We’ve been enjoying our time in Ucluelet, and were excited to be here for Ukee Days, a celebration of community in this little corner of the west coast. The weekend kicked off properly with a parade, and excitement was in the air. Especially from the young children who had experienced a parade here before. They knew each parade participant would be handing out candy to the young ones lining the route.
It was a noisy and colourful affair, and likely the only time we’ll see a muscle car behind a police vehicle get away with burning rubber on main street…
Parks Canada, Inland Search and Rescue, local mum and toddler groups, the Wild Pacific Trail Society, Ucluelet Aquarium, various local stores, some fire trucks, police ATVs, an ambulance and other participants made a fine spectacle.
We’d planned to meet friends from Canmore arriving to camp nearby for the week at the evening show. Unfortunately, they missed a ferry and ended up getting to their campsite just as it was dark. They were rather tired from waiting three hours for the next boat, a two hour crossing with a seasick dog, and then a longish drive across island with a puking dog on the latter winding stages, and two teenage boys getting greener each time Fido threw up. They missed the evening music and beer.
It was a good line up, particularly the headline set by Band of Rascals– guitars, drums, a bass, and a lead singer giving it all, with the volume turned up to 11. As it should be. When the light faded, and the fog rolled in, the proceedings were perfumed – heavily – by a sizeable chunk of the audience figuring they’d get away with breaking the no smoking policy under cover of darkness. Weed was in the air. Certainly added something to the atmosphere, a little extra haze and daze. We were happy enough with the Tofino Session ale from the beer garden. Quite enjoyed being carded too – I think I look as though I might still be in high school…
We did catch up with our friends in the following days, and they slowly began to unwind and relax into Ukee time. They surfed a bit, hiked a bit, ate good food and drank good beer a bit, and loved having a beach bonfire each night right in front of their campsite.
They weren’t quite as excited about the bear that had gotten into a nearby tent early one morning (to scavenge for candy a child had left in a sleeping bag) coming back when they were out and tearing a hole in the side of their tent. Sadly, the bear may have to be put down. Doesn’t seem remotely fair to the bear when it is only trying to be a bear…
It takes time to find the time to wind down and follow island or small town pace of life. Once you do, the trick is to maintain it, try to hang on to it even if you have to move on. Small isn’t dull, and slowing down doesn’t hurt – put yourself in a small town daze!
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
I hear it has been a tad chilly across much of North America. I know this because my brother sent me an email the other day, asking if we could please take back the Canadian weather that has found its way into Maryland? Actually, he didn’t ask nicely, he wrote something along the lines of “take back this #*@%ing winter weather, my thermometer is reading -5F, I don’t know or care what that is in Celsius, but it is *#@%ing cold!” Well, I couldn’t believe that language from young brother PlaidCamper.
I do like snow, but I’ve been quite happy to miss the recent cold snap in Alberta, with the -25C (before factoring in windchill. Yikes!) Young brother PlaidCamper did once visit us in Alberta in midwinter, but I can’t repeat what he said on here. Oh, alright, just a snippet:
“#*^% $#@^ *&^% @#$% your winter!” Goodness me…
We were born in Britain, so talking and complaining about the weather is part of our genetic make up. Can’t possibly talk about emotions or feelings – perish the thought! – but we can say how the weather makes us feel. In dear old Blighty, that was generally miserable due to the cold and wet. Stereotype wildly? Me? Pish! Anyway, I knew I should help him out – I simply couldn’t bear the thought of him suffering and complaining about the cold. I sent him a few pictures taken on Wednesday this week, to add a precious ray of sunshine, show some brotherly understanding, try and thaw him out just a little (but mostly to annoy him and see if he believed I was in the True North!) Pretty sure his temperature went up.
I couldn’t quite believe it myself. Warm sunshine and sitting on a beach late afternoon and into the evening, watching the sun set over the Pacific. Outdoors in January, in Canada, and I had to remove my toque, haha! Normally at this time of year, I only remove the toque to wash my hair or put on a snowboard helmet. My locks were blowing free in the sea breeze. Or they would have been, but male pattern baldness has put a stop to that. Yup, no hat, it was too warm. It isn’t often I can say I’m in Canada and in one of the warmest places in North America in January. I made sure young brother PlaidCamper knew that, let him bask second hand in the warm glow I experienced. I’m always happy to help.
Young brother PlaidCamper is planning a visit to Vancouver Island later in the year. We’re going to paddle and camp and sing songs around the fire. Hold on, what about that British reserve in our genetic make up? Quite right – we’re going to paddle and camp. I’ve said we’ll be camping in the woods. Best not tell him it is a rainforest. I haven’t mentioned the rain – I only send him photographs I’ve taken on sunny days – and I haven’t mentioned the rather low daytime highs in the summer. And I think I’ll keep quiet about the fog…
Thanks for reading – I hope you are keeping pleasantly warm wherever you are this weekend!
PS It has started to rain and looks set to stay that way for the next few days – don’t tell my brother.
After recent political events, it would be easy (and understandable) to feel somewhat crushed, but that’s not going to help in the longer term. So my period of moping is now over, and it’s time to look up, be determined to focus on what is good and what is valuable all around us. An unpleasant event has come to pass, yet caring folks will continue to speak up and out against bigotry, and seek to find genuine solutions to real problems. I forget where I read it and who said it, but there was a commentary on recent events that said the answers are likely to be found in a series of small solutions instead of one giant fix. Well, the world does appear to be in one giant fix, that’s for sure, but good people will fight to produce the series of small solutions. After all, you have to hope…
– Yeah, alright, but why squashed, PlaidCamper?
Well, because my moping period found me back in the kitchen, a place I find great comfort in during the good times, and even greater comfort during the less good times. If this blog wasn’t OldPlaidCamper, it could have been OldFakeChefDude. I’m certainly an almost outdoorsman, and most definitely an almost chef. I’ve faked it and earned a (meagre) living in a few kitchens in the past. The stories I could tell (but won’t, because you probably enjoy eating in restaurants, and I don’t want to be arrested…)
– Yeah, alright, but why squashed, PlaidCamper?
I was cooking with squash! A comfort food if there ever was one, and one of my favourites. Roast it, steam it, mash it, sautée it, make soup from it, but eat it up, with all that vitamin goodness and colour on a plate. Mmm, squash. Acorn, butternut, crook neck, kabocha, pumpkin (least favourite), delicata, spaghetti, and more. Food list poetry? I think so.
There are so many ways to enjoy squash (my meatatarian brothers insist a squash is best enjoyed when left to rot atop a compost heap – food heathens! – although they always dig into the butternut and black bean chilli…) and here are two ways with squash that we’ve cooked recently:
(Really? Chef ego much? These kitchen primadonnas…)
This first one is great for if you’re camping. Get a good campfire going (glowing at the base) and keep it stoked.
Put diced squash, halved mushrooms, quartered shallots, whole almonds, broccoli florets, chilli flakes and a teaspoon of ground cumin onto a sheet of aluminum foil. Add a generous glug of good olive oil. Give it a mix and then fold up your foil into a parcel.
You might want to double wrap it if the foil is the thin stuff cheapskates like me buy. False economy. Place on the hot metal plate or over the griddle. Turn the parcel from time to time to allow even cooking. Trust your sense of smell – you’ll know when it’s ready! Burn your fingers unwrapping the parcel (you won’t mind because it’ll taste so good) and enjoy the contents. Delicious campfire fare!
The care and attention I’ve given to quantities and timings might be an indication as to why I’m not a chef any more. I can create and follow precision recipes, but mostly enjoy the slapdash approach. Closer to Jamie than Heston. To make up for the lack of detail in the first recipe – recipe?! – I’ll simply copy/paste the second (and add the link, because the other recipes on the page are also quite wonderful) from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall:
Pappardelle with squash and sage
About 750g squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into 2-3cm cubes 4-6 fat garlic cloves, skin on, lightly squashed Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 4 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil 75g walnuts, very roughly chopped (optional) not optional, Hugh, essential 250g pappardelle (or other pasta) 50g unsalted butter 15-20 sage leaves, cut into ribbons Finely grated parmesan or hard goat’s cheese, to serve
Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Put the squash in a roasting tin, add the garlic and some salt and pepper, trickle over the oil and toss together. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring once or twice during cooking, until the squash is completely soft and starting to caramelise. Add the nuts for the last 10 minutes, taking care they don’t burn.
When the squash is about halfway cooked, bring a large pan of water to a boil, salt it well and add the pasta. Cook for the time suggested on the packet, then drain. While the pasta is cooking, heat the butter very gently in a small pan. When foaming, add the sage and cook over a low heat, without letting the butter brown, for three minutes. Turn off the heat.
Toss the sage butter, the hot squash and walnuts into the pasta – add any pan juices, too, as well as the garlic, provided it’s not too burned. Season to taste and transfer to warmed dishes. Finish with more pepper and serve with parmesan for people to help themselves.
A great one to try out over the coming winter at a cabin. Or at home. The recipe is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Squash Recipes – go on, follow the link, read the others, you’ll be glad you did.
Old Hugh has some amazing recipes. I first heard about him many years ago when a friend was telling me about roadkill pie. Retching noises. Personally, if I ran over a squash I’d be mortified, but it could be worse. Even back then, falling wildlife populations in the UK meant you’d most likely run over an unfortunate hedgehog. There are recipes for clay baked hedgehog, but you’d really rather not…right? Stick with the squash.
Well, not a hugely outdoorsy post this week – thanks for your patience – but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sharing some anti-moping activity we’ve been engaged in.
Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a recipe or anti-moping technique, and have a wonderful weekend!
As an extra treat for the curious-minded, here is a link to a fun article about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (and it mentions his connections to roadkill cuisine, but that really isn’t what he’s about!) More about Hugh FW
…is how you might feel, huddled by a campfire, amongst the trees and beneath the slopes out at Louise.
We made a hasty exit from the city last Friday, ignoring the forecast calling for a rain-snow mix in the middle of the night, and more hopeful for the promised sunny days.
We often anticipate looking up, peering between the branches as skies darken, eager to spot the first few stars making their appearance. Then, as the light truly fades, there is the spectacle of star after star gleaming in the darkness, until there are more than you can reliably count. Any cares from the week drop off, and you remember your little place in the wider scheme of things.
Well, on Friday night, the forecast was quite wrong – but not in a good way! The promised rain-snow mix came early, with darkness falling even more swiftly than expected due to the cloud cover racing in on blustery winds. Hmm. Instead of our upturned and expectant little faces being greeted with sparkling constellations, it was a heady mix of swirling smoke from the fire, and sleety rain from above. Lovely. On the plus side, it stopped when we were asleep, the temperature didn’t drop below freezing, and Saturday dawned bright and sunny – as promised!
We took a hike east and west along the banks of the Bow, stopping for a picnic lunch that involved layers on and layers off as the wind delivered brisk gusts. Fall, you are a contrary season, with your pleasant warmth and sudden chills, each chasing the other, upstream and downstream. Summer in a sheltered spot, then a strong hint of winter when we stepped into the breeze. Enjoyable either way.
Happily, the wind dropped as Saturday evening arrived, and the smoke from the fire was mostly straight up. The only showers were rising orange sparks, spitting up with each exploding knot in the firewood. This time, we did get to sit and see the stars appear, and the only effort was in not dozing too long, lulled by the warmth from the fire and a bottle of IPA.
What seem like major concerns tend to diminish and become more manageable when examined beneath the stars, and against time measured by mountains. There are natural cycles far longer and more necessary than political, economic, or news cycles. Shouldn’t our human cycles of concern serve, rather than determine, the natural cycles? I wonder…
Generally speaking, after some time outdoors, the big stuff isn’t all that, and as for the small stuff? Why, it almost disappears. There is a joy to feeling small, particularly so in the fall and by a fire, if you’ve got a little time.
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to leave a comment or share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!
Yikes! What a title…Oh no, not another old man rant?! (Mountain misery…) It’s alright – this is about the welcome sights and sounds as you sit by the fire, or awaken and stumble out of your tent early on a bright morning. An old(ish) man, content.
We stayed at Green Point campground once again, and I’m so happy to say it was a wonderful experience. Fellow campers were well spaced and well behaved – like we all hope for when you first roll in.
We had a green and leafy walk in site, mere minutes from the beach, with the constant sound of the Pacific surf drifting up from below. The first night we dropped off with light rainfall drumming on the roof of the tent. It’s ok to drop off to the sound of rain, but you don’t really want to wake to it…
…we got lucky, and awoke to bright skies and big sounds. Much of the cacophony came from the multitude of birds, seen and unseen, that were our companions. I’m not knowledgeable in identifying bird calls or song, but it is very pleasant to sit and listen. I wrote brief notes one morning in an attempt to describe some of the calls:
– sounds like it is saying “trouble-trouble”
– sounds like two coconut halves clopping together
– a wooden note on a glockenspiel?
– cawing, croaking, whistling, chattering, chirping, squawking and shrilling
Hmm. I read my notes and decided to put the pen down, pick up my coffee, and just watch and listen. And really, the word cacophony is the wrong word to use – it was anything but harsh or discordant (but I like the sound of the word, so there it is in the title!)
Steller’s Jays flashed across our site, brilliant blue against the green, never still long enough to me to get a photograph, they were intently foraging on through the campground.
The whirring buzz and flit of hummingbirds is a delight, and if they catch me unawares (which is most times) they always have me leaping up in crazed self defence until I realize it is a hummingbird and not a large hornet out to get me (sad, but true, and happens nearly every time…) I love seeing hummingbirds. To a small boy growing up used to the ducks and pigeons in various London parks, the very idea of hummingbirds was so exotic. It still is! One morning, I saw hummingbirds smaller than butterflies, and butterflies larger than hummingbirds. How cool!
Looking up and through the trees, there almost always seemed to be small clusters of ravens wheeling, tumbling, and floating across the sky. I know little about what the behaviour signifies, but it seemed they were being competitive, showing off their aerial skills. I appreciated the show.
Sit looking up long enough, and eventually a bald eagle will glide over. Always excited to see one, bald eagles are simply magnificent. To me, they are so representative of wilderness and rugged landscapes. I think I said it last week, (Seals, bears, and bald eagles) but I’ll say it again, it is always a thrill to see a bald eagle.
An American robin would sometimes hop past, and a small sparrow sat and sang and sang for several minutes – long enough that I managed a (blurry) photograph.
What a way to start the day! And continue the day. And finish the day. It was hard to drag ourselves away. A joy simply to sit there – birdsong, breeze in the trees, drips and drops after the rain, and surf sounds below – what a camping soundtrack. With a cup of coffee, about perfect, and an old(ish) man, content!
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to leave a comment or share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!
(With the exception of the bald eagle, all the photographs were taken less than 10 metres from our tent – it was a beautiful site!)
…and an old guy rant. I wasn’t sure about posting this piece, as it is not exactly the usual. I enjoy taking an upbeat and positive approach to OldPlaidCamper, because there are plenty of other places to find a downbeat and negative approach. I try to be an optimist, but was somewhat challenged to find the positive on a recent camping trip. Anyway, be warned, and read no further if you’re after regular PlaidCamper fare…
You work hard enough all week, in a job you enjoy, but when the weekend comes along you might be good and ready to clock off, and get out camping for the weekend. The previous couple of evenings have been spent dusting off the necessary gear, sorting provisions, and tracking down the bear and bug spray. It’s the first time out for camping this year, and the weather forecast says fine. Alright! Into the car, and off to the Elbow Valley in Kananaskis country.
There are a fair number of smallish campgrounds strung out along the valley, so getting a spot on a Friday by heading out early shouldn’t be an issue. First campground, full. OK, moving on. Sorry, full. Will we find a spot? Not looking good, but let’s go on just a little further. Yes! One walk in spot left, and we’ll take it, thank you very much!
Tent up – we remembered how – and coffee on, fire pit prepared, a cold beer for later, and everything is groovy. It’s only a small loop, all walk ins, and no loud music playing, so better than groovy. (I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Big Star and Neil Young recently. What can I say? Groovy!) Tall trees, light breeze, and the faint sound of the river not too far away. A mountain retreat, and peaceful pine delight. Oh yeah.
A little further up from our site, a couple joins another couple, loud welcomes, but why not? It’s the weekend and time to meet up with good friends. Then a group of four joins the first four, and more loud welcomes are exchanged. Gets a little louder, but hey, friends with friends, and on the weekend and all. You’d be pleased and excited, out in the sunshine. Then another couple arrives. And is that another couple? Hold on. An f-bomb is dropped. Ouch! Not necessary. Not cool. But maybe it was a one off, a bizarre ritual designed to establish maturity credentials…Beers are cracked, and why not have a cold one on a warm evening? We intend to. Another f-bomb, then another, and a few more beers. Oh dear. Bombs away.
Hey! Stop with the language! Thank you!
Well, that worked for a short while. After a few more beers, the volume of the conversation went up as the tone went down. On went the music. My earlier plea appeared to have fallen on deaf ears. Did I mention the two unleashed dogs? I’m not bothered if they’re well trained, but these were running all over, and dogs do like to chase squirrels if they can get away with it. They sure were getting away with it. It must be hard to keep an eye on your dog when you’re busy exchanging witty banter, using words that rhyme with itch, duck and hit. Heady stuff.
Writing this is sending my blood pressure up. Just a little. I’m no shrinking violet, and I scowled, glared and stomped my way about. Quiet time, according to the bulletin board, is between 11pm and 7am, so technically, too bad, PlaidCamper. Here are a few gems:
Sara, can you see my dick? (Huh? No. Is it very small?)
A butterfly. A f*#king butterfly. F*#king nature! (Huh?)
F*#king European tent! I hate f*#king European tents! (Huh? Just European tents?)
F*#k me? F*#k you! (I know, isn’t that a zinger?)
Bear bait, bear bait, bear bait! (This was chanted when trash was dropped. How I wished – sort of – for a bear, but that’s not fair on the bear…)
These were the good ones…I could go on, give you more details, but my heart isn’t in it. I’ll simply share the fact that quiet time meant nothing to this particular group. 2am and the jollity finally stopped.
Ok. I’ll be the old so and so, the miserable old fart who simply doesn’t get it. Whatever the it may be. Here I go:
Why? Why bother coming out to a beautiful forested campground located in a stunning river valley flanked by mountains, a place you’ll be sharing with other campers, if you don’t appreciate it? Is it actually a location screaming “get blind drunk and be obnoxious!”? Is it really possible for a group of human beings to be so out of touch with their surroundings? With their fellows? Is it a lack of self-confidence, an inability to express appreciation, or fear, that causes such inane behaviour? The witlessness and callous disregard for people and place was truly astonishing.
I’m perfectly happy to be labeled a miserable old so and so, out of touch or just not with it, but really, is there a need to be so self-absorbed, entitled, and, well…brattish, to the point where you cannot care for the planet you live on? Or the people around you? I don’t get it, this behaviour, and I’m hoping it isn’t a growing trend:
I do understand people have differing agendas and ideas about how the outdoors should be enjoyed, but surely it can’t be too hard to see what ought to be acceptable in our treasured natural spaces? There are far worse problems facing our world, but honestly, when you hope for a pleasant weekend, what a disappointment. I’m going to leave the negativity here, I think, and hope for happier camping trips ahead.
Time to get back to being positive. I love camping, and although I enjoy quiet, that isn’t an expectation at a shared campground. I’ve sat by the fire late at night many a time, nursing a beer and smiling in the dark as the flames from other campfires flicker through the trees. I like to imagine all these different campers by their fires, mostly strangers to each other, but, across Canada and the US, joined in a similar delight, connected by the experience of being outdoors on a warm weekend, and appreciating their good fortune. Now, that’s not too hard, or too much to expect, is it?
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share a (happier?) story or leave a comment – it’s always appreciated – and have a wonderful weekend!