Snow city!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fargoesque?

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

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The Bridge 2 (was also very good)

Green, gold and red

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

 

Plains, a train, and an automobile…

Hmm. A messy borrowed – sort of – title, and a short post.

We’re staggering towards the end of this academic year – I can’t remember it being this busy in other years, so I guess early middle age must be catching up with me. We did find time to take a short trip out onto the prairies and plains. We passed through grasslands and ranch lands, tracking the Red Deer river, and stopping in the small (very small) town of Big Valley. Friendly small towns and big spaces – that calls for Paul Brandt on the radio:

Small Towns and Big Dreams

Big Valley is nestled in knob and kettle country, and what lovely scenery that is. Plus, you know, knob and kettle. The childish delight I have in writing that…Almost every kettle had ducks on the water – it was a waterfowl wonderland, and a very pretty habitat. And yet I don’t have a duck in any of the photos? To be honest, each little family of ducks looked so content, I couldn’t bring myself to stop and take a picture in case we disturbed them. The kettle lakes are close to the road, and although they were visible in all directions, we would have been too close.

Old train cars and trucks aren’t sensitive, and parked, they can’t escape. Yup, here comes another old truck photograph. This one, parked up in Big Valley, is the oldest we’ve seen recently, and a beauty:


The railway used to run through here, and enthusiasts keep part of the line open and run trains between Stettler and Big Valley. Maybe we’ll make time to take that short trip one afternoon, for the fun of it. We were happy enough to sit in the sun, and then wander around the train cars and old farm machinery. A couple of pleasant Big Valley hours, and then back through knob and kettle (can’t help it) country, heading home, with a little more Paul Brandt. He is Mr. Alberta summer soundtrack!

Alberta Bound

A brief post, as promised. I hope you enjoyed the music, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend – thanks for reading!

Prairie promise

Less of a promise and more of a hint? Of spring, that is.

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Prairie promise…
I was sitting at the top of Dry Island Buffalo Jump earlier this week. The evidence for spring was all around. Prairie dogs were out in the bright sun, squabbling and tussling with each other. I didn’t know they scampered with a skipping jump. I’m more used to seeing them scurry for their holes. The jumping was fun to see. Maybe it was a spring thing?

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Spring? Where?
It was human noise and nonsense free up there. A spring break Monday, I was in desperate need of space, wanting to be out of the city, and finding some quiet. Figuring the mountains might be busy, I headed east instead of west, and once off the highways and onto dirt roads, I could feel the tensions of a long term start to fade.DSCF4508

Some small ponds had a layer of ice, but like the banks of snow in ditches and sheltered spots, it seemed winter was receding. Empty ridge roads, bright sunshine, bare trees, brown fields with a glint of gold, and washed out blue skies were all sights to see.DSCF4589

When I stopped to take a photo of some old shacks (couldn’t resist), the racing shadow of a bird caught my eye. Spinning and scanning, I saw a hawk glide overhead, searching for a meal. At first I thought it was a red-tailed hawk, although the colouring seemed muted, so perhaps it was a rough legged hawk instead? Either way, it was a wonderful moment, and so positive. Unless you’re a prairie dog…

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A hide out from hawks
I was hoping to spot another hawk from the buffalo jump but it wasn’t to be. Instead, a wheeling raven soared over the badlands – I could hear the wings beating as it passed. All the sounds were soothing. Birds singing in the bare trees behind me, the grass being torn by the ground squirrels, the buzz of a bee (in March!) and the sound of the Red Deer river, in thaw and flow far below. The last might have been my imagination, or the sound of a light breeze, but I fancied it to be the river.

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Red Deer River thaw
All the promise of spring! And a promise to myself to lighten up, and take the negative human constructs of our world less seriously. As I get older, I find the world harder to understand. It can’t always be ignored, but I aim to deflect some of the 21st century madness that appears to be on us. It seems far less pressing when you’re atop a prairie buffalo jump!DSCF4591

It was hard to drag myself away, so I didn’t, not immediately. I sat and wrote much of this piece, and hung out a little more with my prairie dog buddies. It was fun simply to hang with the buffalo jump gang.

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I love the view from up here!
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

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Yeah, I am cute.

On the banks of the Bow

Marching towards spring? Perhaps, but there’s no rush. Still time to find some winter.

DSCF4448We went looking for winter last weekend, out on the banks of the Bow. We found a chill wind blowing. Deep snow, and no sign of any fellow humans out and about. Previously made snowshoe tracks were well buried under a fresh blanket of snow. To be fair, there were fresh snowshoe tracks – those of a snowshoe hare. A deer or two had evidently passed through shortly before we did, so we weren’t entirely alone.

DSCN7434Winter had a pretty good grip on the landscape. Thin patches of filmy ice drifted down river. We stood still and silent, hoping to catch sight of the little dipper we often encounter along this particular stretch. A sudden splash alerted us to the presence of something larger, and a minute later we spotted a beaver swimming in front of the far bank.

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Not impressed

Unimpressed with us, back view only, it hunched over and chewed on a branch in the shallows opposite. We waited for a few moments more, hoping it would turn and permit us a photograph. No, nothing doing. We began to sidle away, a slow exit stage left, when the beaver hopped up, flipped, and dove into the water. Up it popped, and off it swam, upstream. What a wonderful sight! We plodded on, cold on the outside, but warmed on the inside after the brief encounter.

DSCF4434Two Steller’s jays appeared, emerging from a heavily branched pine, chattering and scolding us as we passed by. Our winged escort for quite a way, flitting from tree to tree, and branch to branch, they were sometimes hard to spot, but little puffs of snow and a flash of blue revealed them each time they took off. Eventually we left their territory, but they were a welcome sight for a while.

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A jay could make a nest in this…

We half expected the jays to reappear when we stopped to eat our lunch, knowing them to be cheeky and opportune enough to dive for a crumb or two. Didn’t happen, and that was ok. Safely out of jay territory, we perched on a log in the shelter of trees, no wind, and in sight and sound of the river. Out of the wind, our break was pleasant enough.

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Lunch stop

We’d found winter, and it was in fine form. A burbling river, light snow falling, signs of life all around, and the sun beginning to emerge through breaks in the grey, this was as good a late winter March morning one could have wished for.

DSCF4453Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

 

Balance

After the woes of last week, I thought it might be appropriate to redress the balance, and get back on an even (and optimistic) keel.

We took a group of students out to a provincial park, with the stated curriculum goals being connected to learning more about Alberta’s trees and forests. No problem, and straightforward enough! Identify a tree, record a leaf shape, and recognize an animal or two. But there’s the curriculum, and then there’s the hidden curriculum. Don’t tell anyone, but it’s the hidden curriculum that I find more interesting, and where a demonstration of deeper learning and real connection often occurs.

DSCN6792We hugged trees – we really did, and who cares if anyone’s watching? – and smelt and touched the bark, and the leaves, and the needles. We got a bit sticky with pine resin. We took stock of all the signs and traces of interdependence between plants, insects, birds and mammals for one single tree. We decided one single tree is a thing of beauty and wonder. Well, that begged the question, if one tree is a natural miracle, how about two trees? A stand of trees? An entire forest? All the trees on the planet? Heady thoughts, and the students were smiling about it.

DSCN6814The children loved being in the woods. They were excited to be there, (and to be out of a regular classroom) and were able to enthuse and enjoy without climbing where they shouldn’t, without breaking branches, without disturbing habitat, or dropping any trash. For a large group of rising thirteen year olds, they were also pretty quiet! Quiet enough to see and not startle a mule deer feeding only a few metres away…I don’t have a picture, but it was beautiful –  both the deer, and student reaction!

IMG_20160611_182513My day was made when two boys, unbidden, took it upon themselves to pick up all the pieces of a broken styrofoam cup they found strewn in the undergrowth. They told me they were concerned for the health and habitat of a squirrel they’d observed nearby. Now, we should all pick up litter, ours or not, that’s kind of a given, but after the appalling behaviour we witnessed last week, these boys raised my spirits. They are two young gentlemen who sometimes find themselves challenged with making good decisions, but they didn’t hesitate to do the right thing when they saw an environment in need. Real character and global citizenship at the micro level. Thank you, boys!

DSCN6769(It makes me wonder, what excuse did our fellow campers from last week have to be so callous towards the environment? Presumably they were educated? To be clear, they weren’t just out of high school or college, not that that excuses anything. They were “grown ups” in their late twenties and early thirties. Hmm…but let’s not go there again, PlaidCamper, it’s not good for your health!)

DSCF2559Keeping it brief this week, and as I said at the top, the real reason for writing this little piece is to restore the balance and get back to being optimistic. I think we have reasons to be cheerful when we see younger generations show they care about the planet. Here’s hoping they don’t lose that compassion and consideration as they “grow up”…

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

Soaring…

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

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Red Deer River

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

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From a buffalo jump

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

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Badlands view – not so bad…

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

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Beautifully bad

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

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Into the valley

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

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Serene

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

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

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

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

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