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‘Tis the Season

Near as I can tell, it was the seven years working in the tourism industry in Banff that exorcised the spirit of Christmas from this here cartoonist and painter of whimsical wildlife.

When you work in a hotel, restaurant, bar, retail store or other service industry in one of the busiest tourist towns in the world, you don’t get time off during the holidays. Tourism is a lifestyle agreement many around here have signed at some point.

But too often, tourists who don’t get their picture-perfect Canadian Rockies Christmas tend to get cranky and take it out on the staff. Year after year that takes a toll.

After playing Christmas all day for the tourists, it always felt like more work to come home to your overpriced apartment and play Christmas there as well. So, we gave it up a long time ago with no regrets.
Shonna and I have not had a tree or decorations in more than twenty years. Aside from a few extra blankets on the couch, our home looks the same on December 25th as on July 25th. We don’t exchange gifts, and we don’t make a big meal.

We still attend Shonna’s office Christmas party, and that’s usually fun, as she works with nice people.

Some years, we are obligated to travel to see family because Christmas and guilt go hand in hand. Every year while living in Banff, we would have to explain to a couple of family members that we had to work on Christmas (just like the year before), so we wouldn’t be coming home.
I welcomed the excuse not to travel. In the darkest month, with the best chance for the worst weather and most treacherous driving, while we’re all under peak stress, everybody hits the road at the same time. And if the highways close for a winter whiteout, and the RCMP tell you to stay home, well, that’s just too bad. Find a way; otherwise, you’ve ruined Christmas for everybody.
Even before the pandemic, ‘tis the season when we’re all contagious. So, we get together with as many people as possible, cram ourselves into crowded spaces, shake hands, hug and kiss and then eat a bunch of finger food.

Why can’t we do this in July when we can camp or hang out on a beach? Those lucky Australians.

Despite my irredeemable inner Scrooge, I have no desire to ruin anybody else’s Christmas. If somebody says Merry Christmas to me, I’ll return the greeting. If they choose another festive Hello-Ho-Ho, I’ll return that too, unlike some who lose their minds and shriek, “IT’S MERRY CHRISTMAS, DAMMIT, NOT HAPPY HOLIDAYS!”

I have a return greeting for those people, too. Two words, no hints; you’ll only need one guess.
But here’s where it gets weird.

I like drawing holiday season and Christmas cartoons.

I enjoy drawing Santa Claus, reindeer, ornaments, ribbons, and bows on presents. I don’t know if it’s the bright colour schemes, warm subjects on cool backgrounds, snow on trees, or mythical critters. It’s just strange.

True, there’s always a cynical tone to these cartoons, making fun of the season and my issues with it, but that’s a pillar of the editorial cartoonist profession all year long. I usually come up with far too many ideas this time of year, more than I can draw in December.

But the themes are evergreen. An idea that didn’t get used last year might still work next year. The politicians and issues change, but I can put a seasonal twist on most things, and many cartoons are variations of ones I’ve drawn before, without apology.

Traditional imagery is just that. People don’t want a new twist on Santa Claus. Nobody is deciding stockings on the mantle are passé this year, so let’s hang Levi’s from the dishwasher.

However, what will change is that, hopefully, I’ll be a better artist than I was the year before, as I’m always trying to improve my skills. If I can manage that, that’s all the gift I need.

Whether you celebrate the holidays or not, it’s a tough time of year for many people. Try to be a bit nicer to anyone who must work through the season. It’s not the grocery clerk’s fault that you had to circle three times for parking or that the eggnog is sold out. Nor are they to blame that everything is expensive this year. They’re paying more, too, just like you.

Give some money or groceries to the food bank, drop some cash in the Salvation Army kettle, or donate some clothes or blankets to a shelter. Giving to those less fortunate feels good.

If you’re travelling, please don’t drink and drive. Go a little slower and allow more time to get there. As someone who had a vehicle destroyed this year by somebody else’s carelessness, even if you don’t get hurt, insurance will not make you whole, and the experience seriously inconveniences your life. We’re still looking for a replacement vehicle. It can happen to you, and it will ruin your Christmas, and anyone else’s who gets caught in the chaos.

Advice I can give, but I’m bad at following; try to go a little easier on yourself. You don’t need to be perfect, and neither does anybody else. The golden rule is timeless.

I hope you enjoyed this small selection of cartoons from Christmas past and present, and with tongue firmly in cheek…Bah Humbug!

I mean, Merry Christmas.

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The Hardest Part of Professional Art

Here’s my latest piece. I call it ‘Staring Contest.’ This is another painting of Berkley from Discovery Wildlife Park. I took the reference a couple of years ago, the same day I did for one of my favorite pieces, Grizzly on Grass. I love painting this bear. Spending time with her was, and continues to be, a highlight of my life. I’m forever grateful to Serena and her staff for that privilege. Below is a time lapse video of this piece, from start to finish, along with narration to go with it. The text for the voice-over is below the video if you’d rather read than listen to it. Thanks for being here.

Cheers,
Patrick


Every artist is familiar with imposter syndrome. It has now become a cliché that’s right up there with the overshared quote about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

We compare ourselves to other artists and not only feel like we don’t measure up but that we never will. It’s easy to fall into the headspace that an art career is a zero-sum game, that when another artist wins, you lose. It can be somebody you’ve never met with whom you have no connection, but when they’re making headlines and you’re not, it feels like you’re failing.

Worse, news of other people’s successes is front and center all the time. As a result, we now compare ourselves to everyone else on the planet.

So-and-so exceeded their Kickstarter funding by $50,000. And there’s the guy who makes his entire living from his Patreon subscribers. That woman over there makes six figures from YouTube videos, and that other person has thousands of followers on Instagram.

That artist made millions on NFTs. Somebody else just published their 4th book. His course went viral. She’s featured at Comic-Con. That big company sponsored this guy, and that girl scored a five-figure art grant.

Some kid’s painting video goes viral, and now he’s making movies with James Cameron? He’s 18. That girl’s not even out of art school and got a gig with Disney?

Suddenly I have to start dancing on TikTok to sell my art.

What the hell?

That’s the problem with attention. You’ve got to keep coming up with something new to get more of it and find a way to stand out in a crowd of millions doing the same damn thing.

When you’re not chasing the spotlight, you need to pay the bills.

I’ve been making my full-time living as an editorial cartoonist, illustrator and digital painter for nearly twenty years, plus several years part-time before that.

And yet, I wonder if I’ll still be able to do this for a living in six months.

I’ve had that worry every month since I quit my full-time job in 2005. It has never gone away. Good stuff has happened in my career, a lot of it. But when it does, that little voice always reminds me not to get comfortable. Because as soon as you stop and smell the roses, you get a thorn up your nose.

There are plenty of articles that try to talk you down from the comparison ledge. I know, I’ve read them. Hell, I’ve written some, though I felt like a fraud while doing it.

The worst part is the longing, that feeling that you could be so much more than you are, but you somehow missed that critical memo everybody else got because they seem to know what they’re doing, and you’re the idiot still looking for the light switch in a dark room. It’s that failure to live up to your own perfectionist personal potential, that dark cloud of not being good enough that will rob you of most of the joy of creating art.

Then there’s the shame that comes from not being more successful, feeling like a joke to your friends and family, as if they’re reluctantly indulging this phase you’re going through, just waiting for you to come to your senses and get a real job.

I can’t tell you how many acquaintances I’ve run into, people I hadn’t seen for years, who ask, “Oh, you still doing that art thing?”

“Good for you.”

All that’s missing is the pat on the head.

Now, this is the part where I’m supposed to tell you to let it all go, enjoy the ride, stop trying so hard and making yourself miserable. Comparison is the thief of joy. But then I’d be a hypocrite because I’m 51 years old, and I haven’t figured out how to accept any of that.

Not long ago, I watched that ‘Light and Magic’ series about the creative minds behind ILM. For a movie and art nerd like me, it was exciting stuff. The contrast between what they created in the ‘70s and what it has become today is remarkable. From little plastic spaceship models and whole camera systems they had to invent to bring Star Wars to life to later making dinosaurs real in Jurassic Park, it’s practically sorcery.

On the one hand, it was incredibly inspiring that they just made stuff up, and it worked. But, on the other, it triggered a sense of desperation that nothing I’ll ever create will ever be that good.

I paint funny-looking animals. How important is that? It’s not! But you know what? Neither is modelling toys and playing with space aliens. But those people changed movies forever. Those people changed the world

What I liked best about the story was how those people talked about each other 40 years later.  They were like family. It was the kind of workplace everybody wants but is ultimately very rare. They gambled on a dream and turned it into reality.

It’s easy to quote, “Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.”

But chances are better than average that they won’t. For every ILM lightning-in-a-bottle story, there are a hundred others we’ll never hear about, featuring creative types who dreamed just as big and worked just as hard.

This artist’s life delivers more than its fair share of torment, uncertainty, and feeling unoriginal like it’s all been wasted time. I wonder if I’ll still be able to draw when I’m older or if age will rob me of my dexterity and eyesight. I worry I haven’t saved enough for retirement because I’ve invested more into this creative life of risk than my financial security.

And yet, for all the fear I feel every single day, and the shame for not knowing how to make all the right business moves, it’s still one of the very few places in my life where I’m allowed to touch something magical and unexplainable. In the work is a sense of connection to something greater than myself, even though I can’t define it. It’s a feeling outside the five senses, a well I’m allowed to draw from but not one I own.

It doesn’t come in the first moments I sit down to paint, nor does it show up even an hour into it. I’m still distracted by random thoughts, checking emails, and going to YouTube to answer a question that just popped into my head, leading to three more videos. And finally, an hour later, I must remind myself to get back to painting.

Once immersed in the work, a couple of hours into a session, something happens that reminds me why I’m spending so much of my limited time on the planet painting little hairs around a silly little grizzly bear’s ear.

It just feels right, that it’s where I’m supposed to be. It quiets the angry, critical, unkind voices in my head. It’s an escape, something good in a world I’m convinced is not. It’s a fleeting thing, only sticks around for a little while, but it comes and goes in waves.

Over the years, chasing those moments, that connection, those little hairs became a painting, then another, then a portfolio, and a body of work. Before I knew it, it was a career and life as an artist.

If you are lucky in a creative profession, you never stop learning and trying to become a better version of the artist you were yesterday, which is the only comparison that matters. I thought this painting was done, but then I realized that the bear’s muzzle wasn’t long enough. Most people wouldn’t care one way or the other, but once I’d seen it, I knew I’d forever look at the painting and wish I had changed it.

So I did some cutting and pasting, a little warping and nudging, and spent a couple more hours repainting that section. It was frustrating, but I’m more content with the finished result and glad I didn’t rush it. And though it’s done, it’s still not quite good enough. I can do better, and I’ll try again on the next one.

Because that is the hardest part of being a professional artist, making peace with the fact that you will never be good enough for your own expectations and will spend a lifetime reaching for that carrot on the stick, knowing you will never get it. Even if you did, it wouldn’t be what you thought it was.

So is it all worth it? I don’t know.

Ask me in another twenty years.

____
©Patrick LaMontagne 2022

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Added Fees, Shipping and Deceiving

In a recent issue of A Wilder View, I let subscribers know I had restocked 2023 calendars. As expected, most people ordered one or two, and I was happy to send them by regular mail.

One person ordered six. From a creator’s point of view, that’s great. Clearly, most of those will be gifts, which means more people will come to know my artwork.

To send one calendar via Canada Post qualifies as an oversized envelope under 500 grams, around $4. For two calendars, it’s still under that threshold weight, and it costs around $6.

But once you get above that weight, it becomes a small parcel and the cost jumps.

Our techy world allows me to do much of this at home. I package items, measure, and weigh them, then enter that information into the Canada Post website. I can pay for the shipping and print the label before I drop the item at the post office.

There are several benefits to this process. First, I can estimate a shipping cost and inform the customer of the charge without delay. Second, I can avoid a lineup since there’s usually a bin in which to drop prepaid items. Finally, I avoid surprises at the post office if something costs more than expected.

For the subscriber who ordered six calendars, one might assume the most efficient delivery would be together in one parcel. But when I measured, weighed and entered the data into the Canada Post site, the total came to over $24 at the most economical rate. That rate even includes a small business program discount.

More than $6 of that $24 was a fuel surcharge, an amount you don’t see until the final total.

After conferring with my understanding and patient customer, I sent six calendars in three different business-sized envelopes so that each one didn’t exceed 500 grams and qualified for regular mail.

It’s a ridiculous solution to a preposterous problem, but it saved my customer some money.

In my online store, one print sells for $28.99. Eliminating the time taken to paint the image, the cost of producing that product stems from a professional print of the image, a backer board, an artist bio, and a cellophane sleeve, plus shipping materials if sold in the online store.

Shipping just one print in a flat mailer to Calgary, about an hour’s drive from my house, now costs over $20. Before the pandemic, it was $12. As a consumer, it’s hard to justify paying almost as much to send something as it does to buy it. It only becomes worth it for customers if they want to buy two or more prints. While plenty of people do just that, sometimes they just want one.

You might have seen a recent news article where Canadian businesses are now allowed to charge a fee for paying by credit card. Small businesses must take credit cards to remain competitive, but more cards, especially cards with rewards points, charge merchants a percentage for each transaction. It can be anywhere from 2% to 5%.

When a telecommunications provider, chain grocery store, or other large corporation that boasts record profits every quarter adds this fee, it is a money grab. These companies have been working hard for years to get people to use credit cards, and it’s included in their pricing.

Small businesses are reluctant to add that extra fee to a credit card payment. Even justified, an added fee will turn people off. So, most will absorb the cost and try to factor it into the price of an item without making it noticeably more expensive.
The best we can do is suggest somebody pay by e-transfer as there’s no cost to the consumer or vendor. Debit is also preferred as the transaction fee is significantly less. Or better yet, how about cash, if you even carry that around anymore?

Online payment processing services like PayPal or Stripe have fees and take a percentage of each sale. 2.9% plus a transaction fee. That doesn’t seem like much until you factor that into larger transactions. For example, I was recently commissioned to paint someone’s pet, work I love to do. Of the 50% deposit, I gave $30 to PayPal. I’ll give another $30 for the final payment when the work is complete.

I tried an Etsy store for my vinyl stickers last year to see what would happen. After several sales, however, I shut it down. Their fees were death by a thousand cuts. I can’t even remember all of them, but every listing and sale was nickel and dimed until the result wasn’t worth my time.

On top of that, Etsy gives preferred placement and listing to people who offer free shipping on their items. They hammer that message into vendors. Their justification is that people are so used to buying on Amazon that they want free shipping on everything.
To expect a self-employed small business owner and independent artist to compete with Amazon’s pricing is ludicrous. The only reason they can do that is their sales volume gives them preferred credit card and shipping rates. Any company listing an item on Amazon accepts a much smaller profit margin per item to have a spot on the site.

It’s also no secret that Amazon employees are overworked and underpaid. The self-employed can relate.

I can’t tell you how many people scoff when a self-employed artist refers to what they do as work. Some figure it’s simply a matter of drawing something, slapping it on a website, and counting the bags of money.

Sadly, many young artists who love what they create believe selling it will be easy. Share some images on Instagram; before you know it, you’re moving out of Mom and Dad’s house into that mansion on the coast.

It’s the ‘If you build it, (they) will come’ business plan. There’s a reason that movie had ‘Dreams’ in the title.

I’ll have a booth at another Mountain Made Market at the Canmore Civic Centre this weekend. It’s a two-day event, and I always enjoy introducing my artwork to new people and reconnecting with familiar faces.

Several people will no doubt tell me they want to consider a purchase and ask if I have an online store. At this point, I’ll explain the inflated shipping costs, let them know that my best prices are always at these markets, and do what I can to try to make the sale on the spot.

Otherwise, they’ll take a business card, put it into a bag, purse, or wallet, and I never hear from these folks again. We’re busy people; it’s just what we do. And sometimes we take a card to be polite, rather than say, “no thanks, not for me.”

But hopefully, some will like one or more of my whimsical critters in a small or large print, magnet, coaster, sticker, calendar or another item and decide to pick up something for themselves or for a gift.

Then they’ll probably pay by credit card, which is fine and welcome because I’ll take that fee out of my profit to make the sale. That’s just part of the cost of creating art for a living.

Which, despite what some might think, is definitely work.

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Grump

We’ve had fantastic fall weather this year in the mountains. The leaves took a long time to change, and there are still plenty on the trees. It’s been almost like summer, right up until last week, with our first snowfall. A warming climate is a growing concern, but it has been hard to see that big picture lately while still biking in shorts in the middle of October.

And yet, despite the excellent weather, I’ve been depressed and angry. I’m not the type to put my fist through a wall or throw things; instead, I hold it all in and ruminate. One could argue the latter does more damage in the long run.

This melancholy happens to me this time of year, but usually a little later. I suspect it’s a combination of several things.

I’m weary from the last three years. But, unfortunately, rather than getting easier, this difficult period in our collective history seems to keep compounding. As if we all haven’t had enough, inflation is up, spending is down, and even more financial stress is on the horizon.

Then there is the constant deluge of negative news. Editorial cartooning, the other half of my business, requires I turn my daily focus to bad actors with nefarious agendas, lying and cheating their way into powerful positions. Around the world, people dissatisfied with their current leaders seem content to vote for any alternative, even when a second’s reflection quickly reveals that the new boss is far worse than the old one. Most of these button-pushing zealots’ plans stop at ‘get the power.’

I’m not sleeping well, I have no appetite, and under all of it is a growing sense of futility, especially as a self-employed artist. More than once in recent days, I’ve considered chucking it all and going back to a real job. Last month, a complete medical checkup revealed I’ve no physical health issues. All numbers are in the green, with no red flags.

Mentally, however, I’m struggling.

This is not a ploy for sympathy because, seriously, who among us hasn’t got reasons to feel blue and lost lately? Another local business closed last week. A friend had two close family members die this year, one after another. So everybody is struggling in one way or another.

What weighs most heavily on me is how so many are taking it out on each other. Thankfully, I don’t have to see it on social media anymore. Killing those platforms was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. But people are becoming bolder and more abrasive in real-world interactions, and I find it profoundly disturbing.

Anyone who takes out their frustration over a long lineup, on the grocery store clerk who actually showed up for work, should have to return to the back of the line.

Ironic that so many of us hated the lockdowns, being told we couldn’t go anywhere or socialize. Now that everything has opened again, I’ve found I prefer to stay home and avoid people by choice.

No, I’m not special. Neither are you. We’re all going through some tough shit.

I’m just explaining the source of this latest painting.
I have been working on another cute, happy painting of a grizzly bear for the past couple of months. I’m recording the process and writing a narrative to go with it. These videos take a lot more time than a regular piece. Recording the painting, writing the text, recording the voice-over, selecting the music, and editing it all add hours to the work.

I don’t want to rush it, but I didn’t want to go too long without a new painting to share and add to my licensing. While perusing my extensive library of reference images, looking for a subject to paint, the happy, genial photos weren’t resonating with me.

Then I came across a series of photos I’d taken of Griffin, a lion at Discovery Wildlife Park. In a couple of shots, he looked a little annoyed. Considering my present dark cloud perspective and frustration, it felt right.

Naturally, I exaggerated the expression to make him look downright grumpy, hence the title. The more I painted, the more it felt like a self-portrait.

I know that people who buy and license my work are looking for happy, whimsical wildlife paintings to make them feel good. I also know my role in this relationship, and I’m delighted to play it most of the time. I get a lot of satisfaction and joy from my work, and I’m glad many of you enjoy it, too.

But art is often cathartic and a means of expressing our emotions, whether for the person creating it or those it touches.

Though this lion’s expression isn’t happy, I can still see some comedy in it. But make no doubt about it. He’s pissed off, unimpressed, and wants to be left alone.

As with every painting, once released into the wild, I have no control over how people feel about it or whether this grump will connect. But I have a couple of other paintings that aren’t so happy and cheery, and they’ve found their audience, so who knows?

When I’m at the Calgary Expo or a Mountain Made Market, people often repeat the same lines I’ve heard dozens of times. So I’ll confess to having a few stock responses at the ready. It’s impossible to avoid once you have phrases you know connect with people.

While standing at the booth or table, gazing at the wall of paintings before them, some will say, “they’re all so happy!”

I’ll agree with them but offer, “Well, maybe not the Ostrich. He’s got a bit of an attitude problem.”

Or I might advise caution around the Ring-tailed Lemur. “He’s not quite all there.”

Sometime down the road, I’ll undoubtedly have some more advice if I stock prints of this latest painting. “Careful around that grumpy lion. He’s having a bad day.”

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Hey Bear!

Part of living in bear country is knowing how to be safe when hiking or exploring. It’s important to learn how to react should you encounter a black bear or a grizzly in the woods, and sometimes even in your neighbourhood.

While bear spray within easy reach is more than just fashionable, the best policy is to avoid an encounter, making noise to alert any bears to your presence. Most of them don’t want to encounter humans, so they’ll scurry off before you even see them.

Certain times of the year, however, it’s not so simple. If she’s got curious cubs, Mom will stick around to protect them because they don’t yet know to avoid people. In the fall, bears are eating as much food as possible, preparing for hibernation, and it’s not easy to distract them or get them to leave a bush full of berries.

You can buy bear bells all over the place around here, but they’re ineffective. The noise doesn’t carry; it’s too soft to be heard over the wind or through trees. The same goes for banging sticks or rocks, as those sounds occur naturally.

The best noise is the unmistakable human voice. A conversation among a group of friends will usually convince a bear to seek life elsewhere. Sure, constant yapping goes against the pursuit of natural peace and quiet, but ambulance sirens are worse. Pick your poison.
When it’s tough to get a group of people together for a hike, or you just don’t like that many people in the first place, you can sometimes identify solitary hikers by their familiar call of, “Hey Bear!”

I’ve heard this call more times than I can count in the 20+ years I’ve lived and hiked in this area and have used it myself. But it always strikes me funny because, last I checked, bears don’t speak English.

As far as they’re concerned, you could yell anything, and it would still accomplish the same goal. To a bear, there’s really no difference between yelling “Cleanup Aisle 4” or “Flip Flop Hula Hoop” or “Blah, Blah, Frickety, Blah Blah!”

You might amuse other hikers, though.

And if you happened to yell, “Hey, Elk” or “Yo, Squirrel,” it’s not like a grizzly will continue to go about her business, thinking, “oh, that’s for somebody else.”

I don’t know why this occurred to me while painting this bear, but it made me snicker. I thought of walking through the woods, getting that familiar ‘it’s quiet, too quiet’ feeling and calling, “Hey, Bear!” only to have a massive grizzly pop its head up out of a nearby bush and answer, “Hey!”

Cleanup Aisle 4.

 

 

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Got Bears?

Here’s a painting I did late this week. Not a fully rendered piece, just something I did for fun. I’m still working on another bear, a more finished piece and video. I hope to have that one done in a week or so.

It’s not unusual to see bears in this valley, but it has been a strange season for encounters. The berry crop was poor this year, and bears have been spotted all over town for weeks.

When people fail to pick the ripe fruit from the trees in their yards, it attracts bears. Dog food, bird feeders, dirty BBQs, and garbage will too. Bears have an incredible sense of smell, and they’re attracted to anything that gives off an interesting odour. Dirty diapers will attract bears.

All it takes for a bear to become spoiled and dangerous is too many opportunities to associate people with food.

Shonna and I bought our townhouse condo in 2001. It’s in a well-defined complex with single road access and a couple of other walking entries on the opposite end. We’ve occasionally had elk inside the complex, but in the 21 years we’ve lived here, I’ve never seen a bear on the property.

A couple of weeks ago, while checking the mail, I noticed a sizeable pile of scat six feet from our front door. If you’ve never seen bear poop, it’s unmistakable.

At the end of our street, nowhere near a wilderness area, a well-used gravel path passes beside a daycare. A week before, as I rode my bike around the building heading for downtown, I was surprised to see a mother black bear and two cubs in my way. I hit the brakes, breathed something like “oh shit,” and slowly backed up, wondering what she would do.

She and her cubs looked right at me, but I got away without a confrontation. It was only a half block from home, so I called the Bear Report Line, as did several others.

Still on the phone when I got home, I stepped onto our kitchen balcony to see the Mom and cubs walking by on the street below. It was just after noon.

Many in town have seen this bear and her two cubs, another black bear and her three cubs or several other single black bears looking for food in suburban neighbourhoods.

I recently had a cable internet issue requiring a service call. The tech who came to sort it out lives in an apartment-style condo building near the other end of our street. While walking his dog one evening, he saw a grizzly in his parking lot. Others in his building have seen it too, and warnings are now posted around the property.

Last Sunday, our next-door neighbour Chris sent me a text warning at about 9:15 pm that the black bear and three cubs were spotted walking down a long road that leads to the top of our condo complex. Shonna would be biking home an hour later from her part-time job at Safeway.

Here’s a late-night photo Chris took from his balcony at the end of August.
I called Shonna to warn her and said I’d keep an eye out. She takes well-lit main roads to get home, away from the current bear sighting. But this year, they can be anywhere, including downtown.

A half-hour later, Mom and cubs were walking down the road inside our complex, straight toward our front door. Four people stood in front of our place, taking pictures and videos with their phones. I warned them from my open living room window that they were in a dangerous spot and should leave.

They were dismissive and waved me off, a typical tourist response. But I think these were locals who should have known better. Shortly afterward, my neighbour was more blunt when he warned them about their poor choices.

Chris and I were more concerned about harm coming to the bears. When stupid people trigger an encounter that forces a bear to defend itself, the authorities shoot the bear and orphan her cubs. All for an Instagram post.

Fortunately, this bear was more intelligent than those people. She turned around and went back the way she came. The four humans finally left as well, their departure significantly increasing the average IQ of our neighbourhood.

Though the bears were no longer in sight, I knew they’d still be close.

Shonna called before she left Safeway, and I told her I’d be waiting. Bear spray in hand, I stood at the open front door until I heard her repeatedly hitting her bike bell as she drove into the complex. I opened the garage door as she turned the corner so she could go right in, ending our evening’s excitement.

I have a complicated love-fear relationship with bears.

The first whimsical wildlife critter I painted in 2009 was a grizzly bear, and I’ve painted more bears than any other animal. I’ve spent countless hours at Discovery Wildlife Park, having close encounters with their rescued orphan bears, especially a favourite named Berkley. I’ve painted her quite a few times.
On the flip side of that coin, I am unreasonably terrified of bears. For years, I’ve tried to get used to camping in a tent in bear country.

Bears are more likely to avoid people than seek them out. I know that if you keep a clean campsite, don’t bring any strong smells into the tent with you, and sleep away from where you cook, you’re unlikely to attract bears.

I know what to do if I encounter a black bear or grizzly. I make noise while out in the woods, carry bear spray and know how to use it. I know that bears have far more to fear from us than we ever do from them, that bear attacks are almost unheard of and usually defensive, prompted by a human doing something foolish.

Bears don’t kill people. People kill bears.

And even with that knowledge, I’ve never been able to shake the phobia while camping or hiking in bear country. Every noise is a bear, especially from dusk ‘til dawn. My camping companions have taken great delight in mocking my bearanoia, despite having phobias of their own.

Am I having fun yet?

After countless camping trips, not sleeping well, annoying others with my nervousness, and living with the shame of not being able to talk myself out of it, I’ve given up camping in tents in the Rockies. I return home more pissed off than relaxed.

Besides, a cabin is much more comfortable, especially when it rains.

Strange that I had no concerns on our recent kayaking adventure on Vancouver Island, living in a tent in an area with a dense population of black bears. I slept great every night. Is my fear geographical?

The most remarkable recent bear encounter was at the September 3rd Mountain Made Market when a black bear tried to walk into the Civic Centre in the middle of the day, about forty feet from my table. Fortunately, the Town building monitor, Maurice, a genial and helpful gentleman, stood at the door waving his arms and making noise, convincing the bear to seek a different path. There’s a man who’s good under pressure.

I’ve enjoyed my market experiences over the past year. Decent sales, close to home, and I get the same great location in the Civic Centre each time. Connecting with other vendors and my customers, I always learn something new.

This market was especially fun because Alexander Finbow occupied the next table. He owns Renegade Arts Entertainment here in Canmore. Alex has been ready to publish an art book of my work since 2016. He has been very patient, is still interested and we talked more about it.

Alex figured out that I’ve been making too big a deal out of it, trying to put together one big book instead of a smaller one. He suggested that rather than try to cram my whole career into one volume, I make it more specific, and pick stories and artwork that fit a theme. Then if the first book does well, there will be more books on other parts of my work in the future. That not only relieves a lot of pressure, but it’s a sound business plan as well.

Sometimes you just need somebody to point out the obvious.

The first art book is about bears. Perhaps it always has been.

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Queen Elizabeth II – In Memoriam

I often must explain to people that editorial cartoons aren’t always meant to be funny. Ideally, a satirical cartoon should make you laugh, think, or hopefully do both. But there are several occasions where it’s an illustrated comment with no humorous intent.

In the case of tragedies like 9/11 and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Banda Aceh, or whenever a person of historical significance dies, there’s no call for funny on the editorial page.

You likely don’t need me to tell you that Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8th. After more than 70 years on the throne, her impact on the world is impossible to deny. For most of us, she has always been ‘The Queen’ and the end of her reign is a historical moment of great significance.

When she got COVID earlier in February, I drew this cartoon, just in case it was time. While it might seem morbid to some, I can assure you that every media outlet in the world has had content and plans laid out far in advance for her inevitable passing. Long before this year, the Queen herself had a hand in the planning of the events of the past two weeks. I felt I’d rather take the time to do the work I wanted, rather than scramble at the last minute just to get it done by deadline.

When I awoke on Thursday the 8th, Shonna and I were heading to Red Deer for the day to take my parents out to lunch. From the news I read about the Queen’s family being called to her side, it seemed clear how the day would unfold. As such, I sent the cartoon to my newspapers, with a note advising that, should she die, this was my contribution.

A few hours later, we were walking to our car with my parents to go to the restaurant when I got the alert on my phone.

The above image appeared in several Canadian daily newspapers the following day.
Canadians will no doubt have a necessary conversation in the coming weeks about this country’s relationship with the monarchy and how it will look in the future. But I drew this second cartoon last week reminding readers that it would be crass to dig into that before her interment. I’m not a monarchist, but one need not be to understand simple respect for the recently deceased and empathy for her family and those who grieve her passing.

And finally, I drew one more cartoon this week for her funeral on the 19th.
While I don’t enjoy or look forward to drawing them, these types of editorial cartoons are still part of the job.

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©Patrick LaMontagne 2022

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Broughton Beach Memoirs

For our 25th anniversary two years ago, Shonna and I had planned a week of glamping and kayaking on Vancouver Island.

But not long ago, a friend aptly referred to 2020 as the ‘year of cancelled plans.’

Spirit of the West Adventures has an incredible reputation, and we had no doubt they’d sell out once people began travelling again. So, In July of 2021, we booked for 2022. With the worldwide shortage of vehicles, we even booked our rental car and flights nine months in advance.

We’re not road trip people. Spending four days driving to and from Vancouver Island in the middle of summer is not our idea of a vacation. That’s why we’ve taken several trips to the Island together without ever having to endure the ferry.

Right up until the day we left, I worried about the well-publicized flight delays, cancellations, airport issues, and rental car problems. I didn’t truly relax until I sat in the Comox airport parking lot.

After quick stops for lunch, groceries, and the liquor store, we hit the highway for an easy three-hour drive to the north Island.

While eating dinner on the deck of a bar and grill in Port McNeill, near our comfortable room at the Dalewood Inn, I texted my buddy, Darrel. His aunt used to teach here, and I knew he’d visited as a kid. He joked, “Don’t forget to check out the Burl!”

Say, what now?

Darrel is fascinated with oversized roadside attractions and shared that the world’s largest burl was somewhere in Port McNeill.

Shonna said we had to find it to send him a photo. It was only a block from where we sat. Gotta love Google Maps.
I captioned this with “BEST VACATION EVER!”

The following morning, we drove the ten minutes to Alder Bay Marina, met the group, and loaded our luggage on the water taxi for our ride to the Spirit of the West base camp.

We arrived on Swanson Island to a well-oiled machine. Returning guests waited on the beach to unload our gear and supplies, after which we loaded theirs. As our boat became their boat, their camp became ours. Following a guest and guide introduction, we checked into our luxurious tents and met in the dining area for a freshly prepared lunch. That afternoon, we were on the water.

For the next five days and four nights, we were now a community of ten guests, two kayaking guides, a camp staff member, and our chef.

On a trip like this, everyone must haul kayaks, load and unload supplies and gear, and follow instructions. The other guests were younger and older than we were, with more and less kayak experience. All were genuinely nice people and a pleasure to hang out with for a week. We couldn’t have asked for a better group.

We were required to wear masks on the water taxi and the crew wore them while preparing and serving food, but the rest of the time, in this outdoor environment, we were able to forget about COVID for awhile.
THE CREW

P.J. is an easy-going pro with eight seasons under his belt. A natural leader, this guy loves his job and sharing his knowledge. Even when our easily distracted (WHALE!) wide-eyed group was only half-listening to what he was trying to tell us; he patiently got us back on track with his great sense of humour.

In addition to her skills as a kayaking guide and guest wrangler, Rebecca is an unapologetic whale nerd. She gave a talk about whales one evening, and her enthusiasm was infectious

Kenna was a jill-of-all-trades on this trip. Usually she’s in the Spirit of the West office, but she was helpful in the kitchen, general duties around camp, upbeat and friendly.

Josh is a wonder in a camp kitchen. He’s a genial, funny guy and incredibly modest about his exceptional culinary skills. Though after our tsunami of compliments every time he put food in front of us, his ego might need some deflating.

THE FOOD

We started each day with delicious coffee and a big breakfast. Lunch went with us in the kayaks, served on whatever scenic rocky beach we landed on. Appetizers waited for us on our return to camp before delicious meals each evening, served with red and white wine.

We’d been encouraged to bring additional refreshments, and most did. Before our trip, I had rigged a collapsible cooler bag with an aluminum bubble wrap insulation lining. It worked so well that I still had ice for rum and coke on the third night and our beer stayed cold the whole trip.

The meals were better than a lot of restaurant fare I’ve had; fresh, tasty and abundant. For dessert one night, Josh warned us that he had never made lemon meringue pie before. It was one of the best I’ve ever tasted.
THE CAMP

Surrounded by water on three sides, this place is stunning. A wooden staircase leads from the kayak beach up to a network of boardwalks and paths to accommodation tents and support structures.

Each trapper-style tent sits on a wooden platform beneath a corrugated roof. Furnished with comfortable beds, duvets, towels, luggage racks, solar-charged electric lamps, and personal headlamps, all had a view of the ocean.

Every tent has a washing area, compost toilet, and a metal bear-bin style cabinet to ensure that toiletries don’t attract wildlife. While we didn’t see any this trip, there are plenty of black bears in this part of the world, but with plenty of food from the sea and careful camp cleanliness, they’re not a problem.

A natural stream feeds two propane showers. We never had to wait to use them, and there was always hot water.

Communal areas include a large kitchen with a covered dining area, a lounge with comfortable couches, a gas fireplace, and a woodfired hot tub.

We were not roughing it.
KAYAKING

Shonna and I have a bit of kayaking experience. We had one day in Tofino years ago, plus four days with Spirit of the West in 2019. We enjoyed our time on the water, but neither of us has ‘the bug.’ So, we won’t be buying sea kayaks or taking a trip like this every year. But what drew us to this experience was the location and a leisurely means of touring the islands, allowing us to be out in the fresh air and physically active.
Our exceptional guides taught us about the landscape, currents, tides, wildlife, and the indigenous people who first inhabited the area. Each day, a different route would introduce us to new experiences.
Vancouver Island is a coastal temperate rainforest. While we prepared for rain and even expected it, we didn’t have any on our whole trip. Every morning we were socked in with fog until after noon, and I loved it. Kayaking in calm foggy waters is a spiritual experience, the forest and rocks drifting in and out beside us as we crept into little coves and inlets.
It was quiet, often punctuated only by the sound of humpback whales surfacing nearby.

On our final afternoon, a weather system arrived earlier than forecast (surprise, surprise), and we had to cross Parson bay with 8-knot winds. It was a workout, each of us paddling hard to stay with the group to get from one sheltered beach to another. We endured wind and choppy waters all the way back but arrived on our home beach with enthusiasm. It felt like a team effort.
WILDLIFE

From the dining area one late afternoon, we saw a large orca in Blackfish Sound headed our way. Initially thought to be alone, it soon became apparent there was a pod of them close behind. They never got near the camp, but it was a thrill, especially since they stayed awhile.
Other critters included bald eagles, dolphins, seals, sea lions and plenty of seagulls.
On our last morning, the tide was out as far as we’d yet seen. Pretty soon, the whole group wandered around the shore, checking out crabs, urchins, and other tidal life, calling out the best finds so everyone could share in the wonder.

But the highlight of the whole trip was the humpback whales. I could never have predicted so many in one spot. Easily identified by their signature blow of vapour when they exhale, you couldn’t look anywhere for long without seeing one.

When closer, you could hear them, like a rapidly deflating tire, but with more depth. While lying in bed at night, it was a frequent sound in the darkness. Then, in the morning, we’d wake to that sound in the fog, right outside our tent.

Everywhere we went in camp, walking on the shore, eating a meal, sitting in the lounge or while out in the kayaks, humpbacks were the soundtrack of our experience.

But hearing them is not nearly as thrilling as seeing so many of them, sometimes incredibly close.

From our camp and in the kayaks, we saw them surge feeding, breaching, surfacing fast and slow, way out in the channel, and right inside our bay. I took this shot standing beside the hot tub one evening.
Late Wednesday evening, half the group paddled around the bay with P.J. so he could show them bio-luminescence in the water. Dry and comfortable, I’d opted out, but Shonna enjoyed the experience. Those of us who stayed on land watched them from the shore. Then, suddenly, a humpback surfaced right off camp and looked like it was going into the narrow channel between our camp and Flower Island, where our kayakers were paddling in the failing light.

When it exhaled, P.J. told everyone to back-paddle fast. The timing and distance of the blows indicated the whale was heading into their path. Fortunately, it changed course, but it was a tense moment.

Here’s Flower Island and the narrow channel from the dining area.
On our final morning on the water, we paddled across a channel in the fog, grouped for safety. Whales were blowing all around us, and while they sounded close, fog plays tricks with noises. It was creepy but exciting, paddling in a cloud with limited visibility.

I was in a kayak close behind Shonna’s when suddenly a humpback surfaced immediately to her left, parallel but heading the opposite way. P.J. told us to group closer together and paddle for the shore ahead. The whale circled and surfaced again to our right, a little further away this time.

Humpbacks don’t have the echolocation of orcas, so their spatial awareness isn’t the greatest. P.J. later told Shonna the whale had been about forty feet away, far too close. The problem with whales is they don’t always let you know where they are until the last moment.

It startled all of us but was a wonderful experience, one that several said was the trip’s highlight. I know it certainly was for Shonna and me.
LOOKING UP FROM THE CAMERA

Our next-door neighbour Chris was a kayak guide years ago in this area. He once told me that guests were often so focused on getting photos they missed out on the experience.

I left my pro camera in camp each day rather than stuff it into a dry bag in the kayak, where I’d be too afraid to take it out while on the water, anyway. I brought an older point-and-shoot in the kayak and got some good shots. While still careful, I had accepted that it was an older camera, and if something happened to it, I’d be OK.
But for most of the shots, I had a waterproof case for my iPhone and a GoPro-style suction mount to secure it to the kayak in front of me, backed up with a tether for when I handheld it. I took plenty of videos and selected screenshots from those when I got home.

Around camp, I used my Canon DSLR to take photos of any wildlife. But too often, I focused on getting a shot of a humpback or orca swimming by rather than simply watching and enjoying the moment.

Even forewarned, I fell into the same trap.

Thankfully, I downloaded a bunch of photos to my iPad the first couple of days, and when I saw that very few of those long-distance whale shots were remarkable, I spent the rest of the trip watching more with my eyes and less time looking through a lens.

While I am pleased with many photos I took, none of them come close to the experience of being there—the smell of the air, ethereal light, moisture in the fog and the quiet peace. No camera or video will capture that, certainly not with my limited skills.

It’s a lesson I’ll likely keep learning, but I intend to be more selective on when to take photos and when to simply enjoy a time and place.

COMING HOME

After the kayak portion of our trip, we spent a couple of days in Courtenay, staying with my friend Darrel’s folks, who might as well be family. Saturday evening, we enjoyed a visit with old Bow Valley friends who moved to the Island years ago, before we flew home Sunday.

While no vacation is perfect, this one was pretty darn close. After more than two years of planning and waiting, it was a relief that it went so well and that we enjoyed ourselves this much. We probably had unreasonably high expectations, and it still exceeded them.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Please visit their website for more information about Spirit of the West Adventures and the different tours they offer. These aren’t bargain tours; as in all things, you get what you pay for, and this company over-delivers. Our tour was the 5-day Whales and Wilderness Glamping.

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Back to the Drawing Board

Although I have a few paintings in progress, I have none to share right now as I’m dealing with more time-sensitive work.

Shonna and I returned Sunday from a week in the islands off northern Vancouver Island, a vacation initially booked for 2020 that we had to cancel. I shouldn’t need to explain why. But we finally got to take the trip, which was well worth the wait. It was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had, glamping and kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago.
I’m anxious to sort through my photos and write about the experience. But I’ll have to fit it in between catching up with work and taking care of the rest of this week’s duties.

But these are some quick edits.
One of the highlights of this trip was the abundance of humpback whales. They were everywhere! There’s nothing like dozing off in a comfortable bed in a large tent at night and waking up each morning to the sound of whales exhaling just offshore.

I had to draw double the editorial cartoons the week before we left to cover my newspaper clients for my week away. So this week, I’ve got the usual cartoons, month-end bookkeeping and invoicing, plus preparing for another Mountain Made Market at the Civic Centre this Saturday. I’ll be in my usual spot inside the foyer, so stop in and visit if you’re in the area.
I’ll have another post soon with more photos and thoughts on the trip. I often forget that time away from the desk, especially in a natural environment, does wonders for my state of mind. Refreshed and rejuvenated, I am looking forward to putting a lot of energy into the paintings I’ve got on the go, and excited about the ones I’ve planned for the fall.

Cheers,
Patrick

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The Insurance Company Hit-and-Run

This post has nothing to do with cartoons, painting, creativity, art, the business of art or anything in that orbit. But I still wanted to share it, because it could easily happen to you, if it hasn’t already.
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On June 11th, my wife and I drove to Calgary to see a matinee of Top Gun: Maverick on a beautiful sunny day. After shopping at Chinook Mall, we returned to the car in good spirits as the movie exceeded our high expectations. We decided to go for an early dinner before the drive home to Canmore.

Leaving the parking lot, Shonna stopped at a Yield sign to wait for traffic to clear so we could head west on Glenmore Trail. Suddenly we heard a crash to our left as a large red Buick smashed into a large black Volvo. There was nothing Shonna could do as the Volvo jumped the curb and collided with her side of the car.

After making sure Shonna was OK, I got out of the car to check the other drivers. The airbags had deployed in both of those vehicles, and I couldn’t get the doors fully open. The woman in the Volvo was dazed and frightened for her child in the car seat behind her. Thankfully neither was hurt. The woman in the Buick said she was OK.
I could already hear sirens. I don’t know who called 911, but fire, ambulance and police were on scene in a ridiculously short time.

I’ll spare you the play-by-play of the usual post-accident exchange of statements and information, but a couple of standouts are worth sharing.

Calgary EMS firefighters and paramedics were fantastic, but that’s hardly surprising. Likewise, the Calgary Police Service members on scene were friendly, helpful, and empathetic. I talked to three or four of them while Shonna was calling insurance, and while a collision like this is no doubt routine for them, their roadside manner was considerate and appreciated.

One member told me we were lucky. He had attended a similar incident the week before, where a car ran a red light, sending another car into a cyclist standing beside his bike, waiting to use the crosswalk. The cyclist broke both his legs and was currently in the hospital.

Then he told me that even though we weren’t at fault, not to trust our insurance company. “They’re working for themselves, not for you.”

The last time we saw Shonna’s car, it was on a flatbed tow truck.

While I don’t know the outcomes for all involved, everybody walked away. However, I won’t say Shonna and I are ‘fine’ because some injuries take time to appear, which is why you have two years from the time of the incident to make a personal injury claim.

I also don’t want to write anything that gives an insurance company more disproportionate power than they already have. I’m not going to tell you the company’s name because from what I’ve read; this is an industry problem.

On the phone, the insurance agent said we should take a cab to the airport, where a rental car was waiting for us.

“So, it’s booked? There’s a car there?” I asked Shonna.

With the well-publicized rental car shortage, I was pleasantly surprised.

We took a $60 cab ride to the airport, arrived at Enterprise, and told them our situation. The gentlemen looked at us like we were speaking in tongues. There was no car booked for us and none available.

Another call to the insurance company.

The agent had made the booking for Monday at a different Calgary location. It was Saturday, and we were an hour and a half away from home.

I suggested we take the Banff Airporter shuttle home, but the next one didn’t run for another two hours. So with the Calgary Airport food court closed, we walked to an airport hotel, had a beer and ordered a pizza we had no appetite to finish.

A couple of friends generously offered to come to Calgary to pick us up, but we didn’t want to ruin their Saturday as well. My parents even offered to drive from Red Deer to get us back to Canmore, which would have been a round trip of 6 hours for them. Not an option.

We did accept a ride from the shuttle drop-off in Canmore from our friend, Michelle. At 10:30 pm, we had no energy left to resist.

The next morning, I took Shonna to Banff to get assessed by a doctor because if you don’t get looked at right away and try to make an insurance claim later, they’ll use any excuse to deny it. It’s easy to find stories on the many ways your insurance company is going to screw you on a technicality.

Another call to the insurance company, and they promised a car would be available here in Canmore the next day. On Monday, however, the rental car company had never heard of us. We finally got one on Tuesday.

Over the next five weeks, dealing with the insurance company proved more traumatic than the incident itself.

The body shop and the impound lot in Calgary both called to ask what they were supposed to do with the car because they hadn’t heard from our insurer. When we finally talked to an adjuster, we soon realized how little we mattered to him or the company.

We sent multiple emails and left several phone messages to get the adjuster to even communicate with us, both at the beginning and throughout the process. Finally, after more than a week of unanswered emails and calls, Shonna complained to somebody else, and they reassigned the case to another adjuster.
Shonna’s car was a 2012 Mazda3 GS Sport. It had a leather interior, 154,000km on it and was in immaculate shape. She had just put brand new tires on it the month before. This car was supposed to last another ten years.

Anyone who has bought or sold a car this year understands it is a seller’s market due to the worldwide shortage of new and used vehicles. If you can find a car, it will cost you a lot more. Insurance companies base their reimbursement on market value, so we figured we at least had that going for us.

How naïve.

They finally notified us that the car was a total loss and offered an embarrassment of a settlement.

Did you know that you don’t have to accept the insurer’s first offer and they’re well known for lowballing their own customers? So the police officer’s words were prophetic.

When Shonna wouldn’t accept their first offer, they abruptly cancelled her rental car on the July long weekend. But, of course, they didn’t bother to tell her. She found out when Enterprise called on Monday asking how long she intended to keep paying for the car on her own. She immediately returned it, and they didn’t charge her for the extra couple of days.

To craft a reasonable counteroffer, Shonna found multiple listings for the same vehicle, similar mileage and condition, and provided links for the adjuster. In addition, a friend who works at a car dealership generously provided more listings from their network. All showed that the insurance company’s valuation of her vehicle was well below reasonable.

As advised by related articles, we wrote a detailed narrative of the hardship incurred by losing the vehicle in the current market during the waning days of a pandemic and the financial difficulties that came with it. After several hours of research and due diligence, we felt we made a good case for an increase in compensation.

More than a week after our submission of the counteroffer, the insurance company responded that they couldn’t use the listings we had provided as evidence because they no longer existed. In the hottest vehicle market in recent history, they expected those vehicles to be still available a week later.

Of course, they had no response when Shonna pointed out that the vehicle listings they used to justify their compensation offer were from three weeks before the collision.

But they made it sound like a generous gesture when they agreed to adjust the settlement to account for the new tires.

So Shonna did more research and found several more listings, all showing that the insurer’s offer was well under the current market value. She resubmitted and advised that they’d also be gone if they waited a week to assess these listings.

They declined any further negotiation and said we were free to hire a lawyer and take it to arbitration.

As a legal battle with an insurance company would be like trying to punch your way into a bank vault, Shonna took the settlement, feeling well and truly violated by her own insurer. That’s what years of premiums buy you.

They’ve recently sent Shonna multiple form emails asking, “How did we do?”

Shonna is going to wait to replace the car until availability increases, and prices come down. She’s not interested in buying the first overpriced lemon on four wheels she can find, and I don’t blame her.

So we bought electric bikes, which I’ll write about in another post. A significant investment, but we’ve each put over 300 km on them in just under a month. Shonna takes hers to the gym and commutes to work, and I run most errands on mine; plus, we’re biking for recreation together and enjoying it a great deal. Our busy tourist town has difficult traffic and paid parking, but plenty of bike trails. Now we get everywhere faster than we used to, and our remaining car should last even longer. Provided somebody doesn’t hit us.

When we told people about the collision, we heard many variations of ‘it could be worse, it’s just a car, at least you’re OK, and be glad you weren’t hurt.’

Yes, of course that’s accurate, and we’re grateful we weren’t injured or worse. Time and distance do offer that perspective. But on the day of a traumatic incident like that and in the days that follow, where somebody else’s negligence has derailed your financial stability, future plans, and any sense of security you had on the road, those dismissive sentiments only made us more bitter and angry. It felt like we should be ashamed for being upset.

When somebody has just been through a horrible experience, put yourself in their shoes and ask if what you’re about to say will make them feel better or worse.

I don’t know what was happening with whoever ran that red light, but one person’s carelessness dramatically altered our lives. I’m not mad at her. We’ve all been guilty of careless driving. She’s human, and people make mistakes, but it was preventable, like almost all vehicle collisions.

We see it every day. People fail to signal, mess with their music, drive too fast, roll through stop signs, pass on solid lines, and narrowly miss pedestrians in crosswalks. Tailgating, texting, speeding, aggressive lane changes, road rage and the myriad other failures of attention and selfish behaviour where a lack of consequences makes us forget that most of us are driving one to three tons of metal, plastic and glass at high speeds.

It takes a second to end or ruin somebody else’s life.

Then you have to live with it.

Allow a few extra minutes to get there. Take a deep breath when that person in front of you is going slower than you’d like. It could be your friend’s Mom who just got bad news from her doctor. Or your neighbour is taking their sick dog to the vet. It could be some kid the same age as yours learning to drive and scared shitless about it. Or it could simply be that someone is lost and hasn’t realized they should pull over somewhere.

Minutes later, that delay likely won’t matter to you. Ads on Youtube probably cost you more time. But if you get impatient and do something stupid behind the wheel, it could matter for the rest of your life.

Drive safe and expect that others will not.

Take care,
Patrick