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!

Bridging the gap…

…between winter and spring, as the ongoing thaw-freeze-thaw continues here in Calgary.

Recent days have been mostly pleasant – the blue skies and sunshine are welcome, although the afternoon slush pools are less so. Those murky pools are growing, and can’t be trusted – they have hidden depths, according to my soggy socks. We’ve been pavement skating in the chill mornings, and puddle-jumping in the squelchy afternoons, wandering the banks of the Bow between two bridges.

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Looking upstream at the Peace Bridge
The banks of snow along cleared pathways have been melting away, the fluffy pillows slightly less deep each day, much to Scout’s surprise. What looks an inviting pile of snow to wallow in, turns out to be ice-crusted and treacherous, quick to collapse under an unsuspecting canine. I try not to laugh…IMG_20180301_135741

All the melting snow is quite pretty to look at. Craters and hollows have appeared, and where the sun has really hit the snow, there is a glassy layer along the edges. Some of the ice crystals look feathery, and some look like scales, flashing in the brilliant sunshine. Tufts and clumps of brown grass are appearing here and there, and there was even a hint of green on a particularly sunny patch.fullsizeoutput_569

It’s been magpies, chickadees and scurrying squirrels along the river banks, adding to a sense of spring, and adding an extra slippery challenge as an excited Scout leaps at each one. One such leap and lurch took us down to a pile of river rocks, nicely warmed by the sun, a spot to rest, look up and downstream, and try to work out who is leading the walk. Calm down, or we’ll walk over the wobbly bridge again…

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Looking downstream at the wobbly bridge
All too quickly, we seem to be leaving winter and welcoming spring here in the city. That being said, it’ll be many weeks before any real greenery emerges, and in fact heavy snow is forecast for the next day or so, but the hints for warmer days are getting stronger. Here’s hoping for a short mud season!

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“Not the wobbly bridge again! I’m calm, I’m calm…”
A brief post this week – I must go and find a dry pair of socks and some sensible footwear, before heading out to negotiate those untrustworthy slush pools once more.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Green, gold and red

Last week was silver, this week, gold. (Might be time to stop with the treasure titles…) Anyway, for this week, a few fall thoughts and pictures, and not much structure.

DSCF5943I’ve never really had the time before to wander around Sunnyside during the week, when most are at work or school. It feels slightly illicit. I strolled around the neighbourhood the other day on a beautiful autumnal morning. Ah, what an excellent day it was for displacement activity! I like to have a short list of tasks to do each day, so that at the end of the day I can beat myself up about not achieving them. (I don’t actually feel bad about it – I use unfinished or untackled tasks to make the list for the next day – now isn’t that productive?)

DSCF5925Fall has arrived, and in the foothills and the city, temperatures have been anywhere between early summer and early winter. As I sit and write this, (ooh, check that off the list for today) cold rain is falling and we’ll be in single digits with a slight chance of snow the next couple of days. Then warm sunshine once more. I love weather forecasts and the fall seesaw.

DSCF5929I was breaking in a new pair of boots (check), readying them for a hike we’ve got planned for the coming weekend. The new boots were long overdue. It is time for new ones when the old ones are held together with mud, and they walk by themselves to the nearest garbage can, begging to be put out of their misery. The aroma was distinct, but surely not unpleasant? I thought they had a few more miles left in them, but the refusal of friends and family to walk with me said otherwise.

DSCF5949Sunnyside and the Bow river looked splendid in the bright sunshine. Determined joggers, vigorous dog walkers, wagging dogs, slightly frazzled parents with babies and toddlers, speedy cyclists, and a late middle-aged time-waster were using the pathways along the river, enjoying themselves and the day.

DSCF5934Autumn is one time of year when I think about our old life back in Europe. I think it is the colours and the smells of fallen leaves, the faint scent of decay. It seems to prompt nostalgia and reflection. Calgary is a lively and well-resourced city if you need to be in an urban area, lacking little, but it doesn’t have a wide variety of deciduous trees providing fall colour. I think of the London oaks, planes and chestnuts, and the sweet chestnuts, walnuts, and alders of Bordeaux and Perigueux. We lived near the Foret de la Double, and it was a fine place to wander in the fall. But that was back then, and in the here and now we can enjoy the green and gold.

DSCF5918Walt, over at Rivertop Rambles (Rivertop Rambles – Double Focus), recently wrote about being home after a period away, and the slightly schizophrenic nature of our thoughts as we exist in one physical place and think about another. I often find myself doing that, even when I’m happy enough where we are. Aren’t we complicated creatures, sometimes? 

Bringing myself into the present, my main thought in all this written meandering and on those pleasant riverside paths, is that I’m grateful to have lived in and visited so many places, and currently very happy to find myself in Western Canada. Looking back is good, living in the present is good, and looking forward is good. It’s all good – aren’t we fortunate?

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

 

River Song

A very short post this week – I’m being swamped by report cards. (To be honest, I do quite enjoy writing them, and exploring my ability to stretch the truth without falling into fiction…)

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“Shouldn’t that guy on the other bank be working?”
Instead of spending a Sunday working on report cards, and demonstrating my dedication to education, we decided to take a short drive out east. Tough decision, howls of protest, but in the end I went with it. Meaning to take a short hike up and down the river banks in Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park, our hike turned out to be very brief. The scene was so captivating, and the sun was so high! We ended up sitting by the flowing Bow, in a shady spot on a warm afternoon. The river was up after recent rainfall, and the sound of the rushing water was soothing to an old fellow dozing in his camp chair.DSCF4979

I didn’t fall asleep completely. The wind in the trees added an extra layer of sound that was very pleasant. The breeze was enough to take the edge off the heat in the valley bottom. The best sounds of all? Bird song! Tree swallows, warblers, red winged blackbirds, robins, cormorants, ducks and geese. Those were the ones I did recognize, although my lack of bird knowledge has left me with generic rather than precise recognition. Need to work on that! Pretty sure we saw a yellow warbler – it was pretty for sure. Far in the distance, a hawk wheeled and climbed until out of sight. Ducks splashed on take off and landing, and geese flapped by, honking along the river.

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“Why is he taking our picture? Shouldn’t he be working?”
Those swallows are acrobats! A few wing beats to get above the water, and then a steep or shallow dive to snag a bug, over and over, up and down. I swear one did a ninety degree left turn on a dime. What a display, all speed and grace, and an occasional flash of iridescent green. A joy to watch.IMG_20170528_140250Sometimes the best way to tackle report cards is to leave them at home and go take a nap. Rest your eyes, stare off into the distance, empty your head, or fill it with something else. Be lulled by the river song, rest and recharge, and then head back for an early evening beer. A beer? But what about those – never mind. I can’t write under the influence. Have to finish them another day.

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“You down there? Get back to work!”
A short post this week. Did I mention I seem to be swamped by report cards? It’s all about time management and priorities. Fortunately, I am a professional with focus. Hold on! What’s that sound? I think I hear the call of the river…

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Distraction…
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

PS I finished the report cards earlier today. I know you were wondering…

Blue and green

And many spring shades in between…

Oh, a more than welcome long weekend, and a chance to slip from the city and head for the hills. Or mountains, once past the foothills. Yoho was calling, a cabin was booked, and report cards will get written. Eventually.

The week before, the forecast was predicting a snow-rain mix and single digit temperatures, so we packed accordingly. Mountain weather is immune or exempt from the dark arts of weather forecasting. Snow-rain mix? That’ll be blue skies, fluffy clouds and temperatures into the teens. Haha, and ok, this made my weekend, already a long one, and now with better than expected outdoor weather. I know, a grown man, and still easily pleased or displeased by the weather…I do love the reliably unreliable mountains!

As we were about to set off towards the Kicking Horse and a short hike, we noticed a hummingbird had settled on a small bush outside the cabin. No way it’ll stay there while I reach for my camera in the backpack I thought to myself, reaching into the backpack for my camera. Well, it did, and the photograph posted is about the best I’ll ever get. What a colourful character! Made my morning even better, having been buzzed by several hummingbirds over morning coffee earlier. Caffeine buzz and hummingbird buzz, a pretty good start to the day.

To the Kicking Horse! Lots of cars, RVs, and a tour bus in the parking lot didn’t bode well. We did the usual, and went in the opposite direction, heading down the trail and wondering as we wandered about bear activity, thinking they’d be far from the noisy crowds. The trail grew quiet as we walked away, and the sun was pleasantly warm on our happy little faces. Fresh air, blue skies, dark evergreens, and bright deciduous spring greens all worked their soothing magic as we strolled along. A few steps off the main trail onto a side trail afforded us slightly precarious but lovely views of the Kicking Horse galloping and tumbling down the valley. Sounds, scents, and sights to delight.

Back on the main trail, we continued descending, still wondering about bear activity. I always find, when in bear country, the further you go the more every large boulder or dark shadow in the trees looks like a bear. It’s all in my head. As the trail snaked down and around a corner in front of us, I spotted another bear like shadow. Nope, it wasn’t moving, carry on. A few steps forward, and a little closer, and the shadow was moving, and so were the two smaller shadows my tired old eyes had missed. A mama bear and two cubs! They’d seen and heard us, likely way before I finally saw them, and as we stood still, they scampered across the trail and up the bank out of sight. What a thrill! What a grip Mrs PlaidCamper had on my arm. She didn’t see the bears – they were quick – but she dragged me away, quite rightly, before my curiosity outweighed my common sense, and we headed back the way we came.

We passed through the crowded parking lot at the trailhead and attempted to wander away from the throngs gathered at the natural land bridge. It is a pretty spot, but best enjoyed early or late, and we were neither. I took a few photographs of the rushing river as we stopped to enjoy the views, and it was all very pleasant, but too busy. We should have arrived far sooner. Never mind – there’s always another day!

We returned to the cabin happy enough, and enjoyed the chance to sit in the warm sun and reflect on our brief bear encounter and the blue green mountain spring.

Thanks for reading, I always appreciate you taking the time, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

I like this because it has a bit of everything – blue water, whitewater, sand, rocks, trees and a sense of depth.

Thin and persistent

Like an old PlaidCamper? No, like the snow that fell all day. A short piece this week about a short walk last week.

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Hug them, hug them all…

With temperatures hovering around -15C, and the snow being blown and thrown around by sharp gusts, we decided to wrap up and snowshoe in the shelter of trees. Swaddled and waddling, I really wasn’t too persistent or thin, especially when we tried to forge through deep snow. As an excuse for my lack of persistence, I’ll offer up the sore back I’ve been nursing the past few weeks. It has slowed me down, but the bonus has been the chance to take and make more frequent stops, and really absorb our natural surroundings.

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Thin hair? Clean air!

So I couldn’t make much headway along the trail, but when we stopped and sat in a snow bank to eat a snack, the quiet was delightful. Grains of snow rustled and pitter-pattered on our packs and jackets. The near silence was seductive, and only the cold seeping through snow pants got us up and moving once more.

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Close up

Distant views were obscured, with mountains being more of a suggestion than a reality in the murk. This made us focus in more of a close up way, prompting a readjustment and shrinking of vision, and that wasn’t a bad thing.

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The Kicking Horse

We followed a less difficult path, down to the Kicking Horse and towards the sounds of rushing and splashing water. Each riverbank was frozen, with deep snow covering ice layers. Here and there, and mostly in the middle, were stretches of flowing water. The exposed flow, tumbling and racing over blue-grey river rocks, made for some lovely sights and sounds.

dscf4331Maybe not the finest day weather wise to be out and about – no bright blue skies or fat falling flakes – chilly, windy and grey could be one way to describe the day, but there was plenty to see and savour in a more muted way.

dscf4349Thanks for reading, I always appreciate you taking the time, and have a wonderful weekend!dscf4333

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Time to head back

The Otterhead – fresh air and fresh tracks

Sounds lovely, and it was.

Our escape from the madness last weekend proved to be just that. (Little did we know how jawdroppingly awful the madness was. Nor did we think it would get worse this week. Depths are being plumbed at an astonishing rate. Walls of hate, barriers to common sense and human decency – and it has only been a week…)

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The Kicking Horse River
Back to last weekend and the sound of silence. We took a tour on the Otterhead trail, slipsiding away on an easy and freshly groomed cross country ski track. It wasn’t really silent, but it was serene. Skies were blue, mountains were majestic, and rivers were sparkling. That’ll be the Emerald, Amiskwi and Kicking Horse rivers. We crossed the first two partially frozen streams on bridges over untroubled tributaries, and then sped alongside the last, the lovely Kicking Horse.

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Speeding along? Um…no
Sped along? That’s not strictly true. Cautious skiers, we were quite happy to find the fresh tracks to be sticky and slow – that suited us on the downhill sections, and kept us heading on up the steeper sections. Overall, the Otterhead is a delightful trail for a skier wanting to focus on scenery rather than technique. (What technique?)

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Scenery
And such scenery! The Kicking Horse valley in Yoho is stunning. It has fewer visitors compared to the nearby and well known Banff National Park. Over the course of an afternoon, we saw nine other skiers or snowshoers on the trail (I really was keeping count – is that a bit sad?) As we descended the first part of the trail, a couple climbing back up on snowshoes smiled and said we were in for a treat at the bottom. They were so right! The track emerges from trees into a wide valley with beautiful views in all directions.

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The Amiskwi River
Being at the valley bottom might encourage an OldPlaidCamper to think he knows what he is doing on xc skis. Oh yes, I can kick and glide, kick and glide and really cover the ground. Look at me go! I might even catch up with Mrs. PlaidCamper.

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Waiting for OldPlaidCamper
I do enjoy the easy rhythm of skiing along on the flat parts. It’s preferable to my crabbed and hunched nervousness on the downhill sections, what with a helpful mantra of goingtofall, goingtofall, goingtofall playing in my head. Oddly enough, I often fall.

But on the flat parts you’d think I was a natural. My mind wanders, usually into a heady mix of appreciation for the surroundings and a strange conviction I might have a Nordic gene or two from way back, ‘cos look at me go. For whatever reason, last week little clips from Simon and Garfunkel kept popping up. Oh look, a clearing, is there a boxer? No. Then I fell over – there’s nothing like a face full of snow to bring you back.

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I’m catching up…
Homeward bound. The Otterhead is delightful, and I can’t wait to visit again. Maybe to ski, maybe to hike in spring and see the greens of summer, but we’ll be back. And no more escaping the madness, that can’t be done. Time to reframe and be positive – we’re going there (and other wild places) to embrace what is good and to feel good.

Imagine feeling the need to build a wall to keep people out. You’re in your own prison and you’ve already failed. You’re building a physical monument to your own feeble thinking and evident mental imprisonment. You’ve already lost. I won’t carry that with me everywhere I go. I don’t want to dwell on the awfulness all the time. I’m not ignoring it either, but there are times when bigger and better subjects should occupy our thoughts, if only for a while.

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Mental freedom and better things
Here’s hoping this weekend you find some peace and quiet, mental freedom, and you have a wonderful time!