Going coastal…

It’s time to go coastal! This will have to be a swift post, like my travels, and like the soundtrack in the car. Huh? Your soundtrack will be Swift? Taylor Swift? You don’t seem the type…DSCN6981

Well, really! Of course I like Taylor Swift songs. Just not so much when she’s singing them. I’ll be listening to 1989, but the reimagining or reworking created a couple of years ago by Ryan Adams. No, Ryan, not Bryan (Bryan, you are still loved in Canada, but not for that Robin Hood song…)

Ryan Adams put on his Bob Dylan/Bruce Springsteen/Roy Orbison hats for the vocals, got the guitars to sound a bit like Johnny Marr, and turned 1989 into something an old fart like me can enjoy. Full of space, drama and echo, with the highlight being Shake It Off – if you give it a go, you might like it.

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I fell off trying to look up at a bald eagle just a few seconds later…but shook it off
What else is on the soundtrack? Well, one singer parts of 1989 reminded me of (you wouldn’t necessarily think of her when listening to the Swift album) is Tracy Chapman. Her first album is as relevant today as it was 30 years ago, and that is both a good and bad thing if you are familiar with her themes on that record. We should be Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution – maybe November?

Finally, and for two reasons, virtually anything by AC/DC will also be playing. One, it’ll be a slight contrast to all the sensitivity of the other two artists, and two, Mrs. PlaidCamper won’t be in the car for this trip, so here’s my chance to play it loud. Maybe this one? Thunderstruck – turned up to 11. Oh dear…

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Why are we paddling uphill?
Oh no, where is Mrs. PC? She’ll be following on a little later, and also for two reasons. One, she is not quite finished teaching the academic year, and two, my brother is visiting us out on the coast for a couple of weeks, and she’s letting us get on with it for the first week. The “it” being falling off paddle boards, falling out of kayaks, falling over rocks and logs, playing anti-social music from the late 70s and early 80s, drinking a beer (or two), and staying up past our bedtime. Or that’s what we’ll say we did if our other two brothers ask. Might even find time to watch a game or two where England’s bid to win the World Cup is doomed yet again. We will tidy up before Mrs. PC arrives. Luckily, Scout is with us because we have to have a sensible member in the party.

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Probably shouldn’t try to land a small plane here
My main priority this week is to get to Tofino Airport in time to pick up my brother when his plane lands. It’ll take him almost as long to make his trip out from the DC area as my little road trip. He’s changing planes about a gazillion times, and he’s not too happy that each one is smaller than the last. For the short hop from Vancouver to the coast, I’ve told him to tie the straps on his hat tightly under his chin, and then his head will stay warm. He knows I’m going to write “LAND HERE” in the sand, so that’s also reassured him…

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“Here I am, the sensible one!”
If anything interesting occurs, it’ll make it onto here at some point, but two middle aged gentlemen falling over a few times isn’t all that exciting. I’ll write about it even if relatively little occurs. I know, I know, the suspense is too much…

Brief, as promised. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

The Living Mountain

Oh how I wish I’d thought of that post heading, but I borrowed it – the title of a new favourite book, “The Living Mountain” by Nan Shepherd. A wonderful little volume, I’d never heard of it until a few months ago. There’s a story behind that…fullsizeoutput_5cb

Back in late January, Junior announced she’d applied for a chef position with the Fairmont group. Fair enough, a good company to work for by all accounts, and a chance to learn and refine her skills in a different environment, with hotels in beautiful Alberta and BC locations. All true, but the position she’d applied for was in St. Andrews, Scotland. Also beautiful, but somewhat further afield! Two weeks after her announcement, she was on a jet plane heading for new adventures, and has been having a lovely time the past few months, so well done, Junior!fullsizeoutput_545

How does this connect to “The Living Mountain” mentioned at the start? The day Junior was on her way, I came home from the airport, rinsed my contact lenses – seemed to be having an issue with welling up – and started to read The Guardian paper online. Would you believe, that very day, they had an article suggesting the top ten books about wilderness Scotland? An interesting mixture of fiction and non-fiction, and because it was about books, I was brave enough to venture BTL and read comments and suggestions. It was there I saw Nan Shepherd recommended over and over, so I managed to track down a copy.fullsizeoutput_56f

What a find! Nan Shepherd’s slim volume is wonderful, a love letter to the beauty of the Cairngorm mountains, a place she explored her entire life. Her writing is outstanding – intense, detailed and meditative, describing the mountains using all her senses to bring them alive. She loves her mountains, and cannot quite believe their beauty. On describing the clarity of water:

Water so clear cannot be imagined, but must be seen. One must go back, and back again, to look at it, for in the interval memory refuses to recreate its brightness. This is one of the reasons why the high plateau where these streams begin, the streams themselves, their cataracts and rocky beds, the corries, the whole wild enchantment, like a work of art is perpetually new when one returns to it. The mind cannot carry away all that it has to give, nor does it always believe possible what it has carried away.

You find yourself nodding with shared recognition at her delight in the natural world. When she describes silence at altitude, it is really about peace and quiet, rather than the absence of sound:

To bend the ear to silence, is to discover how seldom it is there. Always something moves. When the air is quite still, there is always running water; and up here that is a sound one can hardly lose…but now and then comes an hour when the silence is all but absolute, and listening to it one slips out of time. Such a silence is not a mere negation of sound. it is like a new element, and if water is still sounding with a low far-off murmur, it is no more than the last edge of an element we are leaving, as the last edge of land hangs on the mariner’s horizon.fullsizeoutput_56e

There is a lovely section about how she is like an excited dog surrounded by the scents of the mountain:

On a hot moist midsummer day, I have caught a rich fruity perfume rising from the mat of grass, moss and wild berry bushes that covers so much of the plateau. The earthy smell of moss, and the soil itself, is best savoured by grubbing. Sometimes the rank smell of deer assails one’s nostril, and in the spring the sharp scent of fire.DSCF7094

I enjoyed how she captured the animal life on and above the mountain, like the eagle rising coil over coil in slow symmetry…and when he has soared to the top of his bent, there comes the level flight as far as the eye can follow, straight, clean, and effortless as breathing. There is a description of hares streaking up a brown hillside like rising smoke – perhaps hoping to avoid becoming prey to the eagle?

Every page reveals how Shepherd increases her love for the mountain. She understands the immeasurable value and importance of time spent in nature:

Yet with what we have, what wealth! I add to it each time I go to the mountain – the eye sees what it didn’t before, or sees in a new way what it has already seen.IMG_20180225_122122

What wealth indeed. The challenges to our natural environment have increased enormously in the decades since Shepherd wrote and published. Wild places are under more and more commercial pressure, reducing the opportunities to slow down, immerse the physical (and mental) self in outdoor beauty, and stop to contemplate the treasures we have. It is splendid to have books like “The Living Mountain”, but I wonder if in the near future, her record and those like it, will be all that remains, that we’ll be reading about instead of experiencing first hand the wonders of our natural world?IMG_20180311_125558

Many years ago, we took a camping trip in Scotland when Junior was a wee bairn. It was her first time camping, and she enjoyed it, from being bathed in a washing up bowl to sleeping soundly (phew!) in a tent, despite the wind and rain outside. Sometimes sunny, oftentimes wild and woolly, it was a fun trip. We got as far as the Cairngorms, but didn’t spend any significant time up there. Better informed now, thanks to Nan Shepherd, and with Junior as an advance party, it seems as if we’ll have to arrange another trip…

I’ll stop now, because otherwise all I’ll do is continue to select passages to illustrate how much I enjoyed Nan Shepherd’s mountain musing. The best thing is to get a copy – I heartily recommend it.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

PS The photographs featured this week were all taken out and about in the past six months – not of the Cairngorms, but in our living mountains here in Alberta.

The Spray Lakes shake

You’ll know it if you’ve ever driven the road to the lake. A splendid mix of potholes and gravel, with a sprinkling of rocks scattered on a corduroy surface, it is a track to test suspension and loose fillings. My brain is still shaking, like it belongs to an old time hockey enforcer at the end of game seven. Are all routes to lakes like that? Read on for a near miss, and a misspelt curse word.

A trip to the lake is worth taking on a warm day when it is too hot to stay in the city. A reservoir stop in Spray Valley Provincial Park became the end destination as we drove past crowded parking lots closer to Canmore. Cars spilling out at the Grassi Lakes trailhead, and at Goat Creek persuaded us to drive on, never mind the dust and the pinging of rocks underneath.

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Near…

About twenty minutes past Goat Creek, we turned off the Smith-Dorrien “highway” onto a side road leading down to a parking lot and boat launch. We pulled up under a tree, and couldn’t believe there were only two other vehicles parked – it might have been only one car and I was still seeing double…

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…and far

Why so quiet? Was there a bear warning and trail closures? Nope. Well, alright then, and off we went in search of a suitable spot for a picnic. I’m happy enough to lean against a log, or perch on a rock, but lucky us, there were several picnic tables spread along the path overlooking the lake, and they were all empty. IMG_20180527_121542

As the name suggests, Spray Valley is long and wide, the lakes created by a dam, and with a steady breeze rippling the lake, it was very pleasant for a picnic in the shady trees. We spent a lazy couple of hours mooching up and down, admiring the view, eating lunch, and filling in the holes Scout felt she absolutely had to dig. Wondering, but not complaining, about the lack of other people enjoying the immediate surrounds. We saw a couple of canoes and a small fishing boat down on the lake. A family stopped to walk their dog for a few minutes further up the shore, and then left. Two cyclists were startled by Scout, believing her to be a bear at first sight, but they pedalled on, reassured to see she was a friendly wolf.

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Digging it

As much as we’d have liked to stay all day, we had an important appointment to keep at the Canmore Brewing Company. We headed back to Canmore, offering up a prayer of thanks when a speeding red truck sliding around a bend narrowly missed us, and the spray of gravel didn’t put a chip in our new windshield. I have a limited reservoir of patience for dam fools in racing pick ups. Let us spray he made it down to the lake without incident, and perhaps with a little less pedal to the metal. Yikes…

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Take your time, it’ll still be here

A pleasant afternoon, quiet, as hoped for, and a destination definitely worth going the extra bumpy mile or so.

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Parked up on the dam road, dusty, but remarkably chip and ding-free – phew

Oh, I almost forgot – and I’m sure you wanted to know – yes, the Railway Avenue Rye IPA and the Ten Peaks Pale Ale were excellent. I’ll have to let you know about the stout, and the brown ale another time.

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Later that day…

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Woodland walks and Sunnyside strolls

After a couple of busy and beery town and city weekends, fun ones and all, it was good to get back to something a little quieter with a weekend walk in the woods. Other days spent in the city meant sidewalk strolls, and with all the lilacs and late spring tree blossoming and blooming, pounding the city pavements hasn’t been too bad.IMG_20180522_090552

Fresh greens, soft pinks, clean whites, and the strong scent of lilac. All the sights and smells laundry detergent makers want you to think about when purchasing their products. They should make one called Sunnyside Streets. Tide, Persil, or (preferably) biodegradable detergent manufacturers, I’m available for further excellent advertising ideas…IMG_20180522_090515

Last weekend, it felt like spring was leaning heavily into summer. The usual Alberta transition from winter to spring seems to have been as speedy as ever, with temperatures accelerating past expected averages, and spring almost in the rearview.DSCF7036

Walking in the semi-shade of newly leafy aspens and poplars out at Glenbow Ranch was very pleasant, and the snow kept us cool. Snow? Oh, ok, it wasn’t real snow, but the cottony fluff of seeds floating in the air and gathering in little banks on the sides of the trail. It was funny watching Scout snap at the breeze-blown seeds, but she tired of that game pretty quickly – deadfall sticks and branches are easier prey, especially on a hot day.DSCF7054

Exiting the patches of wood, we spotted a pair of red tailed hawks high above, riding the thermals in lazy circles. When we stopped at the top of a small hill to admire the view, two flashes of blue indicated what might have been mountain bluebirds, but we couldn’t be absolutely sure. Returning to the parking lot, we heard the call of a white-crowned sparrow, one of the few bird calls I can readily identify, coming from a nearby stand of aspens. I like to think it was calling us back, saying it wasn’t time to leave just yet.DSCF7051

No worries, we’ll be back, although we’ll be waiting for a cooler day or for when the calendar turns over to fall. In the meantime, there is more shade, scent, and evening cool to be found in those Sunnyside Streets ™.

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“Please, no more fluffy stuff!”

A little aside, for those interested in our research from last week – we might have found a store selling Half Hitch beer within walking distance. It’s going to take the edge off watching the Stanley Cup final without a Canadian team once again. We should thank the Winnipeg Jets because they kept Canadian hockey hopes up for a little longer than usual…

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Good beer, a good book (and a good question?)

Beer and books! Two of my favourite things, and who doesn’t like a good read with a glass of beer at hand? Throw in a campfire, and all is well. (The good question is buried – and then raised – further down. Read on if important questions matter to you…)

Research is vital, and with the weather improving, and campfire season pretty much here, I forced myself to go to two beer festivals two weekends in a row, as well as a tasting at our local beer store to search out new favourites. Research is hard work, but it is work I take very seriously, and I’ll even put in a little overtime if necessary, to get the job done. An unpaid and overworked PlaidCamper. Preparation, preparation, preparation. I know you feel my pain…

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Exhaustive (exhausting?) research…

So, that is something about the beer part, with more to follow. The book part? Read on!

I was strolling along the banks of the Bow the other day, and I spotted a guy in waders fishing from the gravel on the far side. Behind him, up on the bank was a cooler. Am I right in thinking the cooler could only have been for beer? The sight put me in mind of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It.

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Lovely, but where’s the beer?

What a book! If you’ve read it, then you’ll know I am seriously underselling it by saying there is a lot of fishing, family feuding, and drinking in this story. I’m being truthful, but the story includes so much more. If you haven’t read it, you’ve got a treat ahead should you so choose. Anyway, back to my tenuous book and beer stuff.

Maclean’s narrator and his brother return to where they left eight bottles of beer cooling in the river. They’ve been fishing on a very hot day, the fishing has not been too rewarding, and they are looking forward to a cold one:

“God, let’s get that beer,” I said.

Paul kept spinning a bottle opener around his little finger. We were so dry that we could feel in our ears that we were trying to swallow. For talk, we only repeated the lyric refrain of the summer fisherman, “A bottle of beer sure would taste good.”

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Sure tastes good

They are disappointed – to put it mildly – that their brother-in-law, Neal, and his acquaintance, have finished off all the beer. These two didn’t take the trip for the fishing, they had a different activity in mind. The brothers spy the amorous culprits asleep – passed out? – buck naked and burning in the high heat of a Montana afternoon. Backsides are red, words are spoken, and actions are taken. You’ll have to read the story to find out more. It is a colourful episode in a book full of colourful episodes.

A River Runs Through It is wonderful on many levels, full of life, death, sadness and grace. But me being shallow, like a stream in mid-summer, I’ve always wondered about that beer in the river – Maclean wrote it was either Highlander or Kessler – was it any good, and what would be a good river beer today? (I know, one of the finest stories a person could read, and that is what I’m thinking…) The brothers were pretty annoyed, and I can’t imagine they’d have been quite so upset over a missing six pack of Bud. Both the breweries Maclean mentioned went under in the twentieth century, maybe under the Anheuser-Busch onslaught, although with the recent resurgence in craft beer, the Highlander name is being used once again in Missoula.

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Also tastes good

Anyway, this is my question – what would be a good beer, river-cooled a la Maclean, to enjoy after an afternoon of fishing? Yup, heady stuff, and I have to find an answer. Strange to be occupied by this question, given I have hardly ever fished, and I hardly ever drink beer. One of those is true.

The beers we researched at the Calgary and Canmore BeerFests (Mrs PC and our Canmore friends were onhand to share the work – I couldn’t tackle this alone) are all relatively recent vintages. Some of the start ups are mere months old, and I admire the enthusiasm, craft and commitment all the makers have in aiming to produce excellent beer.

Up until last year, my choice for the beer in the river would have been Great Northern Brewing’s Going to the Sun IPA. Aptly, it is made in Montana, and an absolute gem for a warm afternoon. Not so hoppy as to be too dry on the finish, it is a definite river beer contender.

However, our recent research revealed many other possibilities. If the brothers could have sourced it back in the day, I believe the Papa Bear Prairie Ale from the Half Hitch Brewing Company would have hit the spot. Or the Farmer’s Daughter Pale Ale from the same brewery. And if the name doesn’t put a person off, Red Bison Brewing’s Party Pants Pale Ale is also a winner. (Regular readers recognize I love a little alliteration, but steady on there, Red Bison…)

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Party Pants Pale Ale on the left

Honestly, I could list and share many of the beers from our two recent BeerFest experiences that were wonderful enough to be left in a river – in a good way – or opened and enjoyed by a campfire over the coming season. Perhaps I’ll write a short follow up in the next week or two to mention and recommend some of these other beers. Be a shame to let all that research go unshared!

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“Beer? No thanks. I drink water from my frisbee!”

I can’t help but think if only a certain someone would simply sit down, perhaps with an optional small glass of APA, turn off the (three?!) televisions, and read a few documents and reports, the world might be a tad more relaxed.

Thanks for reading, and perhaps you have a different “beer in a story” suggestion? Or a recommendation for a post-fishing river-cooled beer for Maclean’s story? If I can find it, I promise to try it…

“A bottle of beer sure would taste good.”

Have a wonderful weekend!

Mother Earth

Mother’s Day is celebrated this coming Sunday in many parts of the world.

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Without getting too far into some of the current ills, you have to think we’d be in better shape overall if more mothers were in charge. There’d be a bit more talking with the intent to communicate and resolve problems – without resorting to violence, or bullying, bragging, and bluster. Nurturing and maternal, rather than destructive and accumulating. Well, it’s a thought…

fullsizeoutput_78Anyway, be good to your mother. Remember her, thank her for all she has done, and do that because it is the right thing to do all the time, not because there is a date on the calendar! Amongst many things, my parents taught me to love reading, value formal and informal learning, and respect the natural world. (Oh, and if everything looks a bit shit, you might as well laugh about it, and at yourself, even if it is very, very serious. In the current global climate, that little lesson goes a long, long way!)DSCF4051In Calgary, trees and shrubs have started to show some green, and the first hints of blossom. It is a long wait here, from when the leaves start to turn and fall in late August, to when the next signs of growth and renewal are seen.IMG_20170514_140235 I’ve gone the tree hugging and landscape loving route here, and included photographs taken over previous years, highlighting the wonderful variety I’ve experienced of Mother Earth, the mother supporting us all every single day of our lives. It would be wise to treat her with kindness, love and respect, given that she shapes our very existence. If we take, then we must give back.

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My mother used to live near here…

Thanks to mothers and mother figures everywhere, thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

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…and now she lives a short walk from here!

Old growth green

“To make a bigger parking lot, they should cut down some of these trees. Then there would be more visitors!”

It was quite an effort, but I managed to pretend I didn’t hear this. The would be park ranger was correct, and following his logic, hiking in the mountains would be less strenuous if we levelled a few – and the view would be unblocked.

DSCF6969A few weeks back, I stopped our Big Muddy Taxi at Cathedral Grove, a small patch of old growth forest located a few minutes east of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. Whenever we pass through, the time has never been quite right to make a stop. A ferry to catch, it is dark, the rain is heavy, or the small angled parking lot by the side of the road is full. This trip, I’d left time for the ferry, the rain had stopped, and there was a space for the car.

DSCF7002What a beautiful spot! A glimpse into what Vancouver Island must have looked like before it was logged. A lovely place, MacMillan Provincial Park is not a particularly large park, but the spot that makes up Cathedral Grove is full of enormous Douglas firs and huge Red western cedars. A “tree museum” without charge, and a reminder to appreciate what we have…

Dense and green – so green! Mossy and dank, a complex ecosystem full of life, and one I couldn’t capture accurately with a camera. I settled for choosing a few details to try and convey the majesty of this special place. The greens in the photos aren’t as vivid or strong as those I was seeing, but they give an idea.

DSCF7014Next time, we’ll try and visit early in the morning, on a dry day when the sun rises high enough to penetrate the valley and start burning off the mist. I drove through on a morning just like that one October, in a hurry to catch a ferry. Looking back, I wish I’d stopped, not worrying about missing the ferry. There’s always another ferry, but perhaps there won’t be another morning quite like that? It can’t hurt to hope.

DSCF6988If you get the chance, and have the time, stop at Cathedral Grove to wander under the mighty trees and wonder at the beauty of it all. Get there early, and you’ll find a parking spot – no need to suggest making the lot larger at the cost of cutting down some of the giants. If that is what you think, maybe keep it to yourself, keep your voice down…

Old growth green – I feel all spruced up just looking at it. We don’t really want to be paving paradise, do we? I bet you were humming this already:

Big Yellow Taxi

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

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