Snow city!

A week ago, a record was set for a warm late October day here in Calgary. A normal Chinook-related event, or global warming? There’s quite enough hot air and waffle out there on this, but I will say that even if you are inclined to deny climate change, don’t you think it is wise to take measures? Just in case? Climate change aside, any steps taken are still going to be beneficial, don’t you think? We like to breathe clean air, drink clean water, enjoy hugging trees, think nature documentaries on TV are cool, and admire the beauty to be found in many of our backyards and local areas around the planet. These are worth protecting, aren’t they? Go ahead and deny the science – that needn’t be incompatible with recycling, developing alternate energy, and reducing your pollution footprint. Just saying, even if you are a denier…

Anyway, back to last week. Seems a long time ago, because Calgary is now Snow City, and I couldn’t be happier. If you’re living in a snowy environment right now, I hope you’re enjoying it. Me? I love it (ask me again in six months – I might offer a different opinion!) Getting out in snowscapes, taking brisk walks in crisp air, then back to warm up, and a Scandinavian noir to read while wearing one of those woollen sweaters that Norwegian detectives all seem to have… (huh?)DSCF6342

I enjoy the first real snowfall because once the leaves have dropped, Calgary doesn’t look so great in the fall. Imagine the following scene without the snow: (to be fair, you might not like it with the snow…)

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I can see our house from up here (it’s the one with snow on the roof)

We woke up to snow yesterday morning, and it has been falling gently ever since, covering the grey and brown with a fresh coat of white. The plunge from above 20C to minus 10C was a bit of a shock, but I say face it head on and be quick, rather than endure a slow wet descent towards the inevitable. I think we’re still talking about winter here.DSCF6381

There I was yesterday, excitedly rooting around for winter boots, gloves and a toque, eager to get outside and experience the first chill and thrill of the new winter. I kept to the bluff behind our building and the wooded path leading down to the river. I like to see the light white giving everything else a bit of definition. There’s still colour out there to enjoy, and the snow helps it to stand out.DSCF6374

A magpie flew between trees and branches straight at me, quite a sight, turning away at the very last and landing a few metres up the slope. He scratched about in the snow, foraging and coming up with a morsel or two. When I was atop the bluff I could hear, but couldn’t see, geese. I wonder if they’re stopping here for the winter? Some do, near to the downtown. Later, should the winter provide lots of snow, the grasses and logs will be covered, and the ponds and river will freeze over. I guess it will be tougher for any birds sticking around.

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Bleak, this one, like in a Scandinavian noir. The Bridge?  Oh, yeah, they did that already…
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Colour

I recently finished watching the first season of Fargo. Highly recommended if you are a fan of darkly comic winter noir. Well written, great acting, and beautifully shot, with Alberta standing in for northern Minnesota. Why would I mention this? Well, I was reminded of Fargo when that earlier rummaging for a hat I mentioned above resulted in this:

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Fargoesque?

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

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The Bridge 2 (was also very good)

Green, gold and red

Last week was silver, this week, gold. (Might be time to stop with the treasure titles…) Anyway, for this week, a few fall thoughts and pictures, and not much structure.

DSCF5943I’ve never really had the time before to wander around Sunnyside during the week, when most are at work or school. It feels slightly illicit. I strolled around the neighbourhood the other day on a beautiful autumnal morning. Ah, what an excellent day it was for displacement activity! I like to have a short list of tasks to do each day, so that at the end of the day I can beat myself up about not achieving them. (I don’t actually feel bad about it – I use unfinished or untackled tasks to make the list for the next day – now isn’t that productive?)

DSCF5925Fall has arrived, and in the foothills and the city, temperatures have been anywhere between early summer and early winter. As I sit and write this, (ooh, check that off the list for today) cold rain is falling and we’ll be in single digits with a slight chance of snow the next couple of days. Then warm sunshine once more. I love weather forecasts and the fall seesaw.

DSCF5929I was breaking in a new pair of boots (check), readying them for a hike we’ve got planned for the coming weekend. The new boots were long overdue. It is time for new ones when the old ones are held together with mud, and they walk by themselves to the nearest garbage can, begging to be put out of their misery. The aroma was distinct, but surely not unpleasant? I thought they had a few more miles left in them, but the refusal of friends and family to walk with me said otherwise.

DSCF5949Sunnyside and the Bow river looked splendid in the bright sunshine. Determined joggers, vigorous dog walkers, wagging dogs, slightly frazzled parents with babies and toddlers, speedy cyclists, and a late middle-aged time-waster were using the pathways along the river, enjoying themselves and the day.

DSCF5934Autumn is one time of year when I think about our old life back in Europe. I think it is the colours and the smells of fallen leaves, the faint scent of decay. It seems to prompt nostalgia and reflection. Calgary is a lively and well-resourced city if you need to be in an urban area, lacking little, but it doesn’t have a wide variety of deciduous trees providing fall colour. I think of the London oaks, planes and chestnuts, and the sweet chestnuts, walnuts, and alders of Bordeaux and Perigueux. We lived near the Foret de la Double, and it was a fine place to wander in the fall. But that was back then, and in the here and now we can enjoy the green and gold.

DSCF5918Walt, over at Rivertop Rambles (Rivertop Rambles – Double Focus), recently wrote about being home after a period away, and the slightly schizophrenic nature of our thoughts as we exist in one physical place and think about another. I often find myself doing that, even when I’m happy enough where we are. Aren’t we complicated creatures, sometimes? 

Bringing myself into the present, my main thought in all this written meandering and on those pleasant riverside paths, is that I’m grateful to have lived in and visited so many places, and currently very happy to find myself in Western Canada. Looking back is good, living in the present is good, and looking forward is good. It’s all good – aren’t we fortunate?

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

 

Snowed under? Take a hike!

On the day this piece is posted, there’ll be ten teaching days until the winter break. I won’t count today, because that’ll mean eleven days, and I just can’t handle the truth. Definitely snowed under at work, and it’s been like that for a while, so last weekend we needed to go and find some snow. The real stuff.

Chocolate advice

Meteorologists have forecast a cold and snowy winter for our little corner of Canada, and that prediction has warmed an old PlaidCamper’s heart. Contrarian! A real winter? Yes please! I felt shortchanged by last winter when there were too many Chinook winds and too few flakes. Snow flakes.

As we set off for the mountains last week I was feeling flaky, maybe slightly anxious with my high hopes for some real snow – the bright blue skies and a warm westerly wind didn’t add up to winter. Still, it was the weekend, we’d made our plans, and I’ve tremendous faith in weather forecasters. Also, if I only step on the white tiles (not the blue ones) along the hallway from my classroom to the exit, then the snow will fly. Scientifically speaking, this only works on a Friday afternoon, and I must be wearing my favourite toque…

Put on your favourite toque

The science behind the white tile approach to meteorology is very hard to explain, and I struggle to understand it – it is enough to know that it works every time (except for the times it doesn’t) – and it worked once more last weekend. The deeper we traveled into the mountains, the lower the temperature dropped. By the time we arrived near Louise, reasonably heavy snow was falling, and it continued to snow well into the next day. Yup, it had to be the white tiles.

Fresh

We opted to take a hike, taking delight in leaving fresh tracks across the first snow, all along Baker Creek and down to the Bow River. The snow wasn’t deep, but it was enough to change the landscape and create something new. What a relief to be out in the snow, tramping back and forth along the river bank, and recharging instead of feeling snowed under. Snowed under? No, no, we were under the snow! Winter is almost upon us, a season to embrace, and it’s almost always a perfect time to take a hike. Feels good.

Along the Bow

I’ll keep this short, and, like the snow last week, not at all deep. Thanks for reading, avoid the blue tiles, and have a wonderful weekend! 

Beautiful Baker Creek
Unexpected!

Soaring…

…like a red-tailed hawk over river valley badlands.

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Red Deer River

We were sitting on the edge of a buffalo jump, overlooking the Red Deer River, when a hawk flew up from below, higher and higher, rising and wheeling in the sun. It seemed to hang for a perfect moment, just above our heads, the sun shining through the wing and tail feathers. The hawk’s silhouette glowed at the edges, brick red and orange fire against the blue. What a sight! It continued to climb, glide and ride the thermals, seemingly effortless as it soared away and across the badlands.

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From a buffalo jump

Can you imagine being the hawk? Surely some of the flight is sheer joy? I know, it was out and about the hawkish business of feeding and survival, but still…(I wish I had a photograph to share, but we were so taken by the sight, a photograph was very much an afterthought – and then there is my speedy reaction time with a camera. Pretty sure I’d have taken several pictures of sky!)

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Badlands view – not so bad…

We were happy to enjoy a sunny Sunday after the rather damp previous weekend. Sat in shirtsleeves at the top of Dry Island Buffalo Jump eating a picnic was very pleasant. Gophers scampered, butterflies tumbled and fluttered in the wind, and trees rustled and shimmered under a bright blue sky.  Throw in long golden grasses swaying in the breeze, the  gentle buzz and drone of insect life, the call of birds along the valley, and it all made for beautiful views with a lovely natural soundtrack.

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Beautifully bad

You approach this small provincial park by driving across rolling prairies. There is very little to indicate the presence of the Red Deer River ahead of you as you search for the buffalo jump. The paved road is straight for kilometres, until, without warning, it becomes a dirt road, and makes a sharpish left turn at a small stand of low trees. Suddenly, the badlands valley appears on your right, wide, vast, and too deep to see into the bottom from the car. Time to pull over and be amazed. The contrast with the grasslands before is simply astonishing, adding further impact to an already wonderful scene.

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Into the valley

After eating, we wandered down into the valley, following the steep dirt road to a small parking and picnic area in front of the river. (We didn’t drive down because we wanted to hike past the fragrant sagebrush, and because, if the road is wet, it is possible you will be stranded at the bottom. After rain, the dirt becomes mud so slick, most vehicles, 4WD or not, will be stuck. Tow trucks won’t come down and rescue you! We decided that recent rains may have made it too slippery, and by the time we’d eaten, large clouds were beginning to bubble up and over…and being stuck in the mud is perhaps not the best excuse for missing work on Monday?)

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Serene

The Red Deer flows slowly and serenely through the valley. We picked our way along the riverbank, enjoying the dart of a fish, the flapping and splashing of ducks on the far side, and following the blue damselflies seemingly scouting the way for us. A pair of birds skimmed across the surface of the water, no doubt enjoying the abundant bug life. All seems right with the world in such a peaceful setting. My only alarm was in almost stepping on a garter snake hidden in a patch of fallen dried brush. That set the heart hammering for a short while. I was far more attentive thereafter, and I hope the snake is now feeling fine too.

DSCF2524We had planned on exploring some of the trails at the foot of the jump, but it was really, really warm on the valley floor. We settled for sitting awhile by the river, enjoying what felt like a timeless place, thinking about the lives of those who’d been here before. Imagine, with buffalo, fish, birds, and berries, it must have been a Cree treasure trove…

DSCF2528It was difficult to stir ourselves, but the clouds were amassing. We didn’t rush, and besides, the track was steep, so it was a leisurely plod back to the top ahead of the approaching rain.

IMG_20160529_120243What a day for natural wonders and unexpected encounters – a day to send your spirits soaring!

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story or make a comment, and have a wonderful weekend!DSCF2518

Downhill Racer!

Downhill racer! Like Robert Redford in that movie. Oh, if only. More like an uphill plodder when it comes to cross country skiing.

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Slightly slushy – and well provisioned

We were out in Yoho last week, enjoying all the snow on the BC side of the mountains. Although still unseasonably warm, the greater relative snowfall meant there was plenty to fall over in. Sporadic flurries fell from overcast skies, with lengthy breaks in between to admire big valley views. I spent plenty of time enjoying those views from all kinds of angles down in the soft, soft snow.

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Enjoyable view

We decided to risk a little xc skiing on slightly slushy track set trails in the Yoho Valley (Isn’t that great? Yoho is derived from a Cree word meaning awe and wonder. In the Yoho Valley – I could say that over and over…) There were very few fellow skiers or hikers about – in fact we saw only four other people after setting off. Wonderful really, but given it was a long weekend, shouldn’t more families have been out embracing the park, simply being in the Yoho Valley? Maybe they’d heard about me blowing the cobwebs off my skis.

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Long straight bits – wonderful

Not kidding about the uphill plodder. Being a contrary old so and so, I like to claim great enjoyment of uphill skiing. Taking on gravity, and winning. The gradual climb, and the aerobic workout. Yup, the going up is for me. Huh? Really? Well, no, the truth is I am terrified of going too fast and losing control coming back down. Who isn’t? Not so much on long straight descents, that’s fine. It’s when the long straight bits have a turn at the bottom. I don’t seem to have mastered the art of going around corners – unless I’m traveling really, really slowly. Like when I am going up.

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Oh no! Is that a turn after the bridge?

The trail we took at the weekend was a there and back again we’d not visited before. The initial ascent was long and gentle, and I was congratulating myself on this good fortune, and on how well I was fighting gravity. Foolish boy! Of course, there were then turns and steeper parts as the uphill trail followed the down flow run of the Yoho River. To a seasoned – or ordinarily brave – skier, the track was probably as easy as can be. My inner voice however, was repeating “we’re coming back down this way, looks fast, and how about that right turn? Will you make it or hop out of the tracks and over the edge? Bet that water is cold…”

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Cold waters of the Yoho River

Clearly, we made it back down in one piece, or at least enough working pieces for me to be able to write this. Suffice to say my usual, if not preferred, method of slowing down worked as well as ever. Gravity is my friend. I fell over, or threw myself down. Quite a lot. Far too often. Wonderful really, that so few families were out embracing the park.

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Still a little too warm?

Anyway, bruised dignity aside, it was a fun afternoon of (early spring?) uphill plodding and downhill skiing in a beautiful place. It has us looking forward to having another go, and maybe getting a bit further along next time out. Then, if they ever decide to make a belated sequel to Downhill Racer, one set many years after the original, I’ll be available (I do all my own stunts) – provided the new movie is called Uphill Plodder.

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Potential Uphill Plodder location

For the record, these really were some of the thoughts in my head as I enjoyed the long uphill aerobic workout in the Yoho Valley. Probably some sort of altitude sickness.

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Looking down at the Yoho from flat on face

Thanks for reading! As ever, please feel free to share a story or make a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Fractionally further out (on the edge)

Something of an odd title, but bear with me, it might make sense. The last week or two has definitely seen a change in the weather, moving from surefire winter to a more uncertain season. There is still plenty of snow on the ground, at least out in the mountains, but everything has warmed up, and I don’t like it! But let’s try to be glass half full…

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Loves winter

I know, here he goes again, loves winter, blah, blah, blah… It feels wrong to be this warm, with temperatures above freezing and even up into the mid-teens centigrade, with chinook after chinook blowing through. Mid March, alright, but to be this warm from the beginning of February? It’s not all chinooks, but honestly, what a meteorological maelstrom. El Nino and climate change, warm winters and extreme weather, doom mongers and deniers. We’ve just had the warmest year on record, so let’s get fracking. No! Let’s not.

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It should be cold

We have to show a fraction more sense. It should be cold(er) in winter! Global warming isn’t a leftist anti-oil and big business fabrication, but a common concern for all thoughtful (and thoughtless) human beings. Non-renewable resources are dwindling, and they will run out. We have to shift to renewable sources, and put our mental energy, education, and training into facing this reality. I understand the concerns about employment. Jobs won’t have to disappear, but different ones will need to replace current ones. New energy requires engineers, technicians, scientists, maintenance, infrastructure, retail and associated skills. This is an opportunity! Blocking clean air initiatives is fiddling while Rome burns. It’s fracking silly, and we can do better. Goodness, I am irritable this week.

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Precarious

A classroom, many, many years into the future:

“Excuse me, teacher? Are you sure this information is correct? It says that our ancestors continued to pollute the air, water, and ground, even when they had an opportunity to do things differently. Really? And they did it for profit?! They prioritized money over the health of the planet? Huh? But weren’t they educated? Couldn’t they see what was happening? Who was Willow?”

We’ll be long gone, and of course, I’m simply being fanciful…

Maybe I should step outside, calm down. Our last little snowshoe adventure saw us along the river once more, and the river was fractionally higher, with ice shelves collapsing into the water. Don’t get too close to the edge, and a precarious situation… Lovely to look at, but in February? Too soon! I tottered along (as mentioned last week, was still feeling under the weather, hence the tottering) and realized we were past the midpoint of winter, over halfway and racing towards spring. To be honest, I wasn’t racing, or even tottering, not in snowshoes, but isn’t tottering a great word? I do look forward to spring, but please, not yet.

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This is not Willow

So, Groundhog Day came and went, with the sad news that Winnipeg Willow died a day before having the chance to pronounce an end to (or continuation of) winter. Was this natural causes, or a shadowy groundhog grassy knoll conspiracy to suppress the truth? Who would want to silence poor Willow? The naysayers, or the doom mongers?

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Under grey skies

All these thoughts – too strong a word? – were swirling around as we enjoyed the snow, the streams, and the relative silence under grey skies. Oh, my mental maelstrom. Suppose the planet keeps on heating up? What of winter then? How thin is the ice? Hmm. Enjoy winter while you can, and if a snowstorm hits, embrace it because, who knows, suppose you don’t experience another? What an awful thought…

DSCF1907Fortunately, and on a more positive note, we did encounter the American Dipper once again. Knowing that they only frequent unpolluted rivers and streams made everything seem a little less precarious.

I think I’d best keep this brief, and aim to top up my optimism glass. Here’s hoping winter hangs on a little longer around here, and I’ll seek to enjoy it – it’s what Willow would have wanted. For all my doom and gloom, there’s usually a way to fractionally brighten the spirits:

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Glass (more than) half full! A fine fractional IPA from Lagunitas – recommended.

As always, thanks for reading! Please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Swept away…

…like an American dipper in the rushing current. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we’d been snowshoeing along the Bow, and I was going to write about that small adventure, but last week “The Revenant’ swept my attention away. Still, the dipper is a plucky little fellow, not easily distracted, and willing to plunge in upstream and be carried back to where he started – and further.

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American dipper
So, our little snowshoeing adventure. It was about perfect, -10C, blue skies, and bright sunshine. We delayed our start deliberately, wanting to be outside into the late afternoon and catch the changing light as the sun fell beneath the tree line and behind the mountains. A magical time of day.

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Catch the light
There had been some reasonably heavy snowfall the previous day or two, and the conifers were wearing snow cloaks. It made me think of Narnia, although winter in Narnia was a mean season, and it felt anything but.

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A Narnian winter?
I have to thank my grandparents for the Narnia books. I loved them, reading and rereading, always enthralled, captivated by the stories, to the point where I could recite them almost by heart. Especially “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” – who couldn’t love that one?

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Spirited
The imagination of little PlaidCamper was fired up by those books – he didn’t know much or care about the religious parallels, although they are interesting. He was all about the talking animals, mysterious tree and water spirits, and other mythical creatures. He was swept away by the landscapes and adventures. He got upset every time Aslan “died” on the stone table, tears of sadness. He was moved to tears again when Aslan returned and the stone table was split asunder. Edmund! You fool! Don’t eat candy offered to you by strangers! Especially witches! Edmund’s choices were a disappointment every time (I was a sensitive, repetitive, and judgemental reader…)

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If I walk under the arch…
I’m certainly not going to share with you the time I climbed into my wardrobe and reached forward past the clothes hanging there, hoping for some magic. Nope, not going there.

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Albertan delight
Thank goodness we moved to Alberta many years later! The cupboards are built in, and I can’t get to Narnia through them, but a short journey out to the mountains in winter is pretty close. No Turkish delight (perhaps a small bar of chocolate in the backpack), but Albertan delights are more than enough.

DSCF1833A feast for the senses that snowshoe afternoon, with crisp pine air, whispering trees, misty rivers, crunching snow, creaking ice, and rushing water. Spirits? I know what a young PlaidCamper might think, and maybe he wouldn’t be wrong…

DSCF1764We didn’t see a faun, white witch, or any talking animals, but the American dipper was a wonder. What a tough little bird! Icy waters were no problem as he splashed, bobbed and flew over and into the fast moving current. Diving in, fetching his meal, and popping back up far further down than we expected. You would swear he was enjoying himself, completely engrossed in his antics, and if he was aware of his admiring audience, he didn’t let on. Or perhaps he did know we were there, and decided quite deliberately to fly up and drift down the same little patch of river, simply sharing some quality time. (You can blame C.S. Lewis for my shameless anthropomorphizing.)

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A water ouzel!
The American dipper is also known as the water ouzel. How wonderful to have an alternate name, and doesn’t it sound positively Narnian?

I’ll leave it here, happy to share with you our warm winter adventure. Downstream and thinking about that funny little PlaidCamper boy with his imaginative and bookish ways.

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A funny little PlaidCamper
As always, thanks for taking the time to read this. Please feel to share a (wardrobe?) story, or make a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

I must go and hang up this jacket…