Good beer, a good book (and a good question?)

Beer and books! Two of my favourite things, and who doesn’t like a good read with a glass of beer at hand? Throw in a campfire, and all is well. (The good question is buried – and then raised – further down. Read on if important questions matter to you…)

Research is vital, and with the weather improving, and campfire season pretty much here, I forced myself to go to two beer festivals two weekends in a row, as well as a tasting at our local beer store to search out new favourites. Research is hard work, but it is work I take very seriously, and I’ll even put in a little overtime if necessary, to get the job done. An unpaid and overworked PlaidCamper. Preparation, preparation, preparation. I know you feel my pain…

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Exhaustive (exhausting?) research…

So, that is something about the beer part, with more to follow. The book part? Read on!

I was strolling along the banks of the Bow the other day, and I spotted a guy in waders fishing from the gravel on the far side. Behind him, up on the bank was a cooler. Am I right in thinking the cooler could only have been for beer? The sight put me in mind of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It.

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Lovely, but where’s the beer?

What a book! If you’ve read it, then you’ll know I am seriously underselling it by saying there is a lot of fishing, family feuding, and drinking in this story. I’m being truthful, but the story includes so much more. If you haven’t read it, you’ve got a treat ahead should you so choose. Anyway, back to my tenuous book and beer stuff.

Maclean’s narrator and his brother return to where they left eight bottles of beer cooling in the river. They’ve been fishing on a very hot day, the fishing has not been too rewarding, and they are looking forward to a cold one:

“God, let’s get that beer,” I said.

Paul kept spinning a bottle opener around his little finger. We were so dry that we could feel in our ears that we were trying to swallow. For talk, we only repeated the lyric refrain of the summer fisherman, “A bottle of beer sure would taste good.”

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Sure tastes good

They are disappointed – to put it mildly – that their brother-in-law, Neal, and his acquaintance, have finished off all the beer. These two didn’t take the trip for the fishing, they had a different activity in mind. The brothers spy the amorous culprits asleep – passed out? – buck naked and burning in the high heat of a Montana afternoon. Backsides are red, words are spoken, and actions are taken. You’ll have to read the story to find out more. It is a colourful episode in a book full of colourful episodes.

A River Runs Through It is wonderful on many levels, full of life, death, sadness and grace. But me being shallow, like a stream in mid-summer, I’ve always wondered about that beer in the river – Maclean wrote it was either Highlander or Kessler – was it any good, and what would be a good river beer today? (I know, one of the finest stories a person could read, and that is what I’m thinking…) The brothers were pretty annoyed, and I can’t imagine they’d have been quite so upset over a missing six pack of Bud. Both the breweries Maclean mentioned went under in the twentieth century, maybe under the Anheuser-Busch onslaught, although with the recent resurgence in craft beer, the Highlander name is being used once again in Missoula.

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Also tastes good

Anyway, this is my question – what would be a good beer, river-cooled a la Maclean, to enjoy after an afternoon of fishing? Yup, heady stuff, and I have to find an answer. Strange to be occupied by this question, given I have hardly ever fished, and I hardly ever drink beer. One of those is true.

The beers we researched at the Calgary and Canmore BeerFests (Mrs PC and our Canmore friends were onhand to share the work – I couldn’t tackle this alone) are all relatively recent vintages. Some of the start ups are mere months old, and I admire the enthusiasm, craft and commitment all the makers have in aiming to produce excellent beer.

Up until last year, my choice for the beer in the river would have been Great Northern Brewing’s Going to the Sun IPA. Aptly, it is made in Montana, and an absolute gem for a warm afternoon. Not so hoppy as to be too dry on the finish, it is a definite river beer contender.

However, our recent research revealed many other possibilities. If the brothers could have sourced it back in the day, I believe the Papa Bear Prairie Ale from the Half Hitch Brewing Company would have hit the spot. Or the Farmer’s Daughter Pale Ale from the same brewery. And if the name doesn’t put a person off, Red Bison Brewing’s Party Pants Pale Ale is also a winner. (Regular readers recognize I love a little alliteration, but steady on there, Red Bison…)

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Party Pants Pale Ale on the left

Honestly, I could list and share many of the beers from our two recent BeerFest experiences that were wonderful enough to be left in a river – in a good way – or opened and enjoyed by a campfire over the coming season. Perhaps I’ll write a short follow up in the next week or two to mention and recommend some of these other beers. Be a shame to let all that research go unshared!

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“Beer? No thanks. I drink water from my frisbee!”

I can’t help but think if only a certain someone would simply sit down, perhaps with an optional small glass of APA, turn off the (three?!) televisions, and read a few documents and reports, the world might be a tad more relaxed.

Thanks for reading, and perhaps you have a different “beer in a story” suggestion? Or a recommendation for a post-fishing river-cooled beer for Maclean’s story? If I can find it, I promise to try it…

“A bottle of beer sure would taste good.”

Have a wonderful weekend!

Beer bottle tops (and bullets)

Huh? To be more accurate, not that I know much about these things, it’s beer bottle tops and bullet casings. Or is that shell casings? I’m way out of my comfort zone here (well, not entirely, I might have opened a beer bottle or two every now and again…)

I was almost cleaning out our car the other day, not because it needed it (but it does), more because when I was driving along, each little bump in the road caused a jingling and tinkly sound somewhere near the dash. Mechanically minded as ever, I ignored it until I couldn’t take any more, and tried to track down the cause. Turns out there was a small pile of (brass?) bullet casings and rusty bottle tops in the change compartment atop the dash.

Clean this car!

PlaidCamper has guns and ammunition? I hear you ask with a gasp! PlaidCamper has bottle tops? Perhaps less of a gasp there…

No! No guns for me. I grew up in Britain, back when the police were armed with those funny hats and asked you nicely to stop being unlawful or they’d be forced to ask you again. Not much of a gun culture, although I do realize things have changed since then. Nevertheless, no guns for me. With my recent eyesight history, it would be foolish indeed – I’m a danger to myself and those around me simply wielding a spork. They’re not that user-friendly you know.

Little Bear, early morning

Anyway, where did I get the bullets? I picked them up. The beer bottle tops? I picked those up too. From the ground, and no, I didn’t drop them. They were strewn on the grassy area in front of Little Bear cabin. We’re not talking one or two accidentally missed items. Over a few days, I picked up hundreds of casings. I kept thinking that I must have found them all, and then I’d spot another, and another. Don’t ask Mrs PlaidCamper, but it’s possible I may have gotten a touch obsessed about finding them. At that point in time, post eye surgery, I was really quite happy at even being able to spot them. But if I could spot them, well wouldn’t that mean the shooter (is that the correct term?) could find them? Still, it kept me quiet, and Mrs PC finished a couple of long novels.

Is it dangerous here?

It did get me thinking, why all the bullets up there at Little Bear? Was the Parks Service not letting on how dangerous it could be? There was the usual literature and warnings about bears, and I shouldn’t (and honestly don’t) make light of the risks with animal encounters, but it is called Little Bear cabin. Not Rabid Slavering Bears Only Want To Eat You So Bring Your Guns cabin. We’d still stay there even if they change the name. Bottle tops and bullets. Hmm. Beer and bullets? I don’t know, is it just me…?

Put ’em up! (Your feet, you must be exhausted…)

I tried to imagine the scene when the previous gun toting occupants were at the cabin. Beer in one hand, gun in the other, whirling this way and that way, blasting at anything moving. Anything moving? While we were there, that would have been swaying trees, crickets, a hiker or two, and the occasional small squirrel. Oh, and many – unarmed, though – birds flying overhead and from tree to tree. Plus, there was a deer that gave me a funny look one morning, but probably because I was peeing behind the woodshed, being too lazy to tramp down to the outhouse so early. (Oh c’mon, give me a break. I was unarmed, and there might have been squirrels about…) Well, on that evidence, best lock and load then.

Squirrel’s eye view

I don’t want to get into the whole gun control debate (because what’s to debate when the solutions are so obvious – you know, fewer guns, more sporks?) I don’t understand shooting, although I know many enjoy the sport. Fair enough, fire lead balls into straw mounted paper targets and pretend you’re ready to defend yourself (maybe in the unlikely event of a paper target or clay pigeon invading your home?) I certainly don’t understand the sport behind hunting animals for fun. It can’t be that much fun for those gangs of scary squirrels and herds of deadly deer, or even fair, not if they can’t shoot back.

I’d best stop soon, and get back to cleaning out the car. Just one request before I do? The noise pollution is bad enough, but if you do feel the need to be heavily armed with beer and bullets, and to blast away because animals are out there, could you at least pick up your trash? Please? Yes? Thank you!

Pick ’em up!

And thank you for reading! As ever, please feel free to leave a comment (are you proficient with a spork?)  or share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

Time to reappear!

Last week was about disappearing, so to balance that out, it’s time to reappear. Our break is about over, and we’ve had a very pleasant summer. I wrote last week about the temporary need to check out, suspend membership of the human race, and it did reflect how I felt at the time of writing. However, having had the good fortune to be able to sit, read, write and reflect with few disturbances the past week, I thought that this week I’d share one or two of the great people we’ve met on our recent travels. They were previously unknown to us, but each interaction affirmed that people are, by and large, pretty decent – it seems that when we escape group or mob mentality, humans get it right…

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Safe to pitch here?

Where to start? How about Daryl, the tree surgeon we met a few weeks ago at Green Point campground on Vancouver Island? When we arrived at our designated spot, a large silver pick up full of chainsaws, ladders, ropes and climbing equipment was blocking the entrance. Daryl came over and introduced himself, explaining that he and his work partner were spotting trees, ensuring that those with weak roots, rotten cores, or loose branches weren’t about to come tumbling down on an unsuspecting camper:

“Don’t worry, we’re talking about in the next couple years. That said, don’t pitch your tent there, don’t tie a tarp on this one, or that one, and maybe not that one either!”

Looking around, we could see Daryl had been busy, with little blobs of red dye on trees that were going to require action. It was good to know he was out there keeping things safe. We stood and chatted for a while. Daryl loved his work, and he loved living on Vancouver Island.DSCN6998

“I hardly ever leave the island – why would I? My wife and I like to go kayaking and camping most weekends, and it’s all within a couple of hours of our home. It’s all here!”

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It’s all here!

Indeed it is. Daryl was knowledgeable, friendly, and not too busy to stop and say hi and talk about what he was doing. He had a good sense of humour, too. As he was leaving:

“You know how I said these trees were okay for two years or more? Well, if it gets windy, that’ll change. You might want to move your tent. Or not. It should be alright. Sleep well!”

Funny guy…

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Too early for a cold one?

When we got to Little Bear last week, we’d about unpacked our kit, and were just wondering if it was too early for a cold one when we heard voices drifting down from further up the mountain. People? At “our” cabin and on “our” mountain? Oh no – we were meant to be disappearing…

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Bozeman is down there

A young boy, about twelve or so, and his grandparents hiked into view. They waved “hi” and apologized for disturbing us. They seemed surprised the cabin was occupied. It turned out the grandfather hadn’t been up this way for more than a decade, and had wanted to show his grandson and wife the cabin, and the tremendous view across the valley. They pointed out distant mountains they’d hiked with their grandson earlier in the summer. The couple had first come to Bozeman from Minnesota in the 1960s, to work at the university:

“And we never left. We love it here, working and now retired. This area is special. Can we show our grandson the inside of your cabin?”

Well of course. The boy was completely taken with the cabin, eyes and face lit up with excitement. He was still young enough not to be too cool about old stuff. It was clear he hero-worshipped his grandparents, hanging on their every word. When we told them where we’d booked the cabin and the modest cost, the grandson looked absolutely thrilled when his grandfather suggested he might come up sometime:

“When you’re a little older, with your own friends, for a few nights?”

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Getting late

It was late in the afternoon, and they had to get back to their vehicle and head down to Bozeman. Waving farewell, they disappeared from view, but we heard what they were saying:

“Isn’t it great that old cabin is being used? What a place! We gotta come back sometime!”

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That old cabin

Isn’t it great that there are plenty of friendly folks out and about? It’s easy to be suspicious, or wary, particularly when you are relatively far from home. It’s easy to generalize (that’s why I do it!) about how humanity is going to hell in a hand basket, especially if you take all the bad news stories as the only stories out there. But that’s not always true – it’s just that the good stories don’t always get heard or the same air time. Sometimes, having a little time out to reflect can help me remember that.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

“A disappearance is in order…”

We’ve been spending the week at Little Bear cabin, Montana, disappearing for a while. Our days have been fast paced; books, small wanderings, sitting, books, sitting some more, and maybe a beer by the fire. Maybe.

One book I’ve really enjoyed is “Canoe Country” by Roy MacGregor. It’s a delightful account where MacGregor argues the canoe made Canada, and his argument is supported with tales and anecdotes about well known and less well known paddlers in Canadian history. If you’re even slightly intrigued by the canoe, you’ll like the book. Sitting outside a cabin up a mountain, it was like catnip for an old PlaidCamper. Mrs PC has been right to point out we have nowhere to store a canoe…

In a book full of memorable passages and quotes, here is one MacGregor uses that particularly appealed:

Every so often a disappearance is in order. A vanishing. A checking out. An indeterminate period of unavailability. Each person, each sane person, maintains a refuge, or series of refuges, for this purpose. A place or places, where they can, figuratively if not literally, suspend their membership in the human race.”  (John A. Murray, Colorado naturalist)

Most of the time, being a member of the human race is just fine, and I maintain that most people are well intentioned and propose no ill will to their fellows. However, the weight of bad news headlines prefacing endless appalling atrocities and scandals are apparently the only stories worth telling, and this can take a toll. Thank goodness for Little Bear, and all the other natural refuges available to those lucky enough to reach them. And perhaps there’s still time this summer, for those so inclined, to find a new place or two – maybe even traveling there by canoe…(don’t worry, Mrs PC, we’ll rent it!)

Thanks for reading, and have an enjoyable weekend!

Montana medicine

I’m writing this in a Montana motel room on a Saturday night. I know, life in the fast lane, and we sure know how to have a time of it. Actually, all is pretty good. The room overlooks the little pool, some kids are playing in it nicely, and we have a couple of beers cooling in the fridge. To be honest, it’s a bit of a selfish post this week.

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Empty road, empty head

After a relatively fraught couple of weeks, this might be just what the doctor ordered. Our trip to see friends and family in the UK was great fun, but there was a real feeling of Brexit blues about the place. Most people we know voted Remain, so their shock and upset over the outcome is still very real. Huge bewilderment and disbelief at the path Britain is now on. We haven’t lived there for fifteen years, and even from a distance we are struggling to make sense of it. It’ll take time, and tremendous optimism, to see how the situation can be improved. Perhaps I’ll write more about this later, if I can make sense of it all. We certainly left Britain feeling quite exhausted, and our Brexit incomprehension was a factor.

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Little Bear

We are now headed down to Little Bear cabin, and very happy to be on our way. I’ve spent the past week or so sitting and feeling sorry for myself in a darkened room, waiting (im)patiently for my eye to be up to the task of reading small print and taking on some sunlight. Well, finally! (although I’m not taking a retinal tear lightly…) Obviously, I’ve been a model of quiet and calm recuperation, with barely a complaint. Still, Mrs PC did seem to pack up and jump in the car with even more enthusiasm than usual…DSCN7099

Part of our journey through Montana went from Choteau to Wolf Creek on route 287. What a route! Rising and falling through rolling grasslands and golden hills, with mountains in the far distance all the way, this was a great road! It felt like essence of Montana, with hardly any other traffic, blue skies with high white clouds, a pleasant breeze in through the windows, and space, space, space. After a week indoors, and a couple of weeks before that negotiating Britain’s crowded roads, today’s journey was delightful.DSCN7103

What a relief to be able to read a road map, read road signs, roam along empty roads, and see to the far horizon. Little Bear is waiting, and we are ready to empty our heads for just a little while. Some Montana medicine, and it’ll be easy to take. Everybody should have some; even if you already feel good, you’ll feel even better!

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It’s good for you!

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Little Bear…

…cabin! I know, last week it was teddy bear cholla, this week, Little Bear cabin, so next week? Goldilocks?

Three bears would love to live here
Three bears would love to live here

It won’t be about bears, real or otherwise, I promise. But back to this week! Little Bear cabin is where we stayed recently on the return leg of our road trip. Just outside Bozeman, Montana, this cabin has to be about the most perfect cabin imaginable. Or at least, in my imagination. Original, yet in a good state of repair? Yup! Isolated, but not too hard to get to? Certainly! Wonderful views on all sides? Definitely! Less than $35 a night to rent it? Unbelievably, yes!

Isolated yet reachable
Isolated yet reachable

For less than many a campground fee, you can stay in a pretty as a picture cabin. Keep warm by the fire pit in decent evening weather, or remain warm by the wood stove inside during less friendly weather. Does it have modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and wifi? Nope! But if you’re ok with an outhouse, and can make do with a solar shower, and don’t mind your beer being a little warmer towards the end of your stay, then you’ll do just fine up at Little Bear. When we got back, I sent my brother a couple of pictures, and an invite to join us next time. I do understand that places like these aren’t for everybody…

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The “shower” tree (be honest, isn’t that better than an indoor bathroom? In summertime anyway)

If you’re more like my brother, you might find it a struggle. His definition of outdoors is being more than 30 minutes from pizza delivery, and he’d prefer his bathrooms to be attached to the main building. And for the building to have more than one room, and appliances that require a remote. (I’ve tried several times to get him along on a camping trip, but to no avail. I’d even let him bring a remote or two as a comforter, so he can adjust gently…)

You could easily reheat a pizza
You could easily reheat a pizza

To be fair, he did join me for a few nights in a cabin some years back. We were visiting another brother in WV, and I may have oversold how comfortable the cabin was. It did have an indoor bathroom and a rudimentary kitchen – with a real fridge. Luxury! But I might have skipped over the heat, humidity, bugs and mice part. He was flying in from the UK, so the look on his face when he arrived was priceless. As was the squealing and shoe throwing and interesting vocabulary throughout that first night when he confronted the mouse. And the second night. And third. Happy memories…He’s a really good sport, but has a long memory, and, as brothers should, he holds a grudge. So camping likely won’t be happening any time soon, or a trip to Little Bear. Oh well!

A wood shed is way better than a television!
A wood shed is way better than a television!

We weren’t plagued by mice, the bug count was low, and the beer remained tolerably cool. The days drifted by delightfully – daydreaming, have a beer, reading, have a beer, writing, have a beer, dozing, and daydreaming some more. Maybe even have a beer. Idle and not so idle chit chat; a wonderful chance to while away some time free of any outside influences or concerns.

Maybe even have a beer
Maybe even have a beer

Thank you Little Bear – I honestly do believe that we all should have a Little Bear in our lives, with the chance to truly unwind and breathe deeply. It doesn’t have to be on top of a mountain in Montana, but if it is, well, so much the better!

imageThanks for reading! As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Montana Evening Sky

A brief post this time (thank you, PlaidCamper) following up on those Montana sunsets painted by Charles Russell I mentioned a couple of weeks back.

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One night, there was a storm – very dramatic!

Did I manage to capture a sunset like Charlie? Nope! Not even close, but I sure had fun trying…

We were staying at Little Bear cabin, an old ranger station situated high above Bozeman in the Gallatin Forest. A beautiful location with panoramic views in every direction. I’ll write more about the cabin another time. I know, you can’t wait…

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The views are lovely – you can see a few lights way down in the valley

In almost all the photographs I use in this blog, the only changes I make to the original is an occasional crop (if only you could see the leftovers…oh dear), but I have to be honest and say all the photos in this post have been tweaked and edited. I’ve no idea what I did, but it was entertaining changing the various settings to see what happened. All of which makes me even more appreciative of Charlie Russell’s skills as a painter.

Imagine being skilled enough to paint an evening sky
Imagine being skilled enough to paint an evening sky

As well as the artistic skills, my guess would be you’d have to have one eye open and on the lookout for larger wildlife. There are grizzlies in the area, and we always felt happy to be in the cabin rather than camping.

The big sky was so grand...too large to capture effectively!
The big sky was so grand…too large to capture effectively!

We had a wonderful time sky watching up on the mountain! Time to think, get a sense of perspective, and admire the grandeur of Montana from a mountain top. I’ll leave you with a couple more photos taken from up there:

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