Bridging the gap…

…between winter and spring, as the ongoing thaw-freeze-thaw continues here in Calgary.

Recent days have been mostly pleasant – the blue skies and sunshine are welcome, although the afternoon slush pools are less so. Those murky pools are growing, and can’t be trusted – they have hidden depths, according to my soggy socks. We’ve been pavement skating in the chill mornings, and puddle-jumping in the squelchy afternoons, wandering the banks of the Bow between two bridges.

Looking upstream at the Peace Bridge
The banks of snow along cleared pathways have been melting away, the fluffy pillows slightly less deep each day, much to Scout’s surprise. What looks an inviting pile of snow to wallow in, turns out to be ice-crusted and treacherous, quick to collapse under an unsuspecting canine. I try not to laugh…IMG_20180301_135741

All the melting snow is quite pretty to look at. Craters and hollows have appeared, and where the sun has really hit the snow, there is a glassy layer along the edges. Some of the ice crystals look feathery, and some look like scales, flashing in the brilliant sunshine. Tufts and clumps of brown grass are appearing here and there, and there was even a hint of green on a particularly sunny patch.fullsizeoutput_569

It’s been magpies, chickadees and scurrying squirrels along the river banks, adding to a sense of spring, and adding an extra slippery challenge as an excited Scout leaps at each one. One such leap and lurch took us down to a pile of river rocks, nicely warmed by the sun, a spot to rest, look up and downstream, and try to work out who is leading the walk. Calm down, or we’ll walk over the wobbly bridge again…

Looking downstream at the wobbly bridge
All too quickly, we seem to be leaving winter and welcoming spring here in the city. That being said, it’ll be many weeks before any real greenery emerges, and in fact heavy snow is forecast for the next day or so, but the hints for warmer days are getting stronger. Here’s hoping for a short mud season!

“Not the wobbly bridge again! I’m calm, I’m calm…”
A brief post this week – I must go and find a dry pair of socks and some sensible footwear, before heading out to negotiate those untrustworthy slush pools once more.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Twin springs rushing in…

…to two cities. Nothing Dickensian, though. Our trip to San Francisco a few weeks ago was a delight for many reasons. A particular joy was the chance to experience spring a good month earlier than it arrives up here in Alberta. In fact, it feels like we’ve had two springs, or at least an extended new growth season. San Francisco, combined with our recent prairie and foothills jaunts, has us bursting with energy and optimism.

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Extravagant Calgary blossom

Along the river, over the hills, in the ground, in the sky, spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm, new life, new beauty, unfolding, unrolling in glorious exuberant extravagance, new birds in their nests, new winged creatures in the air, and new leaves, new flowers, spreading, shining, rejoicing everywhere.

From John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra, and it seems to me Muir expressed the vitality of spring better than most! Oh yes, how lucky we were to experience this season in two places.

DSCN6548The late March warmth in California was wonderful. To be able to stroll (clamber and climb?) through the SF city neighbourhoods bathed in bright sunshine, to bask in the light and inhale the early flowers, blossoms and fresh green on the trees was enough to tempt one to think “Oh, we could live here…” Who wouldn’t give it at least a little thought, even if only as a passing fancy? It’s part of the fun in travel and exploring less familiar places.

Clamber and climb

The old buildings are quite distinctive in many of the longer established areas up on the hills. The look and feel is very particular, and far removed from the relative modernity of Calgary. There are smallish pockets of early twentieth architecture to be found in Calgary, mostly charming saltbox bungalows, but nothing like the tall buildings we saw in SF. San Francisco and Calgary are young, both in terms of average age of population, and compared to the old, long established European cities familiar to us from our previous travels and time before moving west. Great though the grand European cities are, I enjoy the energy to be found in each of these younger cities, especially in springtime!

Lovely building

Well, we couldn’t live in San Francisco, mainly for financial reasons, the time and distance to the nearest ski hills, and the fact that my little old legs might wear out with the urban hiking. However, being a visitor allows for enchantment and imaginings, the fun of pondering the possibilities and enjoying a different city through the eyes of an outsider. It’s harder to take somewhere for granted when you visit infrequently, and fond memories are renewed, and new ones made each time.

DSCN6578A San Francisco spring is quite beautiful, especially if you’ve come from the semi arid Canadian foothills, where you know the arrival of spring on the calendar is one thing, and the actual arrival something much later! That said, winter was short this year, and temperatures in southern Alberta oddly mild, with many high teen and even mid 20s centigrade values recorded from February onwards. This has given us an earlyish spring bloom in Calgary (and farming fears for the coming months, but maybe this is the new normal) with leaves, blossoms, birds and bugs springing forth with great vigour. Perhaps the right rains will come, this summer won’t be the hottest on record, and we will all enjoy seasons behaving like seasons? Spring, our two springs this year, can only have us hoping…

Calgary blossom

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and have a great weekend! (The close up Calgary blossom pictures were taken with my phone on my walk home from work earlier this week – if you live in Calgary, and were concerned about a plaid clad gentleman stopping and not so surreptitiously taking photos of your trees, apologies, it was me, and I felt too foolish to knock and ask for permission…)

twin header.001
Two springs, two places, both lovely, so no complaints…

Peace like a river…

…on the Bow. Changed the words a bit, but the tune still fits, at least in my head each time I use the Peace Bridge to cross the Bow River. Sing along if you’d like.

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From the bluff

We’ve been in the city the past week or so, heading back to work and getting knee-deep into report card season. If you teach, that’s a season. Our outdoor time since the turn of the year has mostly been along the banks or up on the bluffs of the Bow here in Calgary, upstream and downstream.

Fine and bright, if a little cool?

The weather has been mostly fine and bright, if a little cool for some. My brother visited for a few days, just before these photographs were taken, leaving balmy DC (+22C) for chilly Calgary and Louise (-25C), and it’s probably best if I don’t repeat what he said. No idea what he was on about, because after all, it’s a dry cold…

“Look, we’re only sitting ‘cos it’s a dry cold I tell ya!”

The banks of the Bow provide quite delightful views, so much so that even though you are in the heart of a large city, it doesn’t feel too urban. On a sunny day, even the towers of oil and gas central can look attractive.

Not unattractive on a sunny day

Our little neighbourhood of Sunnyside – love that name – borders the Bow, and there are a number of bridges to choose from within walking distance. My personal favourite is the bright red Peace Bridge.

The Peace Bridge!

At school, when we are studying city infrastructure, or on Downtown field trips, the students say I’d like the Peace Bridge less if I’d been here to pay for the construction. According to some of their parents, the bridge was/is a costly eyesore. My response is to endear myself to parents by asking the students to list the Peace Bridge benefits, then draw, photograph and make up alternate (polite) names for the bridge. Amongst others, they’ve suggested Snake Bridge, Stampede Bridge, Dino Bridge, Spine Bridge, Tube Bridge, and, yup, you guessed it, Red Bridge.

I like Peace Bridge as a name – pretty hard to argue with that (unless you don’t like peace, the design, or paying for it, but “Tax Burden Like a River” doesn’t quite fit the tune or make sense…)

A+ for colour and bold design

Anyway, here was a little something about our urban outdoors. Now, it being report card season, I’ll stop this and get back to awarding high marks and positive comments to any student claiming to like the Peace Bridge.

Our urban outdoors, looking across the Bow to Fort Calgary

Thanks for taking the time to read. Perhaps you have a favourite song to sing when crossing favourite rivers on favourite bridges? Perhaps that is a strange thing to ask? As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

I got, peace like a river…

Rocky Mountain Small Fall (and a little Canadian Thanksgiving…)

This won’t be the most thematically coherent post I’ve written (why change things now, PlaidCamper?), it’s more an attempt to link what can be overlooked with being thankful (be warned – it might get a little saccharine, or even maple syrupy…)

The small things...
The small things…
There’s always so much to be thankful for, and it isn’t always the big things. Maybe it is about being thankful and grateful for the small things, and realizing that the truth is these little items are what really matter. They are the big things!

The big things...
The big things…
Before we went off on our lengthy Taylor Lake hike last time out, we had a shortish hike along the Bow River, a few steps from our tent, and walking downstream away from the busy Lake Louise townsite. I enjoy Louise, but as I’ve mentioned before, it is worth getting to certain places early and enjoying them before the crowds arrive. So we didn’t bother heading up to the famed lake, choosing instead to take a wander along the riverbank. I’m so happy we did! We got to enjoy the season in small ways, uncovering little delights instead of the usual – always appreciated – large scale grandeur.

Little delights!
Little delights!
The views were up and downstream, and to be fair, still rate as pretty spectacular, even on a grey and overcast day.

Bow River
Bow River
The autumnal delights were fine in their own more modest way, splashes of muted colour made brighter by the dark background and low light.

Splashes of colour
Splashes of colour
Finding patches of beauty, items to marvel at in their own right, instead of being distracted by the epic and sometimes overwhelming landscape, was really quite delightful, and rather restful. Being outdoors in mountain regions is always good for recharging and recalibration, never unwelcome, but the afternoon ramble wasn’t about the monumental, and was restorative for being lower key. We were more than thankful for that.

Low key beauty
Low key beauty
The second Monday in October is when Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated, and it’s a special time for us – this was when we arrived in Canada! We were excited to arrive, bemusing friends we left behind in sunny SW France, having chosen to switch long summers for long winters. We stayed in a pleasant downtown hotel amid the towering skyscrapers, thrilling to how different it was from the tiny hamlet we’d left behind. Difference is often exciting. We wandered out to explore, and were mystified by how quiet it was – nothing like a big city at all! Where were all the people? Quieter than a French village on a Sunday?! We didn’t know it was Thanksgiving weekend, and that many people had gone away to be with family, or were at home with family.

We’ll be away ourselves this Canadian Thanksgiving, staying in a little cabin in Yoho. Quiet places, shared with special people, hidden retreats that are reachable from the city, well, these can be added to a long and wonderful list of what we can be thankful for. Family, friends, the students we teach, and colleagues we learn from. A warm and welcoming country, where diversity and multiculturalism is generally celebrated, a mostly successful mosaic spread across a rugged land and in a challenging climate. The little/big things that can all too easily be taken for granted when you have them.

Muted colours along the Bow
Muted colours along the Bow
So, if you’re in Canada, from Canada, wishing you could be in Canada (if for only a little while), or have Canadian friends, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend! And if none of the previous applies, no worries, have a wonderful weekend anyway (and maybe add a little maple syrup!)

Enjoy your weekend!
Enjoy your weekend!
Thanks for reading! As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story (another small thing to be thankful for – the warm, witty and creative people to be found here), and keep your guy ropes secure.

What should a perfect community include? (This is an excuse to show more pictures from Tofino – I’ll admit it!)

What should a perfect community include? This was a question students were attempting to answer this week at school. Discussions and sharing about where they had or hadn’t spent their summer vacation prompted the question. It turned out that a couple of families had visited Tofino over the break. Well, that got the talk moving on…and they couldn’t get me to be quiet. (Let the students get a word in edgeways, OldPlaidcamper!) Anyway, one student shared that her family would love to move to Tofino. Other students asked what was so special about the place? What ought to be special about anywhere they might choose to live? Essentially, I was prompted to write this post after a lesson at school – don’t worry, there won’t be any homework, and I’ll never write a post inspired by a math lesson – I like math, but that’s not for here!

What makes a place special?
What makes a place special?
Students decided they’d love to live somewhere that had beautiful scenery. After a little research online, they agreed that Tofino has a wonderful location. In fact, a field trip to Vancouver Island was suggested. All that enthusiasm. I didn’t have the heart to talk about school budgets…

A beautiful location
A beautiful location
Students felt it was important to be able to connect with nature – see wildlife for real, not just on TV or in books. They were thrilled at the thought of seeing a bear in the wild. Many of the students in this class are new to Canada, with seventeen different home countries represented. Even though they live an hour from the Rockies, not all yet have the material resources to visit and spend time out there. Part of my work is to encourage them to embrace the outdoors in their adopted home.

A West Coast bear
A West Coast bear, healthy and happy near Tofino
The opportunity to be active was considered important. They felt that they would want to live somewhere where being active was part of where they were. Hiking wasn’t a popular notion, but going fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking, cycling and surfing definitely caught their interest.

Sea kayaking appealed
Sea kayaking appealed
Taking a boat out to fish caught their imagination
Taking a fishing trip caught their imagination
Some map work soon taught the students where Tofino and Vancouver Island can be found. The thought of driving from Calgary wasn’t very welcome, but a flight, especially if the last leg was by floatplane? Well…

An exciting way to travel!
An exciting way to travel!
Becoming more thoughtful, students talked about what work they might be able to find, and the skills they’d need to learn. Some wanted to fish, and take others fishing for a living. Several thought that being a pilot would be great. Training to become a chef was suggested, as was owning a hotel. One wanted to work for the Parks Service, and look after the bears. Not one wanted to work in an office, or behind a desk. Fingers crossed they are lucky in life with that.

Maybe they will fish for a living?
Maybe they will fish for a living?
I’m not suggesting for one moment that Tofino offers everything that a person might require. Yet it was interesting to see through the eyes of our next generation, consider what they think is important in and around a community. They did talk about the need for friendly people, schools, a hospital, dentists, and shops and stores. Emergency services got a mention, but nothing about lawyers. You can find some or most of these almost anywhere.

This isn't any old place, too special for that
This isn’t any old place, too special for that
To my mind, it was the outdoors and location that really fired up this group of young people. The need to be in a positive and healthy environment, and connected to nature. Here’s hoping they grow up that way. These were fun discussions, and they had me thinking about the West Coast – plus it provided a gratuitous excuse to trot out some more photos of Tofino from earlier in the summer here. That’s never a bad thing!

Better than a desk?
Better than a desk?
The perfect community? I’m not sure such a place exists, but I’m confident Tofino is pretty close to it, especially for the young, and young at heart!

Someone has to do this work...
Someone has to do this work…
There were two essentials that were missed, so I’ll add them here:

You have to have coffee shops with great coffee...
You have to have coffee shops with great coffee…
…and a microbrewery with great beer!
…and a microbrewery with great beer!
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share a story or make a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Man flu thoughts…but still got outside!

What a brave little PlaidCamper. 

Sometimes, we can’t always get to the big outdoors – work commitments, timing or illness – but we can get outside. Living in Western Canada – Calgary, to be precise – almost anywhere outdoors can be delightful. For me, Calgary is a great place to be, located in the foothills of the Rockies, so an outdoor adventure can be had any time of the year. Even in the city there are many wonderful parks, with biking and hiking trails, enough to make being outside in the city a real pleasure in all seasons.

I try and get outside every single day for an extended period of time. Over the past year I’ve aimed to walk a minimum of 10 000 steps daily, and surprised myself by pretty much achieving that. I’d read somewhere that doing this is an excellent way of preventing future health complications. I’m no gym bunny, but walking appeals to me. We are designed to move at walking pace, and I manage to do most of my best thinking – whatever that means – when walking. So, even though I have been suffering – without complaint, just ask Mrs PlaidCamper! – from man flu, I staggered out today to hit my 10 000 steps. And it was a lovely afternoon! Minus 10C with blue skies and no real windchill, and the sun felt great. Days like today are what make this part of Alberta so pleasant to be in during the winter. It is a long season, but usually my favourite – either snow or blue skies, and rarely grey or overcast – you just get out and enjoy it.

I live close to Princes Island park on the Bow River, which means there are amazing views of the downtown, and today you could hear birdsong and there were various tracks in the snow – I like seeing and hearing animal traces, especially so close to the city centre. This afternoon, it got me thinking that even our large cities are quite temporary in the bigger picture, and that the Bow will still be flowing, and animals will still be leaving tracks in the snow long after we’re gone – those sort of thoughts are comforting. Not especially profound thinking here, mostly the product of a man flu fevered brain…

Thank you for reading, keep your guy ropes secure.

A pretty picture from this afternoon: