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!

Midweek movies and music

The thread through this post is a little frayed, and a bit twisted – less thread and more like an old cassette tape that has unwound from the spool – but there is a line…

One thing leads to another, if I can borrow an old lyric. Where to begin? A splendid piece, Monster Blues and Salmon, Too, by Walt over at RivertopRambles was the starting gun – it got me thinking and following movies and music along a winding trail. A long and winding (oh stop it, PlaidCamper! Or get your own lyrics…) Walt linked to a video (you can go watch and listen to it at the link above) that had me jumping down a musical rabbit hole, chasing old memories and digging out old albums.

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(courtesy: Springsteen.net)

The Big Head Blues Club pointed me to John Lee Hooker, I took a detour with Van Morrison, and ended up traveling through Springsteen’s Nebraska. I heard and found echoes and traces of all these and more after Walt’s blues pulled the musical trigger. Hanging  out in Nebraska got me back to the Terrence Malick movie Badlands, and that reminded me I was planning to watch Malick’s Days of Heaven. So I did.

What an astonishing movie! Set in 1916, it is a rural drama played out in the fields of the Texas panhandle. Murder, loyalty, poverty, identity, family breakdown, and the threat of industrial scale farming production are some of the themes in the mix. If that doesn’t appeal, don’t be put off, simply watch the movie as a series of painterly scenes. And Brooke Adams, Richard Gere, and Sam Shepard are all quite pretty.

The  actual story is slight, fairly conventional, and the dialogue is rather stilted and spare. Fortunately, what overrides the plot and dialogue deficiencies is the voiceover delivered by the most interesting character, a teenage girl played by Linda Manz. Sometimes I find voiceovers irritating; it can seem as though the movie is unable tell a story effectively without a clunky voiceover explaining everything. The voiceover in Days of Heaven is exceptional. It reveals the real story in the movie, told almost in parallel to the events unfolding on screen, and the commentary presents the most affecting point of view.

Days of Heaven is beautiful, with frame after frame of striking images. For the look of the film, Malick was inspired by Edward Hopper, and if Hopper had ever made a movie, it might have looked something like Days of Heaven. The house in the movie was built as a set based on the painting below:

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House by the Railroad, 1925 Edward Hopper (courtesy EdwardHopper.net)

Malick’s aim was to shoot in natural light, which he mostly did and with striking results – the harvest scenes are breathtaking. The cinematographer, Nestor Almendros, won an Oscar for his lighting.

As I was watching, the natural lighting had me thinking about The Revenant, how that was filmed in a similar way, in natural light at the start and end of the day. I’m such a nerd – some quick research revealed the production designer, Jack Fisk, worked on both movies. The cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki won an Oscar for his work on The Revenant. I ended up watching The Revenant again, wanting to see and compare the cinematography. What a nerd, but what a delightful landscape-heavy double feature. Shot in different seasons, and forty years apart, both movies were made (in part) in Alberta. Oh the winter grandeur of the mountains, and the late summer beauty of the rolling prairies.

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Days of PlaidCampers. Rarely seen. Shot in Montana. Beautiful lighting. Lost plot.

What a wonderful music and movie journey I ended up taking. OK, so it was through an iPad screen, and the hour got exceptionally late, but it was as close to being out of the city as I could get midweek.

There you have it. I’m not so sure I’ve managed to wind the cassette tape back onto the spool, but the music and movie trip was good for me (and for Mrs PC – she didn’t have to listen to me complaining about my nature deficit – and she seems to like my noise cancelling headphones even more than I do. Apparently they really work…)

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Good for your health – winter playtime is near!

Little end note tangent: I stayed up late and watched movies because I didn’t have “real” work the next day. Instead of teaching, I attended a workshop designed to promote positive mental health in students (and teachers) – I was a little drowsy later in the day – and one repeated theme was about being outdoors and/or in natural environments and having time to play.

The profile of the class I’m teaching this year includes many students with a mental health diagnosis, and there are several others with mental health problems. It’s quite the challenge in our communities these days, and, sad to say, increasingly prevalent amongst our young people…

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Fundamental…

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but I firmly believe that being outdoors and involved in the natural world has a fundamental part to play in maintaining good (mental) health. We are better human beings as a result. In that spirit, we are planning on being out in the mountains and on the slopes this coming weekend. Winter playtime!

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story, a music or movie recommendation, or a tip for positive mental health, and have a wonderful weekend! If you are in the USA, or from the USA, and you celebrate, I hope you are enjoying a happy Thanksgiving.

Another little end note: to meet the overwhelming demand (erm, one request) the butternut and black bean chilli recipe will be included next week – there was no need (or demand, PlaidCamper) to squeeze in more squash after last week…

Looking forward, looking back…

For many involved in education, this time of year is about beginnings; a new school year and all the excitement and promise that goes with having a new set of students. Fall is fast approaching, and summer is fading. It’s all about planning for the fresh academic year, being ready with spruced up lessons and wonderful ideas to activate learning. Something like that, anyway.

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Fresh

The other day, I found myself sitting at my desk, in my empty classroom (the students were due to arrive in another couple of days), making a few final adjustments to some “start the year” type activities. Jotted down some hoary old bits and pieces to share with the new arrivals, along the lines of making a good first impression (but give your teacher, Mr PC, some slack – he is happy to see you, but he smiles on the inside…), make a good second impression if the first one didn’t go so well, and it’ll all be fine as the year progresses. The steady drip, drip, drip of encouragement. So, very much in looking forward mode. Yet, I’m not quite ready to let go of summer…

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Drip, drip, drip

Don’t tell the principal, but I ended up using a few minutes of that planning time to make a note or two about our summer adventures. We had a splendid summer, fortunate to be able to visit the UK, and spend time with family and friends – this was an absolute highlight. Still, banging on about close friends and family that other people don’t know isn’t necessarily a recipe for an enthralling blog post. So I’ll spare you those details and, over the next couple of posts, share one or two other highlights instead. Not that these will necessarily be enthralling, but I’ll do my best (as I like to say to students) and these are what came to mind, what I scribbled down in the quiet of the classroom:

dscf3068Let’s start with sitting outside the Tofino Botanical Gardens Darwin Cafe, taking shelter from a heavier period of rain, and drinking an excellent cup of coffee whilst leafing through old editions of The New Yorker magazine. Really, PlaidCamper? Yes, really! It’s not always all action outdoor pursuits for the PlaidCampers, you know! Who am I kidding? If you’ve read even only one or two of the posts here, you’re already very aware that it’s rarely all action outdoor pursuits for the PlaidCampers. I imagine high octane all action adventure must be exhausting. It certainly seems it. Hence the coffee, gentle rain, beautiful plants, and magazines.

dscf2759I must admit, I’d never read a copy of The New Yorker before picking one at random from the pile. Talk about a lucky dip! This particular edition had a new short story by Ian McEwan, and I’ve always enjoyed his novels. The short story, My Purple Scented Novel, was an absolute gem. In his tale of rivalry, professional jealousy, and betrayal between two writers, McEwan constructs a devious, gripping, and (suspend your disbelief) plausible account of a relationship that twists and turns from the first to the last paragraph. I loved it, and loved it again when I reread it prior to writing this post.

The Tofino Botanical Gardens, a cup of great coffee, and an enjoyable short story. All these elements combined on that damp Tuesday afternoon to produce a happy summer highlight. I think back to that, and I smile (on the inside…)

dscf2755I can’t transport you to Tofino, and I can’t share a cup of coffee with you, although I’d love to, but I can give you the link to McEwan’s story:

My Purple Scented Novel

 

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Boats, floating

If nothing else, this was a great excuse to look back at some West Coast photographs from the summer! If this didn’t float your boat, be warned, because I’ll write about some other highlights in the next post or two.

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

Balance

After the woes of last week, I thought it might be appropriate to redress the balance, and get back on an even (and optimistic) keel.

We took a group of students out to a provincial park, with the stated curriculum goals being connected to learning more about Alberta’s trees and forests. No problem, and straightforward enough! Identify a tree, record a leaf shape, and recognize an animal or two. But there’s the curriculum, and then there’s the hidden curriculum. Don’t tell anyone, but it’s the hidden curriculum that I find more interesting, and where a demonstration of deeper learning and real connection often occurs.

DSCN6792We hugged trees – we really did, and who cares if anyone’s watching? – and smelt and touched the bark, and the leaves, and the needles. We got a bit sticky with pine resin. We took stock of all the signs and traces of interdependence between plants, insects, birds and mammals for one single tree. We decided one single tree is a thing of beauty and wonder. Well, that begged the question, if one tree is a natural miracle, how about two trees? A stand of trees? An entire forest? All the trees on the planet? Heady thoughts, and the students were smiling about it.

DSCN6814The children loved being in the woods. They were excited to be there, (and to be out of a regular classroom) and were able to enthuse and enjoy without climbing where they shouldn’t, without breaking branches, without disturbing habitat, or dropping any trash. For a large group of rising thirteen year olds, they were also pretty quiet! Quiet enough to see and not startle a mule deer feeding only a few metres away…I don’t have a picture, but it was beautiful –  both the deer, and student reaction!

IMG_20160611_182513My day was made when two boys, unbidden, took it upon themselves to pick up all the pieces of a broken styrofoam cup they found strewn in the undergrowth. They told me they were concerned for the health and habitat of a squirrel they’d observed nearby. Now, we should all pick up litter, ours or not, that’s kind of a given, but after the appalling behaviour we witnessed last week, these boys raised my spirits. They are two young gentlemen who sometimes find themselves challenged with making good decisions, but they didn’t hesitate to do the right thing when they saw an environment in need. Real character and global citizenship at the micro level. Thank you, boys!

DSCN6769(It makes me wonder, what excuse did our fellow campers from last week have to be so callous towards the environment? Presumably they were educated? To be clear, they weren’t just out of high school or college, not that that excuses anything. They were “grown ups” in their late twenties and early thirties. Hmm…but let’s not go there again, PlaidCamper, it’s not good for your health!)

DSCF2559Keeping it brief this week, and as I said at the top, the real reason for writing this little piece is to restore the balance and get back to being optimistic. I think we have reasons to be cheerful when we see younger generations show they care about the planet. Here’s hoping they don’t lose that compassion and consideration as they “grow up”…

Thanks for reading, feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and have a wonderful weekend!

A week in the life of old PlaidCamper (and how I’m feeling my age)

Don’t panic, this isn’t turning into FaceBook or anything – but do find something else to do if you read the title and thought “No, he wouldn’t!” because yes, I would.

Not a strong narrative thread, simply how the past week went and why I’m so tired – in a good way.

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Aiming high – top of the world

Thursday evening and Friday morning: parent/student/teacher interviews! Time well spent, and often invaluable for students and parents, but listening to myself speak for eight hours on educational matters is hard – did I really mean to say that? Was I too honest? What was I saying at the start of this sentence? Are they asleep?

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To the mountains!

Once the Friday interviews wrapped up, it was into the car and out to the mountains for some snowshoeing and snowboarding. A cosy cabin in Field, about twenty minutes from the ski hill, meant an easy early start Saturday for the best of the first turns. Except that only happens if I remember to set the alarm. Old and tired without an alarm means an unexpected lie in. Oh well, must have needed it, and we took a short woodland hike instead through pretty woods above the cabin. Lots of creaking; I think it was the trees.

Sunday, alarm set, and a good early start to Louise! The lift lineups were nonexistent all day, and conditions were pretty pleasant on the slopes given poor snowfall the previous few days and strangely warm weather. Grey and overcast, with the mountains looming and slightly menacing without strong sunlight, but striking anyway. We searched for patches of blue, and found one at the top of the world. It didn’t last, but we weren’t blue with so much mountain to play in.

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A patch of blue

Back to Calgary Sunday night, and packing hurriedly for two days in Kananaskis country with a group of students. An outdoor challenge camp designed to develop collaborative skills and boost esteem, as well as encourage a love for the mountain environment. And if they have a laugh or two at their teacher failing to keep pace, then all the better…for them at least. Hiking, climbing, clambering, and singing (not me, not the last one, that would be cruel…)

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Try and keep up…

Tuesday evening, hand over the camp students to a colleague, and back to the city and hurriedly unpack and find clean(ish) clothing for three days of learning to ski/snowboard with grade 5/6 students at Canada Olympic Park. So you’ve had hardly any sleep the previous couple days – those bunks at camp aren’t luxurious or quite full size – but you said you really wanted to go to Kananaskis and be part of the learn to ski program, so stop your whining old boy.

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I can help here

Have you ever tried to “assist” with teaching snowboarding to forty enthusiastic children? You will laugh, you might cry, you will be nimble and in fear for your life, and you will discover you aren’t as young as you once were. When your most gullible student asks “are you sure you’re 29 years old, Mr. Plaidcamper?”, the game is almost up.

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Kananaskis! Not much snow, or sun, but we can learn out here…

What a week! I complained (to myself), I laughed (a lot), I pulled new muscles (still have some), I wobbled (in many different ways), and I had a blast. To observe how students love to be outside, love to be challenged, and often don’t even have a (formal?) sense that they’re in a learning environment when it is outdoors, is wonderful. The perseverance and problem solving skills they develop are transferable to other life settings, sometimes explicitly, but often implicitly, and they’ll have an enormous reserve to draw on when faced with necessary adversity later in their learning. It was an exhausting week, (and I couldn’t do it every week), but tired as I am, I suspect it keeps me young at heart. Why, I feel 29(ish)!

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A small reward at the end of the week – this evening!

Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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