and Dad in Vancouver some months ago. While I prefer to scan negatives rather than prints, in this case I had no choice since the negative was the Kodak 110 variety, which my scanner can't accommodate - or so I thought. 

Last week I found a method of scanning irregular negatives, and stumbled across this image's original negative.

Imagine my surprise when I scanned the negative to find this:
Not only does scanning the negative result in a sharper, truer image, it reveals that Mom was in the picture as well, although half-cropped thanks to my bad aim. I was stunned that the developer - the local drugstore in Leduc, in this case - would crop someone out of an image, even if it did result in a better composition. I suppose I should have realized years ago that the practice must have been fairly common, given print sizes of the day and other factors. But Mom's newly revealed presence shows my original intent: to photograph not just Sean and Dad, but all three of my nuclear relations in front of the memorial. I've long wondered why Mom wasn't in the shot, sometimes imagining that she must have been off wandering in the park or perhaps getting ice cream or something. Now I know she was there and I simply screwed up the shot.

This is by no means an Earth-shattering historical revelation, of course, but it does give one pause to wonder how many other little details are casually filtered out of our collective amateur history.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Accidental Ritual

It seemed an innocent enough pose, but little did Earl know that asking his parents to pose in just that way at just that moment, combined with the innocent but disastrous last-second gestures of his brother, would open the gates to the dreaded Zagtur dimension.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Return to K-Days

Everything old is new again! Today Northlands announced that the annual Edmonton summer fair will henceforth be named K-Days. The "K," however, won't necessarily stand for Klondike Days as it did in the halcyon days of my youth. According to the Edmonton Journal story linked above, Northlands is going to figure out a theme to surround the K-Days name.

Perhaps the annual fair could be one K long, or 1000 days. Wait, that won't work...

Perhaps the venue will extend one full kilometre.

The organizers could develop a theme of eclectic madness: Krazy Days.

Or a movie monster theme: Kong Days.

Personally, I think the fair should be called Frontier Fest or Gateway Days. But I haven't been to K-Days/Capital Ex since 1991, so my vote doesn't mean much.

Here are two photos of my brother Sean enjoying the bumper cars at Klondike Days way back in July 1982:
I suppose it doesn't really matter what we call the fair as long as people have fun. And Sean certainly looks as though he was having fun back then!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Return to Baldur's Gate

Way back in 1998 I entered the dangerous world of Baldur's Gate, a Dungeons & Dragons adventure game for the PC and, not insignificantly, Edmonton developer Bioware's big breakout hit.

The game's compelling storyline, superb music, attractive graphics and addictive gameplay made Baldur's Gate one of the very few computer games I've played to completion. (Baldur's Gate 2 and about half of the various Ultima and Fallout games are the others.) I have a short attention span when it comes to games, but Baldur's Gate was well written enough to force me to keep playing to the story's conclusion; I wanted to know what would happen to the characters I was shepherding!

This is why I'm so excited that Baldur's Gate is about to return with enhanced graphics and gameplay, including new characters and storylines. There's even going to be an iPad version, which might very well push me over the edge on the road to obtaining the popular tablet. And the work is being done by Overhaul Games, another Edmonton company working right on Whyte Avenue. 

Best of all, back in the day I probably paid something like $60 or $70 for the game. The new version is selling for $20, including the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion pack. I can't wait for release day: September 18th!

Friday, July 27, 2012

My Greatest Sporting Achievement

Since the Olympics start today in London, a sport-themed story seems appropriate. This, then, is the tale of my single greatest accomplishment in sports: the day I became the Tiger Woods of mini-golf.

Back in 2003, when Sylvia and I first started dating, we drove down to the hot springs at Radium, British Columbia. There was a mini-golf course next to our hotel, so Sylvia and I ambled over to give it a try. Astounding Sylvia - though no more than myself - I found myself completely in the zone, scoring several holes-in-one and only rarely missing each hole's score for par. In the end, I wound up with a final score of one under par for the course, and Sylvia immediately christened me "the Tiger Woods of mini-golf!"

Sadly this performance was not to be repeated. We played another couple of rounds, but I couldn't recapture the style and finesse I'd managed during the first game. Still, Sylvia was impressed enough that I sometimes wonder if this single example of sporting prowess may have convinced her that I was a keeper.

Clearly, the Earl-y birdie gets the girl.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

USS Oklahoma City, 1983

I far prefer photos of people over places and things, but I'm shy about photographing my friends and family members for fear of being too intrusive. This admission may surprise the many people aggravated by my lens over the years, but it's true; the only reason I have so many pictures of people is because I force myself to be a little annoying about it. I value the people in my life tremendously, and I enjoy having photos of them. Sometimes I wonder if that's a little creepy, but I cling to my frozen photons tenaciously.

My early photos are far more likely to feature landscapes and objects than people. That's why I'm so pleased when I run across images like this. It's not a great photo, just a standard shot of the USS Oklahoma City on a visit to Seattle in 1983. But on the right, I captured my parents and brother walking along the dock, Sean looking up to ask Mom a question. I wonder what he was asking, and how she replied. I'll never know, unless Sean or Mom happen to miraculously remember, but I take comfort in knowing the question was asked. Sometimes that's enough.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Detailing the Squadron

Sean, Steve and I resumed painting tonight, and after two and a half hours of solid work, my squadron is starting to look half-decent, though Sean's Romulan ships are certainly more flamboyant. One more round of painting and we should be ready to try out the actual game..!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Superman Puns Too!

Art and dialogue by Daniel Brereton.
After battling an ancient and dangerous god to a standstill, the Justice League discusses future options in the denouement of 2000's JLA: Seven Caskets one-shot. Note that Brereton, a successful comics professional, takes great care to provide Superman with the perfect opening for a story-ending pun. Indeed, perhaps the entire 50-page story was nothing more than the lead-in for Superman's play on words! (I've highlighted the joke for you just in case it's too subtle.)

I find it interesting that Superman's expression mirrors my own when I deliver a pun. Batman's pained countenance is also familiar, as is Wonder Woman's indulgent grin and Aquaman's wry "he's at it again" look.

Anyway, the whole point of this post is to justify my love of bad puns, in much the same way that LARPers use Captain Picard's love of the holodeck to justify their hobby.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Today Sylvia and I went to The Shoe Company so she could replace some damaged footwear. Shopping for clothes bores me to tears, with an unfortunate side effect: I'll do anything to entertain myself, whether or not it's actually a good idea. That includes creating bad jokes.

I came up with a doozy as we reached the till, and I was already giggling when I gave Sylvia her straight line:

"Hey, Sylvia, did you hear about how they caught the robber who was trying to rob the shoe store?" I asked.

"What robber? What are you talking about?"

"He was acting shoe-spiciously," I said, suppressing guffaws. 

"Oh Earl, really?" Sylvia scoffed. But I laughed, and I'm pretty sure the clerk cracked a smile.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Marketing Man of Steel 2

Man of Steel won't even be released until 2013, but I've already devised a sequel pitch: call it Men of Steel and have Superman fight Metallo, Brainiac (pictured above) and an army of retro 1930s-style giant robots, as suggested in yesterday's post. It's simple: giant robots invade city, Superman defeats them, clues lead to Metallo and Lex Luthor (man of steel will), but behind the scenes is alien invader Brainiac, who's been manipulating Metallo and Luthor and softening up the world for his final assault. In the end Superman's brawn is insufficient to defeat Brainiac, and he has to draw upon his wit and even his compassion. He convinces Luthor and Metallo to join forces against the greater threat. When the dust clears, Lois Lane ruminates: "Sometimes you don't need to be a man of steel," she says, referring not just to Superman but Metallo and Luthor, "Sometimes it's enough just to be a man."  Roll credits!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Thoughts on the Man of Steel Teaser Trailer

I don't know how to feel about this. On the one hand, I have yet to be moved by a Zack Snyder film. On the other hand, while I didn't exactly love Watchmen, he did at least show respect for the source material.

Why are most of the Superman movies so sad? Yes, he's an orphan, and his existence can be lonely, but the character is supposed to be a beacon of sorts; he's even solar-powered, for crying out loud. Clark Kent isn't a lonely fisherman, he's an outgoing guy who makes connections with people and tries to make everyone's life better.

It should certainly be a good-looking film, anyway. And perhaps Christopher Nolan will play enough of a role as producer to give the film some depth and weight.

But just once, I'd love a Superman movie where the brightly-garbed Man of Steel saves a city by plugging a volcano with a boulder and flying off with a wink and a smile. Or one in which he saves Metropolis from an army of robots, then saves Lois and rehabilitates the mad scientist. This shouldn't be rocket science, even if Kal-El came to Earth on one.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Falcon Pressed

Earl's die-cast Kenner Millennium Falcon toy, from 1979. Still in great shape 33 years later!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

From a Safe Distance

Photo shot with the iPhone and edited with Aviary.
"Up periscope!" ordered Captain T.O. Stubbing, commander of the H.M.C.S. As Canadian As Possible Under the Circumstances. His steel-grey eyes widened as he beheld the spectacle revealed by the periscope's stealthy gaze. 

"Och! Superman! And he's smashin' a robot to smithereens!" cried the sub commander. 

"What sort of robot?" barked Lex Luthor, a guest aboard the sub on his way to Halifax to close a lucrative real estate deal.

"See fer yerself," said the captain, offering the bald scientist a peek. 

"My L-417 prototype!" exclaimed Luthor. "That red and blue buffoon has wrecked it!" 

"And saved Nova Scotia!" declared Captain Stubbing, to the cheers of his crew. "So you admit the robot is yours, Luthor. Aye, and now ye're under arrest by the authority of the Queen of Canada."

"Bah!" barked Luthor as the crew cheered again, military policemen clapping him in irons. 

After Luthor was led to the submarine's spacious brig, First Officer F.N. Dynamite approached the captain and whispered sotto voce

"But Captain, how did you and Superman know that Luthor would give away his connection to the robot?" 

Stubbing grunted gruffly and lit his pipe. 

"Superman became suspicious when Luthor started buying up the cheapest real estate in the province," Stubbing explained. "The Man 'o Steel, having seen his own movies, figured that Luthor had some hare-brained scheme to wreck the coastline, making his formerly worthless property spike in value." 

"Pretty unimaginative for Lex Luthor!" said the first officer. 

"Aye," said Captain Stubbing with a wink, "Ye might say that as far as plans go, it was SUB standard." 

The crew groaned.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Outcropping

To celebrate Star Trek: The Next Generation's 25th anniversary, here's a very short nonsensical story (or story fragment, really) I wrote about a decade ago. 

"The Outcropping"
Captain Picard stumbled into the crevice. With a roaring curse, he skidded down the slope, scraping his bald cranium on a sharp outcropping of ice.

"God damn it!" he muttered, tumbling into a snowdrift. "I've cut my head!" he gasped.

Data, thinking fast, licked the wound, sealing it with his android saliva. Picard grimaced, disgusted, but also relieved.

"Good work, Mr. Data."

The End

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

20 Years of Nursing

I just realized - a few months late, admittedly - that my friend Susan has been a nurse for 20 years. This photo was taken at her graduation ceremony at the Jubilee Auditorium back in January of 1992. She's supported here by her friends, all members of the University of Alberta Star Trek Club: her brother Steven Neumann, future husband Jeff Shyluk, Tony Longworth, Jim Sandercock, and me. I have no idea how many babies Susan has taken care of over the years, but it must be thousands, and certainly countless families are in her debt.

Enjoy the next 20 years, Susan!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Titling Star Trek 2

Apparently the producers of the next Star Trek film are having trouble coming up with a title. They can't call it Star Trek 2 because it might get confused with The Wrath of Khan. And they want to avoid using a title with a colon, such as Star Trek: Multiplication or whatever.

There used to be a time when movie sequels had unique titles that didn't necessarily repeat the title of the first film in the series. Christopher Nolan used that technique with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. And the James Bond films, of course, each sport a unique title; they're not called James Bond 3: Goldfinger, James Bond 25: Diamondkill,  and so on.

J.J. Abrams and his team should let the marketers do their job and give their movie a title that evokes its theme. Not knowing the story, I can't make suggestions specific to the new film's theme, but any Star Trek fan should be able to offer a list of titles that evoke the general feel of the show. Here's mine:

Strange New World, preferably for a story featuring an interesting scientific and/or cultural discovery
Fatal Frontier, for a story involving severe peril such as war or a threatening disease or interstellar phenomenon (Final Frontier has already been used, sadly)
Voyagers, for a team-building film (might be good for this movie, actually, since this'll be the first time we see the crew all together working as a unit with each member having already earned his or her spot on the ship)
Where None Have Gone Before, for a story of exploration
A Star to Steer Her By, for a character study
Starship Enterprise, for a truly epic film that captures all the most important Star Trek themes; perhaps the last in a trilogy, perhaps a crossover film featuring parallel universes

There you go, Damon and JJ - enough titles to take you through the next decade. I ask only for an invitation to the premiere!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Home Theatre Heaven

Well, it's not the fanciest home theatre system in the world, but it is mine, and at long last I'm beginning to approach the setup I've always dreamed of: screen hung on the wall, surround sound speakers in their proper locations and also mounted on the wall to create more floor space. Mom and Dad helped me mount the television, which was  a more frustrating experience than it should have been because electronic stud finders turn out to be terribly ineffective at their primary job - finding studs. We wound up drilling holes in the wall at random until finding a stud, then measuring from that space. Fortunately the wall mounting unit and the television cover all the holes! 

The wires are rather ugly, so I'll need to explore some means of covering them up. 

Some trivia for Earl of the future: the first film you watched with this new setup was Frost/Nixon.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Underwhelming Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man is competently produced, edited and acted, with a straightforward plot and state of the art special effects. And yet, for the first time in decades, I found myself fighting to stay awake during the movie. This is the super-hero action film at its most generic.

It's disheartening to watch good actors such as Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Martin Sheen struggle with a by-the-numbers screenplay that hits all the required notes without creating any music at all. The film bounces from set-piece to set-piece without giving the audiences sufficient reason to care about any of the characters. Here's the basic plot: brilliant but shy high school student Peter Parker struggles to fit in, gets bitten by a spider, winds up indirectly responsible for his beloved uncle's death, conducts an awkward teen romance and fights a super-powered villain.

We've seen all this before too recently. It's only been ten years since Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire first told Spider-Man's origin story on film, and told it well enough to fill that particular niche for at least one generation.(Raimi and Maguire would have returned for a fourth Spider-Man film, but they and the studio had disagreements that led to this reboot.) With the exception of some minor details, this is essentially the same film as Spider-Man (2002). There's nothing new to see here, nothing daring or interesting about director Marc Webb's interpretation of the story; even James Horner has phoned in an utterly uninspiring score. Garfield's Spider-Man cracks wise more often than Maguire's did, and he has mechanical rather than organic web-shooters. When minutia like this is the most remarkable thing about a film, something's gone terribly wrong.

Midway through the film Spider-Man confronts the film's villain, the Lizard, in the sewers. Punches and kicks are thrown, scary fangs are bared, webbing is slung. But the outcome was so predictable - necessarily a draw, since there was still 45 minutes or so of running time left - that I found myself dozing off. I had no emotional investment in either character, and the images on the screen dissolved into a meaningless, frenetic blur. Alongside the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man is my favourite Marvel character, but this movie completely failed to capture the story's soul; it's a parable about personal responsibility and growing up. The movie tries to cover this ground, but it does so in such an obligatory way that the entire premise falls flat.

Superhero films such as The Dark Knight, X-Men: First Class, The Avengers, Iron Man and Superman III (no, that's not a typo) have proven that the genre can produce thought-provoking, engaging and fun entertainment. The Amazing Spider-Man is in some ways worse than such derided comic book adaptations such as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Raimi's own Spider-Man 3 or Ang Lee's Hulk; at least those movies took chances and attempted (however ineptly) to explore important questions, evolve the characters or experiment stylistically. The newest Spider-Man film plays everything so utterly safe that audiences will probably forget the movie by the time they cross the parking lot to their vehicles.

I didn't hate this movie. It's merely utterly pointless and unnecessary. Watch Raimi's first two Spider-Man films and avoid getting snared in Webb's web.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Roundhill Tower

On one of many family voyages up and down the Hanson Lake Road we stopped to visit Narrow Hills Provincial Park and Roundhill Tower, a fire lookout. I shot this in 1984, not with the Kodak 110 I've blogged about before, but with my first 35 mm camera. I don't remember the brand name, but it was made of green and black plastic and not particularly durable.

I tried to clean up the image a little with Photoshop, but the colours remain somewhat faded and bland, which I suppose reveals both the limitations of cheap cameras, image correction software and most importantly, unsophisticated young photographers.

I imagine I was trying to be recursively clever, framing the actual tower behind the painting of the tower; perhaps I thought the real tower's proximity made the painted sign rather redundant. "Here is a painting of Roundhill Tower. If you shift your attention slightly, you'll see the real tower in the distance. Walk up this hill for an even better view!" Silly.

I'm rather annoyed that 15 year old Earl lopped off the top of the tower with this clumsy composition, but I'm glad the photo exists anyway because it reminds me of one of Dad's most amazing stories: the time he fell all the way down the ladder of a similar fire tower. That tale still makes me wince!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Gaming and Guinness VII

In early May, I left my job at the Alberta Legislature. Fortunately I had little time to wallow in anxiety or sadness, for mere days later the Gaming and Guinness gang gathered at Peter Harris' place to celebrate G&G VII.
This was Pete's first opportunity to host G&G, and he did a fine job, aided by his superb cooking skills and mild OCD. Guests arrived to find the menu and itinerary already prepared!
As a small token of my appreciation and in a nod to this year's G&G movie, The Avengers, I brought Pete a Thor bottle opener.
We opened with Tsuro, a beautifully designed strategy game in which coloured stones representing dragons follow pathways, trying to avoid falling off the game board or crashing into each other. It's a fast, elegant game that grows more fun and challenging with each player added.
We then moved on to Bang!, a card game that emulates the action of a western-themed first person shooter.
Jeff considers his hand.
My hand wasn't nearly as good as Jeff's. Or perhaps he simply has a better poker face.
As always, I shot a whole bunch of photos. I'm particularly pleased with the following profile shots of several of the gang:
Scott looked fashionably geeky in his Star Wars t-shirt.
Pete, as the Sheriff of Bang!, kept his cards close to the vest.
Mike Parlow always reminds me of Count Zaroff from The Most Dangerous Game.
G&G founder Steve is a force to be reckoned with no matter the game.
I even managed to capture a rare image of Mike Totman without his middle finger raised. (Perhaps because I didn't actually snap this photo.)
I don't usually participate in the massive Warhammer battles that usually serve to open G&G, but this year I was responsible for suggesting the terrain type, to wit, the Mojave-like environs seen in several Star Trek episodes. Scott built the terrain, but he graciously asked me to help with the initial layout of the various cliffs, rivers and other features.
I remain astounded by the modelling skills of my friends.
Perennial guest star Dustin Friel dropped in for Rock Band, as he's done several times in the past. Here he is, wailing away on the drums.
This time around I have very few good images of Rob Day. But here he is at centre, enjoying Guinness Jell-O shots.
For some reason Sylvia thinks that G&G is merely an excuse for the gang to get together, er, "on the down low," as it were. It's turned into something of a running joke, since the lot of us are almost blandly heterosexual - at least, as far as I know - well, it hardly matters, anyway. Sylvia's gotten rather jaded about the whole thing, as you can tell from her text messages.
In a true blast from the past, Steve brought over the newest iteration of the Battletech board game we played back in high school. I don't think I've stepped into a giant robot since those halcyon days, and it showed; I spent most of my time hiding half-submerged in a lake. I was ineffective for most of the game, though toward the end I did manage to destroy Totty's mech. The game ended inconclusively overall, though I feel Mike Parlow's team probably would have won the day in the end.
Circvs Maximvs grows more elaborate with each passing year. This year, Pete commissioned his goddaughter to sculpt huge Ben Hur statues for the track. They really add a great deal of grace and verisimilitude to the game!
Awe-inspiring. We certainly put on a good show for the new statues, for out of eight charioteers, four were eliminated, with three deaths!
The gods did not smile on the racers this day.
While I held the lead for a brief moment, it was Pete who ultimately prevailed, ending Jeff's victory streak.
Jeff and I earned second and third place, respectively - and posthumously, crossing the finish line alive but succumbing to the injuries we earned during the race.
With another G&G under our belts, the anticipation begins for next year's gathering, tentatively planned to be hosted by Rob Day in the nation's capital. It should be quite an adventure!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Shadowy Figure of Stone

I shot this photo in 1981 at a popular tourist attraction, now closed. Can you guess the identity of this looming figure and the attraction where it once paraded?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mom's Big Birthday

Today's Mom's birthday! Here she is with her older sisters in 1945. Mom is the little one on the right. Aunt Jean is on her right, Aunt Margaret is behind Aunt Jean, and Aunt Marjorie is behind Mom.

Sean and I gave Mom iTunes gift cards for her iPad so she could buy some books for Mom and Dad's upcoming trip to Oregon. I'll bet little Elizabeth never imagined that one day she'd be reading books displayed on a plate of glass...but then, not even Arthur Clarke or Isaac Asimov were imagining such wonders back then, at least as I recall their work.

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Mom! May you enjoy many more.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Cut-Rate Cutout

Many years ago, I shot this photo of my bicycle leaning against Mom and Dad's old Fargo in their garage. There's nothing particularly distinguished about the image; I was probably trying to finish off a roll of film.
Just look what thirty seconds' worth of playing with the Photoshop cutout filter will do: I now have a faux art piece a lazy graphic designer might use to finish an ad for a small business with no budget.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Why I Don't Work for BioWare

A file called Initial Thoughts 011906, found in the folder Earl's Writing/Bioware Contest:

Find the doodad
Reunite the star-crossed lovers
Avenge the fallen friend or relative
Rescue the damsel in distress



Poor effort, Earl of 2006. 

Saturday, July 07, 2012

23rd Century Teatime

Back in the 90s, underemployed, isolated and bored, I spent a lot of my copious spare time photographing action figures in strange situations. Here we have the opening moments of a charming 23rd century teatime. Why did I create this tableau? I probably had ambitious plans for another stop-motion action figure movie, but it looks like this time I never got past the early story boarding stages.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Why I Still Love DVD

Today I finally finished watching The Bionic Woman on DVD. It was one of the first television shows to feature a true series finale with narrative closure: "On the Run," in which Jaime Sommers, feeling monstrous because of her bionics and sick of OSI missions eating up her life, resigns from the organization and finds herself on the run from a government that sees her as property.

It's a great episode, far better than any other in the somewhat lackluster third season. But frustratingly, in the final moments, Jaime decides to keep working for OSI after all, with the stipulation that her workload be reduced.

Fortunately "On the Run" features an audio commentary by the episode's writer, Steven de Souza, famous for scripting later hits such as Commando and the first two Die Hard films. De Souza reveals that the episode as scripted ended with Jaime escaping a squad of government goons and running off into the sunset, free to pursue her own destiny. But the demands of syndication forced the inclusion of the coda so that viewers wouldn't be confused should the finale appear in the middle of the rerun schedule, as it inevitably would.

It's a shame that things turned out the way they did, but "On the Run" is still a pretty good episode, and as de Souza recommends, you can always pretend the ending was filmed as originally scripted.

Why do I still love DVD? Because from time to time the format can still offer compelling glimpses into the behind-the-scenes world of film and television production.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Inking the Fleet

Tonight Sean and I ventured over to Steve's to continue painting our "A Call to Arms" squadrons. This time I inked each ship in blue to provide further texture and a base upon which to add additional detail. My brush strokes need work, but at least I successfully coated each ship without making too much mess. I dread painting on the ship names and registrations.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Cabin on the Lake of the Woods

Recently my friend and ex-boss Neil Mackie invited Sylvia and me to his cabin in Kenora for the Canada Day weekend. Sylvia and I hopped in the car as soon as she was finished work on Friday, and a day later, a couple of hours before darkness fell, we found ourselves driving through several kilometers of bush and winding, heaving gravel roads to discover Neil's cabin on Poplar Bay, part of the massive Lake of the Woods.
Raising the flag on Canada Day is one of Neil's annual rituals, and we arrived in time to see him mount the flag on a sturdy wooden pole.
Our late arrival left us with little time but to enjoy a late dinner prepared by Neil's friends Andre and Maureen and to get settled in our room. But right from the moment of our arrival we knew we were in for a special weekend, for Neil's isolated retreat was welcoming and homey in a way only a lakeside cabin can be.
We spent much of Canada Day on Neil's boat, touring the upper regions of the Lake of the Woods. Neil's cabin is barely visible through the trees; you can see the swimming dock at left.
The property includes a natural cove that provides safe harbour for Neil's fancy boat.
The weather was perfect: low 30s, sunny with just a few clouds and calm waters. Neil is an accomplished pilot and navigator and gave us a thorough tour of the northern part of the lake, bouncing us over the wakes of other watercraft from time to time for fun. We really zipped along, and Sylvia and I were both thrilled by the sights and the ride.
Kenora's proximity makes this part of the Lake of the Woods quite busy. On Canada Day, the lake drew dozens of motorboats, sailboats, water skiers, wake boarders, float planes, jet skis and canoes.
 The MS Kenora provides lake tours to residents and tourists. 
Neil insisted on having me pose in front of Huskie the Muskie.
I didn't catch the name of this fearsome fellow, but whoever painted the boulder did an impressive job.
I'm not a sufficiently expert photographer to convey speed, but perhaps Sylvia's hair and expression will give you a hint of the way we zipped along the waves.
We docked at Safeway for supplies. While I was picking out potatoes for dinner, Neil and Andre rescued a large Labrador that had fallen into the water. Sylvia was duly impressed.
It's been many years since I rode in the bow of a speeding boat, but I remember the thrill of a boat ride quite warmly. And this time there were even comfy padded seats!
After the midday tour, we took a break to prepare dinner.
My first embarkation onto the boat provided me with some just desserts; it was a complete pratfall. I stumbled into the bow like the proverbial drunken sailor, managing to bark my shin and knee on the camera and Sylvia's cane while also knocking Sylvia in the head. Fortunately I quickly remembered my sea legs and hopped on and off the boat multiple times afterward without incident.
Andre and Maureen paddled around in the canoe for a while.
Neil and I, on the other hand, played my very first game of The Awful Green Things from Outer Space. I have the ad for this in a hundred old comic books, but I'd never laid eyes on the actual game until visiting Neil's cabin. Neil's awful green things quickly overwhelmed my multispecies crew.
After dinner, we embarked again to watch the Canada Day fireworks right up close from the boat. It was a spectacular show, made more so by the dozens of watercraft crowding the bay. For extra safety, we tethered our boat to that of Neil's friend and neighbour.
The fireworks were incredible enough, but the ride back to Neil's cabin was a transcendental pleasure. With the full moon guiding a convoy of speedboats returning home, we bounced over the surface of the lake with the wind in our faces, Neil guiding us through the darkness, following in the wake of his neighbour's boat. It was both exhilarating and peaceful at once, and Sylvia and I merely glanced at each other across the bow from time to time, enjoying a special moment that we knew we'd both treasure forever.
Sylvia and I are both very grateful to Neil for opening his second home to us and showing us the great natural beauty of the Lake of the Woods. It was a short but spectacular journey to one of the world's great treasures.