“I want it to snow and snow…”

“It’s snowing! It’s snowing!”

Really? I waited for a few seconds, and looked very, very carefully. There! On my sleeve, was that a snowflake? Yes! And then another and another. Snowing? Maybe.

“See? It’s snowing! It’s snowing!”

“Well, there are some flakes falling from the sky, so, yes, it’s snowing!”

“Yes! Can we build a snowman?”

“Erm, let’s wait, see how much snow falls…”

“I want it to snow and snow and snow!”

Several hours later.

“When will it actually begin to, you know, pile up?”

“Maybe overnight. We’ll check it out tomorrow, ok?”

“And build a snowman?”

“And build a snowman!”

It snowed and snowed! A bit.

The following day.

We built snow caves for our toy wolves. We re-enacted the plane crash from “Hatchet” (yes, the story takes place in high summer, but if you’re pretending to be a small bush plane crashing in the northern wilderness, snow is ideal for a soft landing – I mean, crash) and we built a snowman.

We also created a scene showing Brian being bitten by a swarm of mosquitoes, and this seemed a very strange thing to be doing in swirling snow. The results looked like something from a Nordic noir crime scene:

A boy covered in mosquitoes? If you squint…

The next day.

“Can we go inside now? I’m cold. We could stay indoors, read some more of the book. I don’t like snow that much. Is it going to rain tomorrow? I like the rain!”

“Would you like it to rain and rain and rain?”

“I like the snow!”

It has rained. Rain. Rainy-sleet. Sleety-rain. Snow. Snow-rain. Rain-snow. Back to rain. Then more rain. Brian washed away.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Sunshine and snow

Space and balance and comfort

Balance? Teetering? Toppling? No, just an occasional wobble. Who? Me? Um, maybe. Any more questions? Um, maybe…

Teetering? Not me!

Over the last three decades (three decades??!) I’ve mostly taught upper elementary and Junior High school students. My work the past month has been with students a little younger than that, and I’ve found myself crawling around on hands and knees in the mud, building shelters and making fire pits. In truth, this isn’t so different to when I’m working with older youth. Hands and knees? Check. Getting muddy? Check. Building stuff? Check. To house a small toy wolf? Erm…

Room to wander – and wonder

I’ve wandered quite a long way out of my comfort zone, learning to learn through imaginative play. I’ve constructed tiny shelters from leaves and twigs so “my” wolf feels safe and secure out in the wild. The young ones understand real wolves don’t live in actual constructed shelters (they know pigs build those) but they’ve really taken to looking after their wolves.

Space to play

Since the mini shelters, we’ve moved on to making real shelters for keeping dry, exploring different ways to keep the rain off using a tarp and some rope, or a lean to made from branches. Yeah, that’s more like it for me, comfort zone rediscovered! When we finished, it was back indoors to warm up and make a miniature campsite using popsicle sticks, paper and plasticine. Comfort zone lost once more. All I can say is I’m doing my best, and who knew I would be so consumed by creating a fire pit from plasticine? Consumed, I tell you. Well, if you’re going to do something…

I’m finding out the attention span of eight year olds is fairly short (yet remarkably similar to teens) and when you throw in a few emotional/behavioural challenges, things get interesting. A popsicle stick topped with plasticine can be a weapon? Yikes!

A long and empty stretch

All great fun, and a major reason why weekends full of space and free from too many people have become so prized. I have to find some space and balance! Wandering long stretches of beach, and wondering exactly how many strains of bacteria can live in or on plasticine? Did I forget to bring my wolf inside? How long will it take to use several thousand popsicle sticks?

Space and balance!

I’m not going to post pictures of my – I mean our – plasticine triumphs, but an older student, the one with the creaky, muddy knees, seemed very pleased with this creation:

Aren’t those foxes, not wolves, PC? Shhh! Use your imagination!

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Digging it

Really digging it. And no stone left unturned. A little more detail this week to follow up on last week. This one is a bit preachy – that’s a heads up, not an apology…

Digging it

The students I was with were really digging being scientists. From a plankton tow, to measuring sea salinity and water temperatures, to searching for intertidal wildlife, the young ones showed they really, really care about the place they live, even if some of the creatures they were looking for can’t easily be seen with the naked eye.

Sooo cute?! I think so…

Plankton! Phytoplankton! Zooplankton! These little plants and critters are sooo cute (not my words, but I understand the sentiment) and utterly astonishing when viewed under a microscope. We all – quite rightly – get alarmed by the rate at which forests are clear cut, slashed and burned, and generally mistreated in the name of resource extraction, worried that these acts of destruction are steadily ruining the “lungs” of the planet. Last week, students learned from their instructors that forests contribute approximately one third of the Earth’s oxygen. The other two thirds? Yup, you guessed it, from marine plants, and particularly or significantly from phytoplankton. The larger lung of the planet, absorbing carbon and producing oxygen, the all important base of the aquatic food chain, these tiny plants perform a mighty task. Good thing we’re being so kind to the oceans…

On the ocean, in the ocean

Students enjoyed seeing aquatic life through microscopes, in laboratory touch tanks, and even better, out on and in the ocean waters. By exploring, seeing, touching, drawing, identifying and naming a variety of marine life, the students came to care (more) about their local environment, and see how what is local and necessary for them is also local and necessary for everywhere else and everything else.

Think green, go on, dive right in

These young ones, they see the connections, can follow a line from the smallest creatures to the largest, from the bottom of the ocean floor to the high edge of our atmospheric envelope. Lofty stuff, and here’s hoping their caring example is enough to maintain, restore and protect our precious planet. Forget about the childish adults denying a climate crisis and belittling those (young and old) who care to hear the truth of science and dare to suggest solutions. Instead, aim to support the next generation of scientists and activists, the young people inheriting our woeful environmental legacy, and hope for them that they have enough time to act to secure a sustainable future.

Passing through, like we all are…

Plankton! Zooplankton! Phytoplankton! Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Wizard Island

This isn’t a post about elves or unicorns (or hobbits) – phew – but how about some magic? I will, due to being rather tired, be very brief this week, and I promise to write something a bit more detailed next week.

Leaving Bamfield, and we’re off to Wizard Island

I was on Wizard Island – yes, really – earlier this week, learning alongside a small group of students, splashing about in the intertidal zone, slipping on seaweed and scraping hands and knees on barnacles. We were being scientists, uncovering then sharing our discoveries, beaming our explorations live to students at UVic, and generally having a fine old time in the middle of Barkley Sound.

As far as these students were concerned, we were in (on?) the best possible classroom, transported there in a small aluminum boat, past bald eagles, basking seals, foraging bears, and with the prospect of a humpback whale sighting. We were lucky enough to spot three humpbacks spouting on our trip back, and I wish you could have seen the students when this happened! Such excitement, because we were relatively close, and this excitement from young ones quite used to spotting whales from the shore.

Barkley brilliance

All this and their first ever media appearance before 10 o’clock in the morning. Not that I couldn’t keep up – I did, just about – but I am mighty tired in the best possible way after three full days of marine activity. I will sign off this week with a few more photographs from Wizard Island. I don’t know about magic, but I do believe there are magical places…

More to follow. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

“We’re media stars!”

The Fog (based on real events)

The following tale of terror should only be read with all the lights on. Unless it is daytime, then you should turn the lights off and stop wasting electricity. But it is scary. The story, not electricity – unless you’re being careless. Here we go:

Yes, we’re into the fog and dog days of August out on the west coast!

You can never be quite sure what the day might bring weather wise. We’ve started in thick fog first thing in the morning, only for it to burn off by midday and enjoyed warm and sunny afternoons. We’ve also woken up to thick fog, gone out for a mid morning coffee in thick fog, thought it might be lifting, and it does, to just above the tree line. Sometimes, you can see a line of blue sky over the bay and behind Mt. Ozzard, where you know the sun is shining down on Salmon Beach. It never feels chilly in the fog, it’s a warm and humid blanket, and on the beach it makes for an eerie atmosphere. No, not chilly at all, unless…

Last weekend we stopped at Long Beach for a walk before heading on to Tofino, and it promised to be a pleasant stroll in the mist. Before setting out, we could see the tip of Lone Cone just above the fog, and on the drive along the coast, tendrils of pale mist curled out of the trees and over the road. We’d drive from a clear patch into a misty patch and then out again. We wondered if the fog would keep visitors off the beach and the answer was yes. The parking lot was quiet. Maybe too quiet.

Who knows what lurks nearby?

Perhaps prospective beach hikers were concerned about wild encounters in the wooly conditions? I wouldn’t want to run into a bear or a wolf in the fog, but then we’ve likely passed many a wolf and bear without catching sight of them, and that’s in clear conditions. However, after last weekend, a wolf or a bear encounter would seem mild…

We strode down the beach at a good pace, assuming we were alone, although it was hard to tell, visibility in all directions being reduced to a few metres. Scout was happy, bouncing and loping ahead of us, restricted only by her long leash. She’d disappear into the fog bank, but no worries as I could could feel her straining and pulling to keep us moving. Suddenly, the leash went slack. Oh no! Had she slipped off? We followed the line of her leash into the murk and there was Scout, standing, hackles up and teeth bared. What was wrong? Peering past her and into the gloom we could see someone. Or something. We moved forward slowly. A strange figure emerged from the grey. It was tall, too tall, impossibly tall, spectral, and with a hint of menace about it. It appeared locked onto us – an unblinking stare and arm raised and pointing. My mind raced. Was this it? A shiver ran down my spine and my heart rate rose as we got closer and closer to the looming creature. We were caught in its spell, unable to break free. My life flashed before my eyes, mostly images from middle childhood, hours spent watching black and white B movies about alien bodysnatchers, swamp creatures and killer robots. Scout lunged toward the mighty beast… and peed over the base of the washed up log. (It was tall, too tall – honest!)

Anyway, we had an enjoyable walk in the fog on the beach last weekend.

Scary monster, or too many B movies in childhood?

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a great weekend!

Brave Scout!

The fish were jumping…

…well, three or four made a splash near our kayaks as we paddled in the bay earlier this week. The fish, eagles, bears and other birds have been a welcome distraction from the unicorns frolicking in the sunny uplands of Brexit Britain – all will be well there if the new PM is to be believed. Politically, it all seems so depressing on both sides of the Atlantic. Racism and xenophobia aiming to be the new normal, and if you disagree you’re unpatriotic or a pessimist… No wonder we decided to stay away from the news and head out onto the water. Better use of time and all that.

Sparkling

We spent a couple of very enjoyable warm and sunny mornings on the water, the first chance we’ve had this summer to bob about a bit, and very calming it was too. You know, if we needed calming.

Winds were light, almost nonexistent – they tend to pick up into the afternoon out here, so a morning paddle is often best. Away from the relative hustle and bustle of the kayak launch – there is a small campsite nearby, and sometimes there are as many as four or five people – we found ourselves paddling along the shore at the foot of Mt. Ozzard, with splashing fish and singing birds for company, and no need for unicorns.

Paddling

I love the way a bald eagle floats across a line of trees. From the water, it looks like the eagle will disappear into the forest or over and out of sight, but often it’s the angle playing a trick on my eyes. Or it’s my eyes. The eagle flaps once or twice and then glides along just below the tree tops. Always a wonderful sight.

Splashing

The fish were splashing, birds were singing, eagles were gliding and a floatplane was buzzing. Eventually caught sight of it lining up for a smooth landing further down the bay. They are noisy, but I have to admit to liking the buzz of a floatplane, and I think of the passengers inside, a lucky group who have just seen the coastal islands from high above on a sunny day.

Buzzing

I expect we’ll be paddling a few more times in the next little while. We plan to bring a lunch and haul ourselves out onto the shore somewhere, rest up on a log and eat before a bear chases us off. Or a unicorn. We’ve scanned the far shore and picked out a couple of likely looking spots. More to follow…

Unicorn friendly

Thanks for reading, here’s hoping for some light news days, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Boats, bows, rods, reels and traps

Yup, the last long weekend was a busy weekend. About 40 youth and associated mentors heading out and away for a few days of camping, fishing, trail-building, archery and anything else that seemed like a good outdoor idea.

The larger vessel

We set off in two vessels, one a speedy affair with room for nine, and the other a larger, more sedate boat with room for all the gear and space to spread out above and below. Going out, I was in the smaller boat, coming back, I traveled in the larger. Both were fun, with the voyage out being busier. As the larger vessel was cruising slowly and steadily toward our destination, the smaller boat zipped about, looking for favourite (previously successful) spots to fish, and to pick up and drop prawn and crab traps.

Two traps contained many prawns, and these were a mainstay for an almost midnight feast later that day. We ended up eating so late because the zodiac and tin boat transfer from the tiny offshore dock to the beach near base camp took quite a few journeys. All that gear and all that youth – thank goodness for young people when it comes to pitching tents and stowing gear in the rain and near dark.

Very comfortable

The rods and reels proved far less successful over the weekend, with very little success in hooking a fish. A large sea cucumber got a bit of a surprise and was no doubt mightily relieved to be returned to the deep. The prawn and crab traps did not deliver either. Oh well.

“Nothing! You?”
“Nope…”

The rain fell from the moment we left Friday afternoon to just before dawn on Saturday, when the skies cleared and warm sunshine was an almost constant companion through Saturday and Sunday. A fair number of mosquitoes were also near constant companions, but not unbearably so.

Very bearable

The weekend was visibly bear-free, aside from frequent scat sightings, and some splashing in the early hours from across the narrow channel. Nothing to be alarmed about. I alarmed a bald eagle that was perched atop an old stump at the point of the spit – I think it may have been my early morning pee break that startled her, causing her to fly off somewhat sooner than she may have been planning. A magnificent sight (the eagle, not me peeing…)

The dry and near windless days allowed for perfect archery conditions, and it was good to see the young ones honing their technique and improving their accuracy. They were able to display their skills to a group of ten elders who visited for the day on Sunday.

Prior to the arrival of the elders, much effort was put into further improving the trail through the forest from the beach to the camp. And you’ve never seen a tidier base camp than how it looked for that afternoon – when grandmothers and grandfathers visit, it had better look right!

When the elders arrived on the beach, they were welcomed with a song sung by a young warrior. His voice was strong and steady, and his song echoed back from the low mountains surrounding the inlet. A memorable moment from a trip with many fine moments.

We awoke on Monday to low cloud and a threat of rain. After the warmth of the previous two days, it was something of a relief to be able to pack up and shift all the gear back to the beach and on to the boats in cool conditions. And would you believe it, once we cleared the inlet and headed out into wider waters, the clouds fell behind us and we sailed under blue skies. A certain OldPlaidCamper might have dozed off up on deck, lulled to sleep and pleasantly tired after a very good long weekend.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Departure