River Song

A very short post this week – I’m being swamped by report cards. (To be honest, I do quite enjoy writing them, and exploring my ability to stretch the truth without falling into fiction…)

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“Shouldn’t that guy on the other bank be working?”
Instead of spending a Sunday working on report cards, and demonstrating my dedication to education, we decided to take a short drive out east. Tough decision, howls of protest, but in the end I went with it. Meaning to take a short hike up and down the river banks in Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park, our hike turned out to be very brief. The scene was so captivating, and the sun was so high! We ended up sitting by the flowing Bow, in a shady spot on a warm afternoon. The river was up after recent rainfall, and the sound of the rushing water was soothing to an old fellow dozing in his camp chair.DSCF4979

I didn’t fall asleep completely. The wind in the trees added an extra layer of sound that was very pleasant. The breeze was enough to take the edge off the heat in the valley bottom. The best sounds of all? Bird song! Tree swallows, warblers, red winged blackbirds, robins, cormorants, ducks and geese. Those were the ones I did recognize, although my lack of bird knowledge has left me with generic rather than precise recognition. Need to work on that! Pretty sure we saw a yellow warbler – it was pretty for sure. Far in the distance, a hawk wheeled and climbed until out of sight. Ducks splashed on take off and landing, and geese flapped by, honking along the river.

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“Why is he taking our picture? Shouldn’t he be working?”
Those swallows are acrobats! A few wing beats to get above the water, and then a steep or shallow dive to snag a bug, over and over, up and down. I swear one did a ninety degree left turn on a dime. What a display, all speed and grace, and an occasional flash of iridescent green. A joy to watch.IMG_20170528_140250Sometimes the best way to tackle report cards is to leave them at home and go take a nap. Rest your eyes, stare off into the distance, empty your head, or fill it with something else. Be lulled by the river song, rest and recharge, and then head back for an early evening beer. A beer? But what about those – never mind. I can’t write under the influence. Have to finish them another day.

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“You down there? Get back to work!”
A short post this week. Did I mention I seem to be swamped by report cards? It’s all about time management and priorities. Fortunately, I am a professional with focus. Hold on! What’s that sound? I think I hear the call of the river…

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Distraction…
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

PS I finished the report cards earlier today. I know you were wondering…

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!

Disjointed…

…and tilted. Disjointed? Like many a PlaidCamper post this past winter? Maybe. This one is all over the place – best keep it brief.

dscf4260At school, we’ve been learning about the Solar System. Heads were spinning as students grappled with the idea that our Earth rotates on a 23.5 degree tilted axis. The fact that we live on a speeding ball, traveling at thousands of kilometres per hour had heads tilting in thought. Learning why we have seasons, why they are opposite in each hemisphere, and about the intricate celestial dance that stars and planets have been engaged in for many millennia has been a cosmic experience. More stars than there are grains of sand on a beach. Far out.

dscn7376We’ve been measuring the increasing daylight hours, and slowly shedding some of the winter layers. Evidence that seasons are changing. It’s a long winter, and you take your fun where you can find it. Like watching in amusement as twenty-five students stumble around a murky cloakroom designed for fewer and smaller children. They bounce off the walls and each other in their attempts to pull on snow pants, snow boots, bulky coats and assorted knitwear. Gloves and mittens are dropped and lost underfoot. It’s a brave student that falls on hands and knees to try and find a missing mitt. It’s grim in there. They do this several times each day. I stand well back…

dscf4374Studying the sky puts things in perspective. Grains of sand, and all that. Maybe you feel that the world is off balance, tilted somehow, especially since the turn of the year and all the dreary noise and nonsense. All that extra unpleasant hot air and bloated nastiness emanating from the DC area. Still, maybe we’re only experiencing a bit of a blip, if you take the longer view. Yes, the air will be less clean, and harder to breathe. Water will be more contaminated. There will be fewer trees and more greenhouse gases. People will be marginalized, discriminated against, and freedoms and environmental protections will be curtailed.

img_20170118_162429It is bad, yet it helps to remember the planet really is tilted, and that part is ok. The sun does come up and go down each day. The real dance has been going on for many years, and will continue past the next four (or eight – heaven help us) years of irritating sideshow, and then far, far, beyond. Our young people are truly interested in the big picture, and their small part in taking collective responsibility for the speeding ball they inhabit. The students I’m teaching this year are (amongst other things) Canadian, First Nation, Somali, Indian, Lebanese, Russian, Pakistani, Tibetan, Haitian, Afghan and Ethiopian. These little Earthlings love to look up at the sky. And even if they drop a mitten and are looking down, they can be tremendously resilient and good natured. After all, how many of us could emerge unscathed and happy after nearly six winter months of the cloakroom dressing challenge? They are stellar.

dscf4322A tilted and disjointed piece this week, and an attempt to recognize disequilibrium is in fact part of a greater pattern. Groovy.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Best to disconnect…

A few disconnected thoughts – or maybe not – before disappearing for the weekend. I really, really do not want to be near any form of news these next few days. Childish? Absolutely. Would I encourage wilful ignorance in the students I teach? Absolutely not. However, I’ve completed my latest round of report cards, I’ve been in the city for too many days in a row, the weather has been unseasonably warm, and I’m not prepared to witness a petulant, thin-skinned, and self-serving individual assume the presidential mantle. Tetchy? Yup. It’s off to a cabin in Yoho I go. Yes, I can be petulant, thin-skinned, and self-serving, but I’m not a liar on a grand scale.

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Chinook arch, Monday. Yuck.

Phew, I think I need the break! It has been horribly warm in the city, with temperatures rising from -30C to plus 9C in a few days. A chinook wind has been blowing and the snow has been melting, and with it all my hopes of a classic Canadian winter. To be fair, chinooks are a common feature of a Calgary winter. I simply detest slush – the early morning frozen slush and icy patches, the late morning semi-slush, and then the afternoon wet slush once again. Repeat ’til depressed. All with a wearying west wind dragging me down and inducing lethargy and a headache. (Well, this really is a whiny and petulant poor me post this week!)

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Yuck. Headache.

On the final day of our learn to ski/snowboard adventures last week, a student managed to wipe me out in spectacular style. Didn’t feel it at the time, and nor did I feel the consequences of students hanging on to my arms and hands (with a steely death grip I’d no idea children had in them) as they begged and pleaded for me not to let go. (Good man that I am, I assured them I wouldn’t let go – I simply loosened my mitts and enjoyed the stunned look as they realized they were holding empty mitts and riding backwards. Success. Payback for my untrustworthiness has been in the form of bruises, aches and pains all this week – back to my whining again…)

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Please refreeze! Whiny voice.

Time to end on a positive note! Before we took the students skiing/snowboarding, they researched a few of the usual suspects when it comes to role models on snow. Nothing wrong with that, but we’re not all going to be pro-boarders and Olympians, although have at it if that’s your goal. We did discover a far more interesting individual. If my whining and negativity here has you shaking your head – and I don’t blame you, haha – please check out the link below. It lifted me out of my mini “poor me” slump, and delivered an exhilarating kick in the pants. This guy is simply wonderful and for so many reasons. His philosophy has been well and truly tested. Check this out (you’ll be glad you did!):

Powder Philosophy

Did you watch it? What a guy, what a role model – I’m looking forward to aging gracefully and maintaining positivity and equilibrium. Or trying, anyway. Can’t wait to get to Yoho and disconnect to reconnect. Tetchy? Yes, a little – but as George says, life is good. Not Disney, but good!

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Oh, Yoho! Good.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend! I’ll try and write something less childish next time…

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Double Mountain. Double, you say? Oh, go on then!

“I fell over!”

Teacher: Goodness! Are you alright? What happened?

Student: I fell over!

Teacher: But your arm is okay? Yes? Tell me the story!

Student: Well, I was going down the hill, and then I fell over!

We took a group of grade 5/6 students to WinSport, formerly Canada Olympic Park, at the west edge of Calgary. What an opportunity! Cold and sunny, not too windy, so what’s not to like? Three days of ski or snowboard instruction – why, that’s almost as good as three days in a classroom with Mr. PlaidCamper…

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Cold and sunny, and you can see the mountains from the top of this “mountain”!

The rest of my week has been spent writing report cards, so the post is from the mouths of students. I started off with the tale of the broken arm – that’s what we thought when Ski Patrol radioed in and said there’d been an accident. Fortunately, ice , sympathy and time revealed no more than soreness and what I hoped would be quite the tale. We’ll do some work on embellishment and tall stories next week in class, because what you read above is the story D told me – he fell over.

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Paying attention

Let’s try another one:

Student: When I was living in Nigeria, I had a dream about playing in snow. Today I will try snowboarding. God has given me a gift from my dream.

Teacher: That’s lovely, J – but do you think you could push your foot a little harder into your boot?

Student: I think I need smaller feet, Mr. PC.

Teacher: An interesting idea J, but perhaps we’ll try the next boot size up first?

J did get a larger size up, and he did spend three days learning to snowboard. Or three days playing in the snow. His first Canadian winter, and he’s embracing it!

How about P, who has ASD and loves Star Wars:

Student: Can I keep the boots? I’m like a stormtrooper on a snowboard. When I go home, I’m making lego Darth Vader on skis.

Teacher: Would Darth prefer snowboarding?

Student: No, he skis and Han Solo snowboards.

Fair enough. I’m looking forward to that movie.

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My snowboard at Louise (I’m short on pictures this week)

Here are a few more snippets from students, and I have to say they thoroughly enjoyed their time on the “mountain”!

My butt hurts!

Can I switch to skiing? (After seeing a skier blast by)

Can I switch to snowboarding? (Snowboarder blasted by)

My board is the wrong colour – I need a blue one! (We did establish that colour likely wasn’t the issue, and that getting up and trying again helps…)

My butt hurts!

Can we eat this snow?

Are you really related to Shaun White, Mr. PC? (Not exactly, but there are similarities, don’t you think?)

But Shaun White has hair!

My butt hurts!

Can we come back next week? 

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Maybe they’ll end up here?
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Or here! I hope so…

Oh, how I wish we could be back there next week. Seeing students fall over, flail around a bit, realize they’ll have to pick themselves up, and then do so with a smile and a laugh, really gives me hope. Their character is revealed, and they start to realize that work, effort and play can, sometimes,  be pretty much the same thing.

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

 

 

How cold is too cold?

Too cold?! Is that even possible? Maybe…

This past week was spent with a small group of 12 year old students out in Kananaskis. They – we – were learning more about teamwork, leadership, and meeting challenges together. Fun stuff, and one big challenge was the super subzero temperatures. The daytime highs were minus 20C, and in the valleys and shadows a touch colder than that. At sun up yesterday, it was minus 35! Yikes – toe freezing temperatures!

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Cold from top to toe, and toe to top
It was certainly a talking point amongst the students – and they were sold on the notion that few people can say they’ve experienced what they did in such temperatures! I was so happy to see them rise to the challenge of skill building and cooperating when it could have been easy to complain. Yes they mentioned the temperatures (hard to ignore!), but most of the time they cheerfully stepped up and reached personal goals set each day. City kids with very little outdoor winter experience between them, they were delighted to be in a wonderful setting and were heard exclaiming how pretty the landscape was.

They did have to hug trees, because it’s mandatory on all Mr. PC field trips, even if it isn’t an explicit curriculum requirement. (It should be!)

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Does this tree look like it needs a hug?
It was too cold for high ropes, but not too cold to learn a knot or two, or learn how to lash logs together to build a rudimentary shelter (although it was too cold and getting too dark to hang around and finish it!)

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Let’s finish it later, when it warms up…late April sound good?
It was too cold to bore into trees (they were frozen) and extract a core sample, but it wasn’t too cold to hike to Chilver Lake (one student renamed it Shiver Lake) and admire a long view in the late afternoon.

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Beautiful Shiver Lake
No sign of the cougar seen by many the previous week, but deer tracks, coyote tracks, and squirrel tracks were everywhere – those little guys are so industrious and could still be spotted scampering from tree to tree and scurrying up trunks. It was too cold to stand around watching for long, but they always excited our students.

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In lovely light, with Mount Yamnuska to the right
Seeing students learning and problem solving together far from their regular classroom, and in trying conditions, gives me hope for the future. Not just their appreciation for the environment, although that is essential. No, it’s something else as our generation looks to the next. Let’s face it, when I’m in the retirement home (many, many decades hence), the young ones we’re teaching today will be (amongst other things) the healthcare policy makers, care workers, nurses and doctors looking after me in my dotage.

I take this seriously. Imagine you’re bedridden, awaiting the next dose of medication, the door opens and that student from way back when walks in – surprise! You know, the one you’d wished you’d helped a bit more in, say, measurement and math, especially as now they’re stood in the doorway holding a large syringe. Those thoughts keep you focused when teaching, let me tell you…

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A wee heavy for a cold, cold night – and a little reward
Anyway, on the basis of what I observed this past week, there are going to be some fine citizens taking responsibility for themselves and each other in the future. Too cold wasn’t possible for these young people – and, one day, we might all be safe in their hands. A happy thought.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story, and have a wonderful weekend! (Stay warm…)

 

Snowed under? Take a hike!

On the day this piece is posted, there’ll be ten teaching days until the winter break. I won’t count today, because that’ll mean eleven days, and I just can’t handle the truth. Definitely snowed under at work, and it’s been like that for a while, so last weekend we needed to go and find some snow. The real stuff.

Chocolate advice

Meteorologists have forecast a cold and snowy winter for our little corner of Canada, and that prediction has warmed an old PlaidCamper’s heart. Contrarian! A real winter? Yes please! I felt shortchanged by last winter when there were too many Chinook winds and too few flakes. Snow flakes.

As we set off for the mountains last week I was feeling flaky, maybe slightly anxious with my high hopes for some real snow – the bright blue skies and a warm westerly wind didn’t add up to winter. Still, it was the weekend, we’d made our plans, and I’ve tremendous faith in weather forecasters. Also, if I only step on the white tiles (not the blue ones) along the hallway from my classroom to the exit, then the snow will fly. Scientifically speaking, this only works on a Friday afternoon, and I must be wearing my favourite toque…

Put on your favourite toque

The science behind the white tile approach to meteorology is very hard to explain, and I struggle to understand it – it is enough to know that it works every time (except for the times it doesn’t) – and it worked once more last weekend. The deeper we traveled into the mountains, the lower the temperature dropped. By the time we arrived near Louise, reasonably heavy snow was falling, and it continued to snow well into the next day. Yup, it had to be the white tiles.

Fresh

We opted to take a hike, taking delight in leaving fresh tracks across the first snow, all along Baker Creek and down to the Bow River. The snow wasn’t deep, but it was enough to change the landscape and create something new. What a relief to be out in the snow, tramping back and forth along the river bank, and recharging instead of feeling snowed under. Snowed under? No, no, we were under the snow! Winter is almost upon us, a season to embrace, and it’s almost always a perfect time to take a hike. Feels good.

Along the Bow

I’ll keep this short, and, like the snow last week, not at all deep. Thanks for reading, avoid the blue tiles, and have a wonderful weekend! 

Beautiful Baker Creek
Unexpected!