Snow on bare bones

Really, PlaidCamper? What horrors have you endured?

No, nothing grisly here, quite the opposite! A post about bones, snow, quiet, and a book you might enjoy.

We were on snowshoes down by the Bow and Baker Creek a short while ago. Snow was falling, and the trees had a good coating. The wind had less teeth in the trees, and although temperatures were low, conditions were just right for tramping. And there were bare bones everywhere…

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Decent snow

Maybe the roads were still relatively difficult to make travel out of the city an easy prospect, but returning from Yoho we saw no other traffic on the Bow Valley Parkway, other than a snow plow, and we parked up and had the trails to ourselves. Always an introvert, with a tendency towards being a touch anti-social on my time off, this was a special morning. Two PlaidCampers, deep snow, empty trails, and a backpack full of snacks? Let’s go!

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Quiet enough here

Having spent a few winters lumbering along in snowshoes, I’ve developed a (slightly sad?) obsession with types of snow. There is a difference in what falls where in the mountains. On the BC side, the snow is almost a given – or as close to a given you can get in these post truth global warming days. It will often be deep, and it will often be wet and heavy. On snowshoes, heavy snow is fine if you’re second on the trail, but if you’re first – and if you’re me – it’s a workout. I’ve been known to hang back at a trailhead because I’m anti-social or quiet, but the other truth is I’m letting fellow hikers do my heavy lifting. I know, I know.

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Powdery

On the Alberta side of the mountains, snowfall isn’t as certain compared with further west, but when it falls it is light and powdery. Yes, I prefer to snowshoe through the powder. I’ll hit that trail and cheerfully blast a brave path through unbroken snow, leading the way and selflessly helping those who are to follow later in the day. It’s a workout, but I’m happy to help. I know, I know.

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Tree bones

What about the bare bones that were everywhere? Tree bones! The light and the snow last week seemed to reveal the beauty of the trees in sharp, near black and white. We could see the tree bones laid bare. Alright, perhaps an overactive imagination here. I’ll admit to borrowing tree bones from Peter Wohlleben, and his wonderful book, The Hidden Life of Trees, written in part about the forest in Germany he attends to.

imageHighly recommended as a thoughtful and off centre read about trees, I thoroughly enjoyed Wohlleben telling how, over many years, he redefined his relationship to the trees he works with, evolving from logger to conservationist. His notions about trees being a “wood wide web” of communicating and social entities, beings that taste and smell, are a challenge to conventional thinking. He isn’t a sentimental tree hugger, he acknowledges trees have a commercial value, and he explores and explains different, less destructive approaches to harvesting.

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Beautiful

It’s a great book to read if you enjoy thinking about other ways of looking at the world, and different ways of measuring time or wealth. Preaching to the choir here, but when you consider the beauty and complexity of a single tree, and how that single tree impacts the environment of thousands of other living creatures, then how wonderful is a stand of trees? A woodland? A forest?

As Wohlleben says, trees ought to be beyond the status of inanimate objects like stones or boulders, but because in human measured time they appear static (beyond seasonal shifts), we mistake them as slow or unchanging and ripe for (poorly thought out) commercial exploitation. Well, you might enjoy the book.

dscf4363We certainly enjoyed our deep powder snowshoe hike along the riverbanks and through the trees. As we retraced our steps, I was hoping to spot the dipper we’ve seen several times along this stretch. I’d just told myself to be content with the day, dipper or no dipper, when I caught sight of it out the corner of my eye. Splashing and bobbing upstream, then dipping below the surface to pop up a few metres downstream, this was a fine way to complete our walk. No dipper photos, but a happy memory.

dscf4359Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

Thin and persistent

Like an old PlaidCamper? No, like the snow that fell all day. A short piece this week about a short walk last week.

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Hug them, hug them all…

With temperatures hovering around -15C, and the snow being blown and thrown around by sharp gusts, we decided to wrap up and snowshoe in the shelter of trees. Swaddled and waddling, I really wasn’t too persistent or thin, especially when we tried to forge through deep snow. As an excuse for my lack of persistence, I’ll offer up the sore back I’ve been nursing the past few weeks. It has slowed me down, but the bonus has been the chance to take and make more frequent stops, and really absorb our natural surroundings.

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Thin hair? Clean air!

So I couldn’t make much headway along the trail, but when we stopped and sat in a snow bank to eat a snack, the quiet was delightful. Grains of snow rustled and pitter-pattered on our packs and jackets. The near silence was seductive, and only the cold seeping through snow pants got us up and moving once more.

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Close up

Distant views were obscured, with mountains being more of a suggestion than a reality in the murk. This made us focus in more of a close up way, prompting a readjustment and shrinking of vision, and that wasn’t a bad thing.

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The Kicking Horse

We followed a less difficult path, down to the Kicking Horse and towards the sounds of rushing and splashing water. Each riverbank was frozen, with deep snow covering ice layers. Here and there, and mostly in the middle, were stretches of flowing water. The exposed flow, tumbling and racing over blue-grey river rocks, made for some lovely sights and sounds.

dscf4331Maybe not the finest day weather wise to be out and about – no bright blue skies or fat falling flakes – chilly, windy and grey could be one way to describe the day, but there was plenty to see and savour in a more muted way.

dscf4349Thanks for reading, I always appreciate you taking the time, and have a wonderful weekend!dscf4333

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Time to head back

Saddleback

Sounds painful, but it really wasn’t. This piece includes a Western (Canada) tale about a man who is tall in the saddle. Or a man telling tall tales. And there’s a saddle.

dscf4309We were on the Saddleback trail a little while ago, and it is a fine place to be. Searching for some outdoor peace on a crowded January weekend near Lake Louise, we watched where most folks were heading from the parking lot, and then went in the opposite direction. We are wily PlaidCampers…

That was a good decision. The Saddleback is a bridle trail in warmer months, and they can sometimes be very muddy and rutted for hikers. In the winter though, they are often wonderful snowshoe trails, and so it proved to be along the Saddleback. The snow was deep on either side of the path, but previous snowshoers had created an easy enough set of tracks to follow – I know, we are contrary PlaidCampers, wanting a quiet trail but happy enough to benefit from previous users. Contrary? Or wily?

dscn7413With the narrow track winding through tall trees, there was an almost tunnel like effect at times, with branches overhanging the trail and dumping clumps of heavy snow if we disturbed the dangling limbs. Dump clump? Well, alright! Ahem. The heavy blanket muffled most noise, so there was a real stillness and quiet to the forest.

dscn7388Plodding along and enjoying the walk, I got to thinking about taking a trail ride in the summer. Would I enjoy it? The few horses I’ve ever ridden always appear to have a tremendous time. They’ll take a route under the lowest boughs, and close to rough trunks simply to see if I can hang on. I can. Last time out, I slipped just a little in the saddle. Or from the saddle. My butt was lower than my knees but I think that’s a riding style. A slight twist on side saddle? Definitely didn’t fall off. It’s not falling off if you don’t touch the ground.

dscn7399Maybe I’ll stick to hiking. Supposing I’m out riding on a narrow mountain path and we meet a bear? The horse would rear up, I’d fall off – the last couple of feet or so, being close to the ground already – and then there’d be headlines. Nope, sticking to hiking. I’m a wily (and news shy) old PlaidCamper.

dscf4306We enjoyed the Saddleback, and would take it again. It’s a quiet spot in a sometimes crowded part of Banff National Park. Recommended, certainly in winter, and if you’re a brave soul, perhaps you’d enjoy it on a horse in the summer?

Thanks for reading this tall (short?) tale from the trail. As always, please feel free to share a story or comment, and have a wonderful weekend!

 

 

The Otterhead – fresh air and fresh tracks

Sounds lovely, and it was.

Our escape from the madness last weekend proved to be just that. (Little did we know how jawdroppingly awful the madness was. Nor did we think it would get worse this week. Depths are being plumbed at an astonishing rate. Walls of hate, barriers to common sense and human decency – and it has only been a week…)

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The Kicking Horse River
Back to last weekend and the sound of silence. We took a tour on the Otterhead trail, slipsiding away on an easy and freshly groomed cross country ski track. It wasn’t really silent, but it was serene. Skies were blue, mountains were majestic, and rivers were sparkling. That’ll be the Emerald, Amiskwi and Kicking Horse rivers. We crossed the first two partially frozen streams on bridges over untroubled tributaries, and then sped alongside the last, the lovely Kicking Horse.

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Speeding along? Um…no
Sped along? That’s not strictly true. Cautious skiers, we were quite happy to find the fresh tracks to be sticky and slow – that suited us on the downhill sections, and kept us heading on up the steeper sections. Overall, the Otterhead is a delightful trail for a skier wanting to focus on scenery rather than technique. (What technique?)

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Scenery
And such scenery! The Kicking Horse valley in Yoho is stunning. It has fewer visitors compared to the nearby and well known Banff National Park. Over the course of an afternoon, we saw nine other skiers or snowshoers on the trail (I really was keeping count – is that a bit sad?) As we descended the first part of the trail, a couple climbing back up on snowshoes smiled and said we were in for a treat at the bottom. They were so right! The track emerges from trees into a wide valley with beautiful views in all directions.

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The Amiskwi River
Being at the valley bottom might encourage an OldPlaidCamper to think he knows what he is doing on xc skis. Oh yes, I can kick and glide, kick and glide and really cover the ground. Look at me go! I might even catch up with Mrs. PlaidCamper.

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Waiting for OldPlaidCamper
I do enjoy the easy rhythm of skiing along on the flat parts. It’s preferable to my crabbed and hunched nervousness on the downhill sections, what with a helpful mantra of goingtofall, goingtofall, goingtofall playing in my head. Oddly enough, I often fall.

But on the flat parts you’d think I was a natural. My mind wanders, usually into a heady mix of appreciation for the surroundings and a strange conviction I might have a Nordic gene or two from way back, ‘cos look at me go. For whatever reason, last week little clips from Simon and Garfunkel kept popping up. Oh look, a clearing, is there a boxer? No. Then I fell over – there’s nothing like a face full of snow to bring you back.

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I’m catching up…
Homeward bound. The Otterhead is delightful, and I can’t wait to visit again. Maybe to ski, maybe to hike in spring and see the greens of summer, but we’ll be back. And no more escaping the madness, that can’t be done. Time to reframe and be positive – we’re going there (and other wild places) to embrace what is good and to feel good.

Imagine feeling the need to build a wall to keep people out. You’re in your own prison and you’ve already failed. You’re building a physical monument to your own feeble thinking and evident mental imprisonment. You’ve already lost. I won’t carry that with me everywhere I go. I don’t want to dwell on the awfulness all the time. I’m not ignoring it either, but there are times when bigger and better subjects should occupy our thoughts, if only for a while.

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Mental freedom and better things
Here’s hoping this weekend you find some peace and quiet, mental freedom, and you have a wonderful time!

Best to disconnect…

A few disconnected thoughts – or maybe not – before disappearing for the weekend. I really, really do not want to be near any form of news these next few days. Childish? Absolutely. Would I encourage wilful ignorance in the students I teach? Absolutely not. However, I’ve completed my latest round of report cards, I’ve been in the city for too many days in a row, the weather has been unseasonably warm, and I’m not prepared to witness a petulant, thin-skinned, and self-serving individual assume the presidential mantle. Tetchy? Yup. It’s off to a cabin in Yoho I go. Yes, I can be petulant, thin-skinned, and self-serving, but I’m not a liar on a grand scale.

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Chinook arch, Monday. Yuck.

Phew, I think I need the break! It has been horribly warm in the city, with temperatures rising from -30C to plus 9C in a few days. A chinook wind has been blowing and the snow has been melting, and with it all my hopes of a classic Canadian winter. To be fair, chinooks are a common feature of a Calgary winter. I simply detest slush – the early morning frozen slush and icy patches, the late morning semi-slush, and then the afternoon wet slush once again. Repeat ’til depressed. All with a wearying west wind dragging me down and inducing lethargy and a headache. (Well, this really is a whiny and petulant poor me post this week!)

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Yuck. Headache.

On the final day of our learn to ski/snowboard adventures last week, a student managed to wipe me out in spectacular style. Didn’t feel it at the time, and nor did I feel the consequences of students hanging on to my arms and hands (with a steely death grip I’d no idea children had in them) as they begged and pleaded for me not to let go. (Good man that I am, I assured them I wouldn’t let go – I simply loosened my mitts and enjoyed the stunned look as they realized they were holding empty mitts and riding backwards. Success. Payback for my untrustworthiness has been in the form of bruises, aches and pains all this week – back to my whining again…)

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Please refreeze! Whiny voice.

Time to end on a positive note! Before we took the students skiing/snowboarding, they researched a few of the usual suspects when it comes to role models on snow. Nothing wrong with that, but we’re not all going to be pro-boarders and Olympians, although have at it if that’s your goal. We did discover a far more interesting individual. If my whining and negativity here has you shaking your head – and I don’t blame you, haha – please check out the link below. It lifted me out of my mini “poor me” slump, and delivered an exhilarating kick in the pants. This guy is simply wonderful and for so many reasons. His philosophy has been well and truly tested. Check this out (you’ll be glad you did!):

Powder Philosophy

Did you watch it? What a guy, what a role model – I’m looking forward to aging gracefully and maintaining positivity and equilibrium. Or trying, anyway. Can’t wait to get to Yoho and disconnect to reconnect. Tetchy? Yes, a little – but as George says, life is good. Not Disney, but good!

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Oh, Yoho! Good.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend! I’ll try and write something less childish next time…

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Double Mountain. Double, you say? Oh, go on then!

“I fell over!”

Teacher: Goodness! Are you alright? What happened?

Student: I fell over!

Teacher: But your arm is okay? Yes? Tell me the story!

Student: Well, I was going down the hill, and then I fell over!

We took a group of grade 5/6 students to WinSport, formerly Canada Olympic Park, at the west edge of Calgary. What an opportunity! Cold and sunny, not too windy, so what’s not to like? Three days of ski or snowboard instruction – why, that’s almost as good as three days in a classroom with Mr. PlaidCamper…

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Cold and sunny, and you can see the mountains from the top of this “mountain”!

The rest of my week has been spent writing report cards, so the post is from the mouths of students. I started off with the tale of the broken arm – that’s what we thought when Ski Patrol radioed in and said there’d been an accident. Fortunately, ice , sympathy and time revealed no more than soreness and what I hoped would be quite the tale. We’ll do some work on embellishment and tall stories next week in class, because what you read above is the story D told me – he fell over.

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Paying attention

Let’s try another one:

Student: When I was living in Nigeria, I had a dream about playing in snow. Today I will try snowboarding. God has given me a gift from my dream.

Teacher: That’s lovely, J – but do you think you could push your foot a little harder into your boot?

Student: I think I need smaller feet, Mr. PC.

Teacher: An interesting idea J, but perhaps we’ll try the next boot size up first?

J did get a larger size up, and he did spend three days learning to snowboard. Or three days playing in the snow. His first Canadian winter, and he’s embracing it!

How about P, who has ASD and loves Star Wars:

Student: Can I keep the boots? I’m like a stormtrooper on a snowboard. When I go home, I’m making lego Darth Vader on skis.

Teacher: Would Darth prefer snowboarding?

Student: No, he skis and Han Solo snowboards.

Fair enough. I’m looking forward to that movie.

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My snowboard at Louise (I’m short on pictures this week)

Here are a few more snippets from students, and I have to say they thoroughly enjoyed their time on the “mountain”!

My butt hurts!

Can I switch to skiing? (After seeing a skier blast by)

Can I switch to snowboarding? (Snowboarder blasted by)

My board is the wrong colour – I need a blue one! (We did establish that colour likely wasn’t the issue, and that getting up and trying again helps…)

My butt hurts!

Can we eat this snow?

Are you really related to Shaun White, Mr. PC? (Not exactly, but there are similarities, don’t you think?)

But Shaun White has hair!

My butt hurts!

Can we come back next week? 

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Maybe they’ll end up here?
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Or here! I hope so…

Oh, how I wish we could be back there next week. Seeing students fall over, flail around a bit, realize they’ll have to pick themselves up, and then do so with a smile and a laugh, really gives me hope. Their character is revealed, and they start to realize that work, effort and play can, sometimes,  be pretty much the same thing.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

 

 

Feeling blue…

…down by the river. We got the riverside blues. Stompin’ snowshoe blues.

Actually, that’s not true, but I liked the way it sounded, as if an old PlaidCamper was going to write a song. (I think Bruce might have written a little something along those lines? About the river, not the snowshoes – although he probably could write a great snowshoe song if he wanted to…)

Anyway, we really were down by the river a few days back, and we got there on snowshoes. It was a cold, cold day, and getting colder by the minute as the sun dropped behind the mountains, but it wasn’t a problem. Keep moving, and you’ll keep warm. Mrs PlaidCamper is graceful on snowshoes, moving carefully across the surface of the snow, whereas I’m less graceful and more grateful. Grateful not to fall over as I lumber along. Lithe? Supple? Serene? Nope, not me, just happy to be there enjoying the sights and the light.

We caught sight of our dipper friend, splashing about in the fast flowing shallows, but he was too quick for me to get a shot, and it was enough of a delight to have seen him. He is master of that stretch of river. We saw him again the following day, and it’s getting to the point where we’ll be upset not to spot him. Mustn’t get greedy, but it’s ok to be hopeful!

Fading light, clear and clean air, sharp mountains etched against the darkening sky, and a hint of mist rising up from the river. Throw in a bottle of beer waiting for you back at the cabin, with a book by the fire, perhaps you didn’t stumble in snowshoes – or if you did, it was because it was getting dark – and that there is a fine winter afternoon.

So, no real blues, just the pleasant blues and greys we saw and the camera captured down by the river. A warm snowshoe workout on a freezing afternoon. Snowshoeing is fast becoming a favoured winter pastime for us. Fast? No, it slows you down (or maybe that might be my technique) but you don’t stop for long because moving keeps you warm.

dscn7378Oh yeah, it was life in the slow lane, and that’s pretty good. We had the riverside blues that lift you up. Don’t worry, I’m not going to write a song about it. Or sing. I’ll leave it there, all peaceful and with the faint hope The Boss might one day write that snowshoe song.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a song or a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

PS I turned 50 yesterday – might need a second bottle…