The Living Mountain

Oh how I wish I’d thought of that post heading, but I borrowed it – the title of a new favourite book, “The Living Mountain” by Nan Shepherd. A wonderful little volume, I’d never heard of it until a few months ago. There’s a story behind that…fullsizeoutput_5cb

Back in late January, Junior announced she’d applied for a chef position with the Fairmont group. Fair enough, a good company to work for by all accounts, and a chance to learn and refine her skills in a different environment, with hotels in beautiful Alberta and BC locations. All true, but the position she’d applied for was in St. Andrews, Scotland. Also beautiful, but somewhat further afield! Two weeks after her announcement, she was on a jet plane heading for new adventures, and has been having a lovely time the past few months, so well done, Junior!fullsizeoutput_545

How does this connect to “The Living Mountain” mentioned at the start? The day Junior was on her way, I came home from the airport, rinsed my contact lenses – seemed to be having an issue with welling up – and started to read The Guardian paper online. Would you believe, that very day, they had an article suggesting the top ten books about wilderness Scotland? An interesting mixture of fiction and non-fiction, and because it was about books, I was brave enough to venture BTL and read comments and suggestions. It was there I saw Nan Shepherd recommended over and over, so I managed to track down a copy.fullsizeoutput_56f

What a find! Nan Shepherd’s slim volume is wonderful, a love letter to the beauty of the Cairngorm mountains, a place she explored her entire life. Her writing is outstanding – intense, detailed and meditative, describing the mountains using all her senses to bring them alive. She loves her mountains, and cannot quite believe their beauty. On describing the clarity of water:

Water so clear cannot be imagined, but must be seen. One must go back, and back again, to look at it, for in the interval memory refuses to recreate its brightness. This is one of the reasons why the high plateau where these streams begin, the streams themselves, their cataracts and rocky beds, the corries, the whole wild enchantment, like a work of art is perpetually new when one returns to it. The mind cannot carry away all that it has to give, nor does it always believe possible what it has carried away.

You find yourself nodding with shared recognition at her delight in the natural world. When she describes silence at altitude, it is really about peace and quiet, rather than the absence of sound:

To bend the ear to silence, is to discover how seldom it is there. Always something moves. When the air is quite still, there is always running water; and up here that is a sound one can hardly lose…but now and then comes an hour when the silence is all but absolute, and listening to it one slips out of time. Such a silence is not a mere negation of sound. it is like a new element, and if water is still sounding with a low far-off murmur, it is no more than the last edge of an element we are leaving, as the last edge of land hangs on the mariner’s horizon.fullsizeoutput_56e

There is a lovely section about how she is like an excited dog surrounded by the scents of the mountain:

On a hot moist midsummer day, I have caught a rich fruity perfume rising from the mat of grass, moss and wild berry bushes that covers so much of the plateau. The earthy smell of moss, and the soil itself, is best savoured by grubbing. Sometimes the rank smell of deer assails one’s nostril, and in the spring the sharp scent of fire.DSCF7094

I enjoyed how she captured the animal life on and above the mountain, like the eagle rising coil over coil in slow symmetry…and when he has soared to the top of his bent, there comes the level flight as far as the eye can follow, straight, clean, and effortless as breathing. There is a description of hares streaking up a brown hillside like rising smoke – perhaps hoping to avoid becoming prey to the eagle?

Every page reveals how Shepherd increases her love for the mountain. She understands the immeasurable value and importance of time spent in nature:

Yet with what we have, what wealth! I add to it each time I go to the mountain – the eye sees what it didn’t before, or sees in a new way what it has already seen.IMG_20180225_122122

What wealth indeed. The challenges to our natural environment have increased enormously in the decades since Shepherd wrote and published. Wild places are under more and more commercial pressure, reducing the opportunities to slow down, immerse the physical (and mental) self in outdoor beauty, and stop to contemplate the treasures we have. It is splendid to have books like “The Living Mountain”, but I wonder if in the near future, her record and those like it, will be all that remains, that we’ll be reading about instead of experiencing first hand the wonders of our natural world?IMG_20180311_125558

Many years ago, we took a camping trip in Scotland when Junior was a wee bairn. It was her first time camping, and she enjoyed it, from being bathed in a washing up bowl to sleeping soundly (phew!) in a tent, despite the wind and rain outside. Sometimes sunny, oftentimes wild and woolly, it was a fun trip. We got as far as the Cairngorms, but didn’t spend any significant time up there. Better informed now, thanks to Nan Shepherd, and with Junior as an advance party, it seems as if we’ll have to arrange another trip…

I’ll stop now, because otherwise all I’ll do is continue to select passages to illustrate how much I enjoyed Nan Shepherd’s mountain musing. The best thing is to get a copy – I heartily recommend it.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

PS The photographs featured this week were all taken out and about in the past six months – not of the Cairngorms, but in our living mountains here in Alberta.

The Spray Lakes shake

You’ll know it if you’ve ever driven the road to the lake. A splendid mix of potholes and gravel, with a sprinkling of rocks scattered on a corduroy surface, it is a track to test suspension and loose fillings. My brain is still shaking, like it belongs to an old time hockey enforcer at the end of game seven. Are all routes to lakes like that? Read on for a near miss, and a misspelt curse word.

A trip to the lake is worth taking on a warm day when it is too hot to stay in the city. A reservoir stop in Spray Valley Provincial Park became the end destination as we drove past crowded parking lots closer to Canmore. Cars spilling out at the Grassi Lakes trailhead, and at Goat Creek persuaded us to drive on, never mind the dust and the pinging of rocks underneath.

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Near…

About twenty minutes past Goat Creek, we turned off the Smith-Dorrien “highway” onto a side road leading down to a parking lot and boat launch. We pulled up under a tree, and couldn’t believe there were only two other vehicles parked – it might have been only one car and I was still seeing double…

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…and far

Why so quiet? Was there a bear warning and trail closures? Nope. Well, alright then, and off we went in search of a suitable spot for a picnic. I’m happy enough to lean against a log, or perch on a rock, but lucky us, there were several picnic tables spread along the path overlooking the lake, and they were all empty. IMG_20180527_121542

As the name suggests, Spray Valley is long and wide, the lakes created by a dam, and with a steady breeze rippling the lake, it was very pleasant for a picnic in the shady trees. We spent a lazy couple of hours mooching up and down, admiring the view, eating lunch, and filling in the holes Scout felt she absolutely had to dig. Wondering, but not complaining, about the lack of other people enjoying the immediate surrounds. We saw a couple of canoes and a small fishing boat down on the lake. A family stopped to walk their dog for a few minutes further up the shore, and then left. Two cyclists were startled by Scout, believing her to be a bear at first sight, but they pedalled on, reassured to see she was a friendly wolf.

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Digging it

As much as we’d have liked to stay all day, we had an important appointment to keep at the Canmore Brewing Company. We headed back to Canmore, offering up a prayer of thanks when a speeding red truck sliding around a bend narrowly missed us, and the spray of gravel didn’t put a chip in our new windshield. I have a limited reservoir of patience for dam fools in racing pick ups. Let us spray he made it down to the lake without incident, and perhaps with a little less pedal to the metal. Yikes…

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Take your time, it’ll still be here

A pleasant afternoon, quiet, as hoped for, and a destination definitely worth going the extra bumpy mile or so.

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Parked up on the dam road, dusty, but remarkably chip and ding-free – phew

Oh, I almost forgot – and I’m sure you wanted to know – yes, the Railway Avenue Rye IPA and the Ten Peaks Pale Ale were excellent. I’ll have to let you know about the stout, and the brown ale another time.

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Later that day…

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Farewell to Winter?

I think so…

You can never be too sure in the foothills and mountains, but this time, the thaw seems real, and there hasn’t been any heavy snow for nearly two weeks. We are well past mid-April, and our looping, tilted race around the sun says it has to warm up now! Surely?fullsizeoutput_5b0

Talk in town says it was a long one, but I think winter’s lingering into April was just a shift along from the late arrival. There was hardly any snow or cold until past mid-December, and then there was plenty of both the next three or four months.

Now, though, the sun is shining, and has been since the start of the week. The last winter blast is receding into memory, and a few blades of green are appearing in the brown grass. Birds are singing, and there is a forecast of temperatures hitting 20C and more by the weekend. (And a plummet down to less than 10 and rain by Monday, but that is ages away…)fullsizeoutput_5b1

We headed into the foothills last week, from where we could see upper mountains cloaked in snow, but huge swathes melting lower down. Rivers rushed, and streams splashed. Ranch horses and cattle were out once more, enjoying the sunshine.IMG_20180422_130240

Stopping above the Highwater River, we climbed down the banks to look at the fast flow. My left foot was sucked into deep mud hidden under a thin layer of snow, and extracting the boot caused a satisfying squelch and slurp. Mrs. PC and Scout didn’t take my short cut, and negotiated the way down with clean boots and paws.

Geese were honking over on the far bank, and we saw deer and beaver tracks on our side. A short walk upriver uncovered a beaver lodge, and felled trunks with fresh tooth marks. The beaver has been busy. We retreated, not wanting Scout’s mad spring scampering to further disturb the residents. I’m sure they had no notion we were there…

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“These guys are professional chewers!”
We paused for gas and coffee in Longview, and the relief at the end of winter, and start of mud season seemed to be the main topics of conversation in the coffee shop. “Even the skiers passing through here are over winter this year! I’ll be washing this floor three times a day what with all the mud!” I stepped closer to the counter to hide my boots.fullsizeoutput_5b2

I do like winter, but it’s good to feel warm sun, and to drive with the windows down. Any slip and fall will be due to mud, not ice, and the birdsong means blossom is about to appear. Thanks, winter, for letting go, and let’s say a warm welcome to an Albertan spring!

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

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

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!”

 

A watercolour sky

I was sailing under a watercolour sky the other day! The happy travels of a nautical PlaidCamper – it all sounds rather lovely…

Sadly, or wisely, I haven’t bought a yacht, and the vessel I’d boarded was a car ferry, the “Coastal Inspiration”, operated by BC Ferries. Perhaps not the most romantic boat on the water, but if you board early, as I did, your car ends up parked up front, with splendid views ahead.

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“All aboard!”
We’ve always been lucky whenever we take a BC Ferry – the weather has been kind. Given the amount of fog and rain the PNW receives, by now we should have had a murky or wet crossing or two, but so far, not too bad. Well, that’ll change next time, now I’ve gone and written that…

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Leaving Duke Point
Although it was blustery up top and in front, the sea and sky scapes were pretty amazing as we left Duke Point and headed for Tsawassen. Once again, the photos this week were taken on my camera phone. I have got to get back to carrying my camera – getting forgetful with the passing years.fullsizeoutput_52b

What was I saying? Oh yes, the views from on board. Mountains on the island, and mountains on the mainland. The British Columbia coast is beautiful! Last week it was full of soft blues, greys, oranges, and pinks that made it seem like we were sailing in a watercolour. A little fanciful, but very enjoyable as we bobbed about on the Salish Sea. Truthfully, there was not that much bobbing, it being a large car ferry and in calm conditions, which was a good thing. The last time I was out in a whale watching zodiac, everything was wonderful when zooming along, but the rise and fall of the lightish swell when we stopped to observe whales left me feeling somewhat queasy and green – I almost made the water colour. Enough about that.

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Taken with wobble cam, grainy cam, swell cam, landlubber cam…
Anyway, a brief post this week to share a few shots of the sea and sky from last week. Back in the city now, and not particularly enjoying the round of chinooks and associated slush. Drip, drip, drip, and then overnight freeze, freeze, freeze, so the following morning we can all slip, slip, slip. Ah, all is well – a PlaidCamper with something minor to complain about.

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You were here the other day – stop complaining
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!