Although the airport where I worked was tiny, it was also crucial to the area. Set in the heavily treed slopes of the Cascade mountains there are often many forest fires. The airport was helpful for those helicopters who fight the fires to fuel up without flying to a larger center.
The offices were a little building, with my instruments to judge and help determine the weather. The most important is the Sea Level pressure. I keep thinking of ‘Die Hard’ where the bad guys were giving planes the wrong information so they crashed. The airport is about 2-3 miles outside the little town. I started worrying I wasn’t giving the right information. The CB’s that float around in the air, creating havoc are a problem too. Pilots must avoid those, especially small planes. The wind inside these clouds are above tornado speeds and lightening comes from them. We learned there was one small plane that survived, flying through a CB,but that rarely happens.
But mainly I watched the deer and bear playing in the peaceful setting.
I was at NAV Canada for 6 weeks. We had school for the standard 9 to 3:30 with an hour off for lunch. Our week-ends were free. There was a long winding path by the St. Lawrence River that took us to Tim Horton’s. Sometimes Sarah, Jamie and I would walk there and back, even though it was so hot. Sometimes we played volley-ball or made plans to cross the St. Lawrence to get contraband cigarettes from the Native reservation (which were so cheap compared to ours.) As I was a writer, our stories intensified drastically as the course deepened.
Dark, rolling CB’s crossed the sky with malicious intent. We stood by the shore of the river determined to cross and find those cheap cigarettes. ‘I don’t know how to swim’ I whispered in fear. ‘No problem,’ Isadore said. ‘Just hop on me and pretend I’m a raft and we’ll float across.’
With laughter and outlandish suggestions we made plans although it was easy enough in Cornwall to get those cigarettes.
All the other students had no trouble including an old lady in their activities. It was a great experience and a wonderful way to re-introduce myself back into society again.
But it was an intense course and required studying. After six weeks I left to go back to the tiny little town I lived in. Exchanging e-mails and promising to become Facebook friends it was a sad departure.
…see the local countryside. We however had no means of transportation. So one day we rented a car and did a little sight-seeing. We drove down the Number 2 highway which runs alongside of the St. Lawrence River and headed west. There are a number of quaint old towns with houses open to the public. Here in the west there isn’t much in the way of old estate houses. The famous Thousand Islands start at Kingston so we drove to Kingston. The sights were amazing. Some of the Islands have castles.
We stopped at a prison from the old days and were astounded by the differences between then and now. The cells were little boxes with room only for a bed.
The outside of the prison.
Jamie behind bars.
The hanging gallows.
Being a Saskatchewan girl I found the locks (where ships climb stairs) the most fascinating place. We stopped at one and I could have stayed there all day watching. There is absolutely nothing like this on the Saskatchewan Prairies. The ships maneuver through gates with barely an inch to spare on each side.
Our instructor was originally from Saskatchewan. As he was around my age we got along quite well. I met the others in class and some stick out in my mind. James and Preston were from the James Bay area (a very isolated community) of Hudson’s Bay. Not used to the modern conveniences, and barely out of their teens, they couldn’t get enough food it seemed. Besides piling their plates in the buffet cafeteria they would go out to McDonald’s, Burger King or Wendy’s every night for that fast food fix. It was hilarious and their enjoyment was fun to watch. Preston reminded me of my son as he was obsessed with sports and especially hockey. James, who is the only one who got a consistent 100%, told me a story, native legend that they used to believe. He said that Natives didn’t like their pictures being taken because they believed the camera stole their souls. But they both agreed to let me take their picture.
We learned how to ‘clean-up’ after a thermometer broke and my instructor said ‘Hey Mary, remember when we rolled the mercury around in our hands in Science class’. I did remember, although the young ones looked at us in disbelief. When it was my turn to decide the Sea Level for a plane landing my instructor said ‘And Mary just crashed a plane’ when I got it wrong. It was funny at the time but upon thinking I can safely say I don’t think Weather Observers are given enough money for that. The pay in Princeton was minimum wage.
Another two people were going to work up in Eureka, one going in as the other came out. There is an army base there. When I found out Sarah’s turn would be over Christmas I asked if she minded. She was a young, sweet girl, also from the west. She said ‘No, Eureka is only about 30 miles from the North Pole. Santa will find me first.’
It was many years since I had attended a school. Although I had taken many on-line or correspondence courses in the old days, I rarely had time to go to school during the day. Now in my 50’s I was about to embark on a new adventure.
I was picked up in Ottawa along with two other classmates. Isadore and Jamie (who turned out to be the youngest in our class) were two natives from Saskatchewan. I was going right back to my child schooldays. I too was from Saskatchewan and had attended schools with many natives as well. Even after all these years I felt comfortable going back in time. Isadore is one of the funniest, most fun people I met in years. Jamie was a sweet, girl with the most beautiful complexion I’d ever seen in person. We chatted and immediately formed a bond.
There was a mall we would go to, sharing a cab on our week-ends off. In the mall was a nice wine shop. In Ontario there is an area near Niagara Falls where they grow grapes and make wine. I was however from the Okanagan Valley where the wineries are now known around the world. There is the largest winery in Osoyoos owned by Native Americans. So I chose to question the salesgirl in the store while Jamie and Isadore stood giggling by the door.
“Do you have any wines from Np’ Mip?” – “Pardon? What is that?” – “You haven’t heard of it?” Finally I explained it was the largest Native owned winery in North America. She did not have any wine from Np’Mip, but carried a few Okanagan wines. I didn’t buy any wine that day.
I was pleased to see the NAV Center had a huge courtyard for smokers. It was packed with people but had beautiful gardens and fountains, all surrounded by a huge, square building. We soon discovered where our classes were held as well as learned of the different courses being taught. There were groups from all over the world. I met a group from Israel there for the simulated pilot training and learned from there they would move on to Oklahoma to fly real planes. The conversations were enlightening and stimulated the mind as they explained what it is like to live in daily, continuous danger. Yet all said they would not move to safety regardless of the opportunity. Hats off to these brave, courageous men and women.