It’s been a busy end of school season wrap up, with exams, transition plans, and celebrations to mark achievements in an academic year well spent.
Yesterday was a beach day, with students, families and teachers having a few hours down by the water, some play time and easy company before all leave and head off into summer, a year older and a year wiser. Certainly older…
I’m looking forward to a busy and relaxed summer, if both can happen at the same time. The twin track approach will see me back in Blighty for a swift visit, a chance to catch up with one brother, one father and one daughter in little more than a week. Then it’s back to the island for a few weeks, with beach walks, paddling, maybe a few tent nights if we can find some quiet spots, and, fingers crossed, some time learning to build log cabins in remote parts. Mid August, we’ll be on the road, nothing too long, for a visit to Alberta, just to be sure friends, lakes, mountains, and a few big city haunts are all still there.
I love being in education, and especially in my current position, finding myself working in schools, the community and (best of all, I can’t lie about this) out in the backcountry. If I ever found myself in an occupation that demanded I work for pay over the summer months, then all would not be well. I did fake being a chef for a couple of summers when we lived in France – I was younger, leaner and hungrier back then – but those few years aside, I’ve had summers off, and for that I’m most grateful! (Apologies to readers who do work summers, and a tip of the hat – like that helps…)
Keeping it brief, as time is short this week, having spent longer than usual days preparing for and enjoying an education celebration. This was a lovely evening where many citizens and residents over the bay were recognized for educational achievements – from pre-school through to post secondary and then all manner of lifelong learning.
Let’s head away from the coast and into the interior this week. A title borrowed from Wallace Stegner, a recommendation to read the Stegner title, and some Saskatchewan memories. What brought this on? Friends from Alberta emailed us last week, catching up on recent events and checking in to see if we had plans to be in Alberta over the summer. Likely yes, and I hope we can mesh our summer schedules and meet up face to face. We’ll have to time it so we see them before or after their planned camping trip to Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan!
I have fond memories of a Saskatchewan road trip and cabin stay we did during our second summer in Canada. Big skies, long distances, empty roads, and the biggest bugs ever. Ever! Also, the week we had in our cabin provided me with some of the most restful sleep I can ever recall. Ever! It was quiet and the backroads cycling was easy. Apparently, parts of Saskatchewan are quite flat. That summer had been rainy just before we set off, so the prairies were a vibrant green and gold – and the abundant insect life was big and bold. The dragon flies were enormous, or so it seemed when cycling through them.
The following year we camped a few nights in the Cypress Hills area, a windswept and beautiful location straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. We had a fun time camped down by the water, aside from some of the biggest mosquitoes ever. Ever!
So what about the title of the post? Wolf Willow? It just so happens I’ve been reading Wallace Stegner’s remarkable book about plains life around the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth century. It is a spellbinding account of the trials and tribulations of settlers heading west. It also acknowledges the terrible devastation wrought by those early settlers, on people and place.
Storms, wind, fire, hard winters, dry summers, near starvation, genocide and environmental destruction – this is not a cheery account of that life and those times. Yet Stegner loved the several years he spent there as a child. His account of being a “sensuous savage” running pretty wild with his peers is quite a contrast to the experiences of many children today. There might be an argument made for the rough and tumble of his childhood being a more meaningful experience. Many true and a few tall tales are told, the secondary heading of the complete piece being “a history, a story, and a memory of the last plains frontier.” He had many exciting and striking memories, that’s for sure.
There is much on the nature of nature forging identity and character, how a landscape can define a person, even years after they have moved on. For all the tough times and challenging living conditions, Stegner has a real love for his brief – yet formative – years on the prairies, his family scrabbling to survive on what felt at that time like the last frontier. Or the end of the last frontier in North America.
There are any number of wonderfully descriptive prairie passages in the book. The wind is a constant companion:
“Across its empty miles pours the pushing and shouldering wind, a thing you tighten into as a trout tightens into fast water. It is a grassy, clean, exciting wind, with the smell of distance in it, and in its search for whatever it is looking for it turns over every wheat blade and head, every pale primrose, even the ground-hugging grass. It blows yellow-headed blackbirds and hawks and prairie sparrows around the air and ruffles the short tails of meadowlarks on fence posts. In collaboration with the light, it makes lovely and changeful what might be otherwise characterless.”
The central part of Wolf Willow tells the story of a cattle drive undertaken just as winter approaches. This fictional account is utterly compelling, a tremendous piece of writing about fighting to stay alive in a snowstorm and do a job of work. The main character is a fresh faced romantic recently arrived from England, and he is desperate to be recognized as being stoic and hardbitten like his work colleagues. A few days of driving cattle in plummeting temperatures forces a reassessment of what he saw as a romantic life, and as for achieving the stature he believes his colleagues have? Well, you’ll have to read Wolf Willow to find out. If you do, you won’t be disappointed, although you might find some of the attitudes and prejudices from the time of writing a touch off putting. Maybe treat it as a history lesson on past social attitudes, and then enjoy the tales told.
From when we were road tripping in Saskatchewan all those years ago, a strong memory is of how friendly people were. One morning we found ourselves in the tiny town of Tisdale, a few hours northeast of Saskatoon. (As an aside, I delight in writing or saying Saskatoon or Saskatchewan. Even better, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan!) Anyway, we were lost, which is hard to do in a small rural town, but soon knew where we were when we inadvertently turned onto a street and found ourselves driving at the head of a parade. Oops. For a few minutes, we headed the floats and marching band. Those friendly townspeople clapped and cheered as we drove on up the street, and was I ever happy to turn off as soon as possible. I’d love to visit again, but I don’t want the townsfolk feeling pressured about putting on a parade…
Ah, Saskatchewan! Land of Corner Gas, a show that told us all we needed to know before heading out on that particular vacation. Corner Gas shows that life has changed on the plains since Stegner’s day! I have to say, prairie life is still a tough business, maybe not Stegner period tough, but there is something so attractive about it nonetheless. Honestly, I’m as hopelessly romantic about it as that young Englishman in Stegner’s story…
Wolf Willow was one of the first prairie shrubs I learned to recognize when we moved to Alberta. One freezing November evening, a kind botanist walked me through a river valley in the prairie edge lands as preparation for a school field trip. The Wolf Willow and Red Osier Dogwoods were a delight, each standing out, even in failing winter light. I’ll be honest, it’s easy to remember a plant with a name as captivating as Wolf Willow. (A quick search earlier revealed it isn’t a willow at all, but that’s okay…)
I think I’ll leave it here, otherwise there’s a danger I could meander on like a slow and muddy river flowing in a summertime prairie valley. In Saskatchewan!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
All the photographs this week are from Alberta prairie visits in previous years. I have photographs from our SK trips, but couldn’t find them this week. Maybe we need to plan another SK trip…
No, we haven’t headed back to Alberta – no plans to visit before the summer – but I am feeling a touch saddle sore. A short but very fast post this week. You’ll have to be quick to catch this one as I race by in a blur…
The local community has been geared up with encouraging as many people as possible to ride their bikes this week. Well, I have found out that it’s a good idea to ride a bike a bit more frequently than I have been. Ouch. Still, complaining muscles (and complaining about muscles – or lack of) and a wobble or two have all been part of the fun.
What a sight it was on Monday at school to see over 110 bicycles out front, and only one vehicle in the parking lot. On Tuesday, the bike count was almost 140. That day, I felt terrible for riding home at lunchtime and coming back in the Jeep. I had work to do later in the afternoon over the bay, and I would have been very late if I’d cycled. I’m all about the journey, not the destination. I like to say that, it sounds better than “I can’t pedal very quickly!” Maybe an e-bike is the answer? Pedal assist on the hills, and self-propelled on the flat. I’m fairly sure I’d end up deciding it was all hills and require a lot of assistance…
I’ve included a few photographs from my pedalling travels this week. You’ll understand I was only stopping to take a picture, and not because I’d ridden up a small hill or slight incline and needed a quick rest.
I have enjoyed getting back on the bike, and I’m committed to cycling whenever my work is in Ucluelet, and only driving for the trips over the bay or to meetings in distant places. Have you seen the price of gas? Yikes! Perhaps the wobbling will diminish, the hills will seem flatter, and I’ll be a speedy two wheeled PlaidCamper. So please take care as you overtake that grizzled geezer on his bike – he’s doing his best and going as fast as he can!
Speedy as promised – thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend!
…in boats! Oh, alright, we don’t have a boat, but ever since the courses last week, I’ve been keeping a beady eye on boats around here – more so than usual…
I’m very pleased to report all the participants passed the other two courses, the Marine Emergency Duties on Friday, and the Restricted Operator Certificate (Maritime) for VHF radio, on Saturday. Now all we need is a small vessel to put theory into practice!
We’ve been enjoying glorious weather, and Scout has insisted we stop and look at all the boats in the harbours. She’ll take me up and down the docks early in the day, then absolutely insist we go back later with Mrs. PlaidCamper, to show her our favourites. It’s quite a long list.
I give Scout a pat on the head for being a good dog on the docks, especially when we see harbour seals and river otters, and Mrs. PC gives a gentle shake of the head whenever we slow down at a particular vessel. The head shaking is a bit more emphatic each time we approach the Tromso. To be honest, I’m always surprised – and delighted – she’s still afloat. I don’t know if the price is falling in line with her water position. There’s a little less freeboard each passing season…
A very brief piece this week, as I scramble to catch up with myself after a week away from regular duties, and then start to get items sorted for an upcoming long weekend away off the grid. Yup, we’ll be heading to our destination in small vessels. Perhaps one of them needs a vastly inexperienced maritime OldPlaidCamper at the helm?
Me? Maybe, maybe not. This will have to be a very brief post this week. My excuse? I’ve been back to school (Back? Don’t you work in schools most days, PlaidCamper? Well, yes, but this time I’m one of the students, and the classroom isn’t in a school, but in the communityand well, perhaps I’d best just get on with the post?) Evenings have been very busy, reading up/doing homework for a course that continues into the coming weekend. It’s been quite intensive, and I’ve felt very tired at the end of each day, so much so, the fact it is May already almost passed me by. There are “learning celebrations” as our lovely instructor likes to say when talking about tests and exams. Will I pass? Maybe, maybe not…
The courses lead to theory qualifications for Small Vessel Operator Proficiency. I say theory because we are in a classroom, not a boat, and the learning, whilst important, is no substitute for practical experience – hours at sea!
I’m learning alongside a group of youth, and any one of this group has many more hours of practical experience in small vessels than I’ve had over a somewhat longer lifetime. They are often applying some theory to quite a body of practical knowledge. The aim this week is to give a basic safety foundation to these students, add the theory to their experience. I have to say the learning has been illuminated by many family stories being shared – sad, funny, frightening and thrilling. The West Coast roots and love of the ocean shows.
It’s been great fun learning together, and I’m delighted to report everybody passed the first couple of exams. I’m not looking for a new career, but in a day and age where certificates and qualifications are needed along with developing experience, the young ones are positioning themselves very well for post secondary opportunities, in and out of school.
I know I wrote above about how tired I’ve felt, but in truth it hasn’t hurt to experience and be reminded that this is often how many learners in our schools feel day after day. Yes I’m tired, but I’m enjoying this learning – sometimes (often?) what we are asking our children to learn may not be all that relevant or engaging in terms of curriculum – how tiring must that be?
I’ll leave it there, as I’m off to refresh my memory about the finer points of coastal navigation, or I will if I stay awake long enough. Perhaps I should give myself some latitude, or even a little leeway, and have a beer, take the night off? Oh, that was bad.
The photographs this week were taken last weekend, when April mistook itself for May, and we weren’t complaining. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
Wind and rain, bark and bone. Sounds like the start of a spell, but it’s a small list of the gritty and grainy outdoor life we’ve been experiencing the past little while.
I was lucky enough to find an extra hour on the beach last week. A meeting finished earlier than expected, and there wasn’t enough time left in the day to get back and start something new – if I drove really slowly, and I never rush in the Jeep…
The wind was blasting down the beach, from north to south, and provided a real push in the back as I headed out. In a positive frame of mind, I likened it to a helping hand. Sand snakes were racing past me, long writhing ribbons that I couldn’t keep pace with.
A few hardy kite surfers were performing tricks in the surf, traveling scarily fast and leaping up into the air. Holding onto my hat, I stopped to watch them, admiring the skill and choreography as they appeared to narrowly avoid colliding with each other. A tip of the hat there, not that they could see. It was too cold to stop for long, and I’d targeted a particular set of rocks as my goal for a there and back trip.
I clambered up on the rocks, and goodness me it was windy up there! I decided not to linger too long, knowing the walk back up the beach was going to be a tad more trying without that helping hand. It really was a bit of an effort, and every now and then an extra strong gust would blow the sand somewhat higher than knee height. My apple snack was a trifle gritty…
I’ve written before about the joys of a few “stolen” moments in a work day, time when you can get outside and enjoy the elements. This was very much the case last week. I wouldn’t choose a big blow as my favourite weather, but I didn’t mind blowing away a few post-committee cobwebs!
The photograph above of Scout on the rocks was taken a few days later, at the rocks I’d headed to earlier in the week, and the day was a good deal calmer. Still windy, but manageable.
Bark and bone? A different weekend day, one where we heard logs crashing into the rocks guarding a small cove. The deep booms were something to hear, as these tree bones were thrown against stone. The tide was dropping, as were the winds, but so close to the end of a fierce blow, we weren’t going to venture down onto the upper sands of the cove. Every now and then a heavier wave would still have enough energy to surge up the beach. Gritty outdoor types we might be, but we weren’t going to risk a sudden foot soaking or worse down on the beach. We’ve got sand, but also plenty of prudence.
The forecast for the coming long weekend looks rather damp. We will aim to get out, no matter the weather, but if trips are shorter, then we’ll have to head indoors, empty the sand from our shoes, and eat a small chocolate egg (or two!)
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
It’s good to be back on the coast, and after a lengthy spell of warm and sunny days, rain and mist has returned, most welcome after an unusually dry early spring.
We’ve been doing our usual rain dance, that is, aiming to get out and about in between the showers, and for the most part we’ve been pretty lucky. We haven’t escaped all the rain – for a while, the Jeep was strangely dog odour free, but it only took a couple of damp days out for the reassuring smell of wet dog to permeate the back seat once again. We drive with the windows down, enough to get a flow of cool fresh air, and low enough that the tip of Scout’s nose sticks out. I’m told it looks very amusing.
The cool days have been rather soothing, and lend a sense of normality and calm after our mad dash about Britain, and after all the pleasantly warm sunshine we’ve been having since returning home. The sun was lovely, but all a bit too soon or too much compared with what is expected. Give it a lengthy rainy period, and we’ll be wishing for warm sun soon enough.
Scout has had fun, reacquainting herself with her familiar haunts, nose down and tail wagging along the trails. Her quick walks usually include a visit to the inner and outer harbours, and these wooden docks are amongst her favourite places. I like the sights, and can stomach the fish and crab aromas, but Scout cannot get enough of the smell-soaked boards. It’s good that there’s something for everyone.
Earlier today we startled a harbour seal and it splashed in alarm just beneath our feet, and away from the dock, heading backwards almost doing a backstroke, and looking a touch aggrieved before it slipped under the surface. Sorry, seal, we honestly didn’t know you were there.
So normal service has been resumed, equilibrium re-established, and there’s a lot to be said for that! The photographs for this post were taken over the last two weeks, and were chosen to reflect normal service, or what passes for that out here.