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)

A big little bird

A little ball of feathers that sure was a fun shore bird to watch. This week, a short post about a tiny bird (one of Mrs. PC’s favourites – we have framed prints and tea towels to prove it!)

We were wandering along Terrace Beach, Ucluelet, enjoying the day, and keeping an eye out for a pair of bald eagles we’d seen earlier that week. Spotting a bald eagle is always a thrill, and if you’re out on the west coast of Vancouver Island, you’ll often see one or more most days if you’re looking. Or even if you’re not.DSCF5855

We sat down on a log – we seem to do a lot of that – to listen to the waves wash up onto the shore, and eat a small snack. We seem to do a lot of that, too. He was well camouflaged on this particular part of the shore, but we eventually spied a little Western Sandpiper – he had probably been there quite a while before we saw him. Well, once he was in our sights, what fun he was to observe.

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Sat on this one
He scurried on busy little legs just ahead of and across each set of waves, foraging for food in the sand and seaweed. Unperturbed by our presence, he worked the shoreline mere metres from where we were sitting, back and forth with admirable intent, stocking up for a lengthy flight to come. Tiny in size, but huge in heart! (I know, an overactive imagination and anthropomorphism, but I can’t help it…)

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Irresistible!
On previous days, we had most often seen these sandpipers in small flocks. I like the flash of white as they speed along the beach, making fast turns and flying in short bursts. For the time we saw this one, he appeared to be a solitary bird. Maybe it needed some down time away from the hustle and bustle of flock life? Maybe we simply missed the other birds or they arrived later? No, he was the lone ‘piper, out on a purposeful mission. There I go again…DSCF5855

We arrived searching for big birds, but left happy (a particularly happy Mrs. PC) having seen this big-hearted and beautiful little bird!

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Tough little grey guy

We had so many wonderful bird encounters over the past couple of months. I enjoyed them all, whether the birds were big or small. So, how about an occasional series? Alright then!

Distinctive!
Here is a well built bird, the Belted Kingfisher. I can’t remember exactly what it was we were meant to be doing – popping to the store for some milk? – but we ended up watching this little fellow.

He stopped on a nearby branch of a tree, took one glance at us, and then poured all his attention into finding fish. Or ignoring that guy staring at him. I was delighted to see him at quite close range. I’d spotted him zooming across the harbour on previous mornings,  flying away from us each time.

Zoom about here? Lucky little guy…
Since he was sat facing away, I rummaged for my camera – maybe we weren’t going to the store for milk, I can’t recall wanting to photograph that – and sidled a little closer. He didn’t fly off, or even look over, so I sidled some more. I snapped away, hoping he’d turn towards the camera. I couldn’t change my angle without wading out into the harbour, and I couldn’t be sure Mrs. PC would let me accompany her to the store in wet trousers. (That’s me in the wet trousers. Obviously, I’d go with Mrs. PC to the store if her trousers were wet, not that that would happen. This is why I avoid stores. And wet trousers…)

I can see you sidling…
The tough little blue-grey guy didn’t shift position on his perch, so the photographs I took were the best I could get. I’m happy he wasn’t bothered by my presence, and pleased I’d met a rugged, silvery, and outdoorsy type. Unbothered by rumpled hair, completely focused, in his element – and then Mrs. PC called me back so we could go fetch the milk. I’m sure he fetched his fish!

Not looking at you, you’re not a fish
What a lovely bird! So distinctive, with the large bill, the beautiful colour, the shock of “hair” and such a sturdy profile. I’ll have to go to the store more often if it will lead to these encounters!

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

Desperation and thievery on the high trail…

…rest assured, all emerged unscathed! Signing off last go around with promises of a tale of desperation and thievery seemed like a bright idea at the time, but not so much now. Oh well, reduce those expectations, and please accept this apology in advance!

Onwards, past the teahouse
Onwards, past the teahouse

The trail up at Agnes Lake continued on past the teahouse (now closed for winter, much to the disappointment of a group of young people – “we should have stopped for a Starby’s” was a wail that rang off the mountainsides – couldn’t help thinking that the surroundings might have made up for that little issue!) Anyway, I took the trail away from the decaffeinated huddle, enjoying how the path hugged the contours of the lakeshore, and a little wary of the blind bends and rises, ever mindful of the slight possibility of a bear encounter.

Like a drum...
Like a drum…

No bears, but I was alarmed by a booming and rumbling as I approached the midpoint of the lake. Was there an avalanche risk? It hadn’t snowed anywhere near enough, so perhaps a small rockslide? Oh, the overactive imagination of the solitary hiker! A quick up and down over a small rise and out onto an open part of the trail soon revealed the cause. A group of teenagers were doing what teenagers outdoors like to do when confronted with a frozen lake – they were hurling small rocks onto the ice to see if it would break. The rocks bounced on the ice, causing it to reverberate and send booms off the wall of mountains circling Agnes. I was listening to the world’s largest kettle drum.

Onwards, around the lake
Onwards, around the lake

Nerves settled, and reassured all was safe, I continued on my way, smiling to myself as the party leaders attempted to stop the teenagers from throwing rocks. They soon passed out of eyesight and earshot, and the path carried on to the far end of the lake, revealing a spectacular view back towards the valley opening, and the mountains beyond.

Looking back
Looking back

I decided to press on up the trail as it switched back and forth, climbing high above Agnes and onto a wide promontory. Pick a direction to be stunned by the views!

Long views...
Long views…

A few steps east, and down to Louise, step to the west and down to frozen Agnes, or south to the six glaciers, or north towards the mountains towering above the ski hill. All of those compass directions are approximate, but you get the idea. Where to look?!

Down to Agnes
Down to Agnes (my poor knees)

Epic stuff, enough to make you want to sit down with a stale cheese roll and try and make sense of the overwhelming scenery. Just shy of 7500 feet up, and time for a well earned lunch (my knees had really struggled on the last part up!)

Lunch above Louise
Lunch above Louise

I was desperately hungry, and at this point I discovered I wasn’t the only one! A camp robber took advantage of my inattention to the cheese roll as I gazed dreamy eyed at Louise, and attempted to thieve it away. That gave me a start, and I was most happy to have been sitting well away from the steep drop. It would have been a dismal end, death by defending a cheese roll, (and I hadn’t finished all of the chocolate bar from earlier…) The bird (a Clark’s nutcracker – I think) was most determined, so much so, I had to clamber wearily to my feet and find another picnic spot.

The culprit (terrible phone photo, taken with jangled nerves)
The culprit (terrible phone photo, taken with jangled nerves)

He followed me for quite a way, clearly an optimistic creature, but my steely eyes and ferocious demeanour eventually convinced him to pick on another hiker. Or perhaps he caught a glance of the cheese roll and decided it could fare better elsewhere. Can’t blame him…

Heading back
Heading back

So there you have it. A fearsome encounter on the high trail, a tale of (potential) thievery, desperation (mostly mine), and disappointment (mostly yours, and maybe the bird), all in a wonderful wilderness setting. Heady stuff, and with the potential for a gritty outdoor adventure movie I shouldn’t wonder.

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Can you see the trail, over the far side, ascending the scree?

I returned to Lake Louise by retracing my steps, excited at the thought of telling Mrs PlaidCamper all about my adventure as we headed home. (I think she fell asleep before I got to the best parts…)

Returning
Returning

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment or share a story – perhaps an exciting wilderness encounter – and keep your guy ropes secure.

Looking for Mrs PlaidCamper
Looking for Mrs PlaidCamper

Heading out and returning home – thoughts on belonging (plus a little book review)

These post headings are getting longer than the posts. Apologies on the PlaidCamper meander…

I never know what is best about a trip away from home – is it the planning, the trip itself or returning home? I love the anticipation, and even the thought of a short day out or a weekend trip can raise my spirits during what (sometimes) seems a lengthy work week. (Just to be clear, I enjoy my day job, teaching, but there can be moments when a lesson seems a lifetime, and then a brief thought related to an outdoor adventure puts things in perspective!) Positive longing for the outdoor trips, without wishing away the present, is likely no bad thing. 

If you’ve read even a little of what I’ve posted previously, you know that I’m an almost outdoorsman, with more enthusiasm than expertise, but a willingness to try most things, safe in the knowledge I’m not living the wilderness life full time and I go home at the end of the day, weekend or time away. I’d love to spend more time outdoors, but we have annoying responsibilities like educating students, and feeding a family…not to mention financing the adventures. 

                  

Colorado cabin – I’d happily spend more time here…

The reality is that the return from a trip can, for me, be almost as satisfying as heading out. I suspect it is because there is a marked contrast between the (very pleasant) everyday life I have, and the wonderful contentment of simply being in the mountains, or whatever version of the big outdoors I find myself in. The journey home is a time to reflect on this contrast. (Or maybe I just can’t wait to bore the pants off any audience with tales of my latest exploits?) I often wonder, can I call the mountains home? Our second home? Is home simply a sense of belonging? 

                  

North to the Fairholme Range, AB. Is this home? A sense of home?

The idea of contrast, between belonging somewhere and a sense of longing for somewhere else, is one that William Fiennes explores in his marvellous little book “The Snow Geese”. I had not read this until Mrs PlaidCamper urged me to a few weeks ago, saying she thought it would appeal to me. As ever, she was absolutely right. The book covers so much ground in a genuine and beautifully written way. Reducing it to the most basic description is to undermine exactly how good the book is, but here goes:

Fiennes was recovering from a dangerous illness, one that had left him weak, scared and uncertain about much that he had taken for granted. He spends time recuperating at his parents’ house, a place of security and familiar comfort. Slowly, his strength returns, and with it a growing restlessness. Part of the restlessness stems from watching and reading about migratory birds, some reading specifically about snow geese. As Fiennes thinks and researches more about migration patterns, he begins to feel the need to follow the snow geese on their journey from the southern US up to their northern breeding grounds in Canada. The security of the familiar has started to stifle him, and he questions his sense of identity. To find out who he might now be, Fiennes follows the geese, describing the people and places he visits along the way. 

Reading the paragraph above, I know I have done a terrible disservice to how brilliant the book really is. Trust an old PlaidCamper when I say the book is so much more than the sum of its parts. If you have ever pondered on the nature of home, belonging, and the need to travel to different places – and you have a love of wildlife – then you will enjoy The Snow Geese. It’s a delightful meditation on travel, learning, and the kindness of strangers in strange places. You’ll also incidentally learn so much about migration patterns in birds you might even want to follow in Fiennes’ footsteps. It’s got me thinking about a trip…



In the end, it doesn’t matter how or where you define home. A combination of being with the right people or person at the right time in a particular location, and feeling contentment in all that, can amount to a sense of belonging. Perhaps it isn’t easy to define – I do know that being in the wilderness helps me think about such matters, and that’s a fine way to spend time.

Have you read The Snow Geese? Do you have a travel or outdoor book to recommend? How do you define home? Feel free to share, thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.