Lichen the details

A very short post this week, mostly because the power was out today, and also because this one is about the little things.fullsizeoutput_56d

During hikes out and about here in our small corner of Alberta, it is easy to get carried away (and I often am) by the wonderful mountain scenery we are so fortunate to have on our doorstep. But every now and then it doesn’t hurt to dial it down, and focus in a bit on what is under your nose.DSCF6631

Sitting on a log eating lunch, leaning against a tree, I was taken with the texture of the bark and the strong colour of the lichen. With such bright sunlight, the vibrant hues against the grey were quite striking – I had to try and take a picture, see if I could catch something of the beauty.DSCF6633

Not quite bronze, not quite gold, but certainly pretty, maybe a shade of ochre is a reasonable colour match for this wild treasure? I don’t know too much about lichen, but this was a detailed delight!

Scout certainly has an eye for details, in that she misses nothing (about needing to be certain something is edible) and she made a half-hearted attempt to chew on the following fuzzy plant, but gave up after the first six or seven. She might be getting a little bit older and wiser – but more probably it was the endless supply of sticks that she found to be more entertaining. Why chew fluff when there is a branch to crunch? And another, and another…

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Not so edible

I liked how the trees seemed drawn to each other, leaning together and hugging in sheer delight at the warmth of the day. Ah, how fanciful, PlaidCamper. Look again! Other details reveal something different. The shadows appear to tell a less lovely story, dark lines running away, trying to get as far apart as possible. No, I like the hugging version best.

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“Should we invite that tree over?”

Yes, the following tree was all alone (but looking ok about it):

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“I don’t want to be part of your stupid huddle, anyway… Wait! Are you talking about about me?”

I said this would be brief, and it is probably a good idea to stop now – when you hear talking trees, it’s time for a break.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend, full of entrancing detail! Perhaps the trees will tell you something, they have plenty to say…

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“Are you talking to the trees again? Don’t tell them what I’ve been chewing. Can we go now?”

Long views, silvery blues (and slippery trails)

The colours and trail conditions in mid-March on a sunny day in Alberta. Big risks and huge rewards for the willing…DSCF6627

I might be slightly exaggerating above, but we were picking a nervous path down some wooded slopes last weekend. The temperatures for the past few days had been perfect for being outdoors and active, rising from below freezing in the early morning, to a relatively balmy 5-8C in the late afternoon sun. Stay on the move, and the layers come off, down to shirtsleeves and a lightweight toque. Sunblock, sunglasses and YakTrax kept everything mostly comfortable – the frozen lumps and bumps of an icy trail underfoot keeping us on our toes and, hopefully, off our butts. It must have been very deep slush the day before.IMG_20180311_125621

The parking lot at Glenbow Ranch was less than half full, the chilly early morning deterring most folks, leaving the park to be enjoyed by the brave few willing to risk the slippery trails. The happy miserabilist in our little party chose the most icy trailhead, figuring it would be the quietest path. He enjoyed the subsequent series of smiles, nods, and short conversations with other hikers and dog walkers who had no doubt chosen the same path searching for solitude. There’s not much that’s quieter than a collection of outdoor introverts slightly disappointed to be meeting each other on the trail (I’m not actually a miserabilist, but if you ever run into me out there, I sure do look like one – don’t be too put off,  I will stop and chat – if you really want to…)DSCF6624

On the flatter parts, and along the valley bottom, like an amiable PlaidCamper the trails were hardpacked and easy going. As is almost always the case, the further on we went, the fewer people we met, and aside from the scrape of YakTrax on ice, it was pretty quiet. And pretty! Alberta blue overhead, silver trees on each side, and golden grasses poking up through the snow. Barely a breeze to be felt or heard, and the occasional snatch of birdsong from the branches above.DSCF6626

We threaded our way through a pleasant valley, stopping to eat our lunch at the bottom of a wooded slope. The trees leaned in and over on either side of us, offering a sense of shelter and quiet companionship. Fanciful I know, but maybe they were expressing a hint of concern? Scout was doing quite a number on the exposed roots of a felled tree, thoroughly engaged in her dogged pursuit of “is this edible?” The answer, in her mind anyway, is always yes.fullsizeoutput_56a

We climbed out of the little valley and stopped to enjoy the far-reaching views of the not so distant Rockies. They looked wonderful in the strong afternoon sun, sharp-edged, snow dusted and gleaming, stretching along the entire horizon. What a sight! Closer in, stands of trees made stark patches of black shadow against the brilliant white snow. An unseen train sounded a horn down below, and then appeared from between the hills, chugging slowly through the foothills, a child’s toy from way up top.fullsizeoutput_579

Sitting on a log in the snow, feeling the warmth of the sun under an ocean of blue sky on a bright March day, I can happily put spring on hold for a little while longer. Yes, the paths are treacherous, in and out of the city, and yes, there’s still more snow to fall (it’s falling heavily once again as I write this!) but days like last weekend are treasures, and enough to make an old misery smile at passers-by as they quietly acknowledge their shared delight.IMG_20180311_125521

A rare day? Maybe, maybe not, depends how you look at it. I like days and places for finding perspective. Glenbow Ranch seems to be our nearest natural recharge point at the moment. I hope you have an outdoor trove of special places you feel good about, where you can soak in and soak up natural wonder. Locations you don’t have to travel too far to experience, where everyday concerns can be shrugged off, at least for a while. fullsizeoutput_56d

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!fullsizeoutput_57a

PS Just got back from a quick trundle around the neighbourhood (can’t resist being out in the snow) and it is slick on those sidewalks – so take care out there if you are still in the (weakening?) grip of a snowy winter.

The Kananaskis Caper

Sounds like the title to a spy novel, when all we did was go snowshoeing – a thrilling enough true life adventure, but no mystery, unless you are mystified that people enjoy the ancient and honourable tradition of plodding through snow on old tennis rackets (or racquets?)IMG_20180225_114233

Sailing a bit close to an untruth there; we’ve never used the old school snowshoes, handmade, traditional and really rather romantic. No, we opt for the modern form when it comes to snowshoes. Perhaps we’ll tackle the classics sometime? I can see it already, pure PlaidCamper poetry in motion. Speculative fiction, at any rate.IMG_20180225_121552

It was wonderful to be back in some mountain and forest scenery for the weekend, after rather too many consecutive weekends in the big city. All the recent snowfall created landscapes blanketed in snow, much of it deep, thigh deep if we stepped off the trail. Or fell off the trail, if one wasn’t too attentive to matters underfoot, all too distracted by the sheer delight of being in the woods. Did I mention poetry in motion? Flailing, failing and falling can be balletic.

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Mrs. PC makes it look easy
Some of the tracks ran parallel with and occasionally crossed some xc ski trails, and although we saw no others out on snowshoes, there were a few skiers sliding along and enjoying the day. It was generally pretty quiet, noise wise, just the happy cries of speeding skiers as they hit some of the steeper patches, and these cries were muffled by the trees and snow. We’ll have to investigate some flat tracks next winter, see if we can navigate them on skis with a well trained dog padding alongside. If only we knew a well trained dog…or a dog with well trained humans?

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“Let’s both pretend we’re well trained, ok?”
A short post about a brief trip, but the energy boost and recharge from our Kananaskis caper lasted long after we returned to the city – I can still feel the effects. Temperatures are edging up dangerously close to spring-like numbers, but perhaps we’ll manage one or two more mountain jaunts on snowshoes? Ooh, a serial adventure…

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“Stop falling off the trail, PC. It’s embarrassing…”
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!fullsizeoutput_550

Snow on the Bow

A short post this week, featuring cricket, and a few moans about feeling the cold. Cricket and complaining? Welcome to a PlaidCamper feel good zone.

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After the storm

I’ve just returned from a walk around the neighbourhood, and goodness me, it was a tad chilly. The forecast had called for about -5C and a few flurries, but when we set off there was a hint of sunshine and no sign of snow, so I prepared accordingly.

Half an hour later, I was cursing my stupidity in opting for lining gloves only, and wishing I had a heavier beard. Blustery northerly winds appeared, blowing icy pellets sideways, and my delicate face was feeling the full needly force. Ouch! We scurried back as fast as we were able, along sidewalks coated in fresh ice created from the thaw-freeze of the day before. Tomorrow, I will attach ice cleats and wear appropriate gloves or mittens. The temperatures are a real yoyo this winter. Funny how -5C can feel colder than -30.

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Riley Park cricket pitch, -30C

After the heavy snowfall last week, we went out to survey the scene mid-afternoon, as the snowstorm was easing off, and then the following morning, when it was cold, -30C cold, but skies were blue and the sun felt warm.

The Bow looked good, partly frozen but still flowing under the snow, and the Peace Bridge stood out, bright red and shiny, matching the winter berries you can still find along the river bank. The bridge is a favourite Calgary landmark of mine, although I’ve not crossed so often in recent months, with the noisy construction site on the south side.

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Over the Bow

Staying on the north side, the Sunnyside, our closest park is Riley Park, where from mid-May until mid-September, you can sit on a bench and watch cricket. Ah, the thud of leather on willow, the smell of a linseed oiled cricket bat, the five days it can take to play a match (unless you’re the English cricket team, when losing an Ashes Test takes less than five days, sigh…) Yes, it’ll soon be spring then summer, except in Calgary. Spring will get here, eventually. Good thing I like winter – I even like complaining about it! Did I mention it was cold today?

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They called the game off

Right, that’s enough – short, unlike cricket – I’ve got to go find those ice cleats. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

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“The game’s back on – I’ve found the ball!”

 

Alberta in widescreen

This week is written and filmed in low definition PlaidCamperScope, and I did all my own stunts. Not too sure where it is heading, rather weak on plot, but there is a happy ending.

With the ongoing grey and snowy skies, I thought I’d post photographs taken on a brighter winter day a short while ago here in Alberta. As I type this, the snow is falling once again – that’s fine by me – but it seems like we haven’t had too many of my favourite Alberta winter days, where it is about -10C and sunny. On a day like that, you can ski or hike or snowshoe for hours, admiring the sparkling air without feeling the chill. Maybe by the weekend?

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We were back at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, on a still day with lots of sunshine, and just before the next round of snow. Chinook winds had eaten a fair amount of the ground snow, but there were still deep pockets in the ditches and hollows, and plenty of ice to catch us unawares.

We enjoyed the widescreen views to distant mountains, and the close ups of red berries and golden grasses poking through the snow. Scout enjoyed peeing on everything she decided she wouldn’t eat. Very discerning…

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Parts of the park are in use as a working ranch, and I love the cinematic nature of the buildings, fences and tracks. If I had a low budget indie movie to make, one where mumbling Albertans play out their hardbitten dramas in a partially tamed yet still beautiful wilderness, I’d shoot it somewhere like Glenbow Ranch PP.

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A grizzled, hardbitten yet optimistic semi-retired teacher, with the looks, but not the politics, of an older Clint Eastwood (squint and use lots of soft focus and imagination), fights heroically and stoically to convince Albertans of all stripes to diversify the economy beyond oil and gas and think about a future that doesn’t need fossil fuels. Met with disbelief, ridiculed for being too liberal and a jeep-driving hypocrite vegetarian, the laconic educator is run out of town and goes for a long walk in a provincial park, trying to think of a good ending, and wondering how well an electric car would work in a Canadian winter…

Sadly, most of my movie ideas barely fill the back of a postage stamp, and the scripts are rather brief – but they would be pretty to look at if they got made. Perhaps I should start small and very low budget – maybe I could direct a postcard?

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My mind does tend to wander when I’m wandering in lovely locations, and I daydream about movies and stories, ones I’ve seen, and the ones still to be told. Living out west, or anywhere scenically dramatic, will do that to you I suppose. I hope future movie location scouts will still have outdoor locations worth scouting for. Post-apocalyptic dramas seem to be all the thing just now, but let’s hope they won’t be making these as documentaries in the future. I know there are “kitchen sink” dramas as well, but wouldn’t you rather see forests, lakes, rivers, natural deserts, mountains and oceans, both onscreen and for real? It’s not often I find myself thinking “I wish I could make a movie about this” when I’m doing the dishes, or “I hope this comes to pass” when a rerun of Mad Max is on, but maybe that’s just me?

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Looking south-west on the Grand Valley Road
On our drive home, this road warrior took the scenic route, meaning any road that didn’t get us back into the city too soon. Grand Valley Road lived up to the name, and I had to pull over and take a couple of pictures looking west as I drove the wrong way back on the 567.

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Hey, Mad Eastwood, Calgary is the other way…
I do love widescreen Alberta, but it is hard for me to capture it accurately in a photo. Still, these aren’t too bad for a cameraphone, a bit grainy – think 1970s 70mm film stock (I love the look of movies made then) – but they are ready for any of us to project a story onto.

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Feelin’ lucky, road punk?
Cut! And that’s a wrap. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend full of new outdoor tales and cinematic adventures!

The happy ending? Oh, ok, here she is. Upstaged by a canine co-star. Flounces off to his trailer…

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“Just the one photo of me this week?” “Yep. Get your own blog!”

 

Foothills flow…

…through a brief post, and an overdue introduction! Ooh, the excitement and mystery.

Took a little walk out in the foothills the other day, visiting Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. It was an intermittently bright/overcast day, with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark in the hollows, but feeling a touch warmer when the sun broke through and we emerged into a clearing.DSCF6589

With the ongoing rounds of Chinook thaw, deep freeze, a few flurries, another freeze and the next Chinook, the path was well polished and icy, very slippery underfoot. By the time I’d skated and slid for fifteen minutes, I was considering turning around to fetch ice cleats from the car, but was too lazy – or too committed – to head back. I meant to forget them.

Not many other folks were about – I saw one dog walker and a couple of hikers (very sensibly wearing YakTrax) but otherwise, the trail was all my own. It meant there was no-one to admire my slipping, pirouetting, yet not quite falling routine that really was deserving of a wider audience. Perhaps a category in the forthcoming Winter Olympics? Senior Free Form Unequipped Non-Musical Semi-Skating? No form-fitting lycra or tights, just sensible outdoor trousers and sturdy shoes without cleats.DSCF6549

The spring fed stream was an absolute delight, tumbling downhill in a series of small waterfalls, twisting and turning through mixed woodland. Ice clung to deadfall logs and branches in the water, and grew from the stream banks, blue-white and beautiful to look at.DSCF6558

Yes, yes, PlaidCamper, a lovely walk and all, but you mentioned an overdue introduction? The suspense…

How did my companion fare on this short and slippery hike in the foothills? She was very steady on the ice, planting her feet with assurance, and scrambling easily up slopes that I was struggling to summit. I know what you’re thinking – Mrs. PlaidCamper always manages the slopes and slides, so why the big deal? Well, Mrs. PC was teaching that day, so who was with me?DSCF6534 Time to meet Scout, the delightful dog pictured above, a five month old puppy who has been living with us since mid-November. On sand or snow, Scout is always happy to accompany an old PlaidCamper on a hike, short or long. No doubt there’ll be more about Scout over posts to come, but we don’t want to be like those new parents – you know, here, look at our new baby, I mean puppy, isn’t she beautiful? (She is, and sadly we do that, but I’ll try and exercise restraint…)

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Not a dog photo here – such restraint!
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

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Oops, no restraint. Have you met Scout? Beautiful, isn’t she?

Small towns, and mountain towns

Just love them! And if the small town is also a mountain town, so much the better!

We went to visit friends in Canmore last weekend. Oh, wait a moment – before we get to that, what about the newish weekly PlaidCamper weather report/complaint? You really want to read that? OK, I’ll get it out of the way early – yes, there was some mountain snow, but it was all at higher elevations, nothing new lower down, and still no sign of snow here in Calgary. On the afternoon we headed for Canmore, the city afternoon high was 16C. Hmm.

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The road to Canmore!
Not as scorchio! as that in Canmore, but when we went for a short wander, it was still rather warm for the time of year. Luckily, Canmore made up for the lack of winter by being a small mountain town. Almost wherever you are in town, look up and around and you’ll see mountains, a constant reminder you’re nestled in the big outdoors. 

If the weather isn’t cooperating for your hoped for adventures, Canmore has the right ingredients for spending time in a small town. Micro-brewery? Check! Visit The Grizzly Paw, either at the pub on Main Street or at the brewery on the Old Canmore Road. I wasn’t a huge fan a few years ago – many of their beers seemed too sweet and sticky to me – but when they opened their new facility and launched the Rundlestone session ale, I was a convert. (Also, I’m going to have to find a bottle or two of the seasonal Larch Valley porter before it sells out – oh no, another trip to Canmore seems in order!)

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Above Canmore
Coffee shops? Check! Whenever we are passing through, we often (always?) stop at Le Fournil Bakery. Here you will find some of the best flaky pastries outside Quebec – that could be an exaggeration because we haven’t tried all the pastries in or out of Quebec, but the mission is ongoing –  and excellent coffee. A quick stop often turns into a longer stop, and you might as well buy a baguette or a croissant or two for cabin breakfast the next day…

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Main Street
If you’re heading to a cabin, won’t you need something to read when you’re sipping your evening session ale by the wood stove? Independent bookstore? Check! If you’re down to the last chapter or two of your current read and didn’t pack another book, no worries. After your coffee, stroll over to Cafebooks and choose your next great read. It’s comfortable in there, and perhaps you’ll pause for (another!) cup of coffee, or tea. Go on, the cabin isn’t going anywhere, you’ve got time…

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Fifteen minutes from Canmore
Hungry? Maybe more time passed in the bookstore than you realized, and you fancy something to eat before moving on? Great restaurants? Check! I’m biased on this one, because Junior trained and worked at The Crazyweed Restaurant, but even if she hadn’t, I’d recommend lunch or dinner here. Great menu, good beer and wine selections, and an easy walk from where our Canmore buddies live, so no short straw game for choosing the designated driver. There are many great dining options in Canmore, but they didn’t train the next big thing in the culinary arts, so no mention for them…

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Bow Valley
Alright, maybe that’s enough – I’m not being paid or sponsored by the town tourism board – but I really like Canmore! It is a lovely example of a small mountain town, and fun to visit in any season. Biking, hiking, climbing, paddling a canoe, clinging onto a raft in whitewater, skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, xc skiing, camping, horse riding, or simply wandering about the town, Canmore is a great base for Rocky Mountain adventures. (I get pleasantly exhausted just reading that list!) You could spend a week or two, make it a weekend visit, or a quick stop on a longer trip, and you’ll always want to return. You might even want to make Canmore your permanent home – this is what our friends did after many years of vacation visits. Good choice!

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Hanging out above Canmore
Thanks for reading, and if you’ve a favourite small town to recommend, mountains or not, feel free to share it in the comments. Have a wonderful weekend!