Finding Thanksgiving

It is Canadian Thanksgiving this coming Monday, and we’ve plenty, personally, to be thankful for. Oh, Canada! Far from perfect, a work in progress, and thank goodness we are trying. Having said that, recent events in the news leave one feeling a touch guilty about feeling thankful. Honestly, you don’t have to look too hard for evidence to encourage the belief that the world is on a slippery slope right now.

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Thankful for places like this

Do you find yourself mentally exhausted each time you read about the latest crisis? The events themselves are terrible, and awful for the innocent people caught up in them. I know I lead a privileged and comfortable existence compared with many, so my complaining here is trivial. Here I go anyway. I’m dejected and appalled by the other noise that follows, or masquerades as, the news.

DSCF5968The disillusion and despair is felt most particularly when “leadership” responses appear to be all about changing (ignoring) the facts or focus of discussion. To be this disingenuous about serving in government is a disgrace. When they did this, it really means that! I’m right, and don’t anybody ask what this is actually about! You must agree with me. If you dare to express otherwise, then it proves you are that! 

DSCF5956There are statements (speeches, or rather, rants, and tweets – tweets?! – how is that “statesmanlike” or seemly?!) appealing to base notions, or simplifying complicated issues so that pointing fingers and assigning blame overshadows the issue instead of finding solutions. Let’s just control or falsify the narrative to ensure we look good. Any humility? An admission mistakes can be/have been made? Can we allow for another point of view? Nope! Noise, shouting, more noise, and more shouting. I’m in charge and I know best. Oh dear. Common decency and common sense appear to be more and more uncommon these days. Calm things down? No, that won’t make me look strong! Let me threaten instead! It’s so much easier to spread fear and blame than it is to provide hope and help, especially if the needy aren’t your narrow-minded supporters…

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I should try to focus…

I’d better stop writing this. I’m not going to stop reading the news, or cease having an opinion – if we all did, no doubt that would make certain parties only too happy. I will aim for being positive, and that personal positivity will be found most readily in natural settings. I do understand that nature, or the environment, is social/economic/political, but when you’re on the trail, or under canvas, or splashing about in the water, the immediacy of what you’re doing takes over, energizes you, and some of the other concerns fall away, if only for a while.

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Enjoy the bigger picture

Well, we might be at the bottom of the barrel – it can’t get any worse, can it? – but you’ve got to try and be glass half full. I’ve a feeling we’re all going to need as much energy as possible as we attempt to look forward. Has it really been less than a year? Aiming for the positive, I’m thankful for all the voices that acknowledge and value our wonderful diversity and common humanity. I’m thankful for all the beautiful places still left on our amazing planet. I’m thankful it’s still possible to agree to disagree and not raise fists.

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Glass half full

Hmm. Struggling for coherence here. I think I’ve vented enough – thanks for your patience, and maybe your understanding – and have a wonderful weekend!

The photographs were taken late September at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, AB

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!

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!

Farewell…

…to 2016, and here’s to a bright 2017!

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Time to let the sun set on 2016

We’re really really hoping 2017 is a huge improvement over 2016 – not personally, as everything was pretty groovy, from taking trips and meeting friends and family all over, to finding quiet times at campgrounds and cabins. No, we’re hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself, and that, politically and socially speaking, folks around the world find it in themselves to be kinder and more thoughtful towards each other.

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Looking ahead, it all seems pretty good…

Globally, seems like we’ve reached the bottom of the barrel, and maybe now it’s time to head back up and take a breath of fresh air. After all, can’t we agree it was rather unpleasant down there? Let’s see if we can do better…

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Perhaps 2017 will be less spiky…

Anyway, we wish you all a happy and healthy 2017, full of fun times with friends and family, and plenty of opportunities to be outdoors and enjoying the natural world.dscn7376

A big thank you for reading OldPlaidCamper, and leaving lovely comments and stories – each one is truly appreciated!

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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…

Taking a very deep breath…

…and then another, and another. What a world we’ve made for ourselves.

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Tempted to hide? I know, but…

What a week! Our little roadtrip to Jasper seems way back in the rear view mirror. Seeking shelter from the vitriol, looking for a quiet space away from shouting the loudest to make a point, or repeating lies to establish legitimacy, a speedy Jasper run seemed a great idea. Tune out? Turn down the volume? Take a self imposed time out? Yes please! dscf3958Steady driving on near empty roads through breathtaking scenery, with sunshine and snow, rivers and lakes, and mountains and valleys helped to restore a sense of balance with each passing kilometre. We appreciated it then, and, with hindsight, appreciate it even more now…

dscf3970Was it so very quiet, though? To be fair, when we took a short hike around Lac Beauvert, the honking of hundreds of geese could hardly be described as quiet – far from it – but it was soothing to see and hear something real rather than fabricated. It made sense. So did the industry and purpose we saw from a dipper busily splashing and feeding along the banks of a small stream. The beating and rushing of wings as geese flew in organized Vs straight over our heads was a wonderful sound.

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It was chilly up here!

The roar of the wind blasting in our faces straight off a glacier at 8,000 feet was quite the noise. Elemental, in your face, but in a good way. Not quiet, but this was noise free from nastiness and negativity.

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Keep it purposeful

We had space to think, room to breathe, and the chance to tune into a different set of sounds. Sounds that heal, promote calm, and encourage a positive mindset. Perhaps we’ll need quite a bit of this in the coming weeks…

dscf3994Might I suggest you get outside this weekend? Turn off the intrusive soundtrack of recent days? Hug a tree, jump a stream, climb a hill, skim some stones, hike in the woods? Remember, there is a reality beyond our political constructs – this reality needs our help – and it sustains our conceited constructs. Go on, go out there, appreciate what we’ve got and hope we still have it in the years to come.

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Jump a stream

When you get home, smile and wave at your neighbors, even if you’re not too sure about their ballot box leanings. Take a very deep breath, then another and another. What a world we’ve made for ourselves. Here’s hoping we’ll figure out how to make it better.

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Smile at your neighbours

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a peaceful Remembrance Day and weekend.

We are all connected

I wasn’t planning on writing about our Montreal trip again, at least not quite so soon, but recent events compelled me to do so.

IMG_20151105_210156One of the strongest impressions I had of Montreal was how very French it is. That might sound a little silly – of course it seems French, most people there speak French. What I mean is that I’d expected Montreal to be a large Canadian city that happened to have French as a first language. Instead, I discovered Montreal to be a very French city that happens to be in Quebec and Canada. I’d never before appreciated the French identity of this part of Canada. I’d read about the nation within a nation, but without a very clear understanding. I understand it a little better now. Experience is a great teacher.

DSCF1587Although this was our first trip to Quebec, I found Montreal to be strangely familiar. The advertising billboards, the waft of cigarettes, the music spilling out of cafes, some of the restaurants and cafes themselves, these are all reminiscent of some of the cities we’d enjoyed during our four years in France. Even the architecture of older buildings and the cobbled paving stones echoed old France. In the right light and with a bit of a squint, we could have been promenading in Perigueux or Paris, or strolling a boulevard in Bordeaux.

DSCN6182Bordeaux! A fine city, a large and attractive port, and not too far from where we lived back then. Parts of Vieux Montreal down by the St Laurent river could have doubled for Bordeaux. Hardly surprising historically, but still a pleasant surprise for us, provoking a pang for our time in France.

DSCF1586We are all connected. It might be through memory, history, family, friendship, travel, or simply through digital devices, but that connection is there. Naive I know, but wouldn’t it be something if we could appreciate these connections, promote them positively, and enjoy our sense of collective community? We have so much to learn from each other! Our connections to each other are far more relevant, valuable and human than our differences (I love our differences – think about it, we’d be boring without them – and they should be celebrated and respected) Oh, my naivety…

DSCF1633I far prefer to be out in wild landscapes than large cities, most likely because of the quiet and contrast. It’s not an escape as such, more a need for a different experience. They’re all real parts of my world, with the natural world a nose ahead for me. Yet I am happy enough to live in and visit cities where there is a vibrant and generally peaceful multicultural  community. Places where differences are treasured, and the valuing of these differences binds the community, making it better for all.

DSCF1604I have to say that after recent events in a place we called home, it is hard to think positively, but we lose so much if we don’t. How I feel just now is hardly unique, and goodness knows, there are many experiencing far worse, and at first hand, all over the world. What a tragedy that these events might be what connect so many of us…

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