The Living Mountain

Oh how I wish I’d thought of that post heading, but I borrowed it – the title of a new favourite book, “The Living Mountain” by Nan Shepherd. A wonderful little volume, I’d never heard of it until a few months ago. There’s a story behind that…fullsizeoutput_5cb

Back in late January, Junior announced she’d applied for a chef position with the Fairmont group. Fair enough, a good company to work for by all accounts, and a chance to learn and refine her skills in a different environment, with hotels in beautiful Alberta and BC locations. All true, but the position she’d applied for was in St. Andrews, Scotland. Also beautiful, but somewhat further afield! Two weeks after her announcement, she was on a jet plane heading for new adventures, and has been having a lovely time the past few months, so well done, Junior!fullsizeoutput_545

How does this connect to “The Living Mountain” mentioned at the start? The day Junior was on her way, I came home from the airport, rinsed my contact lenses – seemed to be having an issue with welling up – and started to read The Guardian paper online. Would you believe, that very day, they had an article suggesting the top ten books about wilderness Scotland? An interesting mixture of fiction and non-fiction, and because it was about books, I was brave enough to venture BTL and read comments and suggestions. It was there I saw Nan Shepherd recommended over and over, so I managed to track down a copy.fullsizeoutput_56f

What a find! Nan Shepherd’s slim volume is wonderful, a love letter to the beauty of the Cairngorm mountains, a place she explored her entire life. Her writing is outstanding – intense, detailed and meditative, describing the mountains using all her senses to bring them alive. She loves her mountains, and cannot quite believe their beauty. On describing the clarity of water:

Water so clear cannot be imagined, but must be seen. One must go back, and back again, to look at it, for in the interval memory refuses to recreate its brightness. This is one of the reasons why the high plateau where these streams begin, the streams themselves, their cataracts and rocky beds, the corries, the whole wild enchantment, like a work of art is perpetually new when one returns to it. The mind cannot carry away all that it has to give, nor does it always believe possible what it has carried away.

You find yourself nodding with shared recognition at her delight in the natural world. When she describes silence at altitude, it is really about peace and quiet, rather than the absence of sound:

To bend the ear to silence, is to discover how seldom it is there. Always something moves. When the air is quite still, there is always running water; and up here that is a sound one can hardly lose…but now and then comes an hour when the silence is all but absolute, and listening to it one slips out of time. Such a silence is not a mere negation of sound. it is like a new element, and if water is still sounding with a low far-off murmur, it is no more than the last edge of an element we are leaving, as the last edge of land hangs on the mariner’s horizon.fullsizeoutput_56e

There is a lovely section about how she is like an excited dog surrounded by the scents of the mountain:

On a hot moist midsummer day, I have caught a rich fruity perfume rising from the mat of grass, moss and wild berry bushes that covers so much of the plateau. The earthy smell of moss, and the soil itself, is best savoured by grubbing. Sometimes the rank smell of deer assails one’s nostril, and in the spring the sharp scent of fire.DSCF7094

I enjoyed how she captured the animal life on and above the mountain, like the eagle rising coil over coil in slow symmetry…and when he has soared to the top of his bent, there comes the level flight as far as the eye can follow, straight, clean, and effortless as breathing. There is a description of hares streaking up a brown hillside like rising smoke – perhaps hoping to avoid becoming prey to the eagle?

Every page reveals how Shepherd increases her love for the mountain. She understands the immeasurable value and importance of time spent in nature:

Yet with what we have, what wealth! I add to it each time I go to the mountain – the eye sees what it didn’t before, or sees in a new way what it has already seen.IMG_20180225_122122

What wealth indeed. The challenges to our natural environment have increased enormously in the decades since Shepherd wrote and published. Wild places are under more and more commercial pressure, reducing the opportunities to slow down, immerse the physical (and mental) self in outdoor beauty, and stop to contemplate the treasures we have. It is splendid to have books like “The Living Mountain”, but I wonder if in the near future, her record and those like it, will be all that remains, that we’ll be reading about instead of experiencing first hand the wonders of our natural world?IMG_20180311_125558

Many years ago, we took a camping trip in Scotland when Junior was a wee bairn. It was her first time camping, and she enjoyed it, from being bathed in a washing up bowl to sleeping soundly (phew!) in a tent, despite the wind and rain outside. Sometimes sunny, oftentimes wild and woolly, it was a fun trip. We got as far as the Cairngorms, but didn’t spend any significant time up there. Better informed now, thanks to Nan Shepherd, and with Junior as an advance party, it seems as if we’ll have to arrange another trip…

I’ll stop now, because otherwise all I’ll do is continue to select passages to illustrate how much I enjoyed Nan Shepherd’s mountain musing. The best thing is to get a copy – I heartily recommend it.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

PS The photographs featured this week were all taken out and about in the past six months – not of the Cairngorms, but in our living mountains here in Alberta.

Good beer, a good book (and a good question?)

Beer and books! Two of my favourite things, and who doesn’t like a good read with a glass of beer at hand? Throw in a campfire, and all is well. (The good question is buried – and then raised – further down. Read on if important questions matter to you…)

Research is vital, and with the weather improving, and campfire season pretty much here, I forced myself to go to two beer festivals two weekends in a row, as well as a tasting at our local beer store to search out new favourites. Research is hard work, but it is work I take very seriously, and I’ll even put in a little overtime if necessary, to get the job done. An unpaid and overworked PlaidCamper. Preparation, preparation, preparation. I know you feel my pain…

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Exhaustive (exhausting?) research…

So, that is something about the beer part, with more to follow. The book part? Read on!

I was strolling along the banks of the Bow the other day, and I spotted a guy in waders fishing from the gravel on the far side. Behind him, up on the bank was a cooler. Am I right in thinking the cooler could only have been for beer? The sight put me in mind of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It.

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Lovely, but where’s the beer?

What a book! If you’ve read it, then you’ll know I am seriously underselling it by saying there is a lot of fishing, family feuding, and drinking in this story. I’m being truthful, but the story includes so much more. If you haven’t read it, you’ve got a treat ahead should you so choose. Anyway, back to my tenuous book and beer stuff.

Maclean’s narrator and his brother return to where they left eight bottles of beer cooling in the river. They’ve been fishing on a very hot day, the fishing has not been too rewarding, and they are looking forward to a cold one:

“God, let’s get that beer,” I said.

Paul kept spinning a bottle opener around his little finger. We were so dry that we could feel in our ears that we were trying to swallow. For talk, we only repeated the lyric refrain of the summer fisherman, “A bottle of beer sure would taste good.”

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Sure tastes good

They are disappointed – to put it mildly – that their brother-in-law, Neal, and his acquaintance, have finished off all the beer. These two didn’t take the trip for the fishing, they had a different activity in mind. The brothers spy the amorous culprits asleep – passed out? – buck naked and burning in the high heat of a Montana afternoon. Backsides are red, words are spoken, and actions are taken. You’ll have to read the story to find out more. It is a colourful episode in a book full of colourful episodes.

A River Runs Through It is wonderful on many levels, full of life, death, sadness and grace. But me being shallow, like a stream in mid-summer, I’ve always wondered about that beer in the river – Maclean wrote it was either Highlander or Kessler – was it any good, and what would be a good river beer today? (I know, one of the finest stories a person could read, and that is what I’m thinking…) The brothers were pretty annoyed, and I can’t imagine they’d have been quite so upset over a missing six pack of Bud. Both the breweries Maclean mentioned went under in the twentieth century, maybe under the Anheuser-Busch onslaught, although with the recent resurgence in craft beer, the Highlander name is being used once again in Missoula.

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Also tastes good

Anyway, this is my question – what would be a good beer, river-cooled a la Maclean, to enjoy after an afternoon of fishing? Yup, heady stuff, and I have to find an answer. Strange to be occupied by this question, given I have hardly ever fished, and I hardly ever drink beer. One of those is true.

The beers we researched at the Calgary and Canmore BeerFests (Mrs PC and our Canmore friends were onhand to share the work – I couldn’t tackle this alone) are all relatively recent vintages. Some of the start ups are mere months old, and I admire the enthusiasm, craft and commitment all the makers have in aiming to produce excellent beer.

Up until last year, my choice for the beer in the river would have been Great Northern Brewing’s Going to the Sun IPA. Aptly, it is made in Montana, and an absolute gem for a warm afternoon. Not so hoppy as to be too dry on the finish, it is a definite river beer contender.

However, our recent research revealed many other possibilities. If the brothers could have sourced it back in the day, I believe the Papa Bear Prairie Ale from the Half Hitch Brewing Company would have hit the spot. Or the Farmer’s Daughter Pale Ale from the same brewery. And if the name doesn’t put a person off, Red Bison Brewing’s Party Pants Pale Ale is also a winner. (Regular readers recognize I love a little alliteration, but steady on there, Red Bison…)

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Party Pants Pale Ale on the left

Honestly, I could list and share many of the beers from our two recent BeerFest experiences that were wonderful enough to be left in a river – in a good way – or opened and enjoyed by a campfire over the coming season. Perhaps I’ll write a short follow up in the next week or two to mention and recommend some of these other beers. Be a shame to let all that research go unshared!

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“Beer? No thanks. I drink water from my frisbee!”

I can’t help but think if only a certain someone would simply sit down, perhaps with an optional small glass of APA, turn off the (three?!) televisions, and read a few documents and reports, the world might be a tad more relaxed.

Thanks for reading, and perhaps you have a different “beer in a story” suggestion? Or a recommendation for a post-fishing river-cooled beer for Maclean’s story? If I can find it, I promise to try it…

“A bottle of beer sure would taste good.”

Have a wonderful weekend!

To the lighthouse

I’ve never read it. I believe it is a favourite of Old Ma PlaidCamper, and I remember seeing this title on the bookshelves when I was a child, but was never tempted – I thought they’d misspelled wolf. Oh dear… It had a gloomy cover, and Ma told me it was not really about a lighthouse. Now I’m older, and almost ready to read a story that might not be about a lighthouse, maybe I should give it a go? Also, I’m ready to believe Virginia wasn’t a wolf.

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A good point
In between the rain showers and strong and stormy winds earlier this week, we went for a walk to the lighthouse. Our walks don’t always have a point, other than to enjoy being out, but this one did, Amphitrite Point! Who wouldn’t want to visit a location named for a Greek sea goddess? For once, it was the destination, not the journey, man.

Initially, the lighthouse wasn’t the reason for the walk, but it turned out all the trails and little beaches on the ocean side of Ucluelet were closed due to heavy seas washing onto the shore. Oh no! What to do? There’s a dog needing a walk! So to the lighthouse we went, to take in the view, if not the trail.

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Peeking
Well, we were fortunate. As it sometimes does on a day forecast to have incessant rain, the skies cleared, and sun emerged for over an hour. We could see the clouds amassing to the southwest, and a grey wall was creeping towards us from way out west, but that didn’t arrive until we were ready to depart. It wasn’t really creeping, as we found out when the raindrops hit us later, hard and fast, and we would have been soaked had we stayed any longer.fullsizeoutput_58b

Did I mention the trail was closed for safety reasons? Don’t tell anyone, but we did head south of the lighthouse, for barely a hundred metres, to a rocky outcrop high above the busy ocean. From there, you can lean out and peek back to the Broken Islands, and across to the lighthouse itself. Again, don’t tell, but there is a bench off a short side path, and it is completely hidden from the main trail and sheltered by trees and shrubs. Facing west, it is a perfect little sun trap, and often warm even on overcast days. There we sat, protected from the buffeting winds, admiring sea birds battling the weather, and watching the waves crashing against the rocks. A bald eagle flew just over our heads. For a few seconds it seemed almost motionless, hanging there, facing into the wind before disappearing behind the trees further south. (Sharp as ever, I pulled out my camera and took a fabulous picture of the trees it flew beyond…)fullsizeoutput_594

The colours shifted from blue to grey as the afternoon wore on, and the heavy weather started to be felt. It was a real treat to sit and watch the changes. I tried to zoom in and capture the glints and curl of green inside a wave before it collapsed under its own weight and onto the shore. The constant heave and swell of the water further out was mesmerizing and unpredictable. Just when I thought I’d figured out a wave pattern, the ocean shifted and remade itself, tidal pull and undertow, crashing in and washing out with a roar, the booms and hissing audible above the rush of wind.

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Changing…
It was an exhilarating hour or so, full of natural energy, and sights and sounds to thrill the observer. Drawn to the ocean, my gaze barely went to the lighthouse, but it is quite the sight. Small and stocky, planted firm among the black rocks, it isn’t a grand construction, but it looks purposeful, doing an important job on the point.

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Departing
We left when we realized that it was more than ocean spray getting our faces wet, and when the sea had no more hints of green or blue, but was as grey as the wall of cloud just offshore. The wind had never died down, and was now beginning to shake the trees with increasing ferocity – time to wander back, picking up the pace, but with one last glance back to the lighthouse. Perhaps I’ll give the book a go, now it is on my mind. Have you read it?

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Nope, haven’t read it. I’m a dog.
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Snow on bare bones

Really, PlaidCamper? What horrors have you endured?

No, nothing grisly here, quite the opposite! A post about bones, snow, quiet, and a book you might enjoy.

We were on snowshoes down by the Bow and Baker Creek a short while ago. Snow was falling, and the trees had a good coating. The wind had less teeth in the trees, and although temperatures were low, conditions were just right for tramping. And there were bare bones everywhere…

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Decent snow

Maybe the roads were still relatively difficult to make travel out of the city an easy prospect, but returning from Yoho we saw no other traffic on the Bow Valley Parkway, other than a snow plow, and we parked up and had the trails to ourselves. Always an introvert, with a tendency towards being a touch anti-social on my time off, this was a special morning. Two PlaidCampers, deep snow, empty trails, and a backpack full of snacks? Let’s go!

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Quiet enough here

Having spent a few winters lumbering along in snowshoes, I’ve developed a (slightly sad?) obsession with types of snow. There is a difference in what falls where in the mountains. On the BC side, the snow is almost a given – or as close to a given you can get in these post truth global warming days. It will often be deep, and it will often be wet and heavy. On snowshoes, heavy snow is fine if you’re second on the trail, but if you’re first – and if you’re me – it’s a workout. I’ve been known to hang back at a trailhead because I’m anti-social or quiet, but the other truth is I’m letting fellow hikers do my heavy lifting. I know, I know.

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Powdery

On the Alberta side of the mountains, snowfall isn’t as certain compared with further west, but when it falls it is light and powdery. Yes, I prefer to snowshoe through the powder. I’ll hit that trail and cheerfully blast a brave path through unbroken snow, leading the way and selflessly helping those who are to follow later in the day. It’s a workout, but I’m happy to help. I know, I know.

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Tree bones

What about the bare bones that were everywhere? Tree bones! The light and the snow last week seemed to reveal the beauty of the trees in sharp, near black and white. We could see the tree bones laid bare. Alright, perhaps an overactive imagination here. I’ll admit to borrowing tree bones from Peter Wohlleben, and his wonderful book, The Hidden Life of Trees, written in part about the forest in Germany he attends to.

imageHighly recommended as a thoughtful and off centre read about trees, I thoroughly enjoyed Wohlleben telling how, over many years, he redefined his relationship to the trees he works with, evolving from logger to conservationist. His notions about trees being a “wood wide web” of communicating and social entities, beings that taste and smell, are a challenge to conventional thinking. He isn’t a sentimental tree hugger, he acknowledges trees have a commercial value, and he explores and explains different, less destructive approaches to harvesting.

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Beautiful

It’s a great book to read if you enjoy thinking about other ways of looking at the world, and different ways of measuring time or wealth. Preaching to the choir here, but when you consider the beauty and complexity of a single tree, and how that single tree impacts the environment of thousands of other living creatures, then how wonderful is a stand of trees? A woodland? A forest?

As Wohlleben says, trees ought to be beyond the status of inanimate objects like stones or boulders, but because in human measured time they appear static (beyond seasonal shifts), we mistake them as slow or unchanging and ripe for (poorly thought out) commercial exploitation. Well, you might enjoy the book.

dscf4363We certainly enjoyed our deep powder snowshoe hike along the riverbanks and through the trees. As we retraced our steps, I was hoping to spot the dipper we’ve seen several times along this stretch. I’d just told myself to be content with the day, dipper or no dipper, when I caught sight of it out the corner of my eye. Splashing and bobbing upstream, then dipping below the surface to pop up a few metres downstream, this was a fine way to complete our walk. No dipper photos, but a happy memory.

dscf4359Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

Another glance back at summer…

An outhouse photo? Will this post stink? What about those summer memories you promised, PlaidCamper? It will be ok, honest…

It’ll feature a bit more about my summer reading. Seems like these little summer highlights all have a bit of a literary thread running through them – we must have needed to sit down and think, rather than charge around learning to surf or whatever…(actually, I did read a good book on surfing…but that’s not for now!)

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Park rangers…lovely work on Long Beach

This week, the look back at a summer highlight is two or three places connected through my enjoyment of a single book. I know, rather a slim pretext for what follows, but I hope you enjoy it.

The first place is Long Beach, on the west side of Vancouver Island. A lovely beach to go stretch your legs, we wandered for a couple of hours, and then stopped for a picnic lunch, sitting against a suitably comfortable driftwood log.

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Comfortable log, and a good book

Along with important outdoor items like bear spray and chocolate, I like to pack a book, and this day I’d tucked a copy of Walt Franklin’s Earthstars, Chanterelles, Destroying Angels into my backpack. I’d been saving it for a few weeks, and a sunny beach afternoon seemed a good time to dip into this collection of poetry.

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A quiet spot to sit and read (can you spot Mrs PC?)

When I say it was so engaging that I forgot to pay attention to my immediate surroundings (and how I love those west coast surroundings!), then hopefully you have some idea as to what a splendid collection it is. If you are even only sometimes preoccupied with the natural world around us, then you’d likely be captivated by Walt’s words. Travel, wilderness, identity, conflict, the passage of time, the nature of nature and our place in it; Walt explores all this and more, with insight, a keen eye for detail, and flashes of good humour. I find he can say more in a few lines than most:

moments crystallize

in falling snow-

everything happens,

nothing happens

all at once-

the ancient tales,

the current news

form as lines

across white fields-

across the endless poem

(lines from A Rivertop Reflection)

I’ve read it and reread it cover to cover! It’s fair to say I enjoyed that warm afternoon of lazing at the beach, dipping into the Earthstars, and pausing every now and again to dip toes into the ocean.

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Dipping a toe…

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About a month later, we were hiding away up at Little Bear. As we unpacked the car, my backpack tumbled out and the contents landed at my feet. Bear spray, (more?!) chocolate, a bottle opener, and a sand-sprinkled copy of Earthstars…Well, I’d simply have to reread it!

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Time to sit down with a book

The final poem in Earthstars is Mike’s Truck, a wonderful tale featuring a septic tank, a truck, old Mike, and a memory about an outhouse:

“an old non-flusher with a crescent moon”

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An old non-flusher…

The poem sparked an old memory of ours. When we lived for a while in rural France, our old stone fixer-upper had a septic tank. We’d telephone and then wait outside for the elderly farmer to come by on his ancient tractor to pump out the tank. Oddly happy with his work, after payment he’d drive off with a cheery wave, the tractor puffing blue diesel fumes and crawling up and over the stone bridge out of the village. We never asked where he emptied out, and we never bought his farm produce…

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The shower tree

Little Bear is pretty well equipped, with four walls, a roof, a tree for hanging your solar shower, and – luxury – an outhouse. Happily, the outhouse was under a near full moon during our most recent stay, more practical than poetic, the extra moonlight something to be thankful for in the wee small hours.

There you have it, a series of happy memories and recent highlights, connected and prompted by reading Walt’s poetry. If you have the time, pay a visit to Rivertop Rambles and read Walt’s excellent blog (and find links to where you can get hold of a copy of Earthstars and other published works – go on, you’ll be glad you did!)

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

Looking forward, looking back…

For many involved in education, this time of year is about beginnings; a new school year and all the excitement and promise that goes with having a new set of students. Fall is fast approaching, and summer is fading. It’s all about planning for the fresh academic year, being ready with spruced up lessons and wonderful ideas to activate learning. Something like that, anyway.

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Fresh

The other day, I found myself sitting at my desk, in my empty classroom (the students were due to arrive in another couple of days), making a few final adjustments to some “start the year” type activities. Jotted down some hoary old bits and pieces to share with the new arrivals, along the lines of making a good first impression (but give your teacher, Mr PC, some slack – he is happy to see you, but he smiles on the inside…), make a good second impression if the first one didn’t go so well, and it’ll all be fine as the year progresses. The steady drip, drip, drip of encouragement. So, very much in looking forward mode. Yet, I’m not quite ready to let go of summer…

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Drip, drip, drip

Don’t tell the principal, but I ended up using a few minutes of that planning time to make a note or two about our summer adventures. We had a splendid summer, fortunate to be able to visit the UK, and spend time with family and friends – this was an absolute highlight. Still, banging on about close friends and family that other people don’t know isn’t necessarily a recipe for an enthralling blog post. So I’ll spare you those details and, over the next couple of posts, share one or two other highlights instead. Not that these will necessarily be enthralling, but I’ll do my best (as I like to say to students) and these are what came to mind, what I scribbled down in the quiet of the classroom:

dscf3068Let’s start with sitting outside the Tofino Botanical Gardens Darwin Cafe, taking shelter from a heavier period of rain, and drinking an excellent cup of coffee whilst leafing through old editions of The New Yorker magazine. Really, PlaidCamper? Yes, really! It’s not always all action outdoor pursuits for the PlaidCampers, you know! Who am I kidding? If you’ve read even only one or two of the posts here, you’re already very aware that it’s rarely all action outdoor pursuits for the PlaidCampers. I imagine high octane all action adventure must be exhausting. It certainly seems it. Hence the coffee, gentle rain, beautiful plants, and magazines.

dscf2759I must admit, I’d never read a copy of The New Yorker before picking one at random from the pile. Talk about a lucky dip! This particular edition had a new short story by Ian McEwan, and I’ve always enjoyed his novels. The short story, My Purple Scented Novel, was an absolute gem. In his tale of rivalry, professional jealousy, and betrayal between two writers, McEwan constructs a devious, gripping, and (suspend your disbelief) plausible account of a relationship that twists and turns from the first to the last paragraph. I loved it, and loved it again when I reread it prior to writing this post.

The Tofino Botanical Gardens, a cup of great coffee, and an enjoyable short story. All these elements combined on that damp Tuesday afternoon to produce a happy summer highlight. I think back to that, and I smile (on the inside…)

dscf2755I can’t transport you to Tofino, and I can’t share a cup of coffee with you, although I’d love to, but I can give you the link to McEwan’s story:

My Purple Scented Novel

 

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Boats, floating

If nothing else, this was a great excuse to look back at some West Coast photographs from the summer! If this didn’t float your boat, be warned, because I’ll write about some other highlights in the next post or two.

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

“A disappearance is in order…”

We’ve been spending the week at Little Bear cabin, Montana, disappearing for a while. Our days have been fast paced; books, small wanderings, sitting, books, sitting some more, and maybe a beer by the fire. Maybe.

One book I’ve really enjoyed is “Canoe Country” by Roy MacGregor. It’s a delightful account where MacGregor argues the canoe made Canada, and his argument is supported with tales and anecdotes about well known and less well known paddlers in Canadian history. If you’re even slightly intrigued by the canoe, you’ll like the book. Sitting outside a cabin up a mountain, it was like catnip for an old PlaidCamper. Mrs PC has been right to point out we have nowhere to store a canoe…

In a book full of memorable passages and quotes, here is one MacGregor uses that particularly appealed:

Every so often a disappearance is in order. A vanishing. A checking out. An indeterminate period of unavailability. Each person, each sane person, maintains a refuge, or series of refuges, for this purpose. A place or places, where they can, figuratively if not literally, suspend their membership in the human race.”  (John A. Murray, Colorado naturalist)

Most of the time, being a member of the human race is just fine, and I maintain that most people are well intentioned and propose no ill will to their fellows. However, the weight of bad news headlines prefacing endless appalling atrocities and scandals are apparently the only stories worth telling, and this can take a toll. Thank goodness for Little Bear, and all the other natural refuges available to those lucky enough to reach them. And perhaps there’s still time this summer, for those so inclined, to find a new place or two – maybe even traveling there by canoe…(don’t worry, Mrs PC, we’ll rent it!)

Thanks for reading, and have an enjoyable weekend!