Sand and stone

Smoke and fog. Tree and bone. A happy dog. This is why I don’t write poetry. I couldn’t think of a title this week, or at least, I struggled to pick from these. I know, they’re all winners…

Smoke and fog, tree and log, sand and stone, that’s not a bone. And this still isn’t a poem…

What a week that was. The smoky skies gave way to wind and rain, and the fresher air was most welcome. I really, really hope there’s some weather help and rainy relief for those in need further south. I’ve been up and down, mood wise, all week. How not to be despondent if you pay even scant attention to global concerns? Answers on a postcard, or leave a comment below, if you’re so inclined. I guess it’s not all bad.

Maybe just sail away? I liked this one.

On the upside? Out here on the coast, there has been a noticeable drop in visitor numbers, enough that we ventured out to a couple of small beaches within walking distance, hoping they’d be quiet. The smoke/fog/rain appeared to have kept folks indoors. We weren’t out for too long ourselves, given the harsh taste in the air, but it was pleasant to sit at a couple of favourite places and enjoy the quiet.

A favourite small beach, our first visit here in over 6 months. Scout’s eye view.

More upside – slightly qualified? School is in, the new Premier League football season is underway, and a hockey season full of promise (unlike the current one, where the Flames sputtered. Again. Sigh…) is just around a distant corner. Welcome brief distractions from the noise and nonsense. If we’re all going to that hot place in a hand basket, then I’m going to jolly well enjoy what I can in between the bouts of worry and concern. Yes, we might be running out of time to save what’s left worth saving, and I’ll play my tiny part in slowing down the likely planetary demise, but I will also appreciate the sand and stone, mist, rain, fog, and enjoy the company of a happy dog. Otherwise, the ignorant, money grabbing hoarders and wreckers have already won. I mean, they haven’t won outright yet, have they? Hmm…

A happy dog! She supports Everton, and she’s still happy. Strange, that.

Well, there you have it for this week. Ups and downs, and some stuff in between. Like most people, I should think. I hope you’re well, staying safe, and not feeling too despondent.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Heading back…

…to school? Normality? Civilized discourse in politics?

The lead photograph this week is sadder than it looks. If you’re me. And I am. Me. I was in the office, busily counting paperclips and preparing for the new school year, when my phone rang.

“Can you see us?”

“Hey! Old man? Look out your window – can you see us?”

Two colleagues were puttering down the channel and out to the ocean, heading to a remote camp, to pick up a skiff and tow it back so we’d have another little boat to use for brushing up our nautical skills. Definitely education related, so why wasn’t I on board, heading out to the Broken Islands and beyond, on a warm and sunny day? Good question, so I asked it:

“Picking up the skiff and towing it back so we’ll have another little boat to use to brush up nautical skills? Definitely education related, so shouldn’t I be on board?” – in a whiny voice, because that always works.

“Is it your turn again? You grabbed the kayaking gig last week, remember? Oh stop snivelling – if you can swim out to us before we go past, you can come!”

Earlier in the week

I could have done that, and easily, but, you know, paperclips…

I was so happy to hear they had a brilliant day, picking up the skiff, stopping for a picnic lunch at the camp, then heading back escorted by four – four! – orcas. I organized the red and blue paperclips, and I’m totally prepared for the new school year.

Oh yes, the new school year. All pandemic plans are in place, with gallons and gallons of hand sanitizer situated in strategic locations, signage has gone up, arrows have been laid down, instructions have been printed and distributed. What could possibly go wrong? Young and not so young students will learn to follow bus and class seating plans, use appropriate mask etiquette and remain suitably distanced until a vaccine is ready, because, well, it’ll be good to try and have something resembling normal. For as long as it lasts…

Also taken earlier this week

Setting fears of a second wave to one side, I’m impressed by the effort and dedication educators have put in, in trying to meet this pandemic moment. If things go awry, it won’t be due to a lack of caring or commitment. Hats off. Let’s not use educators or children as a pandemic political football.

Right, I’d best leave it here. Four orcas! Four! I’ve dropped a paperclip, a blue one since you were wondering, and I know there’ll be a situation down the road that’ll stand or fall for the want of a paperclip.

If you’re about to return to school, have returned, or find yourself connected to folks working in schools, I hope it’s going well for you. Take care out there. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend.

A patch of blue

Last week ended very well, with an unexpected opportunity to paddle and splash about for a couple of hours. A summer building the trail, learning new skills, and not chopping or shooting off toes has been great, but I’ve missed spending time on the water, and I’ve missed hanging out with younger community members. That was all put right last Friday.

Teamwork!

At a meeting earlier in the week, where I was nodding along and looking interested behind my mask, a colleague mentioned she was one adult paddler short for her planned kayak activity. Being a considerate almost outdoorsman, I waited an appropriate amount of time for someone else to volunteer. When almost half a second had passed, I shouted out, “Me! Me! Pick me! I’ll do it! Pick me!” – I was going to volunteer sooner, but it’s best to give everyone a chance.

To my astonishment, I got away with this appalling behaviour – I’m sure it had nothing to do with colleagues wanting me far from the office on a Friday afternoon – and the next day found myself part of a group of three 8 year olds and three adults. Two and a half adults? Three adults on paper.

Three 8 year olds and two and a half adults

I had a lovely time catching up with L, T, and L. I hadn’t seen them in nearly six months, since schools closed and we all disappeared into our small bubbles. We paired off in three kayaks. L sat in the front and instructed me on how hard to paddle and which way to steer us. She helped by doing the opposite and seeing how wet I’d get from her enthusiastic paddling. Teamwork. I couldn’t have been happier!

Spotting sea stars clinging to Lyche Island

We paddled along the shore, admiring the big fishing vessels, waving at fishermen and pleasure boaters, and gradually improving our synchronized paddling. We crossed the inlet, circled Lyche Island, spotting sea stars, watching the bald eagles overhead, making our way to Port Albion, then Hitacu Dock, smiling at the wading blue herons and at another bald eagle standing in the mud flats.

Patches of blue

All this took place under grey skies, all grey apart from a small patch of blue. Our kayaks were also small patches of blue, but as we laughed and splashed our way up and down the channel, we were anything but blue. It’s great to be young. Or almost young.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have an enjoyable weekend!

Sleepers and stringers

Sounds like something from a spy movie…

Bridge of Spies? Nothing as dramatic as that – good movie if you haven’t seen it, set in less complicated times(!) – but we’ve been building bridges.

Our trail work is going along nicely, and with chainsaw skills acquired, we’ve been able to tackle some bigger items, like staircases and bridges. Trees that have been felled for safety have a new lease of life, stripped of bark to make sleepers and stringers for new sections of boardwalk bridge.

This lot needs replacing!

The youth and young adults were shown once, then after that they got into building their own wooden bridges. Working as a group of two to four, they’ve been able to prepare the site and construct a bridge in less than a morning.

Part of the new section – no bridge needed here

It’s corny, but the bridge building has closed the gap between elders and youth, the trail to the community, and outside partners to the nation. The young folks will step across their bridges and on towards a future full of multiple possibilities due to the skills they’re learning. I’ve got something in my eye, sniff…

“Is he crying again?” “Yup!”

I can’t believe how quickly the summer is passing, and we’ve so much more to build! We had to down tools yesterday, and probably today, due to some very heavy rain and potentially strong wind gusts – the advice is forest-based work is high risk in these conditions. Still, when we head out there next week, we’ll be confident the raised sections are high and dry, in a good way, and we will see where drainage channels are needed.

“When can I come and see the bridges? They’re wooden? Can I chew them?”

Next week, I’ll include a photograph of a series of bridges built close together. I took a rushed photo in the rain earlier, but it’s mostly of my thumb. Next time…

Under construction – sleepers and stringers going in

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

Buzzing

Last week was a noisily productive week. I’d say we were buzzing. And roaring, cursing and sweating through a few days of chainsaw training. By “we” I mean me. The cursing and sweating part anyway.

Looks messy! What would help here?

If you’re familiar with gas powered chainsaws, you’ll know you have to yank a cord to get the saw fired up. Looks easy when a professional shows you. And, the first time I tried, hey presto, the chainsaw roared into life. Mostly because the chainsaw was new, and had warmed up. I like those new ones.

Starting the community winter wood pile

You should have seen me later, on a cold start older saw. Could I get it going? Nope. Must have been a really old saw, one of the ones that runs not on gas, but something from an earlier era. Coal? Dinosaur poop?

At the end of the day, after you’ve worked up a chainsaw sweat. Or even if you didn’t.

I’d paid attention during the basic maintenance and upkeep session. It was probably dirty, clogged up and needed cleaning. Oh yeah, I can handle some basic maintenance and pre-op checks. And on the chainsaw too. It was totally clean. So, probably a major repair was required, something that couldn’t be fixed in the field. Yeah, that was it.

J, one of the young people I was learning alongside, offered to take a look.

“Seems alright – let’s give it a go!”

Well, you can guess the rest… I must have warmed it up.

“What’s he talking about? Seems alright!”

My sweating, cursing, and weedy biceps aside, we had a great – and safe – few days. No fingers or toes were lost, and we’re better equipped to tackle some of the more challenging sections on the trail being built. We are back to that next week, and I’ll be there, ready to fire it up and get buzzing – if someone passes me a chainsaw that has been running recently.

“Chainsaws? Nah, I’ll use this!“

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

Benches and beaches

Last week’s post was firmly rooted in unreality, so I thought I’d better demonstrate I haven’t completely lost the plot by writing a more grounded piece. A brief item on benches and beaches, since that’s where we’ve mostly been in between bouts of online work.

What bear? Where?

Scout has enjoyed sniffing out and rediscovering her old haunts, and many of these happen to be in front of convenient benches with a view.

Last Sunday morning, we spent quite some time lost in thought, sitting on a bench and watching bald eagles spiral and sing in lazy loops above the water. Our eyes are a bit out of focus, and at first we couldn’t be absolutely certain if we’d spotted a bear over the bay, or a rock pretending to be a bear. It was a bear. Or the rock was walking…

Could be a moving rock…

Later, we ventured out to Long Beach, uncertain about how busy it might be. We needn’t have worried. The parking lot was about half full, and most folks were surfers judging by numbers in the water. Once we’d walked down the beach for a few minutes, we were fully physically distanced by many hundreds of metres from the very few souls we saw.

Long bench or long beach?

Back on a beach, on a sunny day, it was a relief to sit on a log, watch the surf, and forget the world wide woes for a while. We smiled and smiled, and Scout decided to dig and dig. I believe the trench she created is the only dog-made construction – or deconstruction – that can be seen from space. She sure put in some effort for her beach return.

Hitacu to Ucluelet – you can almost see “our” bench from here!

Speaking of grounded (were we?) I’m delighted to say, all being well, I’m breaking out of self-isolating/work-from-home exile next week. Coronavirus grounded me – and sent me to my room young man – for over twelve weeks. Young rebel that I am, I’ll be taking the car keys, climbing down the drainpipe, and driving off into a summer of misadventures. Or going back to real work. Real work? Yes, if a summer of chainsaw courses, trail building, wilderness survival training, search and rescue skills, beach-keeping and other related learning/mentoring is allowed to be called work. It’ll be a proper grounding, working and learning alongside a group of motivated youth and young adults. We met earlier this week, and it’s going to be an effort for me to keep pace! I predict weekends full of benches, beaches and long snoozes…

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

Unmoored (2m/6ft)

We had a pretty good road trip back to the coast last week. It was strange to be traveling in these socially distant times, with caution and uncertainty over new protocols very evident. What was lovely was how considerate people were – at gas stations, the hotel, and on the ferry. Kind, friendly, creating space, and aware of each other, maybe this can continue post-pandemic?

Coquihalla Highway High

Anyway, rather than write a heavy-on-boring-details account of our Trans Canada Highway drive, I thought I’d describe it through a set of song titles from the playlist. All tracks are by my new favourite band you won’t have heard of, Gays in the Military. They hail from the PNW and here are the songs, most found on the album “Your Devoted Son, Ned”:

1. Coquihalla Highway High

2. Runaway Lane

3. Drooping Hemlock Tip (huh?)

4. ManBaby in Orange/Unmoored

5. Taking A Knee

2m/6ft

6. 2m/6ft

7. Queen of Alberni

8. Duke of Duke Point

9. Cargo Pants Capacity

10. Sovereignty/Taking Back Control (How do you like me now?) feat. Oops, I’m A Unicorn

11. French Roast Alarm

12. Green and Blue feat. West Coast Pale

13. Bonus track, Chicken Kibble Again? feat. Sad Mutt

So there you have it, a new band, some new songs, and they all seemed to fit with being on the road last week. I don’t know, does this seem likely?

Chicken Kibble Again? OK!

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

All the right notes, wrong coast

PS Alright, I’ll come clean. When the ferry unmoored from the Tsawassen dock, my own mind untethered from reality as I sat in the sun watching the mainland recede. An unhinged mind, free from the shackles of whatever was shackling it, came up with a make believe band and their first album. If they were real, they’d be huge, in an understated indie scene way. I’m thinking a modern day sound influenced by Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan, with a hint of plaid commentary and I’ll play the drums. Sounds good, eh? How modest of me. If you’d like further liner/sleeve notes, feel free to ask in the comments below. Every song title has a story…

Green and Blue

PPS I think it’s clear I should return to some proper employment. I start back next week, and my only regret is I won’t have time to focus on the often difficult second album. I agree, a musical loss. Perhaps a future project…

PPPS Imagine my surprise when I checked to see if there is/was a band called Gays in the Military. Well, confirming there is rarely anything new under the sun, they already exist, with an album released in 2005. Having played a couple of tracks, you’ll be happy to know I think my future project is still a go.

Show pony shutdown

Time to saddle up! Be warned, it’s a rambling piece this week, detours and tangents aplenty as we take an armchair slow ride to nowhere in particular. That being said, with no topic or destination in mind, how will we know there’s been a detour? Anyway, I’m allowed to be off topic and tangential – squirrel – I’m not a president. Just saying…

High noon, Kneehill County

I got an email from a friend yesterday morning, describing how he’s coping with lockdown in London. Some brief background? Ok. My buddy is a young man, only a year older than me. We met over 30 years ago, when I started my first proper job, working for a government department in central London. I can’t say exactly where, or name the department, all very hush hush. Regular readers know I can be trusted with the truth. Hank (not his real name, but one he wishes was) still works for a government department, and he’s currently plotting, I mean working, from his small apartment in North London. He’s fine, the evidence being he’s taken to dressing up in C&W clothing, complete with Stetson, and is listening to “Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels” by Whitey Morgan and the 78s. (Good cover there of a great song – what do you think?) Cowboy duds and country music – that’s normal for North London these days, isn’t it? He’s doing this as preparation for a (now postponed) road trip we were due to take this summer. I might have dodged a bullet there…

High plains drifting

Sticking with the Western theme, Scout and I were moseying down the middle of 10th Street at high noon yesterday. As with all good, and not so good, Westerns, townsfolk scurried indoors as we passed, shooing their children ahead of them and peering out through the gap in the curtains. Showdown! Hairy and mean looking varmints (squirrels) moved from tree to tree, trying to get the high ground and a clear view of the sheriff (Scout) and her good looking and trustworthy young deputy (me, of course – how could you even ask?!) We faced them down, made it out of there.

The sheriff, tracking

‘Scuse me while I take a moment, spit my chewin’ baccy into the ol’ tin at my feet. Well sh*t, now I gone done made a mess on my boots. Shee-it. New old timey story? Ok. Okey dokey. You bet. I pardnered up with a law-abiding school master from Red Deer a few years back. He was principal of a Junior High School that had even more than the usual share of middle years miscreants, rebels, and wannabe outlaws. Education badlands, allegedly, but in truth, not at all bad, these were spirited and lively young people. Sheriff Duane was excellent at his job, corralling and educatin’ his young steers with great good humour. He was never overly fond of a meeting, preferring to be in the field teaching, rather than pushing darn papers. He’d always start a meeting with “Let’s get this dog and pony show on the road!” This young buck never quite understood what that meant, but I do think of Sheriff Duane every time I drink a Last Best Show Pony pale ale. Yup, all that just so I could use this photograph:

No dog, all pony. Cheers, Duane!

Well, I think that’ll ‘bout do it for now. I gotta get me a glass of something to sip slow and steady as I sit on my rocking chair, watch the sun set, dog at my feet, with Whitey Morgan and his boys crooning quietly in back. So long!

Goodness, what is going on? Where did all that come from? You’re doing something similar, yes? Or is it just me? Is this what happens when an old PlaidCamper is in a long term shut down. Or decline? Neural pathways rewiring themselves in new and not so interesting ways, and make believe takes over. It’s not all make believe. I am actually growing (or trying to grow) a fine “sad cowboy” moustache, for when Hank and I finally take that Western road trip. We’ll look (and sound, haha) completely authentic. You have been warned, small town bars of Alberta, Montana and Wyoming. That fast moving cloud of dust on the outskirts? Two thirsty show pony buckaroos riding into town…

Thanks for reading, I hope you’re well, safe, sane enough, and ready to enjoy your weekend!

PS I’ve just finished listening to “Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels” for the second time. It might (or might not) be a great way to plan a road trip, but it is definitely a fun old school country album. You’ll be growing your own sad cowboy moustache, or drawing one on. My thanks to Hank, the North London urban cowboy, for the recommendation.

Space and balance and comfort

Balance? Teetering? Toppling? No, just an occasional wobble. Who? Me? Um, maybe. Any more questions? Um, maybe…

Teetering? Not me!

Over the last three decades (three decades??!) I’ve mostly taught upper elementary and Junior High school students. My work the past month has been with students a little younger than that, and I’ve found myself crawling around on hands and knees in the mud, building shelters and making fire pits. In truth, this isn’t so different to when I’m working with older youth. Hands and knees? Check. Getting muddy? Check. Building stuff? Check. To house a small toy wolf? Erm…

Room to wander – and wonder

I’ve wandered quite a long way out of my comfort zone, learning to learn through imaginative play. I’ve constructed tiny shelters from leaves and twigs so “my” wolf feels safe and secure out in the wild. The young ones understand real wolves don’t live in actual constructed shelters (they know pigs build those) but they’ve really taken to looking after their wolves.

Space to play

Since the mini shelters, we’ve moved on to making real shelters for keeping dry, exploring different ways to keep the rain off using a tarp and some rope, or a lean to made from branches. Yeah, that’s more like it for me, comfort zone rediscovered! When we finished, it was back indoors to warm up and make a miniature campsite using popsicle sticks, paper and plasticine. Comfort zone lost once more. All I can say is I’m doing my best, and who knew I would be so consumed by creating a fire pit from plasticine? Consumed, I tell you. Well, if you’re going to do something…

I’m finding out the attention span of eight year olds is fairly short (yet remarkably similar to teens) and when you throw in a few emotional/behavioural challenges, things get interesting. A popsicle stick topped with plasticine can be a weapon? Yikes!

A long and empty stretch

All great fun, and a major reason why weekends full of space and free from too many people have become so prized. I have to find some space and balance! Wandering long stretches of beach, and wondering exactly how many strains of bacteria can live in or on plasticine? Did I forget to bring my wolf inside? How long will it take to use several thousand popsicle sticks?

Space and balance!

I’m not going to post pictures of my – I mean our – plasticine triumphs, but an older student, the one with the creaky, muddy knees, seemed very pleased with this creation:

Aren’t those foxes, not wolves, PC? Shhh! Use your imagination!

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Light and dark

Day and night, morning and evening, good and bad, lager and stout.

I could almost leave it there (I know, but I won’t!) as this about describes our trip to Victoria last weekend.

Distant (somewhat hidden) mountains

If you’re going to spend some time in a city, then Victoria is a pretty good one. Much is made of the relatively warm and dry climate, and we were lucky enough to have a mostly dry weekend. Not sunny, but dry. Other Victoria plus points? Waterside location, distant mountains, not too big, a mostly walkable downtown, many coffee shops and microbreweries, and the rather lovely Royal BC Museum.

BC Parliament building, Victoria

We stayed at Spinnakers over in Esquimault because it is only a short waterside walk from the downtown. At night, the lights reflecting on the water was a sparkly sight, and by day there’s always a floatplane taking off or landing, as well as various marine craft large and small. Spinnakers claims to be the oldest craft brewery in Canada, producing decent beer since 1984. I believe Mrs PC suggested we stay there, and after much protest, I agreed.

Oh alright, if I have to…(but not the cider or sours)

The beer menu is quite substantial, although once I’d ruled out sours and ciders, it all became manageable. Mrs PC enjoyed their Pilsner, I preferred the Original Pale Ale. And the Scottish ale. And the PNW ale. And the imperial stout. And the nut brown. Anyway, enough about breakfast.

Really?! Looks chilly.

Should you find yourself in Victoria, can I recommend the First Peoples gallery at the museum? Excellent displays depicting life pre and post European contact, with thoughtful and thought-provoking exhibits. Many items included original language as well as English explanations, and it was a joy to hear the language out loud. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but the connection to – and respect for – land and sea came over as common sense time and again. We’ve lost so much, yet could still look back to find a model to help us move forward, environmentally speaking. Oh, and while we’re using common sense, let’s include total respect for ancestors and elders. Who’d have thought?

Taxi!

Enough of the preaching, because you’re probably desperate to know which beer was my favourite? Being a decisive sort, and after much consideration, I think it was the Original Pale Ale. No, the PNW ale. No, the stout, or was it the nut brown? The Scottish? My memory is failing me here, so I’ll have to go back for another visit, put in some proper research time. I think Mrs PC will insist on staying there again. Oh well…

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

Royal BC Museum

Spinnakers