That’s what I’m looking for! It’ll match my sunny disposition. A rather short post this week due to attending the Canmore Beer Festival. Rest assured, I did my very best to research the current state of craft beer in Western Canada. I’m happy to report it is in great shape, unlike me the following day. We didn’t quite get around to a planned hike. Maybe this coming weekend? Right, back to the sunny side.
We live in the Calgary neighbourhood of Sunnyside, and this spring it hasn’t been all that sunny – so far. As I write this, I can hear the cars below splashing through deep puddles left after all the rain today. The Rainyside. Spring rain is a good thing, but not when the temperatures barely climb above freezing. The Shiveryside…
Yes, Old PlaidCamper is complaining about spring going missing. The students I teach like to say I live on the Grumpyside. They might have a point.
Determined to prove myself wrong (and needing to blow away a few “cobwebs” gathered at the Canmore Beer Festival the previous day) I took a gentle walk through our neighbourhood. Armed with my camera phone and a slight headache, I was intent on finding spring.
Blossom and old trucks made for a pretty good haul. So the pavements were wet, and skies were grey, but on the whole, I think spring is here.
The two old trucks cheered me up, although when a truck manufactured after you were born is deemed old, it can get you down. Oh dear, I really have to work harder at getting back my sunny disposition. After all, I do live on the Sunnyside.
Good news for a grumpy PlaidCamper – the long range forecast is promising brighter days! Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a warm and sunny weekend!
Another post connected to our recent Vancouver trip – the last in a short and unplanned series! A piece including vague thoughts and mumblings about urban environments, as well as photographs showing Vancouver is quite lovely if you have to spend time in a city.
The outdoor education conference and time we spent in Vancouver has really got me thinking about cities and the natural world. More and more humans will be living in urban centres, and the trend towards huge cities with fast paced population growth is set for the next 50-100 years according to speakers at the conference.
This leaves me in two (or more) minds. If most humans live in cities, does this mean the spaces in between will be left alone? Probably not. Will mass exits on weekends, high days and holidays be the norm? Vast roads cutting into “wilderness” areas, creating problems of crowding and spoiling the character of these wild places? (I admit I’m exactly one of those city dwellers heading out whenever possible to play in the big outdoors…) Or will people stay inside the city, leaving large expanses outside to be farmed organically and ethically, with other areas left to develop as wild spaces? So many questions…
Clearly, I should stick to teaching and let others be futurologists. I have woolly (but friendly) notions about how our planet could be a greener place, and how we could manage the apparent conflict and contradictions between urban needs and a healthy, vibrant environment in and out of cities.
I daydream about a future where citizens love their city, they frequent large natural spaces in the city, and make visits – long and short – into the surrounding countryside and wilderness. They meet the food producers growing and rearing wonderful produce. They hike and camp (leaving no trace, always showing consideration for flora, fauna, and fellow campers/hikers…) and paddle and fish, and paint and photograph and play and then I stop daydreaming because all I want to do is head out there when I’ve a mountain of paperwork to do, report cards to write, and data to produce to prove students might be learning things I’m teaching. Phew, run on sentence. Easy there, old boy. How early can an early retirement be? That’s another daydream. I’m often amazed I get much of anything done at all.
Focus, PlaidCamper, focus. Cities shouldn’t be ugly or difficult places to live in. Housing, transportation, education, recreation and healthcare should be available and affordable. Vancouver, like other cities, scores well in some, but not all, of these measures. Like other perceived as desirable cities, it is an expensive yet beautiful location. The beauty and economic opportunity draws people to the city, and this in turn increases pressure on services and raises prices. What is the solution? Can we reverse the inflow to cities? What will it mean if more people elect to live and work outside cities? Can we find positive and better than sustainable ways to dwell in wilder areas? Do people wish to live away from cities? Will I stop typing questions?
As I said at the start, these are a few of the thoughts (or daydreams) and questions that have been bouncing around in my head the past week or so. Pleasant environments nurture and encourage pleasant citizens. Care about the local, and you’ll treasure the global, city dweller or not. Oh, woolly old me…
Thanks for reading, feel free to chip in with a thought or two, and have a wonderful weekend!
Pacific Great Blue Herons! I enjoyed writing the title for this post so much I had to write it again. Padding for a short post…
I don’t know too much about birds in general, but find myself increasingly hooked by all the feathered wonders to be found. A couple of weeks ago, our guide in Stanley Park asked if we’d like to see the heron colony? Well, yes! There’s something rather solemn and stately about the way a heron walks – or stalks – and a thrill when they spear and strike.
Our guide took us to a wooded area near the headquarters building of Vancouver Parks. Compared to other parts of the park, it was positively urban, with a road cutting through and condo buildings and tennis courts nearby. Up in the trees were many many nests, and sitting in the nests were many many herons. I always think it’s a jackpot seeing a single heron, so to have dozens nesting and coming and going in one area was an absolute delight.
I snapped a few photographs from underneath, and have shared the best I managed on here today, but the real treat is the following link:
Go on, you’ll love it! Be sure you have plenty of time and a good cup of coffee. I’m not suggesting you spend hours in front of this, but you might find it hard to tear yourself away. Can you see the eggs? I haven’t spotted the chicks yet, but soon…Reality television!
Pacific Great Blue Herons! Aren’t they beautiful? The herons seem perfectly at home and well used to their city accommodations. I like to see this example of urban and natural coexistence, it makes me hopeful.
Above the fray – if only in my imagination – the herons have kept me sane in what has been a challenging week or two. I keep checking in – can’t help it – and find there’s distraction, excitement and calm being up in those trees. I never thought I’d be a daytime TV person…
The rant comes at the end. It’s not much of a rant, but it is a bit incoherent, so there’s that. Enjoy it if you get down to that part.
We’ve been looking for signs of spring this side of the Rockies. So far, not too much success. There are one or two hints of green beginning to appear on trees and shrubs, a teasing glimpse of what’s to happen (soon, please!)
My morning walk to work on Monday was through sleety rain, and that wasn’t much fun. It was more fun than the Tuesday morning walk through wet snow. Snow that fell on and off throughout the day. It settled for a few hours, but I guess solace could be found in that it mostly melted away by early evening. That thaw, the suggestion of green, and a rising river level is about it for spring to date. Yes, the daytime temperatures are above freezing, but not significantly so.
What’s with the complaining PlaidCamper? Don’t you like winter? Yes, but not when May is here on Monday, and not after our recent west coast trips – we were (are?) spoiled by those warmer, sometimes wetter, but oh so colourful and verdant days…
A few days in Vancouver last week, at a conference and “working” hard on the coast. The theme was nature and outdoor education. I had to smile at us all shut in a windowless, air conditioned hotel events room, earnestly discussing the importance of being outdoors in green spaces, and the benefits of connecting to nature. To be fair, many of the sessions were outside and hands on. Just as well, because they weren’t likely to contain all those tree huggers in a large room with Stanley Park only a short walk away.
After a morning of fine speeches, impassioned presentations, and information overload, we went on a guided walk through Stanley Park, looking for trees to hug.
Vancouver has a lovely setting, on the water, and surrounded by forests and coastal mountains. Stanley Park is an urban jewel, with pockets that feel wild in between more traditional city park patches. Our guide pointed out many restoration projects centred on the Lost Lagoon, and the balance park officials are trying to achieve between urban dwellers and wild animal inhabitants. Not an easy task, particularly because there’s no overall consensus as to what restoration really means. Restored to pre-nineteenth century habitat? Or even earlier, to before European contact? And how to restore a wilderness that is never in stasis anyway…
It was a wonderful walk, and an example of how a city can aim to be a greener and more pleasant place through thoughtful planning – even if there are no simple solutions. Given that humans are more likely than ever to find themselves living in cities (regardless of whether that is a first choice for many of us) it seems sensible to expect nature to be included as an essential part of urban planning.
Common sense suggests that we are happier in pleasing and greener environments, and research presented at the conference supported the idea that children (and everyone else?) are more successful in their learning and in themselves when they have ready access to green spaces for play and learning. Simple enough – pleasant environments promote positive physical and mental health. Have we really forgotten that so easily and in a few generations? Are new roads, malls and parking lots more important than play spaces and green places for city dwellers? Dollars before deeper contentment? What’s the real and necessary investment here?
Oh, those recent announcements – regarding the future status of protected wilderness spaces south of the border – have me wondering if (so called) leaders can honestly say they care about or are planning for the longer term health of the planet, or the health of future citizens. I don’t know, is extract, extract, extract, and burn, burn, burn, really the best path forward? Can we talk about a healthy society and a vibrant economy when the air is unbreathable and water is undrinkable? Should we drink the bad water through a straw made from dollar bills and call ourselves wealthy and wise?
I think I’d best stop now, take a deep breath (while we still can) and wish you all a wonderful weekend! I’ll be out looking for signs of spring and calming myself down. I know, it wasn’t much of a rant, but I feel better for it…
…to two cities. Nothing Dickensian, though. Our trip to San Francisco a few weeks ago was a delight for many reasons. A particular joy was the chance to experience spring a good month earlier than it arrives up here in Alberta. In fact, it feels like we’ve had two springs, or at least an extended new growth season. San Francisco, combined with our recent prairie and foothills jaunts, has us bursting with energy and optimism.
Along the river, over the hills, in the ground, in the sky, spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm, new life, new beauty, unfolding, unrolling in glorious exuberant extravagance, new birds in their nests, new winged creatures in the air, and new leaves, new flowers, spreading, shining, rejoicing everywhere.
From John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra, and it seems to me Muir expressed the vitality of spring better than most! Oh yes, how lucky we were to experience this season in two places.
The late March warmth in California was wonderful. To be able to stroll (clamber and climb?) through the SF city neighbourhoods bathed in bright sunshine, to bask in the light and inhale the early flowers, blossoms and fresh green on the trees was enough to tempt one to think “Oh, we could live here…” Who wouldn’t give it at least a little thought, even if only as a passing fancy? It’s part of the fun in travel and exploring less familiar places.
The old buildings are quite distinctive in many of the longer established areas up on the hills. The look and feel is very particular, and far removed from the relative modernity of Calgary. There are smallish pockets of early twentieth architecture to be found in Calgary, mostly charming saltbox bungalows, but nothing like the tall buildings we saw in SF. San Francisco and Calgary are young, both in terms of average age of population, and compared to the old, long established European cities familiar to us from our previous travels and time before moving west. Great though the grand European cities are, I enjoy the energy to be found in each of these younger cities, especially in springtime!
Well, we couldn’t live in San Francisco, mainly for financial reasons, the time and distance to the nearest ski hills, and the fact that my little old legs might wear out with the urban hiking. However, being a visitor allows for enchantment and imaginings, the fun of pondering the possibilities and enjoying a different city through the eyes of an outsider. It’s harder to take somewhere for granted when you visit infrequently, and fond memories are renewed, and new ones made each time.
A San Francisco spring is quite beautiful, especially if you’ve come from the semi arid Canadian foothills, where you know the arrival of spring on the calendar is one thing, and the actual arrival something much later! That said, winter was short this year, and temperatures in southern Alberta oddly mild, with many high teen and even mid 20s centigrade values recorded from February onwards. This has given us an earlyish spring bloom in Calgary (and farming fears for the coming months, but maybe this is the new normal) with leaves, blossoms, birds and bugs springing forth with great vigour. Perhaps the right rains will come, this summer won’t be the hottest on record, and we will all enjoy seasons behaving like seasons? Spring, our two springs this year, can only have us hoping…
Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and have a great weekend! (The close up Calgary blossom pictures were taken with my phone on my walk home from work earlier this week – if you live in Calgary, and were concerned about a plaid clad gentleman stopping and not so surreptitiously taking photos of your trees, apologies, it was me, and I felt too foolish to knock and ask for permission…)
…enough to make an urban hiker happy in a big city!
First off, I have to make a full and frank confession, and a big thank you. We didn’t actually walk to all of the places photographed in this post. One day we were lucky enough to be given a car tour around the various neighbourhoods of San Francisco, with an emphasis on looking in from the edges. A huge thank you to Jet Eliot for this wonderful overview of a fascinating city – a memorable day out!
I have to say, I think you could live for years in SF and never get to grips with all the stories and possibilities it has to offer. It is a mass – and mess – of contradictions, in the best possible way. I’ve been struggling with figuring out how to convey our visit in a short blog post and, to be honest, concluded that I can’t. It’ll have to be several parts posted intermittently over the next while or so, but not week on week. So bear with me (if you’re still here!) and my next confession is that I’ve decided to pretty much use the unedited notes I jotted down there each evening – I do promise I spellchecked most of it. If it is a little incoherent or disconnected, never mind, let’s say that might also be true of parts of SF…
All this talk of confessions, promises, and being honest, why, it’s like I’m wishing I could write a hardboiled detective mystery. Well now, we didn’t know before arrival, but it turned out we were staying in the same apartment building Dashiell Hammett lived in for a while.
Once I found this out, I immediately got hold of a copy of The Maltese Falcon, and it was quite the thrill to be reading and recognizing some of the place names in the book, to be treading those same mean streets, let me tell ya, sister. (Hmm, best leave it to writers of detective fiction…)
The streets of San Francisco (really, PlaidCamper?) can be tough, like many big cities. Our exchange with a cab driver upon arrival:
Me: Hi there! (Ooh, the air is warm!) San Loretto Apartments, Nob Hill please.
Jamal: That’s near the Tenderloin! Do you know the Tenderloin? Don’t go to the Tenderloin after dark. There are prostitutes, drug dealers, and other criminals. It’s not Canada!
Me: How close is our apartment to the Tenderloin?
Jamal: Not far! Don’t go down the hill towards the Tenderloin. It’s not Canada. I like driving. I once drove to Toronto to visit my sister and her baby. Took me two weeks, there and back, with three days in Toronto. Stay away from the Tenderloin. I deliver cars. I like driving. California, Utah, Wyoming and Montana. Delivered from Africa. This is the Tenderloin! I won’t stop, don’t worry. Maybe you could visit here in the day, but not after dark. See the people?”
Not wishing to taint Jamal’s vision of Canada as a crime-free northern Utopia, we agreed the Tenderloin wasn’t like Canada. Anyway, as Jamal slowed down but didn’t stop, we did see the people, and they might have been up to less than good. We didn’t visit later, not even during the day, not even out of curiosity. Perhaps another time. For a detailed description of the Tenderloin, you could read chapter two of Gary Kamiya’s Cool Gray City of Love. Actually, read all of it, it’s a splendid book, and that chapter makes for a wonderful introduction to the colourful history of the Tenderloin. As Kamiya puts it a “radioactive core of junkies, drunks, transvestites, dealers, thugs, madmen, hustlers, derelicts, prostitutes, and lowlifes”…so, not all bad then.
Each evening after dark, I did enjoy sitting at a small corner table in our rented apartment, wedged in between two windows, taking notes as the sounds of a different city drifted up. We live in a big – for Canada – city, close to the downtown, with an evening soundtrack of sirens, trams, and big city noises. It was the same but different in SF. The apartment block is on an intersection between Sacramento and Leavenworth, so reasonably busy. The sirens were more frequent, the clanking cable cars almost musical, the streets more populated later into the night, and the air warmer, with pedestrians strolling less hurriedly than the brisk, let’s-fight-the-chill-air speed walk we have in Calgary. It was fun to hear the bursts of laughter, and snatches of conversation as passersby came and went.
I’ll leave it here for now. As I said near the start, this is the first of a somewhat jumbled series of posts about SF. It’s a beguiling city, and the fun here is in writing and attempting to make some sense of it. More to follow later…
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to make a comment or share a San Francisco story or book recommendation!
Keeping it brief this time, but (I’m like a student trying to convince a teacher) I have a good excuse. School is out for a week, so we took a trip. By the time this is posted, we’ll be heading back to Calgary after a brief urban aside to – guess where?!
Very excited to return to San Francisco for a few days. We will be topping it the nob in Nob Hill and surrounding neighbourhoods. SF is such a fun city to explore, so we’ll need lots of energy!
The plan is to walk lots, eat lots, drink lots (of coffee!) and maybe see if there is a new beer or two to sample…
If you’ve been fortunate enough to visit SF, then you’ll know that fuelling and refuelling is important when you aim to walk lots there. Those hills! Obviously, this completely justifies the extra coffee and cake.
Anyway, brief, as promised, and I’ll share more about this trip after we get back. I promise (sort of) that it won’t be more photographs and descriptions of coffee and cake. I hope you’ve had a pleasant week, thanks for reading, and have a great long weekend!
…on the Bow. Changed the words a bit, but the tune still fits, at least in my head each time I use the Peace Bridge to cross the Bow River. Sing along if you’d like.
We’ve been in the city the past week or so, heading back to work and getting knee-deep into report card season. If you teach, that’s a season. Our outdoor time since the turn of the year has mostly been along the banks or up on the bluffs of the Bow here in Calgary, upstream and downstream.
The weather has been mostly fine and bright, if a little cool for some. My brother visited for a few days, just before these photographs were taken, leaving balmy DC (+22C) for chilly Calgary and Louise (-25C), and it’s probably best if I don’t repeat what he said. No idea what he was on about, because after all, it’s a dry cold…
The banks of the Bow provide quite delightful views, so much so that even though you are in the heart of a large city, it doesn’t feel too urban. On a sunny day, even the towers of oil and gas central can look attractive.
Our little neighbourhood of Sunnyside – love that name – borders the Bow, and there are a number of bridges to choose from within walking distance. My personal favourite is the bright red Peace Bridge.
At school, when we are studying city infrastructure, or on Downtown field trips, the students say I’d like the Peace Bridge less if I’d been here to pay for the construction. According to some of their parents, the bridge was/is a costly eyesore. My response is to endear myself to parents by asking the students to list the Peace Bridge benefits, then draw, photograph and make up alternate (polite) names for the bridge. Amongst others, they’ve suggested Snake Bridge, Stampede Bridge, Dino Bridge, Spine Bridge, Tube Bridge, and, yup, you guessed it, Red Bridge.
I like Peace Bridge as a name – pretty hard to argue with that (unless you don’t like peace, the design, or paying for it, but “Tax Burden Like a River” doesn’t quite fit the tune or make sense…)
Anyway, here was a little something about our urban outdoors. Now, it being report card season, I’ll stop this and get back to awarding high marks and positive comments to any student claiming to like the Peace Bridge.
Thanks for taking the time to read. Perhaps you have a favourite song to sing when crossing favourite rivers on favourite bridges? Perhaps that is a strange thing to ask? As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.