Chopping, stacking, and drying

Reading a book about firewood whilst sitting by a wood stove is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two. Especially when you are feeling sorry for yourself (I was) because some lovely student was overly generous with their germs. Fortunately for Mrs PlaidCamper, I suffered in stoic silence. Not true, I was simply engaged in the book she gave me, and it has certainly confirmed my almost outdoorsman status. Still so much to learn!

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A good read
If you can get hold of a copy, you might like to read “Norwegian Wood – chopping, stacking, and drying wood the Scandinavian way” by Lars Mytting. I know, sounds a bit nerdy, yet this slim volume is quite wonderful, and strangely heartfelt, given the title. The approach is sometimes scientific, sometimes mathematical, but the overall effect is lyrical and philosophical. Apparently, the book has been a bit of a hit, striking a chord – a cord? – with a wide audience. Could it be that some are crying out for a simpler life? Maybe. It kept me quiet for a while.

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Keeping warm
To the book. Until relatively recently, almost all humans have warmed themselves with fire, and the primary fuel was wood. This necessitated a set of skills and knowledge fundamentally attached to being outdoors. In many places, the need for these skills has diminished in the last 60 years, with the development of other heating and energy sources. Perhaps more of us need to rediscover the skills and possibilities of wood for a fuel. Mytting’s book explores our changing relationship with firewood through pictures, poetry, history, and anecdotes that delight and engage. (If you don’t have a tear in your eye after finishing old Ottar’s story – his woodpile tale bookends it all – I’d be amazed, and you’d be cold…)

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Woodpile tales
Mytting details how wood grown for heating can be one part of a national energy plan. It isn’t a magic bullet, but he is persuasive on how burning wood is comparatively environmentally friendly. Modern stoves are very efficient, and there are regions where wood growth supply can outstrip demand. It can’t work everywhere, but the ideas are intriguing. Large (or small) scale tree farms seem preferable to large scale power stations, nuclear plants, hydroelectric projects, and all the associated infrastructure required to deliver the energy. It’s not romantic or beautiful like an old growth forest, but it is clean. And no, I’m not advocating mass logging/deforestation to heat our homes.

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Wood stove detail
The book isn’t all about national energy policy and planning, although the ideas presented are thought-provoking. Much of the book is more personal in nature. There’s an amusing foreword detailing the various types of wood chopper. Are you the stoic type? The neurotic hoarder? The poet? The standard bungler? How about desperado, melancholic or psychopath? If you’ve ever had to chop wood then you know there’s a little of each in all of us. Or if you’re me, quite a bit of the bungler.

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Dry
When we lived in the western Perigord, the downstairs of our house was heated by two wood burning stoves, one in the kitchen, and one in the living room. In winter, we’d live in the kitchen most of the day, let the stove burn low, and then dash to the front room for the evening. Those stoves were efficient! If only I’d been as efficient. 

The first autumn/winter, I enjoyed stacking the delivered firewood and chain sawing and chopping through the colder months. Manly work! Wielding dangerous equipment with purpose, skill, and aplomb. Or so I thought in my happier moments. The truth was, the novelty wore off by the end of each winter, and the enthusiasm didn’t really return with the next wood delivery the following September. I quite enjoyed the sense of purpose and productivity, but sometimes it seemed endless.

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To be wielded with purpose (and care)
Having a ton of logs dropped onto your front yard on a sweltering September day isn’t too bad. Not when your Dad and brother are visiting, and likely to help shift and stack it. Except they suddenly developed all manner of ailments and a pressing need to prop up the local bar…hmm. I know, firewood is great. It warms you three times – chopping, stacking and burning. My planning (and help) was all wrong!

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Where did the helpers go?
Having read Mytting, I know now that I should have received the delivery in spring, and then split and stacked the wood to get it dry over the summer – in artfully and scientifically arranged woodpiles (you’ll admire the many photographs of woodpiles Mytting has included. No, really, you will!) I honestly hadn’t given much thought to storing the wood. I was pleased enough to have arranged to get any at all given my terrible schoolboy French. Still, once you have it, all firewood burns the same, doesn’t it? Wrong again, PlaidCamper. See Mytting. I was the bungler, making mistakes that would get a seasoned Scandinavian feller hot under the collar. Although I have to say my homemade sawhorse was a thing of beauty – or perhaps splendid utility over beauty, but I promise you, it worked. Mind you, I never took a photograph (or patented the “design”…)

On to the hardware. If you read it, and you don’t already have them, you’ll be off looking at chain saws and axes (even if you don’t need one, or is that just me?) Axes! The names in the book are poetry: Oyo, Hultafors, Gransfors, Wetterlings, Fiskars and Vipukirves.

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A little cabin…
“Norwegian Wood” made me miss my wood chopping days. It would have been wonderful to have had some of the knowledge and skills back then. Still, as an almost outdoorsman who generally prefers to look forward, I now feel better prepared than ever, and maybe one day in the future I’ll be back in regular wood chopping action, heating a little cabin and getting it all done the Scandinavian way!

I’ll finish with a quote about the smell of a woodpile Mytting recites from Hans Borli’s “With Axe and Lyre”:

“It is as though life itself passes by, barefoot, with dew in its hair…When the veil finally starts to fall, the scent of fresh wood is among the things that will linger longest…”

Thanks for reading! Are you a chopper of wood? If so, what type are you? Please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Swept away…

…like an American dipper in the rushing current. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we’d been snowshoeing along the Bow, and I was going to write about that small adventure, but last week “The Revenant’ swept my attention away. Still, the dipper is a plucky little fellow, not easily distracted, and willing to plunge in upstream and be carried back to where he started – and further.

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American dipper
So, our little snowshoeing adventure. It was about perfect, -10C, blue skies, and bright sunshine. We delayed our start deliberately, wanting to be outside into the late afternoon and catch the changing light as the sun fell beneath the tree line and behind the mountains. A magical time of day.

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Catch the light
There had been some reasonably heavy snowfall the previous day or two, and the conifers were wearing snow cloaks. It made me think of Narnia, although winter in Narnia was a mean season, and it felt anything but.

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A Narnian winter?
I have to thank my grandparents for the Narnia books. I loved them, reading and rereading, always enthralled, captivated by the stories, to the point where I could recite them almost by heart. Especially “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” – who couldn’t love that one?

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Spirited
The imagination of little PlaidCamper was fired up by those books – he didn’t know much or care about the religious parallels, although they are interesting. He was all about the talking animals, mysterious tree and water spirits, and other mythical creatures. He was swept away by the landscapes and adventures. He got upset every time Aslan “died” on the stone table, tears of sadness. He was moved to tears again when Aslan returned and the stone table was split asunder. Edmund! You fool! Don’t eat candy offered to you by strangers! Especially witches! Edmund’s choices were a disappointment every time (I was a sensitive, repetitive, and judgemental reader…)

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If I walk under the arch…
I’m certainly not going to share with you the time I climbed into my wardrobe and reached forward past the clothes hanging there, hoping for some magic. Nope, not going there.

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Albertan delight
Thank goodness we moved to Alberta many years later! The cupboards are built in, and I can’t get to Narnia through them, but a short journey out to the mountains in winter is pretty close. No Turkish delight (perhaps a small bar of chocolate in the backpack), but Albertan delights are more than enough.

DSCF1833A feast for the senses that snowshoe afternoon, with crisp pine air, whispering trees, misty rivers, crunching snow, creaking ice, and rushing water. Spirits? I know what a young PlaidCamper might think, and maybe he wouldn’t be wrong…

DSCF1764We didn’t see a faun, white witch, or any talking animals, but the American dipper was a wonder. What a tough little bird! Icy waters were no problem as he splashed, bobbed and flew over and into the fast moving current. Diving in, fetching his meal, and popping back up far further down than we expected. You would swear he was enjoying himself, completely engrossed in his antics, and if he was aware of his admiring audience, he didn’t let on. Or perhaps he did know we were there, and decided quite deliberately to fly up and drift down the same little patch of river, simply sharing some quality time. (You can blame C.S. Lewis for my shameless anthropomorphizing.)

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A water ouzel!
The American dipper is also known as the water ouzel. How wonderful to have an alternate name, and doesn’t it sound positively Narnian?

I’ll leave it here, happy to share with you our warm winter adventure. Downstream and thinking about that funny little PlaidCamper boy with his imaginative and bookish ways.

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A funny little PlaidCamper
As always, thanks for taking the time to read this. Please feel to share a (wardrobe?) story, or make a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

I must go and hang up this jacket…

Brutal, bold, and beautiful

Without forgetting bloody, intense, and controversial. Here we go, #4 in an occasional series, the latest in my list of favourite wilderness and outdoor movies. This time, I’ve gone up to the minute, unafraid to seize the bull (or buffalo) by the horns, and thrown myself headlong into the furore that is the publicist’s dream surrounding “The Revenant” (dir. Alejandro Inarritu, 20th Century Fox, 2015). You know, the one where a man goes for a very long walk intent on exacting revenge upon those who left him for dead. It’s not heavy on plot, but it is heavy on everything else.

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How could an almost outdoorsman resist?! Rugged winter scenery? Tests of survival? Nineteenth century setting? Buffalo and bears? First Nations and trappers? Beards? It’s like all my birthdays arrived at once. Throw in a much admired director and cinematographer, an excellent cast list, and it was all Mrs PlaidCamper could do to calm down an overexcited little boy heading in. Yikes, I hope I like it…

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Best make my position clear here – I loved the movie, flaws and all. One large reason is that it was shot in part in Kananaskis, little more than an hour from our door. The locations had such an air of familiarity, it was like coming home on the big screen. I’m sure that many have been spellbound by how beautiful the mountain and foothill regions are as depicted in this movie. Kananaskis is an area of outstanding beauty, and the movie takes full advantage. The cinematographer – Emmanuel Lubezki – shot outdoors in natural light, often early or late in the day, and the results are breathtaking.

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I’ve written before about how the outdoor setting in a wilderness movie can be like an extra character, and in “The Revenant’ this is certainly true. Nature here is shown as terrifying, fierce, seductive, raw, and overwhelming in scope and power. This is quite possibly almost to the detriment of the movie. The human tales of revenge, greed, betrayal, love, and honour are compelling enough, but the sheer magnitude of the movie settings threaten to swamp or distract from the story. I didn’t mind, because the movie is more than just beautiful to look at. It is bold, thought-provoking and challenging.

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There is no beauty in violence, and “The Revenant” doesn’t shrink from being brutal. The scenes of conflict between Native Americans and European fur traders are realistic. Arrows fly, knives stab, lances pierce, musket balls strike, and hatchets inflict awful injuries. The movie has received criticism for being violent. Given the setting and source material, it is naive to expect this movie to be free from violence. I don’t think the violence is gratuitous; it serves the story, and most viewers ought to be aware of this before purchasing a ticket. However, it is more than wince-inducing, as acts of violence should be.

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Staying with the violence, not all the horror is between humans. There is a bear attack, and it is scary. You will wince (again), forget to breathe, and grip your seat. You certainly won’t blame the bear, or the character for defending himself, and you’ll never wonder again what a bear attack might feel like. It is absolutely terrifying, and for me, wonderful movie-making. I want to be moved to feel something, and if it is fear, then great.

Feeling transported by a story on screen or on the page is essential. The setting works, the action engages, and, most importantly, the acting is convincing. You might think that some of the harrowing situations endured by Hugh Glass – played by Leonardo DiCaprio – are too much for any one human to survive, but DiCaprio gives his all in showing the cost Glass pays for survival. As his travails mount, you do start to think maybe Glass/DiCaprio deserves a break, and could you really survive even one of the incidents?

DSCF1815It is all so well acted, so thoroughly immersive, that you forgive the slightly ludicrous powers of recovery displayed by Glass. Based on true events, my guess is the writers and director fell prey to the tendency to over dramatize when there was no need, and shrink timelines to serve the running time. A slight criticism, and it leads to my next, that the movie is too long. I do like a movie that can breathe, unfold and explore. However, for this movie, the truth is the revenge plot is clear, and maybe we don’t need quite so many tribulations and sufferings for Glass. The audience will get it! Those rivers and streams are deathly cold, the storms can kill, bears are a bit dangerous, wounds do get infected, starvation isn’t great, don’t get abandoned and buried alive, and falling over cliff edges will hurt. Revenge must really be a motivator for Glass…

That said, you have to admire the artistry. The director is in full control of his camera, with close ups of actors pulling back to reveal scenery and backdrops that delight. The camera weaves and bobs, low along the ground, then at human eye height, in long takes that are expertly constructed to draw you in and feel and see what the characters are experiencing. Their surprise, shock, horror, and pain is yours too.

IMG_20160109_152512Like I said at the top, I did love this movie. As an almost outdoorsman, I could only admire the survival skills of Glass. I wouldn’t have lasted one tenth of the time! As a resident of Alberta, I delighted in how the movie showcases our outstanding province. For the convincing period detail, gripping yet unsettling action scenes, wonderful acting by the entire cast (Tom Hardy has a marvellous role, and his character, John Fitzgerald, is more emotionally interesting than Hugh Glass), and amazing control the director exerts scene after scene, I highly recommend “The Revenant”. It’s not for the squeamish, but the fully immersive experience, the commitment of the cast and crew, and sheer boldness of the undertaking makes this one to watch.

Have you seen “The Revenant”? Is it as good as I think it is, or an overlong and violent art house movie? As always, thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Weekend mountains

Weekend mountains! They really help keep things in perspective…

Busy report card season or not, you have to play! We went to Louise last weekend, speeding (within posted limits) out of the city, across the prairies, through the foothills, and into the mountains. Poetry. It is a thrill every single time, and every single time we pass Castle Mountain, I say it is one of my favourites. This time around, the light was soft, fading fast, and Mrs PlaidCamper took a couple of photographs:

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Speeding (carefully) towards Castle Mountain
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Even through a car window, it has such character!

We mixed up our snow activities, opting to snowshoe on Saturday (more on that another time), and snowboard on Sunday. Saturday was bright and cold, whereas Sunday had a little more cloud cover and mist. It is great to see the mountains under perfect blue skies, but there are different moods created in other conditions.

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No worries

I usually enjoy the first hour or two of the day the most – empty slopes, morning light, and the best conditions on the snow. We had all that and different mountain views with the mist and clouds.

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Calm

Unwritten report cards, sore legs, poor board technique, and other cares are all put aside for a short while when you can sit on the snow and take in the view. A little perspective, a reminder of just how lucky we are, and to enjoy the time you have while you can. Try and appreciate that often in life “we’ve really got a good thing going!” (D. Bowie “Hang on to Yourself”)

Something of an aside here, but I can’t let it go unremarked. Bowie’s passing is such a shock, and maybe a reminder to live as fully as possible. I think he did! He seemed so full of vitality and creativity, and often appeared to be enjoying himself enormously. “Don’t stay in a sad place, where they don’t care how you are…” (D. Bowie “Everyone Says ‘Hi'”)  – this sentiment seems fine to me. If you know it, an upbeat little pop song to celebrate an interesting life.

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Enjoy

Anyway, hopefully we are back to the mountains soon. They always work their magic.

I’ll keep it short this week. Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Peace like a river…

…on the Bow. Changed the words a bit, but the tune still fits, at least in my head each time I use the Peace Bridge to cross the Bow River. Sing along if you’d like.

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From the bluff

We’ve been in the city the past week or so, heading back to work and getting knee-deep into report card season. If you teach, that’s a season. Our outdoor time since the turn of the year has mostly been along the banks or up on the bluffs of the Bow here in Calgary, upstream and downstream.

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Fine and bright, if a little cool?

The weather has been mostly fine and bright, if a little cool for some. My brother visited for a few days, just before these photographs were taken, leaving balmy DC (+22C) for chilly Calgary and Louise (-25C), and it’s probably best if I don’t repeat what he said. No idea what he was on about, because after all, it’s a dry cold…

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“Look, we’re only sitting ‘cos it’s a dry cold I tell ya!”

The banks of the Bow provide quite delightful views, so much so that even though you are in the heart of a large city, it doesn’t feel too urban. On a sunny day, even the towers of oil and gas central can look attractive.

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Not unattractive on a sunny day

Our little neighbourhood of Sunnyside – love that name – borders the Bow, and there are a number of bridges to choose from within walking distance. My personal favourite is the bright red Peace Bridge.

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The Peace Bridge!

At school, when we are studying city infrastructure, or on Downtown field trips, the students say I’d like the Peace Bridge less if I’d been here to pay for the construction. According to some of their parents, the bridge was/is a costly eyesore. My response is to endear myself to parents by asking the students to list the Peace Bridge benefits, then draw, photograph and make up alternate (polite) names for the bridge. Amongst others, they’ve suggested Snake Bridge, Stampede Bridge, Dino Bridge, Spine Bridge, Tube Bridge, and, yup, you guessed it, Red Bridge.

I like Peace Bridge as a name – pretty hard to argue with that (unless you don’t like peace, the design, or paying for it, but “Tax Burden Like a River” doesn’t quite fit the tune or make sense…)

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A+ for colour and bold design

Anyway, here was a little something about our urban outdoors. Now, it being report card season, I’ll stop this and get back to awarding high marks and positive comments to any student claiming to like the Peace Bridge.

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Our urban outdoors, looking across the Bow to Fort Calgary

Thanks for taking the time to read. Perhaps you have a favourite song to sing when crossing favourite rivers on favourite bridges? Perhaps that is a strange thing to ask? As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

I got, peace like a river…

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all a bright, healthy, and happy 2016!

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Looking forward!
Really looking forward to reading all of your creative and inventive posts, and to enjoying the wonderful photographs that go with the writing and thoughts.

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Happy!
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on OldPlaidCamper, each and every time you do is always appreciated.

All the best!

Adam

A holiday story and a picture…

…to raise a shiver! I know it is meant to be a time of goodwill to all, and I sincerely hope it is (beyond today), but sometimes, scary things happen. Anyway, a little gift in the form of a true story:

Last December, we were snowshoeing near Lake Louise, slogging up a short but steep trail in an attempt to shake off the sluggishness of a Boxing Day cabin morning. Decent snowfall the previous couple of days left everything looking just right – a blanket of brilliant white. But the light accentuates the dark, and a forest isn’t always a welcoming place. Nothing seemed to stir, and all was quiet, yet we were disquieted, with a nagging sense of being watched. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail, but were we alone? It felt like there were eyes on us…

 

Junior and Mrs PlaidCamper keeping watch…
 We decided to ignore my uncanny sixth sense, and bravely – foolishly? – continued, onwards and upwards. We turned a corner and came to a dead halt. A few yards off the trail, it was standing. No wonder the trail was empty. Quite unlike anything we’d ever seen before, there stood a woodland creature that defied description. It didn’t seem to be looking our way, so I decided to risk it all and crept forward to take the following photograph:

 

Beyond description…
 
I hope we never see anything like this ever again. Even now, a year later, I shudder at the memory. We are going to be super-vigilant tomorrow, only too aware of what might be out there on the trail…

Have a wonderful day, and a pleasant weekend! Thanks for being brave enough to read this. As ever, please feel free to comment or share a (seasonal) story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

All time favourite wilderness movies (#3 in an occasional series…)

How about a movie recommendation that doesn’t have a holiday theme? Holiday movies can be a bit hit and miss – do you really want another turkey? For the record, I do enjoy “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Die Hard” this time of year. But let’s imagine we’d like a great movie without a holiday connection to enjoy, and allow us to escape – for a little while –  from the festivities. (Not saying you want/need to escape, but just in case…)

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A holiday escape? (Alberta Rockies)

This is a great teaser isn’t it? No? I’ve stretched what makes a wilderness movie here, and would like to recommend a movie that at least 15 people, (possibly one to two more), have seen. It really set the box office on fire – not that that is necessarily a sign of quality. The movie? “Slow West” (dir.John Maclean, A24, 2015). Huh? Slow West? Never heard of it! Slow West? That’s a terrible movie title! Yup, probably contributed to a lack of excitement about seeing it. Awful title, marvellous movie. Honestly, that title is by far the worst aspect of the movie.

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Slow West – why go fast?

It’s a recent western, and I’m making the argument many westerns are also wilderness movies if the director has taken the time to include interesting outdoor locations. Most westerns include sections set in the big outdoors; I think of them as prototypical road movies, with horses instead of cars. Slow West is no exception, being beautifully shot in what we are informed is Colorado sometime after the Civil War. Big skies, big mountains, rivers, hill country, and grassy plains all figure in the movie. Western staples? You bet! Yet, there is something off kilter about the rugged scenery. It is familiar, though…

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Colorado (somewhere near Pagosa Springs)

Turns out the movie was filmed in New Zealand! This explains the familiar unfamiliarity. Or is that the unfamiliar familiarity? I found that to be part of the fun and appeal of the movie, a slight oddness in setting that extends to an oddness in character, story and photography. You know you are watching a western, but with delightfully subtle subversions of the genre. Slow West pays respect to the conventions, then plays with audience expectations, and that was most enjoyable.

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Colorado hills

Like many a western predecessor, the plot is slight – a tale of love, revenge, mixed motives, and shady characters encountered on a difficult journey. There is redemption for some, loss for others, and a neat resolution that is not necessarily what you might expect, but makes for a satisfying conclusion.

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Colorado sunrise

The acting, particularly of the leads Michael Fassbender (weary gunslinger) and Kodi Smitt-McPhee (an innocent abroad), is strong, and there is a fine assortment of well played characters encountered throughout the movie. The violence is realistic, as expected, but less expected is the way the movie confronts the consequences of violence. This is not a celebration of gunplay – the final shootout is certainly handled carefully, and is also quite unusual. Perhaps that is the real pleasure of this little movie, the quirky and unexpected wrapped up in familiar packaging. Not too bad if you’d like a different movie this holiday season.

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Big (Alberta) skies

There are so many great westerns out there! The Searchers, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Johnny Guitar, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven, any Sam Peckinpah western – these are all favourites of mine. Chances are you’ve seen those, so I chose Slow West instead. Quirky, not turkey. I think it stands up as a decent recent example…

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Shot in widescreen cowboyrama

Thanks for taking the time to read this. As ever, please feel free to make a comment or share a story. Were you one of the few to see Slow West? Do you have a favourite (holiday) wilderness or western movie recommendation?  Thanks, pardners, and keep your guy ropes secure.

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Looking west

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.

Snowshoe shuffle

It’s the latest dance craze, kids…

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Fresh snow

No, it’s not. Last time out in the mountains, there was so much fresh snow we decided to put on our snowshoes and take a little wander.

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Inviting

If I’d bothered to check the overnight temperatures, I wouldn’t have left the snowshoes in the car. But I hadn’t, so I did. Great. It was so much fun trying to strap unforgivingly stiff fasteners and clips over my clumpy boots with numb fingers. Trying to look balanced, leaning nonchalantly against a tree and reaching down and behind to fix and tighten the back strap. Of course I intended to hop left, left, left, and then right, right, right back to the tree. It’s a method. Cursing? No, that was singing, you misheard me – they were the words to go with the snowshoe shuffle.

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Funky footwear

Early season deep snow and raring to go! Raring? Might have had to stretch out a cramp or two, ease the legs back into it, and then off we go, relearning the wider stance and slightly exaggerated strides, over the railway tracks and down into the woods. (Every time we cross the tracks in snowshoes, I can’t help remembering the scene from “Stand By Me” where the boys are crossing a wooden bridge and a train comes around the corner. Not helpful…)

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Find the river…

The woods were silent, snow hushed and pristine; white sheets marked with tracks left by snowshoe hares, and a few bird prints, although we didn’t see or hear either. The air was still, but every now and then clumps of snow would fall from tree limbs where there was just enough sun heat to prompt the drop. As we shuffled through the trees, the faint sounds of the creek and river rushing, splashing, and attempting to outrun winter could be heard.

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Early winter

We emerged at the confluence, enjoying the bumps, lumps and humps of a landscape putting on the first layers of seasonal finery. Fresh, textured and intriguing, almost impossible-looking in places. An early winter wonderland, enough to cause a little jig, and maybe I fell, but the landing was soft and powdery, and you could only laugh at it all.

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Taking a break (or maybe I fell)

The Bow doesn’t always freeze over, but Baker Creek will. Too early yet, but the signs were there. We saw the beginnings of a frosty, blue-white waterfall where the waters meet; icy, beautiful and brief, soon to be frozen over and buried under snow. It was something to see, and strange to think that when we return in a week or two, we’ll be able to snowshoe over the top of the creek, and closer to, if not over and above the banks of the Bow as winter takes hold.

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Winter is taking hold

Our snowshoe shuffle was brief, but an exciting and enticing reminder of the outdoor delights in store for the next few months. Now, if only I can remember to defrost the snowshoes before putting them on next time…

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Blue-white

Thanks for taking the time to read this. As ever, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

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Pretty

PS As I was writing this, the song “Bad Boy Boogie” by AC/DC came into my head, only my brain changed it to “Snowshoe Shuffle” – showing my age, questionable musical tastes, odd neural pathways, and now I’m off to find the CD. Mrs PlaidCamper will be pleased.