It’s been a busy end of school season wrap up, with exams, transition plans, and celebrations to mark achievements in an academic year well spent.
Yesterday was a beach day, with students, families and teachers having a few hours down by the water, some play time and easy company before all leave and head off into summer, a year older and a year wiser. Certainly older…
I’m looking forward to a busy and relaxed summer, if both can happen at the same time. The twin track approach will see me back in Blighty for a swift visit, a chance to catch up with one brother, one father and one daughter in little more than a week. Then it’s back to the island for a few weeks, with beach walks, paddling, maybe a few tent nights if we can find some quiet spots, and, fingers crossed, some time learning to build log cabins in remote parts. Mid August, we’ll be on the road, nothing too long, for a visit to Alberta, just to be sure friends, lakes, mountains, and a few big city haunts are all still there.
I love being in education, and especially in my current position, finding myself working in schools, the community and (best of all, I can’t lie about this) out in the backcountry. If I ever found myself in an occupation that demanded I work for pay over the summer months, then all would not be well. I did fake being a chef for a couple of summers when we lived in France – I was younger, leaner and hungrier back then – but those few years aside, I’ve had summers off, and for that I’m most grateful! (Apologies to readers who do work summers, and a tip of the hat – like that helps…)
Keeping it brief, as time is short this week, having spent longer than usual days preparing for and enjoying an education celebration. This was a lovely evening where many citizens and residents over the bay were recognized for educational achievements – from pre-school through to post secondary and then all manner of lifelong learning.
Let’s head away from the coast and into the interior this week. A title borrowed from Wallace Stegner, a recommendation to read the Stegner title, and some Saskatchewan memories. What brought this on? Friends from Alberta emailed us last week, catching up on recent events and checking in to see if we had plans to be in Alberta over the summer. Likely yes, and I hope we can mesh our summer schedules and meet up face to face. We’ll have to time it so we see them before or after their planned camping trip to Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan!
I have fond memories of a Saskatchewan road trip and cabin stay we did during our second summer in Canada. Big skies, long distances, empty roads, and the biggest bugs ever. Ever! Also, the week we had in our cabin provided me with some of the most restful sleep I can ever recall. Ever! It was quiet and the backroads cycling was easy. Apparently, parts of Saskatchewan are quite flat. That summer had been rainy just before we set off, so the prairies were a vibrant green and gold – and the abundant insect life was big and bold. The dragon flies were enormous, or so it seemed when cycling through them.
The following year we camped a few nights in the Cypress Hills area, a windswept and beautiful location straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. We had a fun time camped down by the water, aside from some of the biggest mosquitoes ever. Ever!
So what about the title of the post? Wolf Willow? It just so happens I’ve been reading Wallace Stegner’s remarkable book about plains life around the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth century. It is a spellbinding account of the trials and tribulations of settlers heading west. It also acknowledges the terrible devastation wrought by those early settlers, on people and place.
Storms, wind, fire, hard winters, dry summers, near starvation, genocide and environmental destruction – this is not a cheery account of that life and those times. Yet Stegner loved the several years he spent there as a child. His account of being a “sensuous savage” running pretty wild with his peers is quite a contrast to the experiences of many children today. There might be an argument made for the rough and tumble of his childhood being a more meaningful experience. Many true and a few tall tales are told, the secondary heading of the complete piece being “a history, a story, and a memory of the last plains frontier.” He had many exciting and striking memories, that’s for sure.
There is much on the nature of nature forging identity and character, how a landscape can define a person, even years after they have moved on. For all the tough times and challenging living conditions, Stegner has a real love for his brief – yet formative – years on the prairies, his family scrabbling to survive on what felt at that time like the last frontier. Or the end of the last frontier in North America.
There are any number of wonderfully descriptive prairie passages in the book. The wind is a constant companion:
“Across its empty miles pours the pushing and shouldering wind, a thing you tighten into as a trout tightens into fast water. It is a grassy, clean, exciting wind, with the smell of distance in it, and in its search for whatever it is looking for it turns over every wheat blade and head, every pale primrose, even the ground-hugging grass. It blows yellow-headed blackbirds and hawks and prairie sparrows around the air and ruffles the short tails of meadowlarks on fence posts. In collaboration with the light, it makes lovely and changeful what might be otherwise characterless.”
The central part of Wolf Willow tells the story of a cattle drive undertaken just as winter approaches. This fictional account is utterly compelling, a tremendous piece of writing about fighting to stay alive in a snowstorm and do a job of work. The main character is a fresh faced romantic recently arrived from England, and he is desperate to be recognized as being stoic and hardbitten like his work colleagues. A few days of driving cattle in plummeting temperatures forces a reassessment of what he saw as a romantic life, and as for achieving the stature he believes his colleagues have? Well, you’ll have to read Wolf Willow to find out. If you do, you won’t be disappointed, although you might find some of the attitudes and prejudices from the time of writing a touch off putting. Maybe treat it as a history lesson on past social attitudes, and then enjoy the tales told.
From when we were road tripping in Saskatchewan all those years ago, a strong memory is of how friendly people were. One morning we found ourselves in the tiny town of Tisdale, a few hours northeast of Saskatoon. (As an aside, I delight in writing or saying Saskatoon or Saskatchewan. Even better, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan!) Anyway, we were lost, which is hard to do in a small rural town, but soon knew where we were when we inadvertently turned onto a street and found ourselves driving at the head of a parade. Oops. For a few minutes, we headed the floats and marching band. Those friendly townspeople clapped and cheered as we drove on up the street, and was I ever happy to turn off as soon as possible. I’d love to visit again, but I don’t want the townsfolk feeling pressured about putting on a parade…
Ah, Saskatchewan! Land of Corner Gas, a show that told us all we needed to know before heading out on that particular vacation. Corner Gas shows that life has changed on the plains since Stegner’s day! I have to say, prairie life is still a tough business, maybe not Stegner period tough, but there is something so attractive about it nonetheless. Honestly, I’m as hopelessly romantic about it as that young Englishman in Stegner’s story…
Wolf Willow was one of the first prairie shrubs I learned to recognize when we moved to Alberta. One freezing November evening, a kind botanist walked me through a river valley in the prairie edge lands as preparation for a school field trip. The Wolf Willow and Red Osier Dogwoods were a delight, each standing out, even in failing winter light. I’ll be honest, it’s easy to remember a plant with a name as captivating as Wolf Willow. (A quick search earlier revealed it isn’t a willow at all, but that’s okay…)
I think I’ll leave it here, otherwise there’s a danger I could meander on like a slow and muddy river flowing in a summertime prairie valley. In Saskatchewan!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
All the photographs this week are from Alberta prairie visits in previous years. I have photographs from our SK trips, but couldn’t find them this week. Maybe we need to plan another SK trip…
Yup, the last long weekend was a busy weekend. About 40 youth and associated mentors heading out and away for a few days of camping, fishing, trail-building, archery and anything else that seemed like a good outdoor idea.
We set off in two vessels, one a speedy affair with room for nine, and the other a larger, more sedate boat with room for all the gear and space to spread out above and below. Going out, I was in the smaller boat, coming back, I traveled in the larger. Both were fun, with the voyage out being busier. As the larger vessel was cruising slowly and steadily toward our destination, the smaller boat zipped about, looking for favourite (previously successful) spots to fish, and to pick up and drop prawn and crab traps.
Two traps contained many prawns, and these were a mainstay for an almost midnight feast later that day. We ended up eating so late because the zodiac and tin boat transfer from the tiny offshore dock to the beach near base camp took quite a few journeys. All that gear and all that youth – thank goodness for young people when it comes to pitching tents and stowing gear in the rain and near dark.
The rods and reels proved far less successful over the weekend, with very little success in hooking a fish. A large sea cucumber got a bit of a surprise and was no doubt mightily relieved to be returned to the deep. The prawn and crab traps did not deliver either. Oh well.
The rain fell from the moment we left Friday afternoon to just before dawn on Saturday, when the skies cleared and warm sunshine was an almost constant companion through Saturday and Sunday. A fair number of mosquitoes were also near constant companions, but not unbearably so.
The weekend was visibly bear-free, aside from frequent scat sightings, and some splashing in the early hours from across the narrow channel. Nothing to be alarmed about. I alarmed a bald eagle that was perched atop an old stump at the point of the spit – I think it may have been my early morning pee break that startled her, causing her to fly off somewhat sooner than she may have been planning. A magnificent sight (the eagle, not me peeing…)
The dry and near windless days allowed for perfect archery conditions, and it was good to see the young ones honing their technique and improving their accuracy. They were able to display their skills to a group of ten elders who visited for the day on Sunday.
Prior to the arrival of the elders, much effort was put into further improving the trail through the forest from the beach to the camp. And you’ve never seen a tidier base camp than how it looked for that afternoon – when grandmothers and grandfathers visit, it had better look right!
When the elders arrived on the beach, they were welcomed with a song sung by a young warrior. His voice was strong and steady, and his song echoed back from the low mountains surrounding the inlet. A memorable moment from a trip with many fine moments.
We awoke on Monday to low cloud and a threat of rain. After the warmth of the previous two days, it was something of a relief to be able to pack up and shift all the gear back to the beach and on to the boats in cool conditions. And would you believe it, once we cleared the inlet and headed out into wider waters, the clouds fell behind us and we sailed under blue skies. A certain OldPlaidCamper might have dozed off up on deck, lulled to sleep and pleasantly tired after a very good long weekend.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
A few weeks back, we arranged to have another gourmet cookout with Wayne from Tofino Photography. Our destination was Second Bridge, and if you need to find it, go down that logging road after the junction, bounce and jolt up past First Bridge, and then…
…well, if I told you where precisely, then it might get crowded in the future. But rest assured it’s out there, and you’ll know you’re close when the road comes to an end because the bridge is out.
A quiet spot – we were told it can get busy, and certainly used to be a touch rowdy with party people on long weekends before the road was closed – it made a good place to have a fire and roast some hot dogs. The weekend had been warm and sunny the day before we went, but a change came, with grey skies, lower temperatures, and even a hint of rain. This seemed to have kept people away, and we only encountered a handful of visitors.
One couple had been camping overnight just down the beach. They chatted a bit, and Wayne shared a few stories, and some tips in the event of a cougar encounter (there had been some sightings elsewhere along the lake) and mere minutes after that, the young couple had packed up and disappeared. I don’t think it was the cougar info…
It left an empty beach for us to enjoy, and we had a fine time cooking and eating. Wayne brought high end hot dogs and slices of key lime pie from SoBo. Excellent choice, and we had to be quick about it, because Scout sure seemed to take to the pie.
We didn’t see a cougar, or a bear, and thankfully the black flies didn’t follow us down to the beach. They were lurking when we parked up, but there was enough breeze to keep bugs at bay.
A wildlife feature for the afternoon? The hundreds and hundreds of geese passing over in long skeins high above us. We honestly could not count them, but what a sight to see – and hear! Wave after wave after wave.
Wayne knows the area pretty well, and he told us about the great camping spots to be discovered along the shore, and how they can only be approached from the water. They sound rather wonderful, and a compelling reason to return, drop a canoe with camping gear into the water, and spend a little more time out by the bridge and beyond.
I don’t know when our next cookout adventure will be or where, but it’s something to look forward to, likely after the summer visitors have headed home and it’s a bit quieter. I do know Wayne has set the gourmet bar pretty high with that key lime pie!
Me? Maybe, maybe not. This will have to be a very brief post this week. My excuse? I’ve been back to school (Back? Don’t you work in schools most days, PlaidCamper? Well, yes, but this time I’m one of the students, and the classroom isn’t in a school, but in the communityand well, perhaps I’d best just get on with the post?) Evenings have been very busy, reading up/doing homework for a course that continues into the coming weekend. It’s been quite intensive, and I’ve felt very tired at the end of each day, so much so, the fact it is May already almost passed me by. There are “learning celebrations” as our lovely instructor likes to say when talking about tests and exams. Will I pass? Maybe, maybe not…
The courses lead to theory qualifications for Small Vessel Operator Proficiency. I say theory because we are in a classroom, not a boat, and the learning, whilst important, is no substitute for practical experience – hours at sea!
I’m learning alongside a group of youth, and any one of this group has many more hours of practical experience in small vessels than I’ve had over a somewhat longer lifetime. They are often applying some theory to quite a body of practical knowledge. The aim this week is to give a basic safety foundation to these students, add the theory to their experience. I have to say the learning has been illuminated by many family stories being shared – sad, funny, frightening and thrilling. The West Coast roots and love of the ocean shows.
It’s been great fun learning together, and I’m delighted to report everybody passed the first couple of exams. I’m not looking for a new career, but in a day and age where certificates and qualifications are needed along with developing experience, the young ones are positioning themselves very well for post secondary opportunities, in and out of school.
I know I wrote above about how tired I’ve felt, but in truth it hasn’t hurt to experience and be reminded that this is often how many learners in our schools feel day after day. Yes I’m tired, but I’m enjoying this learning – sometimes (often?) what we are asking our children to learn may not be all that relevant or engaging in terms of curriculum – how tiring must that be?
I’ll leave it there, as I’m off to refresh my memory about the finer points of coastal navigation, or I will if I stay awake long enough. Perhaps I should give myself some latitude, or even a little leeway, and have a beer, take the night off? Oh, that was bad.
The photographs this week were taken last weekend, when April mistook itself for May, and we weren’t complaining. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
Last Friday turned into a pretty good Good Friday. Sunshine was promised and eventually made an appearance in the early afternoon. It seemed like a beach day, so that is where we went.
We hadn’t been to Wick Beach in quite a while, and it was a very pleasant stroll we were having when we saw quite a crowd of ravens hopping about a clump of something in the distance. As we approached, the ravens flapped off, and we could see the sizeable remains of – I think – a sea lion. We skirted past swiftly, not wanting to enjoy the aroma any longer than necessary, and to give space back to the ravens.
A little way beyond the body we saw a juvenile eagle sitting on a stump, no doubt waiting for us to move on, and perhaps hoping the ravens would leave a little something.
As we wandered by, two adult bald eagles flew past us towards the remains. We thought it was starting to get rather crowded. If it hadn’t been dead, the sea lion could have become quite irritated with all the attention…
We kept going up the beach, and eventually hunkered down in front of the dunes, slightly elevated on a log and amongst the long grasses. From there, the cadaver commotion was almost out of sight, and we switched our attention to the ocean, looking out for and spotting many spouting whales.
Once we’d finished our coffee, after Scout had demolished a fair chunk of washed up log, and given up digging a deep hole in the sand for me to fall into as I stood, we set off back down the beach. As we drew closer to the corpse, we could see quite a crowd. Three adult bald eagles, two juveniles, and a smattering of ravens were figuring out how the goodies were going to be shared.
We stuck to the dune side of the beach, not wanting to get involved, and anyway, after coffee and chocolate, we weren’t feeling the need to scavenge. I couldn’t believe Scout wasn’t more interested in the proceedings, but she wasn’t.
The photographs I took were at the outer limits of what my camera and shaky hands could handle, and really none too sharp, but I’ve used them here anyway, in case you’re a fan of partially consumed corpses…
When we got home, I got caught up on the blogs I enjoy, and one of them was a perfect piece to read after our earlier adventure. It made me stop and think about how vulnerable many species are. Living out here, one could (but I’m not) become a bit complacent about the numerous bald eagle sightings we are blessed with. If you have the time, I heartily recommend you head over to read Jet Eliot – you won’t be sorry!
If the weather holds – and it has turned warm and sunny this week – then perhaps we’ll head up Wick once again over the coming weekend, check out the state of the scavenged. I doubt there’ll be much left, maybe not much more than a few picked over and pecked clean bones. That’s life, and death.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
Wind and rain, bark and bone. Sounds like the start of a spell, but it’s a small list of the gritty and grainy outdoor life we’ve been experiencing the past little while.
I was lucky enough to find an extra hour on the beach last week. A meeting finished earlier than expected, and there wasn’t enough time left in the day to get back and start something new – if I drove really slowly, and I never rush in the Jeep…
The wind was blasting down the beach, from north to south, and provided a real push in the back as I headed out. In a positive frame of mind, I likened it to a helping hand. Sand snakes were racing past me, long writhing ribbons that I couldn’t keep pace with.
A few hardy kite surfers were performing tricks in the surf, traveling scarily fast and leaping up into the air. Holding onto my hat, I stopped to watch them, admiring the skill and choreography as they appeared to narrowly avoid colliding with each other. A tip of the hat there, not that they could see. It was too cold to stop for long, and I’d targeted a particular set of rocks as my goal for a there and back trip.
I clambered up on the rocks, and goodness me it was windy up there! I decided not to linger too long, knowing the walk back up the beach was going to be a tad more trying without that helping hand. It really was a bit of an effort, and every now and then an extra strong gust would blow the sand somewhat higher than knee height. My apple snack was a trifle gritty…
I’ve written before about the joys of a few “stolen” moments in a work day, time when you can get outside and enjoy the elements. This was very much the case last week. I wouldn’t choose a big blow as my favourite weather, but I didn’t mind blowing away a few post-committee cobwebs!
The photograph above of Scout on the rocks was taken a few days later, at the rocks I’d headed to earlier in the week, and the day was a good deal calmer. Still windy, but manageable.
Bark and bone? A different weekend day, one where we heard logs crashing into the rocks guarding a small cove. The deep booms were something to hear, as these tree bones were thrown against stone. The tide was dropping, as were the winds, but so close to the end of a fierce blow, we weren’t going to venture down onto the upper sands of the cove. Every now and then a heavier wave would still have enough energy to surge up the beach. Gritty outdoor types we might be, but we weren’t going to risk a sudden foot soaking or worse down on the beach. We’ve got sand, but also plenty of prudence.
The forecast for the coming long weekend looks rather damp. We will aim to get out, no matter the weather, but if trips are shorter, then we’ll have to head indoors, empty the sand from our shoes, and eat a small chocolate egg (or two!)
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!