Plains, a train, and an automobile…

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

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

Small Towns and Big Dreams

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

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


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

Alberta Bound

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

Two loons and a canoe

Sounds like the start of a Canadian shaggy dog story. Don’t worry, I’m aiming lower and it’s a short post…

Back to our recent Yoho trip. On Sunday, learning from our late start the previous day, we headed to Emerald Lake bright and early to enjoy a fine location in relative quiet.Thoroughly prepared, we brought our very important second cup of coffee with us, parked in a near empty lot, and found a quiet spot to sit and enjoy the almost silence. Emerald Lake was looking lovely as always, and being early paid off. The canoe outfitters had us on the water two minutes after checking in, and away we went. No wind, calm water, and warm sunshine made for a very pleasant paddle.The outfitters mentioned we might spot a pair of loons somewhere out on the lake, so we kept our eyes peeled. Sure enough, they were bobbing and splashing right in the middle. We maintained our distance,  slow floating past, and I tried to take a shot or two. What a fine sight, with their markings, the mountain reflections, and broken blue-green water creating a colourful scene.What a way to pass the time of day, paddling and floating on an emerald lake surrounded by towering mountains. As we (reluctantly) paddled back in, the store was getting busy, and several canoes headed out as we got back, with many more punters lining up almost out of the store door. If we’d just arrived at that time, I wouldn’t have bothered. I’m a picky paddling PlaidCamper that way – just a teensy bit selfish about sharing. Not attractive, I know…I can’t imagine how busy some of the mountain national parks are going to be come summer and the peak of the Canada 150 celebrations. We’ll likely wait until late summer or early fall before heading out for a stay.

Anyway, two loons and a canoe made a for a delightful May morning!

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Rare sighting of some old loon…

Our urban nature

Another post connected to our recent Vancouver trip – the last in a short and unplanned series! A piece including vague thoughts and mumblings about urban environments, as well as photographs showing Vancouver is quite lovely if you have to spend time in a city.DSCF4824

The outdoor education conference and time we spent in Vancouver has really got me thinking about cities and the natural world. More and more humans will be living in urban centres, and the trend towards huge cities with fast paced population growth is set for the next 50-100 years according to speakers at the conference.

This leaves me in two (or more) minds. If most humans live in cities, does this mean the spaces in between will be left alone? Probably not. Will mass exits on weekends, high days and holidays be the norm? Vast roads cutting into “wilderness” areas, creating problems of crowding and spoiling the character of these wild places? (I admit I’m exactly one of those city dwellers heading out whenever possible to play in the big outdoors…) Or will people stay inside the city, leaving large expanses outside to be farmed organically and ethically, with other areas left to develop as wild spaces? So many questions…IMG_20170418_133717

Clearly, I should stick to teaching and let others be futurologists. I have woolly (but friendly) notions about how our planet could be a greener place, and how we could manage the apparent conflict and contradictions between urban needs and a healthy, vibrant environment in and out of cities.

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Making concrete interesting? They tried…

I daydream about a future where citizens love their city, they frequent large natural spaces in the city, and make visits – long and short – into the surrounding countryside and wilderness. They meet the food producers growing and rearing wonderful produce. They hike and camp (leaving no trace, always showing consideration for flora, fauna, and fellow campers/hikers…) and paddle and fish, and paint and photograph and play and then I stop daydreaming because all I want to do is head out there when I’ve a mountain of paperwork to do, report cards to write, and data to produce to prove students might be learning things I’m teaching. Phew, run on sentence. Easy there, old boy. How early can an early retirement be? That’s another daydream. I’m often amazed I get much of anything done at all.

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Well, if you have to live in a city…

Focus, PlaidCamper, focus. Cities shouldn’t be ugly or difficult places to live in. Housing, transportation, education, recreation and healthcare should be available and affordable. Vancouver, like other cities, scores well in some, but not all, of these measures. Like other perceived as desirable cities, it is an expensive yet beautiful location. The beauty and economic opportunity draws people to the city, and this in turn increases pressure on services and raises prices. What is the solution? Can we reverse the inflow to cities? What will it mean if more people elect to live and work outside cities? Can we find positive and better than sustainable ways to dwell in wilder areas? Do people wish to live away from cities?  Will I stop typing questions?

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Could you lower a rope please?

As I said at the start, these are a few of the thoughts (or daydreams) and questions that have been bouncing around in my head the past week or so. Pleasant environments nurture and encourage pleasant citizens. Care about the local, and you’ll treasure the global, city dweller or not. Oh, woolly old me…

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I could be tempted

Thanks for reading, feel free to chip in with a thought or two, and have a wonderful weekend!

Pacific Great Blue Herons (thank you!)

Pacific Great Blue Herons! I enjoyed writing the title for this post so much I had to write it again. Padding for a short post…

I don’t know too much about birds in general, but find myself increasingly hooked by all the feathered wonders to be found. A couple of weeks ago, our guide in Stanley Park asked if we’d like to see the heron colony? Well, yes! There’s something rather solemn and stately about the way a heron walks – or stalks – and a thrill when they spear and strike.DSCF4801

Our guide took us to a wooded area near the headquarters building of Vancouver Parks. Compared to other parts of the park, it was positively urban, with a road cutting through and condo buildings and tennis courts nearby. Up in the trees were many many nests, and sitting in the nests were many many herons. I always think it’s a jackpot seeing a single heron, so to have dozens nesting and coming and going in one area was an absolute delight.DSCF4806

I snapped a few photographs from underneath, and have shared the best I managed on here today, but the real treat is the following link:

Stanley Park Heron Colony Cam

Go on, you’ll love it! Be sure you have plenty of time and a good cup of coffee. I’m not suggesting you spend hours in front of this, but you might find it hard to tear yourself away. Can you see the eggs? I haven’t spotted the chicks yet, but soon…Reality television!DSCF4804

Pacific Great Blue Herons! Aren’t they beautiful? The herons seem perfectly at home and well used to their city accommodations. I like to see this example of urban and natural coexistence, it makes me hopeful.

Above the fray – if only in my imagination – the herons have kept me sane in what has been a challenging week or two. I keep checking in – can’t help it – and find there’s distraction, excitement and calm being up in those trees. I never thought I’d be a daytime TV person…DSCF4798

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Signs of spring (and a little rant)

The rant comes at the end. It’s not much of a rant, but it is a bit incoherent, so there’s that. Enjoy it if you get down to that part.

We’ve been looking for signs of spring this side of the Rockies. So far, not too much success. There are one or two hints of green beginning to appear on trees and shrubs, a teasing glimpse of what’s to happen (soon, please!)

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Tuesday morning walk to work

My morning walk to work on Monday was through sleety rain, and that wasn’t much fun. It was more fun than the Tuesday morning walk through wet snow. Snow that fell on and off throughout the day. It settled for a few hours, but I guess solace could be found in that it mostly melted away by early evening. That thaw, the suggestion of green, and a rising river level is about it for spring to date. Yes, the daytime temperatures are above freezing, but not significantly so.

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“Spring” as seen from the train, Tuesday morning.

What’s with the complaining PlaidCamper? Don’t you like winter? Yes, but not when May is here on Monday, and not after our recent west coast trips – we were (are?) spoiled by those warmer, sometimes wetter, but oh so colourful and verdant days…

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Vancouver, six days earlier…(I spy green)

A few days in Vancouver last week, at a conference and “working” hard on the coast. The theme was nature and outdoor education. I had to smile at us all shut in a windowless, air conditioned hotel events room, earnestly discussing the importance of being outdoors in green spaces, and the benefits of connecting to nature. To be fair, many of the sessions were outside and hands on. Just as well, because they weren’t likely to contain all those tree huggers in a large room with Stanley Park only a short walk away.

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Hugged this one

After a morning of fine speeches, impassioned presentations, and information overload, we went on a guided walk through Stanley Park, looking for trees to hug.

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I was working, honest

Vancouver has a lovely setting, on the water, and surrounded by forests and coastal mountains. Stanley Park is an urban jewel, with pockets that feel wild in between more traditional city park patches. Our guide pointed out many restoration projects centred on the Lost Lagoon, and the balance park officials are trying to achieve between urban dwellers and wild animal inhabitants. Not an easy task, particularly because there’s no overall consensus as to what restoration really means. Restored to pre-nineteenth century habitat? Or even earlier, to before European contact? And how to restore a wilderness that is never in stasis anyway…

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Get me, I live in Stanley Park

It was a wonderful walk, and an example of how a city can aim to be a greener and more pleasant place through thoughtful planning – even if there are no simple solutions. Given that humans are more likely than ever to find themselves living in cities (regardless of whether that is a first choice for many of us) it seems sensible to expect nature to be included as an essential part of urban planning.

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Pleasing

Common sense suggests that we are happier in pleasing and greener environments, and research presented at the conference supported the idea that children (and everyone else?) are more successful in their learning and in themselves when they have ready access to green spaces for play and learning. Simple enough – pleasant environments promote positive physical and mental health. Have we really forgotten that so easily and in a few generations? Are new roads, malls and parking lots more important than play spaces and green places for city dwellers? Dollars before deeper contentment? What’s the real and necessary investment here?DSCF4816

Oh, those recent announcements – regarding the future status of protected wilderness spaces south of the border – have me wondering if (so called) leaders can honestly say they care about or are planning for the longer term health of the planet, or the health of future citizens. I don’t know, is extract, extract, extract, and burn, burn, burn, really the best path forward? Can we talk about a healthy society and a vibrant economy when the air is unbreathable and water is undrinkable? Should we drink the bad water through a straw made from dollar bills and call ourselves wealthy and wise?

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Calming

I think I’d best stop now, take a deep breath (while we still can) and wish you all a wonderful weekend! I’ll be out looking for signs of spring and calming myself down. I know, it wasn’t much of a rant, but I feel better for it…

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Also calming (a very good west coast pale ale – had a second pint, just to be sure…)

Cheers, and thanks for reading!

Washed up

Like an old PlaidCamper feeling his age? Maybe not, although the aches and pains I’ve been enduring in recent months…I could go on about that, but I won’t. Not this week, anyway! A few final photographs in what has turned into a short and unplanned series about our recent Vancouver Island trip. This time, it’s centred around a collection of storm tossed logs we rested by, or on, when we were hiking Long Beach. You’ll see these wooden wonders strewn all along the coast, fringing the beach and in front of the forest.

On the fringe

They are quite huge when you get up close. I can barely roll one of the smaller ones (why did I even try, given my aches and pains? Oops, I forgot – not going there!) so it’s something to imagine the power of the ocean when you see large logs seemingly casually flung up on rocks, or piled atop each other.

An invitation to your inner child, it’s hard to resist scrambling and climbing up them, so I didn’t (resist) and the years fell away and I didn’t fall off. Ship’s spars, broad beams, and possibly logging lumber (?), all evidence of natural forces and cycles greater than our human schemes, and all washed up on the shore for us to ponder and beetle over. PlaidCamper playtime…

A strange figure?

It may be the inner child imaginings, but it didn’t take much to think some of the shapes could be sea monsters or beasts from a different time. An overactive imagination, or a lack of caffeine?

Prehistoric?

Smoothed by the seas, the texture is pleasing, and warmed by the sun, the scent is resiny, slightly oily and medicinal – pleasant enough as we sat and surveyed the beach, the forest, and the surf. An enjoyable pause in our hike, a chance to embrace the elemental and feel alive – and a little less washed up!
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

The case for colour!

Last week, it was all about grey (In defence of grey…), and I mentioned that I’d put in some colourful photographs this week. True to my word, and because time has been tight once more, here is a brief post with a few brighter pictures from our recent west coast trip. (In defence of grey? The case for colour? Next week, PlaidCamper pleads guilty to the charge of failing to pay due care and attention to post titles…)

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I love looking out this way!
I have to say that the west coast is a place I’m happy to hang about whatever the weather, or at least in the conditions we’ve been lucky enough to experience. Haven’t witnessed a true fall/winter storm there, but maybe one day…

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A favourite place to sit and drink coffee, and stare and stare…
For our recent trip, we were in rain jackets, then shirtsleeves, then back to a jacket with a toque up top – and often all in the same hour! It was very refreshing, and a pleasantly mild contrast to the mountain/prairie winter weather in and around Calgary.

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Mild! (We’ll see these in Calgary as June approaches!)
Pottering about in Ucluelet and Tofino, and wandering up and down quiet beaches gave us time to breathe in and out deeply and slowly. Overcast or bright, rain or shine, this little corner of western Canada is wild and wonderful – a positive Pacific mood enhancer!

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Mood enhancer
It was only a couple of weeks ago we were there, but the call of the Clayoquot region is hard to ignore. Maybe we’ll head back in the summer…

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Ucluelet Small Craft Harbour
As always, thank you for taking the time to read this, and have a wonderful (and colourful) weekend!DSCF4607

DSCF4610PS In need of a Tofino fix? Head over to Welcome to Tofino Photography where the photographs will amaze and delight you. Go on, you’ll be glad you did!