Plains, a train, and an automobile…

Hmm. A messy borrowed – sort of – title, and a short post.

We’re staggering towards the end of this academic year – I can’t remember it being this busy in other years, so I guess early middle age must be catching up with me. We did find time to take a short trip out onto the prairies and plains. We passed through grasslands and ranch lands, tracking the Red Deer river, and stopping in the small (very small) town of Big Valley. Friendly small towns and big spaces – that calls for Paul Brandt on the radio:

Small Towns and Big Dreams

Big Valley is nestled in knob and kettle country, and what lovely scenery that is. Plus, you know, knob and kettle. The childish delight I have in writing that…Almost every kettle had ducks on the water – it was a waterfowl wonderland, and a very pretty habitat. And yet I don’t have a duck in any of the photos? To be honest, each little family of ducks looked so content, I couldn’t bring myself to stop and take a picture in case we disturbed them. The kettle lakes are close to the road, and although they were visible in all directions, we would have been too close.

Old train cars and trucks aren’t sensitive, and parked, they can’t escape. Yup, here comes another old truck photograph. This one, parked up in Big Valley, is the oldest we’ve seen recently, and a beauty:


The railway used to run through here, and enthusiasts keep part of the line open and run trains between Stettler and Big Valley. Maybe we’ll make time to take that short trip one afternoon, for the fun of it. We were happy enough to sit in the sun, and then wander around the train cars and old farm machinery. A couple of pleasant Big Valley hours, and then back through knob and kettle (can’t help it) country, heading home, with a little more Paul Brandt. He is Mr. Alberta summer soundtrack!

Alberta Bound

A brief post, as promised. I hope you enjoyed the music, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend – thanks for reading!

River Song

A very short post this week – I’m being swamped by report cards. (To be honest, I do quite enjoy writing them, and exploring my ability to stretch the truth without falling into fiction…)

DSCF4992
“Shouldn’t that guy on the other bank be working?”
Instead of spending a Sunday working on report cards, and demonstrating my dedication to education, we decided to take a short drive out east. Tough decision, howls of protest, but in the end I went with it. Meaning to take a short hike up and down the river banks in Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park, our hike turned out to be very brief. The scene was so captivating, and the sun was so high! We ended up sitting by the flowing Bow, in a shady spot on a warm afternoon. The river was up after recent rainfall, and the sound of the rushing water was soothing to an old fellow dozing in his camp chair.DSCF4979

I didn’t fall asleep completely. The wind in the trees added an extra layer of sound that was very pleasant. The breeze was enough to take the edge off the heat in the valley bottom. The best sounds of all? Bird song! Tree swallows, warblers, red winged blackbirds, robins, cormorants, ducks and geese. Those were the ones I did recognize, although my lack of bird knowledge has left me with generic rather than precise recognition. Need to work on that! Pretty sure we saw a yellow warbler – it was pretty for sure. Far in the distance, a hawk wheeled and climbed until out of sight. Ducks splashed on take off and landing, and geese flapped by, honking along the river.

DSCF4996
“Why is he taking our picture? Shouldn’t he be working?”
Those swallows are acrobats! A few wing beats to get above the water, and then a steep or shallow dive to snag a bug, over and over, up and down. I swear one did a ninety degree left turn on a dime. What a display, all speed and grace, and an occasional flash of iridescent green. A joy to watch.IMG_20170528_140250Sometimes the best way to tackle report cards is to leave them at home and go take a nap. Rest your eyes, stare off into the distance, empty your head, or fill it with something else. Be lulled by the river song, rest and recharge, and then head back for an early evening beer. A beer? But what about those – never mind. I can’t write under the influence. Have to finish them another day.

DSCF4997
“You down there? Get back to work!”
A short post this week. Did I mention I seem to be swamped by report cards? It’s all about time management and priorities. Fortunately, I am a professional with focus. Hold on! What’s that sound? I think I hear the call of the river…

IMG_20170519_181010
Distraction…
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

PS I finished the report cards earlier today. I know you were wondering…

Prairie promise

Less of a promise and more of a hint? Of spring, that is.

DSCF4599
Prairie promise…
I was sitting at the top of Dry Island Buffalo Jump earlier this week. The evidence for spring was all around. Prairie dogs were out in the bright sun, squabbling and tussling with each other. I didn’t know they scampered with a skipping jump. I’m more used to seeing them scurry for their holes. The jumping was fun to see. Maybe it was a spring thing?

DSCF4544
Spring? Where?
It was human noise and nonsense free up there. A spring break Monday, I was in desperate need of space, wanting to be out of the city, and finding some quiet. Figuring the mountains might be busy, I headed east instead of west, and once off the highways and onto dirt roads, I could feel the tensions of a long term start to fade.DSCF4508

Some small ponds had a layer of ice, but like the banks of snow in ditches and sheltered spots, it seemed winter was receding. Empty ridge roads, bright sunshine, bare trees, brown fields with a glint of gold, and washed out blue skies were all sights to see.DSCF4589

When I stopped to take a photo of some old shacks (couldn’t resist), the racing shadow of a bird caught my eye. Spinning and scanning, I saw a hawk glide overhead, searching for a meal. At first I thought it was a red-tailed hawk, although the colouring seemed muted, so perhaps it was a rough legged hawk instead? Either way, it was a wonderful moment, and so positive. Unless you’re a prairie dog…

DSCF4492
A hide out from hawks
I was hoping to spot another hawk from the buffalo jump but it wasn’t to be. Instead, a wheeling raven soared over the badlands – I could hear the wings beating as it passed. All the sounds were soothing. Birds singing in the bare trees behind me, the grass being torn by the ground squirrels, the buzz of a bee (in March!) and the sound of the Red Deer river, in thaw and flow far below. The last might have been my imagination, or the sound of a light breeze, but I fancied it to be the river.

DSCF4517
Red Deer River thaw
All the promise of spring! And a promise to myself to lighten up, and take the negative human constructs of our world less seriously. As I get older, I find the world harder to understand. It can’t always be ignored, but I aim to deflect some of the 21st century madness that appears to be on us. It seems far less pressing when you’re atop a prairie buffalo jump!DSCF4591

It was hard to drag myself away, so I didn’t, not immediately. I sat and wrote much of this piece, and hung out a little more with my prairie dog buddies. It was fun simply to hang with the buffalo jump gang.

DSCF4553
I love the view from up here!
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

DSCF4555
Yeah, I am cute.

On the banks of the Bow

Marching towards spring? Perhaps, but there’s no rush. Still time to find some winter.

DSCF4448We went looking for winter last weekend, out on the banks of the Bow. We found a chill wind blowing. Deep snow, and no sign of any fellow humans out and about. Previously made snowshoe tracks were well buried under a fresh blanket of snow. To be fair, there were fresh snowshoe tracks – those of a snowshoe hare. A deer or two had evidently passed through shortly before we did, so we weren’t entirely alone.

DSCN7434Winter had a pretty good grip on the landscape. Thin patches of filmy ice drifted down river. We stood still and silent, hoping to catch sight of the little dipper we often encounter along this particular stretch. A sudden splash alerted us to the presence of something larger, and a minute later we spotted a beaver swimming in front of the far bank.

DSCF4431
Not impressed

Unimpressed with us, back view only, it hunched over and chewed on a branch in the shallows opposite. We waited for a few moments more, hoping it would turn and permit us a photograph. No, nothing doing. We began to sidle away, a slow exit stage left, when the beaver hopped up, flipped, and dove into the water. Up it popped, and off it swam, upstream. What a wonderful sight! We plodded on, cold on the outside, but warmed on the inside after the brief encounter.

DSCF4434Two Steller’s jays appeared, emerging from a heavily branched pine, chattering and scolding us as we passed by. Our winged escort for quite a way, flitting from tree to tree, and branch to branch, they were sometimes hard to spot, but little puffs of snow and a flash of blue revealed them each time they took off. Eventually we left their territory, but they were a welcome sight for a while.

DSCF4458
A jay could make a nest in this…

We half expected the jays to reappear when we stopped to eat our lunch, knowing them to be cheeky and opportune enough to dive for a crumb or two. Didn’t happen, and that was ok. Safely out of jay territory, we perched on a log in the shelter of trees, no wind, and in sight and sound of the river. Out of the wind, our break was pleasant enough.

DSCF4446
Lunch stop

We’d found winter, and it was in fine form. A burbling river, light snow falling, signs of life all around, and the sun beginning to emerge through breaks in the grey, this was as good a late winter March morning one could have wished for.

DSCF4453Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

 

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…)

dscf4312
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.

dscf4317
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?)

dscf4313
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.

image-5
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.

image-2
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.

image-4
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.

dscf4318
Mental freedom and better things
Here’s hoping this weekend you find some peace and quiet, mental freedom, and you have a wonderful time!

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…