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.

The wheels have fallen off!

Hmm, what could that mean? In so many different ways, and in so many places during the current crisis, it seems wheels have been falling off. If you’ve been here before, you’ll know I (mostly, haha) steer clear of matters controversial. So let me say, when the wheels are falling off, I mean the wheels are falling off…this:

What a find!

A weekend or two ago, the walls were starting to close in a bit more than usual. Like many, we’ve been missing time on trails, and our usual visits to wide open spaces. For me, like many, positive mental health can be boosted by time spent in green and blue outdoor places. Alberta in late winter/early spring isn’t renowned for vibrant greenery, so we did the next best thing, and went to the gold and brown prairies – under vast blue skies.

Gold? Brown? Blue!

Phew. A sneak trip out of the city, a drive along empty back roads, windows down, cold fresh air, and space, space, space. From above, our car bouncing along dusty ridge roads would have looked like a little black socially distanced insect. One badly in need of a wash.

This vehicle is cleaner than our Jeep. Really.

We didn’t see many other people, but we did see a couple of red tailed hawks, numerous waterfowl bobbing on icy cold knob and kettle ponds, hundreds of geese overhead, and maybe best of all, a herd of bison up on a distant ridge.

We did stop to enjoy our cup of coffee and small(ish) bar of chocolate. Wondering where would be a good place for this, with great timing we came around a bend and saw a rusting relic sitting in a field. What a beauty, an old Mercury (I only know that because the rear badge was still visible) stranded in golden grass. The remains of a failed getaway, perhaps? There’s a good story here just waiting to be told.

Busted getaway? Busted headlight, busted taillight, busted windshield, busted…

What was slightly strange was seeing a set of what looked to be reasonably ok tires, one at each wheel arch. The car looked distinctly undriveable, but maybe someone out there on the prairies has plans to ensure the Mercury isn’t in its final rusting place? That would be cool. Next time the walls close in, maybe we’ll take another spin out there, see if the car has been saved. Wheels fallen off? Doesn’t have to be a permanent state of affairs…

Busted, yeah – but sort of beautiful?

Thanks for reading. I hope you’re well, please stay safe and enjoy the weekend ahead!

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.

Flights of fancy

I was going to call this one “Taking Flight” but Walt over at Rivertop Rambles got there first earlier this week. Do go over and read his blog, and if your reading tastes run to fine writing on matters outdoors, I can highly recommend any of his books – he’s just published a new one…

Back to not taking flight, and flights of fancy. The new brewery in Ucluelet opened a couple of weeks ago, and we were delighted to pop in and sample the beer, see if the extended (and extended) wait was worth it.

Wings over water…

Of course it was! The converted and repurposed church premises are lovely looking, inside and out. Pale walls and big beams up to a vaulted ceiling, all just right in a small temple dedicated to hops. It’s an intimate space, and it was great they resisted the temptation to squeeze in too many tables and chairs. You’ve got elbow room, space to hoist a glass without jolting your neighbours and new beery best friends.

We were all beaming

Yeah, yeah, thanks for the architecture and interior design reports – what about the beer?

Ucluelet Brewing Company – hop stuff!

I’m very happy to say the beer is good! We had a flight of four, ranging from light to dark, and each was perfectly drinkable. A Kolsch style, a Belgian wit style, an IPA, and a porter. Of the four, the Kolsch and IPA were particularly good, the Tragically Wit (yup, they did) was fine but not my favourite style unless brewed in Belgium (yes, I’m a beer princess, guilty as charged) and the porter seemed closer to a nut brown than a true dark beer along the lines of Fuller’s London Porter. Given that London Porter might be my all time favourite and the one I’d pick if I could only drink one for the rest of eternity, the porter at Ukee Brewing had no chance. The St. Aiden’s Porter was Mrs PC’s favourite, just ahead of the South Swell IPA for her. I fancy that a pint of the Seventh Day Kolsch will be very enjoyable after a warm and sunny day of hiking/paddling, particularly if you’ve snagged an outdoor seat overlooking the bay.

Obviously, to make sure our recollections are clear and correct, we’ll have to go back at least once (!) more, to be absolutely certain this report is accurate. There’s so much fake news out there these days, it’s important I get the facts right. Discipline and dedication. Thanks for your concern I might be putting too much time into the research, but surely someone has to win a Pulitzer for beer reporting?

A flight of fancy…beer

Cheers all, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Cheers!

Inner City Heights

Let’s try a different song. Words, but not music, by an OldPlaidCamper.

I’ve been crossstown, downtown, and uptown onto the heights here in the city the last week or two.

An early morning downtown walk – the quietest time of day

It’s a different soundscape and landscape to what we’ve grown used to out on the coast. The sirens! Not the sort trying to lure me onto rocks with their enchanting song. Nope, these are the blaring city sirens, and it isn’t a tune I much enjoy. Previously, I wouldn’t have taken much notice of the noise, sirens being a part of the sonic background along with clanking transit trains, bottles being tipped into dumpsters, and the buzz from cars on Memorial a couple of blocks away. I sure have noticed the noises for this stay in the city, and it’s caused me to wear headphones and listen to music when enjoying my morning coffee on our little balcony.

I think I’m ready for a return to Ucluelet! By the time this is published, I should have arrived back on the west coast, and I’ll be complaining about all the quiet keeping me awake…

Mrs PC loves a cappuccino in the heights

Back in Calgary, one favourite place for good coffee is in an Italian market near Crescent Heights. Oh my strange little brain. Being in the heights had me warbling Wuthering Heights – probably my favourite Kate Bush tune. Don’t worry, the warbling was in my head. And I didn’t try the dancing. But I did play the tune quite a bit back on the Calgary deck. Once I’m reminded of a song, I’ll play it to death until my butterfly mind alights on another.

Very little crosstown traffic here – but I scurried across anyway

I was heading across town the other morning, striding along purposefully, and waiting my turn at the crosswalks. The tune in my head? Crosstown Traffic as performed by Jimi Hendrix. Pretty sure he wasn’t singing about walking in traffic, but my mind goes where my mind goes. Yup, onto the morning coffee playlist it went. Bye bye, Kate.

It can be challenging being in the city, as a whiny post I wrote a couple of weeks ago suggested. All those obstacles. Yes, there’s a song for that (in PlaidCamper world) and this one was Obstacle 1 by Interpol. I love their first album, Turn on the Bright Lights, mostly because it sounds like so many other performers I like – Talking Heads, The Smiths, New Order, and various other gloomy-sounding-but-really-quite-jolly musicians.

An easily negotiated Inner City obstacle!

I think it’s time to turn the sound down. Thanks for reading, and I wish you a wonderful and quiet weekend, hopefully listening to whatever is the best soundtrack for you!

On hold…

…as we wait for an internet connection. Your call is important to us. Really.

We’ve just got back to Calgary, and you know how it is in the big city compared to living in more isolated locations. Yes, big city life and all the conveniences, like reliable internet, functioning remotes to parkade doors, no lineups in supermarkets due to a high level of staffing, and happy, happy people. (Apparently, I’ve forgotten how to drive, at least that’s what fellow urban road users appear to think. Maybe that chap in the shiny red pickup was waving a fond hello?) All invisible modern problems, but my goodness, being back in the city might have raised my resting heart rate just a touch.

I’m missing this

As I’m in cheerful rant mode, I’ll continue. I’m writing this on my phone out and about, and since the paragraph above took about 3 hours, and I can barely read the screen, this will have to be brief. Please excuse any typos, but no need to excuse the incoherence – it’s all good, and I’m quite enjoying myself.

Yup, been chasing my tail, but I do believe my call is important, and being on hold is so much fun, and, and

Hopefully, the photos I’ve included are reasonable – again, it’s hard to see when viewing on the small screen, at least for my tired old eyes. Plus, I’m on high alert due to being in an urban setting full of fashionable young people, and I’m sure they’re all looking at me, wondering what he’s doing, sitting in the corner and muttering at his phone. Have I mentioned my inner city induced paranoia? (Calm down, PlaidCamper, you’re in Calgary, not exactly high on any list of no go areas!)

“Yeah man, totally calm down…”

I’m going to have to stop now, this is too exhausting and I might have outstayed my welcome in this cafe – how long can one cup of coffee last before having to order another? I will quickly mention we enjoyed our road trip from Ucluelet to Calgary, and it was very pleasant to be driving through big mountain spaces. We’re planning a weekend in Canmore soon, a favourite mountain town, so I will write about that in the near future, once a sense of calm and the internet at home have been restored. Might need to decaffeinate as well…

This looks promising! Should be open just after we get back – might be needing a West Coast pale ale by then!

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

PS Hoping this gets posted on Friday morning as usual, and very much hoping we’re online somewhere over the weekend, and I can get caught up on all your posts I’ve not seen the past few days.

The back nine?

Wandering around St. Andrews last week, in the middle of visiting friends and family in varying degrees of good health, it occurred to me I’m pretty much on the back nine.

Castle

That’s a sobering thought, and enough to send you in search of the nearest microbrewery, but for once I managed to resist. St. Andrews Brewery, rest assured I’ll visit next time. Instead, I spent quite a number of happy hours walking in the rain, all around the edge of the Old Course, along the Eden Estuary, past the castle, the cathedral, the university buildings, and down to the pier.

University

I have to say, even in the rain, I found St. Andrews to be a pretty and genteel little town. I’ve no idea if it is full of golf snobs in the bars and clubhouses – I didn’t bother going in – but everyone I met and chatted to was very pleasant indeed. They had time to stop and share a few words with a damp and bedraggled tourist, which was nice.

Swilken Bridge

It’s been many years since I’ve tried to swing a golf club with real conviction, but I’ll admit to being absolutely thrilled seeing the bridge over Swilken Burn at St. Andrews. The course looks easier and smaller than it comes across on television. Many a fine golfer has been undone on this famous course, and long before reaching the 18th.

I saw excellent golf shots played as I mooched about, and I also saw many poor shots – shots I’d have been proud of. Maybe I should dust off the golf clubs and bring them with me next time? I’m on the back nine, perhaps I need to (re)take up a more sedate pastime?

From the pier

Best not – as I recall, my ability to remain calm under (golf) pressure wasn’t ever (ever, ever) a strong suit. Sport and comedy will have to remain the poorer for my early golf retirement. I’d rather be out not spoiling a good walk, and enjoy smelling the flowers. Almost every day when we’re out and about, Scout reminds me of that and I’d be wise to listen.

Smell the flowers

Being on the back nine isn’t so bad, if you can convince yourself you’re wiser for being older and that having hair on top of your head is overrated. We’re all headed for the nineteenth, might as well enjoy it, water hazards, sand traps and all, before getting there…

Close to the end!

Thanks for reading, and wherever you are on the course, I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

“Smell the flowers!”
Scout and friend doing the right thing

Songs from Northern Britain

With thanks to Teenage Fanclub for the post title. Never heard of Teenage Fanclub?! No? Try this: Ain’t That Enough?

I’ve been driving about northern Britain for the past week, windows down and enjoying almost sunshine and one or two rain showers. Then the windows go back up. They’re also back up whenever I start to sing, seems only fair to the people living here.

St. Andrews Castle

I never lived in northern Britain, but visited often over the years. I felt a little nostalgic for a place I don’t know that well, but I think it was more the music I’d chosen. My driving playlists had a northern leaning, and they made for better listening than the ongoing Brexit/Bloody Boris Johnson stupidity dominating the airwaves. Grrr.

Where was I? Teenage Fanclub, excellent listening for the past three plus decades, and very appropriate for the Scottish leg of the trip. I remember an album review from over ten years ago that described them as “wizened” even then – they were younger than my age now! So this wizened listener enjoyed hearing the old songs, particularly from the Songs From Northern Britain album. “Here is a sunrise, ain’t that enough?” Well, yes, sometimes. The last three tracks on that album are even better than the opening three. Cue beer fuelled debate with sibling.

The pale ale was better, unless you asked my brother…

When I drove away from St. Andrews in the Kingdom of Fife earlier this week, having caught up with Junior McPlaidCamper, the weather was a touch misty – or I may have had something in my eye. Whatever the cause, I’m pretty sure I passed a sign for Angle Park. Let the memories from distant youth flood back. Angle Park? The bonus track on The Crossing by Big Country? Big Country! I was in a big country alright, with high hills and low mountains accompanying me through the Kingdom of Fife. What pleasant surroundings to find yourself in. The North Fife coastal path will call me back for further exploration. Never heard of Big Country?! Try this: Big Country – The Seer

Sunny St. Andrews

Junior is happy enough in St. Andrews, working hard in several of the hotel kitchens, and producing good food mostly made from local ingredients. We visited the store that provides ice cream to the hotel, and if you’re ever up there, can I recommend the pistachio? And the rum and raisin? And the mint choc chip? And the salted caramel? And pants with an elastic waistband? Yup, that’s how some of the evening went.

I get a brain freeze just looking

Before St. Andrews, I stayed a few days with younger Brother PlaidCamper, allegedly to help him out a bit as he recovers from a hospital stay. Mostly we sat in his sunny backyard, talking nonsense about books, movies, and music, and drinking a beer or two. Then more nonsense. He’s on the mend, and probably not because of my medical bedside manner…

Didn’t see a purple moose on this trip. Next time?

My final stop on the northern Britain tour was in North Wales, and an overnight with Pa PlaidCamper. He’s also on good form, pretending to be annoyed with Blue, his constant canine companion. They’ve sold the farm, and will be moving to a small hillside cottage located a few minutes away in the same valley. We drove past it yesterday, and it is in a beautiful location with spectacular views in every direction. If you can imagine steep green hillsides dotted with sheep and stands of trees all about, then that’s where they’ll be. Green and pleasant is an understatement.

Blue!
Green! And pleasant.

Thanks for tuning in this week, and so to a final rousing song – if you know the words, feel free to sing along (I’ll roll the windows up): In a Big Country

There will be more about St. Andrews – and far less music, I promise – next week. Have a wonderful weekend!

Some Dad stuff

With a tip of the hat to this coming Sunday, let’s say the photographs and some content this week is slightly Dad biased. That said, you don’t have to be a Dad to enjoy old trucks and good beer. My Dad does enjoy old Land Rovers and Range Rovers, and he will drink a beer if there’s nothing else, but he’s more partial to a full bodied Rioja.

Full bodied

Before we moved away from the UK, each summer my Dad, brother and I would meet up for a few days and play three rounds of golf. That’s not quite true. My Dad would play golf – he’s a very good golfer, toyed with the idea of turning pro – and my brother and I would go for a long walk trying to find our errant golf balls. My Dad was referee/coach/guidance counsellor/man mercilessly taking the piss out of our monumental sporting struggle. My brother and I were playing to win a penny. It’s true! We even called it the penny trophy! (I’m not the current holder…) My Dad had tremendous patience in the face of our (mostly my) inability to remotely master the game, and if you could have seen how bad we were (I was), his restraint has to be admired. We’d enjoy a glass or two of something good after each round, recounting the highlights and lowlights, and I do miss those fun summer meetings, even if I was often a miserable so and so on the course. I know, that’s hard to believe!

Summer 2019 release – cheers!

Anyway, cheers to my Dad, and to Dads, and cheers to everybody, because it’s fun to raise a glass if you’re so inclined, and I will for almost any reason, but maybe not on a school night.

School nights? Not too many of those between now and the end of the academic year! Lots to keep us busy between now and then. I was at a celebration of Nuu-Chah-Nulth learning earlier this week, one where some beautiful murals were unveiled and blessed at a high school. A collaboration between local indigenous artists and high school students, the three paintings were stunning depictions of local history, nature and culture. To see so many people of all stripes come out and celebrate, enjoying the artwork, singing, drumming and dancing was wonderful to see. The accompanying feast was also a highlight, with multi-generations present.

On the way home, I saw this green truck parked up, and I had to stop and take a picture. They do look good in green, don’t they? It probably isn’t what’s meant by going green. Old man dreams?

Going green?

At a cafe the other day, Mrs. PC spotted a weighty tome she thought I’d like to look at. It was a picture book – she knows me so well – with great photographs of pick up trucks past and present. Perhaps her thinking is if I look at the pictures, that’ll be more than enough to be going on with, no need to actually buy an old wrecker. Good strategy, bound to work, and anyway, the real thing is too expensive to maintain. Far better to buy a cup of coffee at that cafe every now and then, and look at the book.

Low maintenance? I think so!

The following day, we were leaving the grocery store when I spotted this old pink-wheeled delight. Imagine being the proud owner of a truck like this. I bet it doesn’t need that much maintenance. After all, it’s been going this long, it’s bound to have many years left in it. Way more fun than looking at a book. Probably even has cup holders?

I’ll leave it here for now, as I’ve got to head over the bay, put some hours in on the forthcoming education celebration we’ll be enjoying next week. You’ll be interested to know I always slow down when I’m passing this beige beauty:

A beige beauty? Perhaps not

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Wolf Willow

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!

A different cabin

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.

Tough country

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.”

No need to hurry

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.

A welcome thaw

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…

Captivating country, and never characterless

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…)

A good read (Image from Goodread.com)

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…