Montana Evening Sky

A brief post this time (thank you, PlaidCamper) following up on those Montana sunsets painted by Charles Russell I mentioned a couple of weeks back.

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One night, there was a storm – very dramatic!

Did I manage to capture a sunset like Charlie? Nope! Not even close, but I sure had fun trying…

We were staying at Little Bear cabin, an old ranger station situated high above Bozeman in the Gallatin Forest. A beautiful location with panoramic views in every direction. I’ll write more about the cabin another time. I know, you can’t wait…

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The views are lovely – you can see a few lights way down in the valley

In almost all the photographs I use in this blog, the only changes I make to the original is an occasional crop (if only you could see the leftovers…oh dear), but I have to be honest and say all the photos in this post have been tweaked and edited. I’ve no idea what I did, but it was entertaining changing the various settings to see what happened. All of which makes me even more appreciative of Charlie Russell’s skills as a painter.

Imagine being skilled enough to paint an evening sky
Imagine being skilled enough to paint an evening sky

As well as the artistic skills, my guess would be you’d have to have one eye open and on the lookout for larger wildlife. There are grizzlies in the area, and we always felt happy to be in the cabin rather than camping.

The big sky was so grand...too large to capture effectively!
The big sky was so grand…too large to capture effectively!

We had a wonderful time sky watching up on the mountain! Time to think, get a sense of perspective, and admire the grandeur of Montana from a mountain top. I’ll leave you with a couple more photos taken from up there:

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

Route 89 and 89A – north from Flagstaff, AZ to somewhere in Utah

Other than an ocean view, this route pretty much has it all. Mountains, hills, forests, rivers, grasslands, deserts, canyons, plateaus, cliffs, and all in a few hours of driving time. If we’d stopped as often as we wanted to, why we might still be on 89 now. Let’s view it as a swift reconnaissance for future visits…this is a timeless place, and it’ll wait for our return. Here are a few grainy photographs (taken on the move and through a bug splattered windshield) and a few impressions here.

 

It has it all!

 

With all the variety, the weather was changeable – although mostly variations on hot. No complaints though; it’ll be a long winter soon enough above the 49th. The day we travelled, it was pleasantly cool in the early Arizona morning, warmed up across Navajo lands, got rather warm in the open desert, cooled off again on the high plateau, rained on us during and just after our descent, then the heat increased all the way on from there.

 

Blue skies, red cliffs

 

This road is such a colourful route! Sandstone hoodoos and clay soil, cliffs of pink and red strata, coral sands, dark green ponderosa forests, golden hay bales in enormous straw fields, and sluggish muddy rivers at the bottom of deep canyons. The vast skies also played their part in the colour palette. A huge reach from light to deep blue, high trailing wisps of cloud in the upper atmosphere, billowing white puffs gathering over the heights, and ominous heavy greys and hazy purples rushing in from and blotting out distant horizons.

Ominous…

 

Every now and then a few drops would spatter the windshield and you’d look about and up into the blue, wondering where the offending cloud might be. Other times you could see the veils of rain sweeping towards you, almost in touching distance, yet not a drop through the window. There was one mighty downpour that reduced visibility and speed for about five minutes, then bright sunshine soon after. What a joy to be traveling through high country where you can see weather coming – and going.

 

Wonderful setting

 

We had plans, so we couldn’t stop this time and see it all. I had to wrestle with that. Here’s what it sounded like in my head:

Ponderosas! Like them, they’re big.

Mmm, sagebrush.

I wonder what it’s like to be a cliff dweller?

Vermilion. Vermilion. A bit red.

That’s a long way down.

Roadside stalls selling Navajo rugs and jewelry (whisper that to Mrs PlaidCamper – but don’t wake her. Phew, close one!)

Do we have time for Bryce Canyon today? Don’t be silly. Next time.

Is the North Rim higher than the South?

Oh no, we’re in Utah on Sunday – can I get coffee?

Crap! It’s the  I-15 already! Left to Vegas, right to Salt Lake City. There has to be a better way.

No wonder Mrs PlaidCamper has her travel naps…

 

Fresh!

 

Ponderosa pine at 8000 feet smells like, well, ponderosa pine at 8000 feet. Exceptionally good! Deeply refreshing, clean, and as far from those old car air fresheners as can be. Roll down your windows! Sagebrush after the rain is real aromatherapy, and no New Age music, kaftans or essential price tags. The only cost is your time, with a willingness to take the long way round. (I know, gas is expensive, and cars are bad, but don’t be a curmudgeon – I can rain guilt on my own parade later).

It wasn’t open anyway…

 

So if you happen to find yourself in Flagstaff early one morning in summer, and you simply must go for a spin in your lovingly (but not overly) restored vintage pickup, head north on 89, then take 89A towards Vermilion Cliffs. Cross the desert and climb up the winding road to the Kaibab plateau. Carry on into Utah and you could stop off at Bryce Canyon. You won’t be disappointed, and you won’t have enough time to do it all in only a day. But that’s alright; do what we intend to do and make plans for a longer future stay! It’s not going anywhere, and this is a timeless place.

 

Find the time…

 

Who can resist the open road? Have you traveled on 89 and 89A up from Flagstaff? As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

 

Just add an old pickup truck – maybe one day

Alberta and Montana – the Ian Tyson way

We’ve been on the road, heading down through Alberta, then into Montana and eventually beyond, but there’s no hurry. What a pleasant way to spend a couple of days. Empty roads, empty heads, big skies, huge views and Ian Tyson as the soundtrack, with solid support from Paul Brandt. Those boys sure are capable of setting it down in a song when it comes to Alberta and Montana. Take your time…

Highway 2 from Calgary through Lethbridge, and then on to the U.S./Canadian border at Coutts/Sweetgrass is pretty scenic for a fast road. Almost all the way down you have the Rockies on your right, and it takes real willpower for me not to turn west, take a route into the mountains or at least over to the Cowboy Trail, and run parallel to Kananaskis Country and some fine rolling hills. I resisted the temptation, happy in the knowledge we’ll head home that way on the return journey.

Stopping for gas or a cup of coffee is a little like time travel, perhaps to an era grandparents would recognize, but some are still lucky to enjoy. It’s all “yes sir, and thank you ma’am”, to steal a phrase from Paul Brandt. Oh, I know there are real issues and problems with living in small towns and rural communities, but who can begrudge some  hopeful/wishful thinking when you’re on the road, the sun is shining, and you’re welcomed by smiling faces and no guile?

Small towns have their problems…

It isn’t all sunshine and scenery – if you’ve ever crossed at Coutts/Sweetgrass, you know that a first timer there might be forgiven for asking “Why is it called Montana? Where are the mountains?!” Squint hard in the haze and there are a few hills, but in truth, the landscape the road follows is a little desolate, somewhat scorched and wind blown in summer – there are prettier road crossings into Montana – but stick with the interstate (I-15) and by the time Great Falls approaches, it’ll all seem, well, more Montana-like.  More like Montana!

The Lewis and Clark expedition did not enjoy the heat and mosquitoes they experienced along the Missouri in Montana. We stopped and admired the view and the fortitude of the expedition members over two hundred years ago. There wasn’t a proper road between Great Falls and Helena until the 1930s, and today we can zoom through in comfort – so, heat and all, it is no hardship to stop every now and then to snap a picture or two.

Hills and mountains

After Great Falls, I love the I-15, the way the route rises and falls, curves and straightens through gentle hills, rugged mountains, rolling open range, and almost always shadowing rivers. What a wonderful landscape! Sometimes, evidence of human intervention in areas of natural beauty is irritating, yet I can’t help but admire Western trappings across this part of Montana, and wonder at how human endeavour shapes the land. I enjoy the wires strung along telegraph poles, the nodding donkeys of oil pumps, even the variety of fencing employed to keep livestock in or out. I always stare at the giant, insect-like watering contraptions that trundle steadily across arable land, sprinkling precious droplets to maintain growth. These machines remind me of the Wright brothers or Louis Bleriot – spindly yet almost early aeronautical in their design, just missing wings – which is a strange notion given their grounded and slow purpose. 

A lengthy watering contraption (and artfully-framed window photo by Mrs PlaidCamper)

Gazing at the view, taking care not to be too lulled by it (eyes on the road, PlaidCamper), it is easy to understand why the West exerts such a pull on our – my – imagination. The colours aren’t vibrant; ranges of grassland that stretch in yellows from straw gold to dun, and some shades of beige, with a little pale green in the mix every now and then. There are dark greens where stands of trees indicate rivers, streams and trusty water sources, and never far from these you’ll find black patches of cattle, small herds chewing contentedly. (How do I know they’re content? They must be – wouldn’t you chew contentedly with those views?) Acres and acres of grey-green dusty sagebrush, and mauve mountains behind blue mountains, with seemingly infinite ridgelines beyond ridgelines beyond… 

Rolling grasslands

There I go again, admiring a landscape and romanticizing a life I have almost no knowledge of other than in books and movies. I’ve never worked on a ranch, ridden a bull, or been on a cattle drive or roundup; I can barely get comfortable on a horse. This is where Ian Tyson is a compass for the misguided like me. Listen to his album Cowboyography; when you hear him sing Old Cheyenne, you’ll know what I mean. In a few brief verses he captures the bitter yearning love and loathing of being trapped doing something you can’t leave. Other songs on the album are about regret, loss, the wrong kind of pride, outlaws, and mistakes related to drinking and womanizing. I don’t think I’ve sold this very well – there are also songs full of good humour and love (although some of that might be mixed in with the drinking and womanizing…) One favourite is Springtime, an optimistic ranching poem, looking back then forward having “made it through another winter on the northern range.”

A shady picnic spot

This wasn’t meant to be an album review, I was supposed to be sharing a few thoughts about heading down through Alberta and Montana in the summer. Listening to Paul Brandt and Ian Tyson in these settings seems to help unlock these thoughts, ideas and Montana mumblings. Really, all I’m trying to say is that these are amazingly beautiful spaces and places, perfect for emptying your head of all the “important” stuff, and filling it with essentials instead. I’ll leave you with one unrealistic hope I have for this Montana trip, inspired by Ian Tyson singing about Charles Russell; that I’ll truly capture a Montana sunset. (Listen to Tyson singing The Gift, and you’ll get why it is an unrealistic hope!) 

Montana!

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

All time favourite wilderness movies (#2 in an occasional series…)

Ah, back to this campfire game. (Actually, I wish I was arguing about movies around a campfire, instead of spending this week moving apartments – such fun…)  Anyway, amongst friends and family, the choice this time has divided opinions. I really like it (it’s on your all time favourite list PlaidCamper – of course you like it), but I don’t know that this is strictly a wilderness movie, it’s perhaps more of an action survival flick, or even an eco-horror parable. I’ve seen it a couple of times, and I think it works at a number of levels. The movie? Oh yeah, (this is like a teaser trailer), the movie is The Grey (dir. Joe Carnahan, 2012). 

 Is something hiding in there?

Never mind all that stuff about it working at a number of levels, The Grey stands out for me because of the winter settings, and a fine performance from Liam Neeson. Much of the movie was shot near Smithers, BC, and, as in any good wilderness movie, the settings and weather behave like additional characters, providing greater drive to the narrative. Liam Neeson is suitably grizzled and gruff, entirely believable as a person who has reached the end of his emotional tether, not angry but exhausted, yet girding himself for a final effort to help his coworkers survive their predicament.

I mentioned above that the story could be read as an eco-horror tale. There was plenty of criticism aimed at the film makers for their depiction of wolves. Having survived a terrifying plane crash in a frozen wilderness, the characters are preyed on by a pack of enormous wolves who pick off survivors one by one in a series of gruesome attacks, hunting the humans as they look for a means of escape and a return to civilization. This is a familiar formula to horror/action movie fans, along the lines of the crew being preyed on in the original Alien movie, or the National Guard soldiers lost in the bayou in Southern Comfort. 

 Very grey…

The wolf depiction is unrealistic, particularly the sheer size of the creatures. Really they are designed to represent all that scares many city dwellers when they think about wilderness – wolves as the other or unknown. The movie makers have exaggerated the wolves to heighten audience fears; they’re not making a realistic documentary style statement about wolves. Treat the movie as humans vs. nature, in the tradition of Jaws or Grizzly (you can’t take that one too seriously!) and others in that vein, and you’ll be suitably entertained. Are the wolves simply nature taking revenge on resource greedy humanity? (The characters are oil riggers heading off for some down time away from the drill site). There are many deaths in the movie, and some are as a result of the environment – not all are down to the wolves – is this nature fighting back?

 Nature always wins…

I’ve always enjoyed stories with wolves, or about the mythology of wolves. As an impressionable teenager, I saw Neil Jordan’s movie The Company of Wolves. He was inspired by Angela Carter’s revisionist version of Little Red Riding Hood in her short story collection The Bloody Chamber: “Beware men whose eyebrows meet!” Mine do, although I don’t howl at the moon (often, unless having dealings with lawyers or mortgage brokers – I know, I know, I should let it go). The same impressionable teenager enjoyed The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, the original Wolfman with Lon Chaney, and reading Silver Bullet by Stephen King. Wild creatures lurking in dark places. I was a sensitive boy. So perhaps there is a very loose thread running from those earlier stories I enjoyed through to The Grey, which may explain why I am drawn to it beyond the wintry settings.

I also think that, for an out and out action and entertainment survival film, The Grey has a surprisingly philosophical thread; what does it mean to die, and is the manner of your death and how you accept it a reflection of your life? Is there a time to fight and a time to concede, and can that be graceful? In between the action and horror, there are moments of stillness, where the characters contemplate their mortality and chances of survival. The relatively thoughtful approach raises the movie above cliche and stereotype. 

 Be graceful

Yes, it’s possibly preposterous, macho, unrealistic, and somewhat formulaic – it’s all there for a fan of action: chases, escapes, tough dialogue, a plane crash, fights and confrontations aplenty, and yet…with the added dimensions of beautiful scenery, Neeson’s excellent performance, and an above average script with some depth, I think this is a little better than the usual fare.

I’ve yet to see a wolf in the wild. I’d dearly love to one day, from a respectful distance and with a better understanding of what they are as magnificent creatures in their proper context – and without my teenage impressions! 

So, there you have it – a fairly recent movie, unlike my previous choice (and I don’t think my mother has a crush on Liam Neeson – I’m not asking her – read the post about Jeremiah Johnson), but it’s in my list of favourites because I keep going back to it.

 Beautiful scenery

Have you seen The Grey? Is it as good as I think it is, or is it just another action movie? And what about the wolf depiction? Is it okay to get that wrong in the interests of telling a story? Do your eyebrows meet in the middle?

Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story (or movie recommendation), and keep your guy ropes secure.

The Long Beach challenge!

Less of a challenge when you approach it using the PlaidCamper method – although we did double the distance and likely set a new record time… 

 

This beautiful stretch of Pacific coastline is located midway between Ucluelet and Tofino, on the Pacific Rim Highway of Vancouver Island. It’s worth the trek to make the trek.

Worth the trek

From either the Long Beach parking lot, or the Kwisitis visitor centre near Florencia Bay, a willing hiker can walk almost 10km uninterrupted along the Pacific coast. The views up and down the shore are wonderful, and once you have gone further than 20 minutes, you are likely to have the beach almost entirely to yourself. For non human company, there’ll be bald eagles, gulls, ravens, and numerous other shorebirds.

 Keeping an eye on those hikers

Wolves, cougars and black bears are a possibility, as well as potential sightings of whales out in the ocean. We saw the birds, but no mammals. Not too sorry to avoid those encounters, better for all concerned.

Long views
Shore birds! (Marbled Godwits? Not sure…)

On one side you have tussocks of grass and low sand dunes fronting the fringe of rainforest. Huge logs washed up and tossed far onto the shore by the powerful storms that pound the coast later in the year are scattered everywhere. The views change constantly as you walk; the perspective of each bay, in front or behind, the mists and fog drifting in changing the light, concealing then revealing, and then concealing again. In the two days we hiked, the weather was sunny, then misty, then rainy, then sunny again, and often all in the same hour. 

Storm tossed logs

 Misty long views

Underfoot, depending how close you want to walk to the waves crashing ashore, the sand is hard packed and easy to walk on. There are thousands of tiny shells, middling shells and larger shells, all colourful. Pretty rocks and pebbles, shiny and speckled, mottled or plain, and many like little stone eggs, are uncovered as the ocean retreats. Huge lengths of bull kelp glisten in the light, and the occasional jelly fish is strewn across the sand, causing one to jump over and around at the last second as you catch sight of them. 

 Easy walking!

The Long Beach challenge is set up as a time trial for those who wish to try. If we were being timed, we definitely set some kind of record. The number of times we stopped to breathe in all that was surrounding us, the water breaks, the lunch stop perched on a log – yup, certainly a new time record! I can’t imagine wanting to complete the journey as quickly as possible, but that’s because I am OldPlaidCamper, not young PlaidCamper. As far as jogging goes, if you made me, I’d rather jog on Long Beach than do repeated circuits in a city park. 

More shore birds (the most cute least sandpipers? Maybe…)

From our campground near the beach, we were situated about a third of the distance from the Long Beach starting point. So we set off one day heading north to do a there and back again section, and the following day we turned south to go there and back for that section. The Long Beach challenge twice in two days, including lunch picnic stops – not so much of a challenge, it was more like two really delightful days of easy hiking in a wonderful setting. That’s a challenge I’m always up for! (The real challenge was having to leave).

I’m ready for this…

Do you have a favourite hike – or favourite beach? Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Chlorophyll camping in the rain at Green Point…

Summertime camping in a rainforest on the coast of the Canadian Pacific Northwest sounds exactly what it is – simply delightful – but what this old PlaidCamper really didn’t think about when reserving the campground many months ago, was the rain part of rainforest. Green Point campground, situated beautifully on a steep rise overlooking the Pacific, is also nestled in the fringes of a lush green forest – rainforest! 

It’s a rainforest!  

In recent years, most of our summertime camping has been in the deserts of SW USA, and our spring and fall camping at sites on the eastern side of the Rockies in Alberta. Generally, these locations are dry, often hot, and in the case of the Rockies, only an hour or two from home if heavy rain threatens to wash away the tent. (We did once abandon the campground at Lake Louise in early September, when the promised light rain showers became hours and hours of torrential deluge – small rivers were flowing past the tent, and if the grizzlies are paddling two by two, you know it’s time to go home). 

Don’t go home…

When we were approaching Green Point and the first few drops spattered the windshield, we weren’t too concerned. Our stay in the area had been dry and warm up to that point, and a little drizzle wasn’t going to be a problem…(we should have paid attention to the information at the botanical gardens, something along the lines of “autumn is wet, winter very wet, springtime it rains, and summers aren’t dry.” Annually, Tofino gets over three meters of rain! On some measures, two meters annually qualifies for rainforest, so Clayoquot has a super rainforest!) 

Moisture

We weren’t really that unprepared for camping in the rain, it’s just usually rain is a cue for us to not go camping. So the rain that started as we put up the tent, continued as we rigged up a tarp shelter, and did not stop that afternoon when we hiked along the beach, was outside our usual comfort zone. Still, with the tarp, decent waterproof gear in the backpack and a natty new toque, we managed just fine. Although wet, being summer it was not too cold, especially when hiking. 

Overlooking the Pacific (honest)

The trees collect the mist that drifts over from the beach, and all the moisture slowly drips and drops to the forest floor. Your camping soundtrack of rain pattering on the tarp and tent roof is soothing – and it sounds far wetter than it really is, with the dripping continuing long after any actual rainfall. Stepping out from under the tarp, we were surprised again and again by it not raining – or barely raining – when we thought it was! 

Greenery

All the moisture contributes to the creation of absolutely beautiful forests. The shades of green are numerous, and even the humid air seems to have a greenish tint. The air tastes and smells a verdant green, if that doesn’t sound too strange. Chlorophyll! Moss cloaks and hangs from the trees, and lichens cling to trunks. Small bushes, broad leaved plants and fern fronds crowd the forest floor, which itself is a rich decaying mulch, satisfyingly springy underfoot. Water, water, water, and growth, growth, growth in a delicate and unique ecosystem. 

Delicate and intricate

I’ve had to rethink my general dislike of rain, at least in settings as spectacular as the Clayoquot biosphere. At the information level of thinking, it is easy to understand that rain is important, but experiencing the natural wonder, by camping in a rainforest for a few days, has made me appreciate this precious resource in a far more vivid and tangible way. Knowing something is not the same as experiencing and then knowing it a little better. Funny how I sometimes forget the obvious from the comfort and distance of my modern life. Maybe we should all have a rainforest experience – go so far as to insist it is a mandatory part of a child’s education – then serious and real conservation efforts might be mainstream rather than marginal…Enough of that, school’s out and I’m on vacation.

Did I already say “green”?

It didn’t rain the entire time we were camping, and in fact our final day was a beauty – blue skies and an empty beach to wander along just a few minutes from the tent. 

Overlooking the Pacific!

I probably still wouldn’t go camping locally if the forecast calls for rain, but I would certainly camp in a NW rainforest again! 

Rainforest cooled…

Are you a happy camper in the rain – or would it take a rainforest to entice you?! Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Time out in Tofino, and realizing Thoreau probably had it right…

This post might seem a little off topic, but bear with me! I’ve been reading Walden and I think that I may, like many people, have been born in the wrong age…

We’ve been downsizing as far as we can recently, not because we are jumping on a particular bandwagon or vogue for small living, (although this is a good idea), but simply because the timing is right. Junior is about ready to forge her own path, heading out to be independent, and we don’t want to be living in a space that was designed to accommodate four or five people comfortably. Our empty nest can be smaller than that! We sold our family house, and we are renting a little apartment until our new little apartment has been built. 

This would be fine (cedar shack in Tofino botanical gardens)

This all seems simple and straightforward enough; a linear sell one, rent one, and then buy one. Couldn’t be easier. All you need is a small mortgage from a bank, a helpful legal person to do the necessary lawyer type things, and a builder. These three can then communicate with each other, working tirelessly and seamlessly on our behalf so we can secure the tiny apartment of our dreams. And they can collect well earned fees from us… 

Kerbside appeal without the kerb

I honestly cannot go into the complications experienced in trying to get these three parties all on the same page. If I had three more lifetimes ahead of me blogging to explain how frustrating the past couple weeks have been, I wouldn’t have enough time. I’d lose the will to live three times over. I’d rather have an operation than buy somewhere to live ever again. 

Maybe we’ll abandon the house, just hit the road instead

Thoreau had it right! I’m going to borrow an axe and start on my own place hewn by my own hands. (I will have to borrow an axe – I do have a little hatchet, but that’s not going to cut it. I’d be lucky to build a doll house or a birdhouse, never mind a tiny house. And I’d need those three lifetimes from above). Now, as an almost outdoorsman, I’d probably chop off my own limbs instead of a tree limb, and the finished article might not look like the finished article. But still, if you’d been in my shoes, you’d understand the attraction, trust me. 

Tofino bird house (with lawyer perched on the roof)

I’m lucky enough to be sitting on a deck, staying in a small cabin overlooking the inlet just outside Tofino. That means I get to calm down. This is a good thing for many obvious reasons. The less obvious reason is the one where you don’t get to hear a news story about some old guy wearing plaid running around downtown Calgary wielding a hatchet and cursing the modern home buying process:

“And the police gently disarmed the apparently harmless, yet clearly confused plaid-clad old man, leading him away from bewildered bystanders and committing him to a secure institution where further tests will be carried out to determine if he is fit to have his little hatchet back. And now the weather.” 

View from the dock – just breathe, PlaidCamper, just breathe…

Just to be clear, and before anyone calls the authorities, I’m not actually going to run amok anywhere wielding any sort of hatchet – that would be silly.

All complaining aside, I do know that with a little perspective, this is simply just another invisible Western problem; I should let it go, and accept it as one of the complicated processes that make up life for the privileged few in the modern world today. An irritating downside to accompany the many upsides? I don’t know. I could stand to live in another age – when life wasn’t easier, that’s for sure, but perhaps simpler? I still say Thoreau had it right… 

Head over the next mountain, just a little further…

Have you ever wanted to build your own little home, be a little more apart from the modern world? Please feel free to share a story or make a comment. Thanks for reading – I feel better now – and keep your guy ropes secure.