A tale of two forests…

…in one place! A short piece about the changing environment, and uncovering a forest preference.

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Lakes and forests – marvellous!

We were out at Yoho recently, enjoying a long weekend away from the city. The weather was pretty changeable over these few days, ranging from cold and damp to very cold and heavy rain. The ceaseless drumming of rain upon the cabin roof was initially calming, but we weren’t sorry when it stopped! Cabin fever…

It stopped raining, and the skies started to clear...
It stopped raining, and the skies started to clear…

The grey weather lifted a little, and we made for Emerald Lake, enjoying the sporadic beams of warm sun as the clouds broke up.

Easy walking!
Easy walking!

The stroll (hike is too strong a word for this one) around Emerald Lake isn’t too far, perhaps just shy of 6 km. The fun is in how the view changes when the trail zips in and out of the trees lining the lakeshore, and enjoying how the sunlight brightens the surface, illuminating the water. Mountains appear to shift their bulk as your perspective changes, and cloud shadows race over the slopes.

Familiar territory
Familiar territory

The more exposed side of the lake is familiar alpine territory, the evergreens and undergrowth not too crowded, with open views up the sides and across the water. Following the shore to the end of the lake, you cross an open area of alluvial plain, the sediment of thousands of years being deposited slowly into the water, ensuring it will one day disappear, one little flood at a time. Now that is a long term, yet inevitable event.

The sediment is growing, and the lake slowly shrinking
The sediment is growing, and the lake slowly shrinking

I’m not overly fond of the alluvial plain; it seems a dismal place compared to the majesty of the mountains around. But it is this contrast that lends the vistas their grandeur…so I should be happy really! It is a unique, important, and changing environment. The changes can barely be seen in our brief lifetime, but they are speedy by mountain measures.

Mossy greenery
Mossy greenery

The return portion of the hike is my favourite. We stepped from the plain and back into forest. And such a forest! A complete contrast to the other shore, this forest feels like a coastal rainforest. We were just remarking on the change and how it felt, when we arrived at an interpretive sign explaining the local differences. (If I need a teaching break, maybe I’ll write interpretive signs; PlaidCamper interpretations of the clearly evident…) It’s ten hours or so to the Pacific, yet because of the relative lack of sunshine, and higher rainfall this side of the mountain, the environment really does have the feel of coastal rainforest about it.

A rainforest feel
A rainforest feel

Cooler, darker and much, much wetter overall. The forest floor is carpeted with beautiful moss, and the mushrooms were everywhere.

Another boot test (passed!)
Another boot test (passed!)

The heavy rain left the trail muddy and puddle strewn, adding to that coastal feeling. It only lasts a couple of kilometres, but it is so wonderful, and such a pleasant surprise – especially as landlocked, semi-arid Alberta is just down the road. I think I prefer this side of the lake…not that it is necessary to choose! It’s probably the contrast, and my delight at finding it in such close proximity.

Love this lake
Love this lake

A changing environment to be found in a few short kilometres – this is why we love Emerald Lake. So much to enjoy and appreciate, particularly after a cabin feverish couple of days!

Coastal? Not really!
Coastal? Not really!

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

Desert yearnings and a colourful sunset!

I’ll be honest, yearning is a bit strong here, but I like the word. I am missing the desert, a feeling brought on by the green eyed monster when I heard a friend was travelling down to Palm Springs this week. Lucky her, and sorrowful me. Still, being a friend, I did recommend she take the aerial tramway. I know, I am a bad person, but I have used the word yearning in this opening paragraph. Twice now.

Layered landscape
Layered landscape

I was going to share the photos here in the middle of winter, as a warming counterpoint or interlude during what will likely be endless forthcoming posts about snow, snowboarding, snow, snowshoeing, snow, building snow forts, and snow. With photographs of snow. However, my aforementioned jealous streak had me looking at these evening desert shots from the summer, and, having no impulse control, I decided to share them this week.

Steady enough

I took these the evening of the same day we enjoyed the aerial tramway. I’m amazed my hands, knees, and overall self were sufficiently recovered to hold the camera steady enough.

The light fades fast…

We headed into Joshua Tree National Park, just before the fast descending sunset, and managed to pick out several vantage points to enjoy it all.

Glowing

The sky was beautiful, and in the short time it took for the light to fade, we were astounded by the colourful show.

The hush of sunset

Perhaps due to the heat of the day, there were very few fellow visitors nearby, so we were able to enjoy the hush of sunset, to feel the “loveliness and quiet exultation” Edward Abbey refers to at desert sundown. (I’ve been reading Desert Solitaire, marvelling at Abbey’s descriptive abilities, and trying hard to get a measure of his challenging ideas and notions. An interesting person, and perhaps I’ll write more about him later, after further reading!)

So colourful!

Other than cropping these pictures, what you see here is a fair reproduction of that desert sunset – a favourable recommendation for our trusty little red Nikon Coolpix. It’s barely bigger than a credit card, inexpensive at around $90, and has travelled with us for three summers without a problem. I believe it may be idiot proof.

Album cover?

The sunrises and sunsets we’ve experienced at Joshua Tree are wonderful. I know I’ve written this before, but it is at Joshua Tree where I really see how the light can change quickly, and how it is so captivating for painters, writers and photographers. I can imagine becoming rather addicted to trying to capture the light in some form. Failing that, it is an absolute delight to have been fortunate enough to see it.

Captivating

So there you have it! A brief post highlighting a little red camera, a green eyed monster, lots of snow references, and a desert light show we really treasured. I’ve been yearning to write a colourful post…

Widescreen!

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

Rocky Mountain Fall (a fast season)

Fall is a fast season in the Canadian Rockies. We were out at Lake Louise in mid September, and there were tiny traces hinting at the end of summer. Last weekend, we were there again, and what a difference a couple of weeks makes!

Distinctly autumnal...
Distinctly autumnal…

There isn’t the largest variety of leaf colour here compared to the vibrant displays of the Eastern woodlands, but a golden larch or brilliant aspen can look quite delightful set against the dark greens of conifers. We set off on a moderate rated hike up to Taylor Lake, hopeful to see the larches that grow along the shores and above the slopes of the lake.

No larches yet, but great views!
No larches yet, but great views!

Now, a moderate rated hike is probably just that to a seasoned hiker, but to an old PlaidCamper who only has easy miles in his legs these days…well, I did make it. I’m moderately fit, can walk all day, but clearly I’m currently conditioned for long flat bits with occasional steeps. Fortunately, this hike starts on the flat (as many do) and then, less fortunately, begins a deceptive climb with inclines that are inclined to be steeper than I’d anticipated. Long steep bits with occasional flats! Honestly, what was I expecting? I’d read the trail notes, knew the elevation, but somehow mentally glossed over the going up part. Must be getting old(er!)

Green!
Green!

The going was better once I’d readjusted, accepting that a hike up to a lake is just that – up. The morning was chilly, particularly down in the low woods, with the sun barely breaking through. The forest floor was mossy and very damp, thanks to heavy overnight rain. Mushrooms had sprouted everywhere, a range of interesting shapes and sizes. The air had that weighty and intoxicating earthy autumnal tang. Wonderful!

Mushrooms everywhere...
Mushrooms everywhere…

We paused to admire the view and munch on energy giving snacks, and to remove layers as the day warmed up. There were quite a number of fellow hikers, but not so many with all the ascending turns that it ever felt crowded. Often, you’d see nobody behind or ahead thanks to the switchbacks. Folks were happy to be out, enjoying the sun, the scenery and their company. A group would sometimes pass at quite a pace, make me feel slow, and then we’d pass them a little later as they paused for a rest and drink break. (I always walked a little faster, and smiled like my legs weren’t feeling it. Childish, me?)

The perfect soundtrack
The perfect soundtrack

For long stretches, the trail was very muddy, which added an extra dimension (who doesn’t love extra heavy boots and the chance to slip in the mud?), and in other places, treacherously slippery logs formed the path, yet it all added to the charming challenge. There are a couple of wooden bridges crossing the stream that the trail follows for large parts of the hike. The splashing and bubbling of the stream is loud, a perfect musical accompaniment to your thoughts, and far preferable to the loudspeakers that some feel the need to carry when out hiking. (I’m not kidding – this year we’ve encountered two groups of hikers playing loud music to deter bears. Is this something new out on the trail? Be safe, carry spray, travel in a group where so advised, make noise, but please, please, please don’t bring your music. I understand the nervousness, and you don’t want a close bear encounter, but loud music isn’t the answer – the forest is the soundtrack!) Alright, calm down PlaidCamper.

Almost there...
Almost there…

We emerged from the forest into a meadow/wetland that signalled our imminent arrival at Taylor Lake. We started to glimpse the golden larches, and splurched (new word?) our way across the wetland toward the lake. It was beautiful! A pristine blue-green lake in the shadow of grey-brown mountains, and golden larches along the shore and up the slopes as hoped for. A fine reward! And there’s a small campground there. Hmm, planning already…

Stay awhile
Stay awhile

We stayed awhile, long enough to eat lunch and enjoy the sun appearing from behind clouds, lighting up the landscape. We scrambled and clambered along the shore a short distance, and found a quiet spot away from the small gathering of happy hikers. There we sat on lichen spotted rocks, reflecting on and taking in all that was around us.

Can't leave yet
Can’t leave yet

It was a reluctant departure, although the thought of an easier downhill return helped. We wandered back down to the trailhead, tired yet content on aching legs, and smiling encouragement at the hikers still on their way up. Not one slip or trip, and dry feet all the way, after a real test for our boots, with all the mud and the wetland at the top.

One last look back
One last look back

I know I pretend to grouch and make heavy weather about the uphill parts, but truthfully, what a great day, with the good fortune to enjoy a splendid trail and become moderately fitter! A chance to catch the fall before the season escapes and we are into winter.

Fleeting fall...
Fleeting fall…

Do you have an enjoyable – moderate – hike for the fall season? Thanks for reading, feel free to comment or share, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Don’t push me! Don’t let me fall either…(this post is not for the faint hearted)

A few weeks ago, we arranged to meet some old friends at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. They have two teenage boys who wanted to ride up and admire the expansive views, at over 8000 feet. So after a very warm morning in the Joshua Tree National Park, we headed to the tramway, looking forward to cooler air and seeing our friends. Being a veteran of many a winter chairlift and gondola, I didn’t give the ride itself much thought – just as well, it turned out. I don’t think I’ll be riding this one again anytime soon…

Did I mention over 8000 feet?
Did I mention over 8000 feet?

It wasn’t a comfortable experience from a space point of view. As a comparison, at Lake Louise the various chairlifts seat between two and six, and the Louise gondolas carry up to six winter padded passengers. Can feel a little crowded with all those layers, but it’s a quick trip, and you’re soon off the chair and hitting the slopes. I can handle it. At Palm Springs, the gondolas are more crowded than a London Underground train at rush hour (that’s more crowded than you’d ever like to experience, and pricier than the Palm Springs tramway – even for a single ticket…) Not too comfortable for me.

It doesn’t help that there is a sign with maximum weight tolerance and maximum number of passengers. I’m sure it was exceeded. It felt like more than eighty passengers. I found myself sitting in the waiting area, trying to average out the mass of bodies. That child and that child combined probably weigh less than the portly gentleman sipping on the gallon of soda, so is that two passengers or three as far as potential cable snapping goes? I know it wouldn’t really be overloaded, right?

That's right! Who'd want to?
That’s right! Good advice. Who’d want to?

We all crammed into the gondola (carriage? conveyance? suspended coffin?), packed tightly, myself about as happy as a sardine in a can. The doors slid shut, I grabbed a handhold, pretending to look nonchalant in front of friends, and the coffin set off. Lurched actually, with a dipping start and collected lift, then slowly spinning and spinning, as we ascended the mountain. Yes! The gondola spins! If you wanted to to hold on, too bad, because the railing you are clinging to is slowly sliding past, and if you don’t let go, you look like you’re propping up a bar, and somewhat worse for wear. Each time the coffin passed under one of the pylons, it dropped alarmingly and caused the entire contraption to wobble and swing from side to side. Cue much laughter and whoops of delight from 99% of the sardines, and ever increasing nausea for OldPlaidCamper.

Big view, lurching stomach
Big view, lurching stomach

I know! OldPlaidCamper, unhappy heading up a mountain? Who’d have thought it? I certainly hadn’t, before we set off. All those other chairlifts and gondola rides on all those other mountains were no kind of preparation for Palm Springs. I tried to take my mind off the drop, the bumps, the screams of delight, (and the sneaky passenger who farted – making a tough to take situation even more difficult – my prime suspect was the portly gentleman…) by letting my thoughts wander.

Treacherous mind. It started thinking about one of my favourite books, “Touching the Void” – which is not one to be considered on such a shaky trip. But that’s how my mind works. Not content with a mountaineering disaster and survival book (a fine read if you enjoy a taut true story), my brain went further AWOL, and conjured up the opening scenes of Sylvester Stallone’s “Cliffhanger” – come on brain, is that really necessary? You’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen it – and if you haven’t, why not? Stallone at his most entertaining, other than “First Blood” (I can’t drive over an iron bridge anywhere without saying “don’t push me!”) That teenage boy never grew up. Sad, I know.

Jelly legs (I've been called worse...)
Jelly legs (I’ve been called worse…)

When the tin can reached the top, I staggered out on jelly legs, grateful for the solid ground and clean air. Oh, was that air ever fresh! Over 8000 feet up, and appreciably cooler than the desert floor below. Far, far below. I continued to pretend I’d really enjoyed the ride, and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours exploring a short trail, the amusingly named Grubb’s Notch Trail. I’ve no idea who Grubb may have been, and won’t Google it, in case the truth is less than the various fictions we came up with. Which can’t be repeated here.

Who was Grubb?
Who was Grubb?

The two teenage boys couldn’t be more different. G is very cautious, very much aware of potential dangers in his immediate surroundings. J is completely opposite, positively revelling in risk, very happy to scamper and frolic as close as he can get away with to edges of rocks and mountainsides – maybe to wind up his older brother? (Yes, it is ok to use the word frolic, particularly after surviving the ride up. You’d frolic too, believe me!) Both boys appreciated the location in their own way, another reminder that young people really do connect with their environment when given the opportunity, and the connecting can be thoughtful or exuberant or both. It was lovely to see.

The views are far reaching...
The views are far reaching…

The promised views were absolutely spectacular, the scenery up top a real delight, and the mild temperature, compared to the summer heat of the desert below, a welcome relief. We were all a little reluctant to leave the summit and make the return trip down. As we chatted on the trail, it turned out most of us were somewhat nervous during the ride up. Apparently, G, the older teenage boy, and a bit of a math whizz, had been calculating our chances of survival as we ascended. He’d come up with a plausible formula. He helpfully shared those increasing survival odds on the way down. Not that helpful, actually. Fortunately, I had an image of Sylvester Stallone, dangling from a rope high on a mountain, and wearing those leather short pants at the start of Cliffhanger, to take my mind off things.

Fresh air and cooler temperatures compared to the desert floor
Fresh air and cooler temperatures compared to the desert floor

A splendid adventure, and I’m so happy we made it back down without incident for all sorts of obvious reasons, but mostly because when I do shuffle off, short pants Stallone is not the last ever thought I want to have…

Quite spectacular!
Quite spectacular!

Oh dear. Magnificent wilderness scenery, an astonishingly beautiful place, and I came up with this. Hmm. Anyway, please do feel free to make a comment or share a story – perhaps about your favourite Stallone movie? (I think I’ve set the bar high!) Have you taken the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway? Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

A desert story about the teddy bear cholla (warning: it’s not cute at all…)

What an irresistible idea and name – a teddy bear cactus! There’s quite a patch of these just off the road in the middle of Joshua Tree National Park. If I remember accurately, it is signposted as the Cholla Garden, and lovely word though cholla is, it’s not as catchy as teddy bear. Imagine! A garden of cacti that resemble teddy bears. Wouldn’t that be cute?

Look at these - aren't they irresistible?
Look at these – aren’t they irresistible?

I’m back to school soon, so maybe I could tell the younger students a story, one with a teddy bear cholla cactus? Yes, a story as told by Mr. OldPlaidCamper…Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin:

Not really teddy bears...
Not really teddy bears…

Don’t believe it, kids. Look at this picture of a cholla cactus. Now look at this teddy bear. Do they look anything alike? No. That’s silly. They don’t look like teddy bears. You can’t hug them. Well, you can, but it’ll hurt. Advertising and branding is mainly about peddling a lie, or stretching the truth to breaking point. Why are you crying? Please stop. I’ll be back next week with another story. Please stop crying.

If I’m unlucky, and the principal finds out, maybe I’ll be reprimanded for crushing the imaginations and dreams of young’uns, but – silver lining – I’ll never be asked to teach kindergarten. (To be serious for a moment, I do believe that kindergarten teachers are amazing, and have one of the toughest – and most rewarding – teaching assignments. I would not be able to do it).

A storm is coming!
A storm is coming!

Back to the cacti. We did visit the Cholla Garden one evening a couple of weeks ago. The day had been incredibly hot – even by desert standards – and darkness was falling as we drove through the park. We could see clouds massing, huge and dark; a storm was building. We jumped out of the car to look at the field(?) of cholla cacti. Quite beautiful. Irritatingly, the only mosquito for miles around honed in on me almost immediately. I dealt with it calmly, by leaping about slapping my head and neck, which seemed to work. I think it fell to the floor, weak with laughter. I snapped a few quick pictures, the ones on this post, and jumped back in the car before the storm was upon us. (Alright, before the mosquito recovered).

A field of teddy bears (use your imagination!)
A field of teddy bears (use your imagination!)

The teddy bear cactus really is a beautiful plant; not cute, but beautiful, and to see whole stands of them in the failing desert light was rather wonderful. An almost otherworldly experience. (Just don’t hug them. Those furry little spines are awfully difficult and painful to remove. You’d be like a bear with a sore head. Or arm).

Beautiful
Beautiful

Have you ever wanted to hug a teddy bear cholla? Of course not. That’s silly. Thanks for reading! 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:

image

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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.

Route 89 and 89A – north from Flagstaff, AZ to somewhere in Utah

Other than an ocean view, this route pretty much has it all. Mountains, hills, forests, rivers, grasslands, deserts, canyons, plateaus, cliffs, and all in a few hours of driving time. If we’d stopped as often as we wanted to, why we might still be on 89 now. Let’s view it as a swift reconnaissance for future visits…this is a timeless place, and it’ll wait for our return. Here are a few grainy photographs (taken on the move and through a bug splattered windshield) and a few impressions here.

 

It has it all!

 

With all the variety, the weather was changeable – although mostly variations on hot. No complaints though; it’ll be a long winter soon enough above the 49th. The day we travelled, it was pleasantly cool in the early Arizona morning, warmed up across Navajo lands, got rather warm in the open desert, cooled off again on the high plateau, rained on us during and just after our descent, then the heat increased all the way on from there.

 

Blue skies, red cliffs

 

This road is such a colourful route! Sandstone hoodoos and clay soil, cliffs of pink and red strata, coral sands, dark green ponderosa forests, golden hay bales in enormous straw fields, and sluggish muddy rivers at the bottom of deep canyons. The vast skies also played their part in the colour palette. A huge reach from light to deep blue, high trailing wisps of cloud in the upper atmosphere, billowing white puffs gathering over the heights, and ominous heavy greys and hazy purples rushing in from and blotting out distant horizons.

Ominous…

 

Every now and then a few drops would spatter the windshield and you’d look about and up into the blue, wondering where the offending cloud might be. Other times you could see the veils of rain sweeping towards you, almost in touching distance, yet not a drop through the window. There was one mighty downpour that reduced visibility and speed for about five minutes, then bright sunshine soon after. What a joy to be traveling through high country where you can see weather coming – and going.

 

Wonderful setting

 

We had plans, so we couldn’t stop this time and see it all. I had to wrestle with that. Here’s what it sounded like in my head:

Ponderosas! Like them, they’re big.

Mmm, sagebrush.

I wonder what it’s like to be a cliff dweller?

Vermilion. Vermilion. A bit red.

That’s a long way down.

Roadside stalls selling Navajo rugs and jewelry (whisper that to Mrs PlaidCamper – but don’t wake her. Phew, close one!)

Do we have time for Bryce Canyon today? Don’t be silly. Next time.

Is the North Rim higher than the South?

Oh no, we’re in Utah on Sunday – can I get coffee?

Crap! It’s the  I-15 already! Left to Vegas, right to Salt Lake City. There has to be a better way.

No wonder Mrs PlaidCamper has her travel naps…

 

Fresh!

 

Ponderosa pine at 8000 feet smells like, well, ponderosa pine at 8000 feet. Exceptionally good! Deeply refreshing, clean, and as far from those old car air fresheners as can be. Roll down your windows! Sagebrush after the rain is real aromatherapy, and no New Age music, kaftans or essential price tags. The only cost is your time, with a willingness to take the long way round. (I know, gas is expensive, and cars are bad, but don’t be a curmudgeon – I can rain guilt on my own parade later).

It wasn’t open anyway…

 

So if you happen to find yourself in Flagstaff early one morning in summer, and you simply must go for a spin in your lovingly (but not overly) restored vintage pickup, head north on 89, then take 89A towards Vermilion Cliffs. Cross the desert and climb up the winding road to the Kaibab plateau. Carry on into Utah and you could stop off at Bryce Canyon. You won’t be disappointed, and you won’t have enough time to do it all in only a day. But that’s alright; do what we intend to do and make plans for a longer future stay! It’s not going anywhere, and this is a timeless place.

 

Find the time…

 

Who can resist the open road? Have you traveled on 89 and 89A up from Flagstaff? As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

 

Just add an old pickup truck – maybe one day

All time favourite wilderness movies (#2 in an occasional series…)

Ah, back to this campfire game. (Actually, I wish I was arguing about movies around a campfire, instead of spending this week moving apartments – such fun…)  Anyway, amongst friends and family, the choice this time has divided opinions. I really like it (it’s on your all time favourite list PlaidCamper – of course you like it), but I don’t know that this is strictly a wilderness movie, it’s perhaps more of an action survival flick, or even an eco-horror parable. I’ve seen it a couple of times, and I think it works at a number of levels. The movie? Oh yeah, (this is like a teaser trailer), the movie is The Grey (dir. Joe Carnahan, 2012). 

 Is something hiding in there?

Never mind all that stuff about it working at a number of levels, The Grey stands out for me because of the winter settings, and a fine performance from Liam Neeson. Much of the movie was shot near Smithers, BC, and, as in any good wilderness movie, the settings and weather behave like additional characters, providing greater drive to the narrative. Liam Neeson is suitably grizzled and gruff, entirely believable as a person who has reached the end of his emotional tether, not angry but exhausted, yet girding himself for a final effort to help his coworkers survive their predicament.

I mentioned above that the story could be read as an eco-horror tale. There was plenty of criticism aimed at the film makers for their depiction of wolves. Having survived a terrifying plane crash in a frozen wilderness, the characters are preyed on by a pack of enormous wolves who pick off survivors one by one in a series of gruesome attacks, hunting the humans as they look for a means of escape and a return to civilization. This is a familiar formula to horror/action movie fans, along the lines of the crew being preyed on in the original Alien movie, or the National Guard soldiers lost in the bayou in Southern Comfort. 

 Very grey…

The wolf depiction is unrealistic, particularly the sheer size of the creatures. Really they are designed to represent all that scares many city dwellers when they think about wilderness – wolves as the other or unknown. The movie makers have exaggerated the wolves to heighten audience fears; they’re not making a realistic documentary style statement about wolves. Treat the movie as humans vs. nature, in the tradition of Jaws or Grizzly (you can’t take that one too seriously!) and others in that vein, and you’ll be suitably entertained. Are the wolves simply nature taking revenge on resource greedy humanity? (The characters are oil riggers heading off for some down time away from the drill site). There are many deaths in the movie, and some are as a result of the environment – not all are down to the wolves – is this nature fighting back?

 Nature always wins…

I’ve always enjoyed stories with wolves, or about the mythology of wolves. As an impressionable teenager, I saw Neil Jordan’s movie The Company of Wolves. He was inspired by Angela Carter’s revisionist version of Little Red Riding Hood in her short story collection The Bloody Chamber: “Beware men whose eyebrows meet!” Mine do, although I don’t howl at the moon (often, unless having dealings with lawyers or mortgage brokers – I know, I know, I should let it go). The same impressionable teenager enjoyed The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, the original Wolfman with Lon Chaney, and reading Silver Bullet by Stephen King. Wild creatures lurking in dark places. I was a sensitive boy. So perhaps there is a very loose thread running from those earlier stories I enjoyed through to The Grey, which may explain why I am drawn to it beyond the wintry settings.

I also think that, for an out and out action and entertainment survival film, The Grey has a surprisingly philosophical thread; what does it mean to die, and is the manner of your death and how you accept it a reflection of your life? Is there a time to fight and a time to concede, and can that be graceful? In between the action and horror, there are moments of stillness, where the characters contemplate their mortality and chances of survival. The relatively thoughtful approach raises the movie above cliche and stereotype. 

 Be graceful

Yes, it’s possibly preposterous, macho, unrealistic, and somewhat formulaic – it’s all there for a fan of action: chases, escapes, tough dialogue, a plane crash, fights and confrontations aplenty, and yet…with the added dimensions of beautiful scenery, Neeson’s excellent performance, and an above average script with some depth, I think this is a little better than the usual fare.

I’ve yet to see a wolf in the wild. I’d dearly love to one day, from a respectful distance and with a better understanding of what they are as magnificent creatures in their proper context – and without my teenage impressions! 

So, there you have it – a fairly recent movie, unlike my previous choice (and I don’t think my mother has a crush on Liam Neeson – I’m not asking her – read the post about Jeremiah Johnson), but it’s in my list of favourites because I keep going back to it.

 Beautiful scenery

Have you seen The Grey? Is it as good as I think it is, or is it just another action movie? And what about the wolf depiction? Is it okay to get that wrong in the interests of telling a story? Do your eyebrows meet in the middle?

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

Chlorophyll camping in the rain at Green Point…

Summertime camping in a rainforest on the coast of the Canadian Pacific Northwest sounds exactly what it is – simply delightful – but what this old PlaidCamper really didn’t think about when reserving the campground many months ago, was the rain part of rainforest. Green Point campground, situated beautifully on a steep rise overlooking the Pacific, is also nestled in the fringes of a lush green forest – rainforest! 

It’s a rainforest!  

In recent years, most of our summertime camping has been in the deserts of SW USA, and our spring and fall camping at sites on the eastern side of the Rockies in Alberta. Generally, these locations are dry, often hot, and in the case of the Rockies, only an hour or two from home if heavy rain threatens to wash away the tent. (We did once abandon the campground at Lake Louise in early September, when the promised light rain showers became hours and hours of torrential deluge – small rivers were flowing past the tent, and if the grizzlies are paddling two by two, you know it’s time to go home). 

Don’t go home…

When we were approaching Green Point and the first few drops spattered the windshield, we weren’t too concerned. Our stay in the area had been dry and warm up to that point, and a little drizzle wasn’t going to be a problem…(we should have paid attention to the information at the botanical gardens, something along the lines of “autumn is wet, winter very wet, springtime it rains, and summers aren’t dry.” Annually, Tofino gets over three meters of rain! On some measures, two meters annually qualifies for rainforest, so Clayoquot has a super rainforest!) 

Moisture

We weren’t really that unprepared for camping in the rain, it’s just usually rain is a cue for us to not go camping. So the rain that started as we put up the tent, continued as we rigged up a tarp shelter, and did not stop that afternoon when we hiked along the beach, was outside our usual comfort zone. Still, with the tarp, decent waterproof gear in the backpack and a natty new toque, we managed just fine. Although wet, being summer it was not too cold, especially when hiking. 

Overlooking the Pacific (honest)

The trees collect the mist that drifts over from the beach, and all the moisture slowly drips and drops to the forest floor. Your camping soundtrack of rain pattering on the tarp and tent roof is soothing – and it sounds far wetter than it really is, with the dripping continuing long after any actual rainfall. Stepping out from under the tarp, we were surprised again and again by it not raining – or barely raining – when we thought it was! 

Greenery

All the moisture contributes to the creation of absolutely beautiful forests. The shades of green are numerous, and even the humid air seems to have a greenish tint. The air tastes and smells a verdant green, if that doesn’t sound too strange. Chlorophyll! Moss cloaks and hangs from the trees, and lichens cling to trunks. Small bushes, broad leaved plants and fern fronds crowd the forest floor, which itself is a rich decaying mulch, satisfyingly springy underfoot. Water, water, water, and growth, growth, growth in a delicate and unique ecosystem. 

Delicate and intricate

I’ve had to rethink my general dislike of rain, at least in settings as spectacular as the Clayoquot biosphere. At the information level of thinking, it is easy to understand that rain is important, but experiencing the natural wonder, by camping in a rainforest for a few days, has made me appreciate this precious resource in a far more vivid and tangible way. Knowing something is not the same as experiencing and then knowing it a little better. Funny how I sometimes forget the obvious from the comfort and distance of my modern life. Maybe we should all have a rainforest experience – go so far as to insist it is a mandatory part of a child’s education – then serious and real conservation efforts might be mainstream rather than marginal…Enough of that, school’s out and I’m on vacation.

Did I already say “green”?

It didn’t rain the entire time we were camping, and in fact our final day was a beauty – blue skies and an empty beach to wander along just a few minutes from the tent. 

Overlooking the Pacific!

I probably still wouldn’t go camping locally if the forecast calls for rain, but I would certainly camp in a NW rainforest again! 

Rainforest cooled…

Are you a happy camper in the rain – or would it take a rainforest to entice you?! Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Time out in Tofino, and realizing Thoreau probably had it right…

This post might seem a little off topic, but bear with me! I’ve been reading Walden and I think that I may, like many people, have been born in the wrong age…

We’ve been downsizing as far as we can recently, not because we are jumping on a particular bandwagon or vogue for small living, (although this is a good idea), but simply because the timing is right. Junior is about ready to forge her own path, heading out to be independent, and we don’t want to be living in a space that was designed to accommodate four or five people comfortably. Our empty nest can be smaller than that! We sold our family house, and we are renting a little apartment until our new little apartment has been built. 

This would be fine (cedar shack in Tofino botanical gardens)

This all seems simple and straightforward enough; a linear sell one, rent one, and then buy one. Couldn’t be easier. All you need is a small mortgage from a bank, a helpful legal person to do the necessary lawyer type things, and a builder. These three can then communicate with each other, working tirelessly and seamlessly on our behalf so we can secure the tiny apartment of our dreams. And they can collect well earned fees from us… 

Kerbside appeal without the kerb

I honestly cannot go into the complications experienced in trying to get these three parties all on the same page. If I had three more lifetimes ahead of me blogging to explain how frustrating the past couple weeks have been, I wouldn’t have enough time. I’d lose the will to live three times over. I’d rather have an operation than buy somewhere to live ever again. 

Maybe we’ll abandon the house, just hit the road instead

Thoreau had it right! I’m going to borrow an axe and start on my own place hewn by my own hands. (I will have to borrow an axe – I do have a little hatchet, but that’s not going to cut it. I’d be lucky to build a doll house or a birdhouse, never mind a tiny house. And I’d need those three lifetimes from above). Now, as an almost outdoorsman, I’d probably chop off my own limbs instead of a tree limb, and the finished article might not look like the finished article. But still, if you’d been in my shoes, you’d understand the attraction, trust me. 

Tofino bird house (with lawyer perched on the roof)

I’m lucky enough to be sitting on a deck, staying in a small cabin overlooking the inlet just outside Tofino. That means I get to calm down. This is a good thing for many obvious reasons. The less obvious reason is the one where you don’t get to hear a news story about some old guy wearing plaid running around downtown Calgary wielding a hatchet and cursing the modern home buying process:

“And the police gently disarmed the apparently harmless, yet clearly confused plaid-clad old man, leading him away from bewildered bystanders and committing him to a secure institution where further tests will be carried out to determine if he is fit to have his little hatchet back. And now the weather.” 

View from the dock – just breathe, PlaidCamper, just breathe…

Just to be clear, and before anyone calls the authorities, I’m not actually going to run amok anywhere wielding any sort of hatchet – that would be silly.

All complaining aside, I do know that with a little perspective, this is simply just another invisible Western problem; I should let it go, and accept it as one of the complicated processes that make up life for the privileged few in the modern world today. An irritating downside to accompany the many upsides? I don’t know. I could stand to live in another age – when life wasn’t easier, that’s for sure, but perhaps simpler? I still say Thoreau had it right… 

Head over the next mountain, just a little further…

Have you ever wanted to build your own little home, be a little more apart from the modern world? Please feel free to share a story or make a comment. Thanks for reading – I feel better now – and keep your guy ropes secure.