Mists and drizzle (and a bear or two)

We’ve heard from various sources that parts of North America and Europe are suffering some extreme heat. My brother returned home to the borders of sultry summer WV and Maryland earlier this week after a great visit with us. Well, we thought it was great, but I swear he was muttering something about Canadian cold weather and asking why he couldn’t have had mist or drizzle, but not mist and drizzle? Is there a distinction? He got to hug a mountie – no photos, I wouldn’t do that to him – and that must have thawed him out a little?

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Mist and drizzle? Or drizzle?

On our various trips out and about, he saw a fair number of black bears from the car. Just as well, because on the bear sightseeing tour we took out of Tofino, for a long stretch of the trip it appeared that bears were not going to make an appearance. My brother huddled inside the bright red Canada hoodie I gave him, looking the picture of happiness (again, not a photo I dared to take) and staring out at the blissfully cool (cold?) conditions we’d been blessed with. OK, it was throwing it down, and a bit chilly with the viewing windows open, but if you won’t wear the proffered toque (he still has hair to worry about) how can you stay warm?

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Where are the bears?

Eventually, bears were spotted and the rain eased enough to get a photograph or two. My brother shot a short video of a bear running along a log to cross a small channel that he’ll enjoy showing to friends and other family. I’ve no video, but here is that bear:DSCF7234

I love heading out on the bear spotting tours – not a patch on an adventure we had a couple of years back with Wayne at Tofino Photography, but always fun, rain or shine. The trees, the water, the mist, the mountains, the bears and eagles, are a delight every time, and a chance to soak up the special atmosphere and sense of place this corner of the PNW has.DSCF7174

Once my brother was safely perched at a bar counter after the bear trip, he was a happy boy. He returned the unused toque, and the rain heavy hoodie that had soaked up a fair bit of atmosphere – it was dripping with it – and asked why we were sitting in a place called Wolf in the Fog? “How would you know there was a wolf? Should be called Is there a Wolf in the Fog? It’s too bloody foggy to really know!”

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Too foggy to spot a wolf? No! Have to come back another day…

He’ll just have to come back for another visit, and we’ll look that much harder. The hoodie will have dried out by then…

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Canada!

This coming weekend, many Canadians will be celebrating Canada Day (July 1st) and feeling fortunate to be living in the True North.

My US brother is still with us, and he has been experiencing the cool and rainy coastal temperatures. They are a far cry from the sunny, hot and humid conditions he insists he enjoys in his Maryland/West Virginia home. I’m just as adamant that not too hot, and a little (!) cloud and rain is perfectly fine. Sibling rivalry, and completely absurd, as if we have any say in the weather of our current homes.

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“Should I bring him back?”

Brother PC has enjoyed bobbing about on (cold) water, taking long (chilly) hikes on the beaches and forest trails, and sitting (shivering) on a trip out of Tofino to spot bears wandering the shore.DSCF7130 His closest bear encounter was from the safety of the Jeep last weekend, when we took a bumpy and juddering series of muddy forest roads to Mussel beach and Salmon beach. After seeing the bear strolling and browsing along the road, he was a little less insistent on needing to stop the car and pee behind a tree…IMG_20180624_133041

He has enjoyed his time here on the coast, and we’ll be sorry to see him board the little plane that carries him off on his lengthy journey home. Before then, he has this coming weekend to enjoy the Canada Day celebrations in Ucluelet. He is a trifle concerned that if more than several people take part in a parade, who will be left to watch it and cheer it on? I’ve given him an old red Canada Olympic hoodie (apparently, it was a tad chilly earlier) so he can line the streets singlehandedly, and wave people on, clad in the red and white. (There won’t be a parade exactly, more a small yet warm gathering, but I haven’t the heart to tell him. We’ll give him a flag to wave…)

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Real beer (Tofino Blonde), and a hint of blue sky. Cheers, Canada!

If you are Canadian, know some Canadians, are in or near Canada, or prefer real beer over Bud (yes, we covered that) then Happy Canada Day, and have a wonderful weekend!

The Living Mountain

Oh how I wish I’d thought of that post heading, but I borrowed it – the title of a new favourite book, “The Living Mountain” by Nan Shepherd. A wonderful little volume, I’d never heard of it until a few months ago. There’s a story behind that…fullsizeoutput_5cb

Back in late January, Junior announced she’d applied for a chef position with the Fairmont group. Fair enough, a good company to work for by all accounts, and a chance to learn and refine her skills in a different environment, with hotels in beautiful Alberta and BC locations. All true, but the position she’d applied for was in St. Andrews, Scotland. Also beautiful, but somewhat further afield! Two weeks after her announcement, she was on a jet plane heading for new adventures, and has been having a lovely time the past few months, so well done, Junior!fullsizeoutput_545

How does this connect to “The Living Mountain” mentioned at the start? The day Junior was on her way, I came home from the airport, rinsed my contact lenses – seemed to be having an issue with welling up – and started to read The Guardian paper online. Would you believe, that very day, they had an article suggesting the top ten books about wilderness Scotland? An interesting mixture of fiction and non-fiction, and because it was about books, I was brave enough to venture BTL and read comments and suggestions. It was there I saw Nan Shepherd recommended over and over, so I managed to track down a copy.fullsizeoutput_56f

What a find! Nan Shepherd’s slim volume is wonderful, a love letter to the beauty of the Cairngorm mountains, a place she explored her entire life. Her writing is outstanding – intense, detailed and meditative, describing the mountains using all her senses to bring them alive. She loves her mountains, and cannot quite believe their beauty. On describing the clarity of water:

Water so clear cannot be imagined, but must be seen. One must go back, and back again, to look at it, for in the interval memory refuses to recreate its brightness. This is one of the reasons why the high plateau where these streams begin, the streams themselves, their cataracts and rocky beds, the corries, the whole wild enchantment, like a work of art is perpetually new when one returns to it. The mind cannot carry away all that it has to give, nor does it always believe possible what it has carried away.

You find yourself nodding with shared recognition at her delight in the natural world. When she describes silence at altitude, it is really about peace and quiet, rather than the absence of sound:

To bend the ear to silence, is to discover how seldom it is there. Always something moves. When the air is quite still, there is always running water; and up here that is a sound one can hardly lose…but now and then comes an hour when the silence is all but absolute, and listening to it one slips out of time. Such a silence is not a mere negation of sound. it is like a new element, and if water is still sounding with a low far-off murmur, it is no more than the last edge of an element we are leaving, as the last edge of land hangs on the mariner’s horizon.fullsizeoutput_56e

There is a lovely section about how she is like an excited dog surrounded by the scents of the mountain:

On a hot moist midsummer day, I have caught a rich fruity perfume rising from the mat of grass, moss and wild berry bushes that covers so much of the plateau. The earthy smell of moss, and the soil itself, is best savoured by grubbing. Sometimes the rank smell of deer assails one’s nostril, and in the spring the sharp scent of fire.DSCF7094

I enjoyed how she captured the animal life on and above the mountain, like the eagle rising coil over coil in slow symmetry…and when he has soared to the top of his bent, there comes the level flight as far as the eye can follow, straight, clean, and effortless as breathing. There is a description of hares streaking up a brown hillside like rising smoke – perhaps hoping to avoid becoming prey to the eagle?

Every page reveals how Shepherd increases her love for the mountain. She understands the immeasurable value and importance of time spent in nature:

Yet with what we have, what wealth! I add to it each time I go to the mountain – the eye sees what it didn’t before, or sees in a new way what it has already seen.IMG_20180225_122122

What wealth indeed. The challenges to our natural environment have increased enormously in the decades since Shepherd wrote and published. Wild places are under more and more commercial pressure, reducing the opportunities to slow down, immerse the physical (and mental) self in outdoor beauty, and stop to contemplate the treasures we have. It is splendid to have books like “The Living Mountain”, but I wonder if in the near future, her record and those like it, will be all that remains, that we’ll be reading about instead of experiencing first hand the wonders of our natural world?IMG_20180311_125558

Many years ago, we took a camping trip in Scotland when Junior was a wee bairn. It was her first time camping, and she enjoyed it, from being bathed in a washing up bowl to sleeping soundly (phew!) in a tent, despite the wind and rain outside. Sometimes sunny, oftentimes wild and woolly, it was a fun trip. We got as far as the Cairngorms, but didn’t spend any significant time up there. Better informed now, thanks to Nan Shepherd, and with Junior as an advance party, it seems as if we’ll have to arrange another trip…

I’ll stop now, because otherwise all I’ll do is continue to select passages to illustrate how much I enjoyed Nan Shepherd’s mountain musing. The best thing is to get a copy – I heartily recommend it.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

PS The photographs featured this week were all taken out and about in the past six months – not of the Cairngorms, but in our living mountains here in Alberta.

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

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

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

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Exhaustive (exhausting?) research…

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

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

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Lovely, but where’s the beer?

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

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

“God, let’s get that beer,” I said.

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

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Sure tastes good

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

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

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Also tastes good

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

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

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

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

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Party Pants Pale Ale on the left

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

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

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

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

“A bottle of beer sure would taste good.”

Have a wonderful weekend!

Mother Earth

Mother’s Day is celebrated this coming Sunday in many parts of the world.

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Without getting too far into some of the current ills, you have to think we’d be in better shape overall if more mothers were in charge. There’d be a bit more talking with the intent to communicate and resolve problems – without resorting to violence, or bullying, bragging, and bluster. Nurturing and maternal, rather than destructive and accumulating. Well, it’s a thought…

fullsizeoutput_78Anyway, be good to your mother. Remember her, thank her for all she has done, and do that because it is the right thing to do all the time, not because there is a date on the calendar! Amongst many things, my parents taught me to love reading, value formal and informal learning, and respect the natural world. (Oh, and if everything looks a bit shit, you might as well laugh about it, and at yourself, even if it is very, very serious. In the current global climate, that little lesson goes a long, long way!)DSCF4051In Calgary, trees and shrubs have started to show some green, and the first hints of blossom. It is a long wait here, from when the leaves start to turn and fall in late August, to when the next signs of growth and renewal are seen.IMG_20170514_140235 I’ve gone the tree hugging and landscape loving route here, and included photographs taken over previous years, highlighting the wonderful variety I’ve experienced of Mother Earth, the mother supporting us all every single day of our lives. It would be wise to treat her with kindness, love and respect, given that she shapes our very existence. If we take, then we must give back.

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My mother used to live near here…

Thanks to mothers and mother figures everywhere, thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

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…and now she lives a short walk from here!

Old growth green

“To make a bigger parking lot, they should cut down some of these trees. Then there would be more visitors!”

It was quite an effort, but I managed to pretend I didn’t hear this. The would be park ranger was correct, and following his logic, hiking in the mountains would be less strenuous if we levelled a few – and the view would be unblocked.

DSCF6969A few weeks back, I stopped our Big Muddy Taxi at Cathedral Grove, a small patch of old growth forest located a few minutes east of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. Whenever we pass through, the time has never been quite right to make a stop. A ferry to catch, it is dark, the rain is heavy, or the small angled parking lot by the side of the road is full. This trip, I’d left time for the ferry, the rain had stopped, and there was a space for the car.

DSCF7002What a beautiful spot! A glimpse into what Vancouver Island must have looked like before it was logged. A lovely place, MacMillan Provincial Park is not a particularly large park, but the spot that makes up Cathedral Grove is full of enormous Douglas firs and huge Red western cedars. A “tree museum” without charge, and a reminder to appreciate what we have…

Dense and green – so green! Mossy and dank, a complex ecosystem full of life, and one I couldn’t capture accurately with a camera. I settled for choosing a few details to try and convey the majesty of this special place. The greens in the photos aren’t as vivid or strong as those I was seeing, but they give an idea.

DSCF7014Next time, we’ll try and visit early in the morning, on a dry day when the sun rises high enough to penetrate the valley and start burning off the mist. I drove through on a morning just like that one October, in a hurry to catch a ferry. Looking back, I wish I’d stopped, not worrying about missing the ferry. There’s always another ferry, but perhaps there won’t be another morning quite like that? It can’t hurt to hope.

DSCF6988If you get the chance, and have the time, stop at Cathedral Grove to wander under the mighty trees and wonder at the beauty of it all. Get there early, and you’ll find a parking spot – no need to suggest making the lot larger at the cost of cutting down some of the giants. If that is what you think, maybe keep it to yourself, keep your voice down…

Old growth green – I feel all spruced up just looking at it. We don’t really want to be paving paradise, do we? I bet you were humming this already:

Big Yellow Taxi

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

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Farewell to Winter?

I think so…

You can never be too sure in the foothills and mountains, but this time, the thaw seems real, and there hasn’t been any heavy snow for nearly two weeks. We are well past mid-April, and our looping, tilted race around the sun says it has to warm up now! Surely?fullsizeoutput_5b0

Talk in town says it was a long one, but I think winter’s lingering into April was just a shift along from the late arrival. There was hardly any snow or cold until past mid-December, and then there was plenty of both the next three or four months.

Now, though, the sun is shining, and has been since the start of the week. The last winter blast is receding into memory, and a few blades of green are appearing in the brown grass. Birds are singing, and there is a forecast of temperatures hitting 20C and more by the weekend. (And a plummet down to less than 10 and rain by Monday, but that is ages away…)fullsizeoutput_5b1

We headed into the foothills last week, from where we could see upper mountains cloaked in snow, but huge swathes melting lower down. Rivers rushed, and streams splashed. Ranch horses and cattle were out once more, enjoying the sunshine.IMG_20180422_130240

Stopping above the Highwater River, we climbed down the banks to look at the fast flow. My left foot was sucked into deep mud hidden under a thin layer of snow, and extracting the boot caused a satisfying squelch and slurp. Mrs. PC and Scout didn’t take my short cut, and negotiated the way down with clean boots and paws.

Geese were honking over on the far bank, and we saw deer and beaver tracks on our side. A short walk upriver uncovered a beaver lodge, and felled trunks with fresh tooth marks. The beaver has been busy. We retreated, not wanting Scout’s mad spring scampering to further disturb the residents. I’m sure they had no notion we were there…

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“These guys are professional chewers!”
We paused for gas and coffee in Longview, and the relief at the end of winter, and start of mud season seemed to be the main topics of conversation in the coffee shop. “Even the skiers passing through here are over winter this year! I’ll be washing this floor three times a day what with all the mud!” I stepped closer to the counter to hide my boots.fullsizeoutput_5b2

I do like winter, but it’s good to feel warm sun, and to drive with the windows down. Any slip and fall will be due to mud, not ice, and the birdsong means blossom is about to appear. Thanks, winter, for letting go, and let’s say a warm welcome to an Albertan spring!

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!