Oh no, please don’t let this be a slideshow of an OldPlaidCamper summer vacation, akin to those endured by some in the 1970s. You remember, where your neighbours invite you round to see their holiday snaps projected onto a wall, and there’s a bowl of peanuts and a glass of warm flat lemonade for refreshments. Yikes/shudder. Slightly sweaty after writing that, a disconcerting flashback to a happy childhood. Stranger things in an earlier decade…
No, nothing like that. A brief post because I should be packing and finding my passport for the lightning trip to northern Britain starting Friday. Instead of getting that organized, we’ve been enjoying the start of our summer, spending time on the beach, on the trails and in the hammock. The hammock is thanks to US Brother PlaidCamper, sent to us after he stayed last summer and endured the disappointment of our little balcony sans hammock. It’s lovely to have, but sure does take up some space. A bit like having your brother visit. I’ll be paying it forward by visiting UK Brother PlaidCamper. I hope he has a hammock.
Bears and bald eagles have been our major wildlife sightings, as well as a wolf – yes, at last, a wolf! The wolf was spotted by Mrs. PC a couple of weeks ago, lurking outside a restaurant just up the road, a place called Howlers. It’s like the wolf knew. Then I saw it a few days later, again just outside Howlers. In the end, we’d convinced ourselves perhaps it was a large wolf-dog hybrid, as there are a fair few locally, and the animal we saw didn’t seem too bothered by the people about. On Wednesday, there was a public message posted, warning residents of a wolf in the vicinity of Howlers, so a wolf it probably is. I wish I’d been able to take a photo. Maybe I’ll head over to Howlers after writing this. They do a good veggie burger, decent fries, and they have Tofino blonde on tap – a good evening even if the wolf stays (wisely) away! Displacement activity from packing? Yup.
The weather has generally been gusty, grey and dry, with occasional bursts of sunshine in between low cloud, some murk and almost fog. Never too cold, and never too hot, always comfortable enough when we’re out and about. And comfortable enough for some hammock time.
The snaps included with this piece were all taken in the past week, and if you’re desperate for something to do this weekend, please feel free to use them in a wall-projected slideshow presentation – viewing enjoyment is enhanced with flat lemonade and a bowl of peanuts…
It’s almost Canada Day already?! Monday July 1st, if you were wondering…
Canada! It’s not a perfect country, not by a long way, but in the years that we’ve lived here, it’s always seemed like a country striving to improve. Much more needs to be done related to environmental concerns, and more to eliminate poverty and raise the standard of living for all residents and citizens. There is a challenge in achieving a successful and sustaining economy that isn’t simply a resource extraction economy. Why further erode the land, air and water that sustains us just to make more money than a person could possibly need, and at the health expense of fellow citizens?
Warts and all, I can’t imagine living anywhere else, and Canada Day is a time for us to feel grateful about being Canadian. Our citizenship here is something we don’t take for granted.
It can sometimes seem the world is falling into madness, what with demands for walls, the deliberate undermining of alliances that were originally made to prevent conflict, and what feels like an unhappy lurch to the right and a tendency to blame everyone else at the same time as failing to take responsibility or action for planetary woes. Goodness, long sentence there. In that light, Canada makes a sort of sense to me. As I said, not perfect, but not likely to cause global ripples – or worse – due to destructive childish tantrums designed to fulfil the narcissistic need for attention at any cost. I’d better stop with these long sentences, and the content, not good for anyone’s wellbeing.
Yes, enough of all that. Every day is Canada Day around here, and that makes me (a bit of a curmudgeon from time to time) smile. All the photos are images from the past week, and they have a Canadian flavour – mostly because they were taken in Canada!
If you’re Canadian, know a Canadian, have been to Canada, want to live in Canada, or simply enjoy hockey and maple syrup, then happy Canada Day to you for Monday!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
Let’s head away from the coast and into the interior this week. A title borrowed from Wallace Stegner, a recommendation to read the Stegner title, and some Saskatchewan memories. What brought this on? Friends from Alberta emailed us last week, catching up on recent events and checking in to see if we had plans to be in Alberta over the summer. Likely yes, and I hope we can mesh our summer schedules and meet up face to face. We’ll have to time it so we see them before or after their planned camping trip to Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan!
I have fond memories of a Saskatchewan road trip and cabin stay we did during our second summer in Canada. Big skies, long distances, empty roads, and the biggest bugs ever. Ever! Also, the week we had in our cabin provided me with some of the most restful sleep I can ever recall. Ever! It was quiet and the backroads cycling was easy. Apparently, parts of Saskatchewan are quite flat. That summer had been rainy just before we set off, so the prairies were a vibrant green and gold – and the abundant insect life was big and bold. The dragon flies were enormous, or so it seemed when cycling through them.
The following year we camped a few nights in the Cypress Hills area, a windswept and beautiful location straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. We had a fun time camped down by the water, aside from some of the biggest mosquitoes ever. Ever!
So what about the title of the post? Wolf Willow? It just so happens I’ve been reading Wallace Stegner’s remarkable book about plains life around the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth century. It is a spellbinding account of the trials and tribulations of settlers heading west. It also acknowledges the terrible devastation wrought by those early settlers, on people and place.
Storms, wind, fire, hard winters, dry summers, near starvation, genocide and environmental destruction – this is not a cheery account of that life and those times. Yet Stegner loved the several years he spent there as a child. His account of being a “sensuous savage” running pretty wild with his peers is quite a contrast to the experiences of many children today. There might be an argument made for the rough and tumble of his childhood being a more meaningful experience. Many true and a few tall tales are told, the secondary heading of the complete piece being “a history, a story, and a memory of the last plains frontier.” He had many exciting and striking memories, that’s for sure.
There is much on the nature of nature forging identity and character, how a landscape can define a person, even years after they have moved on. For all the tough times and challenging living conditions, Stegner has a real love for his brief – yet formative – years on the prairies, his family scrabbling to survive on what felt at that time like the last frontier. Or the end of the last frontier in North America.
There are any number of wonderfully descriptive prairie passages in the book. The wind is a constant companion:
“Across its empty miles pours the pushing and shouldering wind, a thing you tighten into as a trout tightens into fast water. It is a grassy, clean, exciting wind, with the smell of distance in it, and in its search for whatever it is looking for it turns over every wheat blade and head, every pale primrose, even the ground-hugging grass. It blows yellow-headed blackbirds and hawks and prairie sparrows around the air and ruffles the short tails of meadowlarks on fence posts. In collaboration with the light, it makes lovely and changeful what might be otherwise characterless.”
The central part of Wolf Willow tells the story of a cattle drive undertaken just as winter approaches. This fictional account is utterly compelling, a tremendous piece of writing about fighting to stay alive in a snowstorm and do a job of work. The main character is a fresh faced romantic recently arrived from England, and he is desperate to be recognized as being stoic and hardbitten like his work colleagues. A few days of driving cattle in plummeting temperatures forces a reassessment of what he saw as a romantic life, and as for achieving the stature he believes his colleagues have? Well, you’ll have to read Wolf Willow to find out. If you do, you won’t be disappointed, although you might find some of the attitudes and prejudices from the time of writing a touch off putting. Maybe treat it as a history lesson on past social attitudes, and then enjoy the tales told.
From when we were road tripping in Saskatchewan all those years ago, a strong memory is of how friendly people were. One morning we found ourselves in the tiny town of Tisdale, a few hours northeast of Saskatoon. (As an aside, I delight in writing or saying Saskatoon or Saskatchewan. Even better, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan!) Anyway, we were lost, which is hard to do in a small rural town, but soon knew where we were when we inadvertently turned onto a street and found ourselves driving at the head of a parade. Oops. For a few minutes, we headed the floats and marching band. Those friendly townspeople clapped and cheered as we drove on up the street, and was I ever happy to turn off as soon as possible. I’d love to visit again, but I don’t want the townsfolk feeling pressured about putting on a parade…
Ah, Saskatchewan! Land of Corner Gas, a show that told us all we needed to know before heading out on that particular vacation. Corner Gas shows that life has changed on the plains since Stegner’s day! I have to say, prairie life is still a tough business, maybe not Stegner period tough, but there is something so attractive about it nonetheless. Honestly, I’m as hopelessly romantic about it as that young Englishman in Stegner’s story…
Wolf Willow was one of the first prairie shrubs I learned to recognize when we moved to Alberta. One freezing November evening, a kind botanist walked me through a river valley in the prairie edge lands as preparation for a school field trip. The Wolf Willow and Red Osier Dogwoods were a delight, each standing out, even in failing winter light. I’ll be honest, it’s easy to remember a plant with a name as captivating as Wolf Willow. (A quick search earlier revealed it isn’t a willow at all, but that’s okay…)
I think I’ll leave it here, otherwise there’s a danger I could meander on like a slow and muddy river flowing in a summertime prairie valley. In Saskatchewan!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
All the photographs this week are from Alberta prairie visits in previous years. I have photographs from our SK trips, but couldn’t find them this week. Maybe we need to plan another SK trip…
Yup, the last long weekend was a busy weekend. About 40 youth and associated mentors heading out and away for a few days of camping, fishing, trail-building, archery and anything else that seemed like a good outdoor idea.
We set off in two vessels, one a speedy affair with room for nine, and the other a larger, more sedate boat with room for all the gear and space to spread out above and below. Going out, I was in the smaller boat, coming back, I traveled in the larger. Both were fun, with the voyage out being busier. As the larger vessel was cruising slowly and steadily toward our destination, the smaller boat zipped about, looking for favourite (previously successful) spots to fish, and to pick up and drop prawn and crab traps.
Two traps contained many prawns, and these were a mainstay for an almost midnight feast later that day. We ended up eating so late because the zodiac and tin boat transfer from the tiny offshore dock to the beach near base camp took quite a few journeys. All that gear and all that youth – thank goodness for young people when it comes to pitching tents and stowing gear in the rain and near dark.
The rods and reels proved far less successful over the weekend, with very little success in hooking a fish. A large sea cucumber got a bit of a surprise and was no doubt mightily relieved to be returned to the deep. The prawn and crab traps did not deliver either. Oh well.
The rain fell from the moment we left Friday afternoon to just before dawn on Saturday, when the skies cleared and warm sunshine was an almost constant companion through Saturday and Sunday. A fair number of mosquitoes were also near constant companions, but not unbearably so.
The weekend was visibly bear-free, aside from frequent scat sightings, and some splashing in the early hours from across the narrow channel. Nothing to be alarmed about. I alarmed a bald eagle that was perched atop an old stump at the point of the spit – I think it may have been my early morning pee break that startled her, causing her to fly off somewhat sooner than she may have been planning. A magnificent sight (the eagle, not me peeing…)
The dry and near windless days allowed for perfect archery conditions, and it was good to see the young ones honing their technique and improving their accuracy. They were able to display their skills to a group of ten elders who visited for the day on Sunday.
Prior to the arrival of the elders, much effort was put into further improving the trail through the forest from the beach to the camp. And you’ve never seen a tidier base camp than how it looked for that afternoon – when grandmothers and grandfathers visit, it had better look right!
When the elders arrived on the beach, they were welcomed with a song sung by a young warrior. His voice was strong and steady, and his song echoed back from the low mountains surrounding the inlet. A memorable moment from a trip with many fine moments.
We awoke on Monday to low cloud and a threat of rain. After the warmth of the previous two days, it was something of a relief to be able to pack up and shift all the gear back to the beach and on to the boats in cool conditions. And would you believe it, once we cleared the inlet and headed out into wider waters, the clouds fell behind us and we sailed under blue skies. A certain OldPlaidCamper might have dozed off up on deck, lulled to sleep and pleasantly tired after a very good long weekend.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
A few weeks back, we arranged to have another gourmet cookout with Wayne from Tofino Photography. Our destination was Second Bridge, and if you need to find it, go down that logging road after the junction, bounce and jolt up past First Bridge, and then…
…well, if I told you where precisely, then it might get crowded in the future. But rest assured it’s out there, and you’ll know you’re close when the road comes to an end because the bridge is out.
A quiet spot – we were told it can get busy, and certainly used to be a touch rowdy with party people on long weekends before the road was closed – it made a good place to have a fire and roast some hot dogs. The weekend had been warm and sunny the day before we went, but a change came, with grey skies, lower temperatures, and even a hint of rain. This seemed to have kept people away, and we only encountered a handful of visitors.
One couple had been camping overnight just down the beach. They chatted a bit, and Wayne shared a few stories, and some tips in the event of a cougar encounter (there had been some sightings elsewhere along the lake) and mere minutes after that, the young couple had packed up and disappeared. I don’t think it was the cougar info…
It left an empty beach for us to enjoy, and we had a fine time cooking and eating. Wayne brought high end hot dogs and slices of key lime pie from SoBo. Excellent choice, and we had to be quick about it, because Scout sure seemed to take to the pie.
We didn’t see a cougar, or a bear, and thankfully the black flies didn’t follow us down to the beach. They were lurking when we parked up, but there was enough breeze to keep bugs at bay.
A wildlife feature for the afternoon? The hundreds and hundreds of geese passing over in long skeins high above us. We honestly could not count them, but what a sight to see – and hear! Wave after wave after wave.
Wayne knows the area pretty well, and he told us about the great camping spots to be discovered along the shore, and how they can only be approached from the water. They sound rather wonderful, and a compelling reason to return, drop a canoe with camping gear into the water, and spend a little more time out by the bridge and beyond.
I don’t know when our next cookout adventure will be or where, but it’s something to look forward to, likely after the summer visitors have headed home and it’s a bit quieter. I do know Wayne has set the gourmet bar pretty high with that key lime pie!
Last Friday turned into a pretty good Good Friday. Sunshine was promised and eventually made an appearance in the early afternoon. It seemed like a beach day, so that is where we went.
We hadn’t been to Wick Beach in quite a while, and it was a very pleasant stroll we were having when we saw quite a crowd of ravens hopping about a clump of something in the distance. As we approached, the ravens flapped off, and we could see the sizeable remains of – I think – a sea lion. We skirted past swiftly, not wanting to enjoy the aroma any longer than necessary, and to give space back to the ravens.
A little way beyond the body we saw a juvenile eagle sitting on a stump, no doubt waiting for us to move on, and perhaps hoping the ravens would leave a little something.
As we wandered by, two adult bald eagles flew past us towards the remains. We thought it was starting to get rather crowded. If it hadn’t been dead, the sea lion could have become quite irritated with all the attention…
We kept going up the beach, and eventually hunkered down in front of the dunes, slightly elevated on a log and amongst the long grasses. From there, the cadaver commotion was almost out of sight, and we switched our attention to the ocean, looking out for and spotting many spouting whales.
Once we’d finished our coffee, after Scout had demolished a fair chunk of washed up log, and given up digging a deep hole in the sand for me to fall into as I stood, we set off back down the beach. As we drew closer to the corpse, we could see quite a crowd. Three adult bald eagles, two juveniles, and a smattering of ravens were figuring out how the goodies were going to be shared.
We stuck to the dune side of the beach, not wanting to get involved, and anyway, after coffee and chocolate, we weren’t feeling the need to scavenge. I couldn’t believe Scout wasn’t more interested in the proceedings, but she wasn’t.
The photographs I took were at the outer limits of what my camera and shaky hands could handle, and really none too sharp, but I’ve used them here anyway, in case you’re a fan of partially consumed corpses…
When we got home, I got caught up on the blogs I enjoy, and one of them was a perfect piece to read after our earlier adventure. It made me stop and think about how vulnerable many species are. Living out here, one could (but I’m not) become a bit complacent about the numerous bald eagle sightings we are blessed with. If you have the time, I heartily recommend you head over to read Jet Eliot – you won’t be sorry!
If the weather holds – and it has turned warm and sunny this week – then perhaps we’ll head up Wick once again over the coming weekend, check out the state of the scavenged. I doubt there’ll be much left, maybe not much more than a few picked over and pecked clean bones. That’s life, and death.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
Sounds exciting, but it isn’t – still, you’ve read this far, so you might as well see it through – I’ll keep it brief!
The treacherous part? The roads on Wednesday morning! They were slick, and not in a good way. The previous two days, we had something approaching significant snowfall. So significant, Ucluelet schools were closed and students were delighted. Almost 5 cm coated the ground, and snow forts and snowmen communities were built all over. Out here, if there’s a snow day, children don’t waste any of it!
I had to drive over the bay on Wednesday morning, and had already enjoyed a quiet chuckle or two (to myself, not out loud) as I watched several cars and trucks try and fail to drive up a steep little incline just outside our building. I was full of the confidence that only a seasoned Alberta winter mountain driver armed with a Jeep has. Ha! I thought, that’s not a problem, barely any snow. Oh, I thought, a few minutes later, as the Jeep fishtailed and slipped, and eventually climbed to the top. Wet snow on top of a very thin layer of ice is a different kind of slippery compared to the powdery and heavily compacted snow over the provincial border there. Why, it’s treacherous.
I made it to work on time, pretending I hadn’t had several slightly alarming snow/ice wobbles along the way, feigning nonchalance about the cooler temperatures and unusual snowfall.
On the way back down the Port Albion road close to midday, the scene was really something. On my left, the trees and embankment were covered in snow, and on my right, where the sun had melted the snow away, it looked like spring. I felt like the White Witch of Narnia in reverse, or Aslan had passed by, melting away the dark winter.
I did stop the car and take the photo below, but where I stopped the full divided effect wasn’t as sharp as a bit further back down the road, closer to Hitacu.
Well in truth, this short blast of real winter hasn’t been at all dark, and the snow shone and sparkled delightfully on Wednesday before melting away. A treacherous beauty, but only on the roads.
Keeping it brief this week, as I have to pack my bags and prepare myself for a trip to Mt. Washington on Thursday and Friday. By the time this is posted, I’ll have discovered if I can remember how to snowboard after a season or two off the snow. We are taking a group out for their first snowboard/ski experience, and it’ll be fun. More to follow.
I’ve rediscovered a proper respect for winter, and I sure hope it isn’t too treacherous on the mountain…