Digging it

Really digging it. And no stone left unturned. A little more detail this week to follow up on last week. This one is a bit preachy – that’s a heads up, not an apology…

Digging it

The students I was with were really digging being scientists. From a plankton tow, to measuring sea salinity and water temperatures, to searching for intertidal wildlife, the young ones showed they really, really care about the place they live, even if some of the creatures they were looking for can’t easily be seen with the naked eye.

Sooo cute?! I think so…

Plankton! Phytoplankton! Zooplankton! These little plants and critters are sooo cute (not my words, but I understand the sentiment) and utterly astonishing when viewed under a microscope. We all – quite rightly – get alarmed by the rate at which forests are clear cut, slashed and burned, and generally mistreated in the name of resource extraction, worried that these acts of destruction are steadily ruining the “lungs” of the planet. Last week, students learned from their instructors that forests contribute approximately one third of the Earth’s oxygen. The other two thirds? Yup, you guessed it, from marine plants, and particularly or significantly from phytoplankton. The larger lung of the planet, absorbing carbon and producing oxygen, the all important base of the aquatic food chain, these tiny plants perform a mighty task. Good thing we’re being so kind to the oceans…

On the ocean, in the ocean

Students enjoyed seeing aquatic life through microscopes, in laboratory touch tanks, and even better, out on and in the ocean waters. By exploring, seeing, touching, drawing, identifying and naming a variety of marine life, the students came to care (more) about their local environment, and see how what is local and necessary for them is also local and necessary for everywhere else and everything else.

Think green, go on, dive right in

These young ones, they see the connections, can follow a line from the smallest creatures to the largest, from the bottom of the ocean floor to the high edge of our atmospheric envelope. Lofty stuff, and here’s hoping their caring example is enough to maintain, restore and protect our precious planet. Forget about the childish adults denying a climate crisis and belittling those (young and old) who care to hear the truth of science and dare to suggest solutions. Instead, aim to support the next generation of scientists and activists, the young people inheriting our woeful environmental legacy, and hope for them that they have enough time to act to secure a sustainable future.

Passing through, like we all are…

Plankton! Zooplankton! Phytoplankton! Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Wizard Island

This isn’t a post about elves or unicorns (or hobbits) – phew – but how about some magic? I will, due to being rather tired, be very brief this week, and I promise to write something a bit more detailed next week.

Leaving Bamfield, and we’re off to Wizard Island

I was on Wizard Island – yes, really – earlier this week, learning alongside a small group of students, splashing about in the intertidal zone, slipping on seaweed and scraping hands and knees on barnacles. We were being scientists, uncovering then sharing our discoveries, beaming our explorations live to students at UVic, and generally having a fine old time in the middle of Barkley Sound.

As far as these students were concerned, we were in (on?) the best possible classroom, transported there in a small aluminum boat, past bald eagles, basking seals, foraging bears, and with the prospect of a humpback whale sighting. We were lucky enough to spot three humpbacks spouting on our trip back, and I wish you could have seen the students when this happened! Such excitement, because we were relatively close, and this excitement from young ones quite used to spotting whales from the shore.

Barkley brilliance

All this and their first ever media appearance before 10 o’clock in the morning. Not that I couldn’t keep up – I did, just about – but I am mighty tired in the best possible way after three full days of marine activity. I will sign off this week with a few more photographs from Wizard Island. I don’t know about magic, but I do believe there are magical places…

More to follow. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

“We’re media stars!”

The Fog (based on real events)

The following tale of terror should only be read with all the lights on. Unless it is daytime, then you should turn the lights off and stop wasting electricity. But it is scary. The story, not electricity – unless you’re being careless. Here we go:

Yes, we’re into the fog and dog days of August out on the west coast!

You can never be quite sure what the day might bring weather wise. We’ve started in thick fog first thing in the morning, only for it to burn off by midday and enjoyed warm and sunny afternoons. We’ve also woken up to thick fog, gone out for a mid morning coffee in thick fog, thought it might be lifting, and it does, to just above the tree line. Sometimes, you can see a line of blue sky over the bay and behind Mt. Ozzard, where you know the sun is shining down on Salmon Beach. It never feels chilly in the fog, it’s a warm and humid blanket, and on the beach it makes for an eerie atmosphere. No, not chilly at all, unless…

Last weekend we stopped at Long Beach for a walk before heading on to Tofino, and it promised to be a pleasant stroll in the mist. Before setting out, we could see the tip of Lone Cone just above the fog, and on the drive along the coast, tendrils of pale mist curled out of the trees and over the road. We’d drive from a clear patch into a misty patch and then out again. We wondered if the fog would keep visitors off the beach and the answer was yes. The parking lot was quiet. Maybe too quiet.

Who knows what lurks nearby?

Perhaps prospective beach hikers were concerned about wild encounters in the wooly conditions? I wouldn’t want to run into a bear or a wolf in the fog, but then we’ve likely passed many a wolf and bear without catching sight of them, and that’s in clear conditions. However, after last weekend, a wolf or a bear encounter would seem mild…

We strode down the beach at a good pace, assuming we were alone, although it was hard to tell, visibility in all directions being reduced to a few metres. Scout was happy, bouncing and loping ahead of us, restricted only by her long leash. She’d disappear into the fog bank, but no worries as I could could feel her straining and pulling to keep us moving. Suddenly, the leash went slack. Oh no! Had she slipped off? We followed the line of her leash into the murk and there was Scout, standing, hackles up and teeth bared. What was wrong? Peering past her and into the gloom we could see someone. Or something. We moved forward slowly. A strange figure emerged from the grey. It was tall, too tall, impossibly tall, spectral, and with a hint of menace about it. It appeared locked onto us – an unblinking stare and arm raised and pointing. My mind raced. Was this it? A shiver ran down my spine and my heart rate rose as we got closer and closer to the looming creature. We were caught in its spell, unable to break free. My life flashed before my eyes, mostly images from middle childhood, hours spent watching black and white B movies about alien bodysnatchers, swamp creatures and killer robots. Scout lunged toward the mighty beast… and peed over the base of the washed up log. (It was tall, too tall – honest!)

Anyway, we had an enjoyable walk in the fog on the beach last weekend.

Scary monster, or too many B movies in childhood?

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a great weekend!

Brave Scout!

The fish were jumping…

…well, three or four made a splash near our kayaks as we paddled in the bay earlier this week. The fish, eagles, bears and other birds have been a welcome distraction from the unicorns frolicking in the sunny uplands of Brexit Britain – all will be well there if the new PM is to be believed. Politically, it all seems so depressing on both sides of the Atlantic. Racism and xenophobia aiming to be the new normal, and if you disagree you’re unpatriotic or a pessimist… No wonder we decided to stay away from the news and head out onto the water. Better use of time and all that.

Sparkling

We spent a couple of very enjoyable warm and sunny mornings on the water, the first chance we’ve had this summer to bob about a bit, and very calming it was too. You know, if we needed calming.

Winds were light, almost nonexistent – they tend to pick up into the afternoon out here, so a morning paddle is often best. Away from the relative hustle and bustle of the kayak launch – there is a small campsite nearby, and sometimes there are as many as four or five people – we found ourselves paddling along the shore at the foot of Mt. Ozzard, with splashing fish and singing birds for company, and no need for unicorns.

Paddling

I love the way a bald eagle floats across a line of trees. From the water, it looks like the eagle will disappear into the forest or over and out of sight, but often it’s the angle playing a trick on my eyes. Or it’s my eyes. The eagle flaps once or twice and then glides along just below the tree tops. Always a wonderful sight.

Splashing

The fish were splashing, birds were singing, eagles were gliding and a floatplane was buzzing. Eventually caught sight of it lining up for a smooth landing further down the bay. They are noisy, but I have to admit to liking the buzz of a floatplane, and I think of the passengers inside, a lucky group who have just seen the coastal islands from high above on a sunny day.

Buzzing

I expect we’ll be paddling a few more times in the next little while. We plan to bring a lunch and haul ourselves out onto the shore somewhere, rest up on a log and eat before a bear chases us off. Or a unicorn. We’ve scanned the far shore and picked out a couple of likely looking spots. More to follow…

Unicorn friendly

Thanks for reading, here’s hoping for some light news days, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Songs from Northern Britain

With thanks to Teenage Fanclub for the post title. Never heard of Teenage Fanclub?! No? Try this: Ain’t That Enough?

I’ve been driving about northern Britain for the past week, windows down and enjoying almost sunshine and one or two rain showers. Then the windows go back up. They’re also back up whenever I start to sing, seems only fair to the people living here.

St. Andrews Castle

I never lived in northern Britain, but visited often over the years. I felt a little nostalgic for a place I don’t know that well, but I think it was more the music I’d chosen. My driving playlists had a northern leaning, and they made for better listening than the ongoing Brexit/Bloody Boris Johnson stupidity dominating the airwaves. Grrr.

Where was I? Teenage Fanclub, excellent listening for the past three plus decades, and very appropriate for the Scottish leg of the trip. I remember an album review from over ten years ago that described them as “wizened” even then – they were younger than my age now! So this wizened listener enjoyed hearing the old songs, particularly from the Songs From Northern Britain album. “Here is a sunrise, ain’t that enough?” Well, yes, sometimes. The last three tracks on that album are even better than the opening three. Cue beer fuelled debate with sibling.

The pale ale was better, unless you asked my brother…

When I drove away from St. Andrews in the Kingdom of Fife earlier this week, having caught up with Junior McPlaidCamper, the weather was a touch misty – or I may have had something in my eye. Whatever the cause, I’m pretty sure I passed a sign for Angle Park. Let the memories from distant youth flood back. Angle Park? The bonus track on The Crossing by Big Country? Big Country! I was in a big country alright, with high hills and low mountains accompanying me through the Kingdom of Fife. What pleasant surroundings to find yourself in. The North Fife coastal path will call me back for further exploration. Never heard of Big Country?! Try this: Big Country – The Seer

Sunny St. Andrews

Junior is happy enough in St. Andrews, working hard in several of the hotel kitchens, and producing good food mostly made from local ingredients. We visited the store that provides ice cream to the hotel, and if you’re ever up there, can I recommend the pistachio? And the rum and raisin? And the mint choc chip? And the salted caramel? And pants with an elastic waistband? Yup, that’s how some of the evening went.

I get a brain freeze just looking

Before St. Andrews, I stayed a few days with younger Brother PlaidCamper, allegedly to help him out a bit as he recovers from a hospital stay. Mostly we sat in his sunny backyard, talking nonsense about books, movies, and music, and drinking a beer or two. Then more nonsense. He’s on the mend, and probably not because of my medical bedside manner…

Didn’t see a purple moose on this trip. Next time?

My final stop on the northern Britain tour was in North Wales, and an overnight with Pa PlaidCamper. He’s also on good form, pretending to be annoyed with Blue, his constant canine companion. They’ve sold the farm, and will be moving to a small hillside cottage located a few minutes away in the same valley. We drove past it yesterday, and it is in a beautiful location with spectacular views in every direction. If you can imagine steep green hillsides dotted with sheep and stands of trees all about, then that’s where they’ll be. Green and pleasant is an understatement.

Blue!
Green! And pleasant.

Thanks for tuning in this week, and so to a final rousing song – if you know the words, feel free to sing along (I’ll roll the windows up): In a Big Country

There will be more about St. Andrews – and far less music, I promise – next week. Have a wonderful weekend!

Summer, is that you?

Oh, I surely hope so.

It’s been a busy end of school season wrap up, with exams, transition plans, and celebrations to mark achievements in an academic year well spent.

It’s a tough gig

Yesterday was a beach day, with students, families and teachers having a few hours down by the water, some play time and easy company before all leave and head off into summer, a year older and a year wiser. Certainly older…

Learning!

I’m looking forward to a busy and relaxed summer, if both can happen at the same time. The twin track approach will see me back in Blighty for a swift visit, a chance to catch up with one brother, one father and one daughter in little more than a week. Then it’s back to the island for a few weeks, with beach walks, paddling, maybe a few tent nights if we can find some quiet spots, and, fingers crossed, some time learning to build log cabins in remote parts. Mid August, we’ll be on the road, nothing too long, for a visit to Alberta, just to be sure friends, lakes, mountains, and a few big city haunts are all still there.

Lining up, ready to go

I love being in education, and especially in my current position, finding myself working in schools, the community and (best of all, I can’t lie about this) out in the backcountry. If I ever found myself in an occupation that demanded I work for pay over the summer months, then all would not be well. I did fake being a chef for a couple of summers when we lived in France – I was younger, leaner and hungrier back then – but those few years aside, I’ve had summers off, and for that I’m most grateful! (Apologies to readers who do work summers, and a tip of the hat – like that helps…)

A student has a new young pup – how cute?!

Keeping it brief, as time is short this week, having spent longer than usual days preparing for and enjoying an education celebration. This was a lovely evening where many citizens and residents over the bay were recognized for educational achievements – from pre-school through to post secondary and then all manner of lifelong learning.

Bannock in the school garden

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Boats, bows, rods, reels and traps

Yup, the last long weekend was a busy weekend. About 40 youth and associated mentors heading out and away for a few days of camping, fishing, trail-building, archery and anything else that seemed like a good outdoor idea.

The larger vessel

We set off in two vessels, one a speedy affair with room for nine, and the other a larger, more sedate boat with room for all the gear and space to spread out above and below. Going out, I was in the smaller boat, coming back, I traveled in the larger. Both were fun, with the voyage out being busier. As the larger vessel was cruising slowly and steadily toward our destination, the smaller boat zipped about, looking for favourite (previously successful) spots to fish, and to pick up and drop prawn and crab traps.

Two traps contained many prawns, and these were a mainstay for an almost midnight feast later that day. We ended up eating so late because the zodiac and tin boat transfer from the tiny offshore dock to the beach near base camp took quite a few journeys. All that gear and all that youth – thank goodness for young people when it comes to pitching tents and stowing gear in the rain and near dark.

Very comfortable

The rods and reels proved far less successful over the weekend, with very little success in hooking a fish. A large sea cucumber got a bit of a surprise and was no doubt mightily relieved to be returned to the deep. The prawn and crab traps did not deliver either. Oh well.

“Nothing! You?”
“Nope…”

The rain fell from the moment we left Friday afternoon to just before dawn on Saturday, when the skies cleared and warm sunshine was an almost constant companion through Saturday and Sunday. A fair number of mosquitoes were also near constant companions, but not unbearably so.

Very bearable

The weekend was visibly bear-free, aside from frequent scat sightings, and some splashing in the early hours from across the narrow channel. Nothing to be alarmed about. I alarmed a bald eagle that was perched atop an old stump at the point of the spit – I think it may have been my early morning pee break that startled her, causing her to fly off somewhat sooner than she may have been planning. A magnificent sight (the eagle, not me peeing…)

The dry and near windless days allowed for perfect archery conditions, and it was good to see the young ones honing their technique and improving their accuracy. They were able to display their skills to a group of ten elders who visited for the day on Sunday.

Prior to the arrival of the elders, much effort was put into further improving the trail through the forest from the beach to the camp. And you’ve never seen a tidier base camp than how it looked for that afternoon – when grandmothers and grandfathers visit, it had better look right!

When the elders arrived on the beach, they were welcomed with a song sung by a young warrior. His voice was strong and steady, and his song echoed back from the low mountains surrounding the inlet. A memorable moment from a trip with many fine moments.

We awoke on Monday to low cloud and a threat of rain. After the warmth of the previous two days, it was something of a relief to be able to pack up and shift all the gear back to the beach and on to the boats in cool conditions. And would you believe it, once we cleared the inlet and headed out into wider waters, the clouds fell behind us and we sailed under blue skies. A certain OldPlaidCamper might have dozed off up on deck, lulled to sleep and pleasantly tired after a very good long weekend.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Departure