The sunny side

That’s what I’m looking for! It’ll match my sunny disposition. A rather short post this week due to attending the Canmore Beer Festival. Rest assured, I did my very best to research the current state of craft beer in Western Canada. I’m happy to report it is in great shape, unlike me the following day. We didn’t quite get around to a planned hike. Maybe this coming weekend? Right, back to the sunny side.IMG_20170514_140620

We live in the Calgary neighbourhood of Sunnyside, and this spring it hasn’t been all that sunny – so far. As I write this, I can hear the cars below splashing through deep puddles left after all the rain today. The Rainyside. Spring rain is a good thing, but not when the temperatures barely climb above freezing. The Shiveryside…

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Old truck and spring greens

Yes, Old PlaidCamper is complaining about spring going missing. The students I teach like to say I live on the Grumpyside. They might have a point.IMG_20170514_142201

Determined to prove myself wrong (and needing to blow away a few “cobwebs” gathered at the Canmore Beer Festival the previous day) I took a gentle walk through our neighbourhood. Armed with my camera phone and a slight headache, I was intent on finding spring.IMG_20170514_141951

Blossom and old trucks made for a pretty good haul. So the pavements were wet, and skies were grey, but on the whole, I think spring is here.

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It’s not as old as it looks (is it?)

The two old trucks cheered me up, although when a truck manufactured after you were born is deemed old, it can get you down. ImageOh dear, I really have to work harder at getting back my sunny disposition. After all, I do live on the Sunnyside.IMG_20170515_064023

Good news for a grumpy PlaidCamper – the long range forecast is promising brighter days! Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a warm and sunny weekend!

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The tasting glass was tiny. I simply don’t understand how I had a slight headache…

Our urban nature

Another post connected to our recent Vancouver trip – the last in a short and unplanned series! A piece including vague thoughts and mumblings about urban environments, as well as photographs showing Vancouver is quite lovely if you have to spend time in a city.DSCF4824

The outdoor education conference and time we spent in Vancouver has really got me thinking about cities and the natural world. More and more humans will be living in urban centres, and the trend towards huge cities with fast paced population growth is set for the next 50-100 years according to speakers at the conference.

This leaves me in two (or more) minds. If most humans live in cities, does this mean the spaces in between will be left alone? Probably not. Will mass exits on weekends, high days and holidays be the norm? Vast roads cutting into “wilderness” areas, creating problems of crowding and spoiling the character of these wild places? (I admit I’m exactly one of those city dwellers heading out whenever possible to play in the big outdoors…) Or will people stay inside the city, leaving large expanses outside to be farmed organically and ethically, with other areas left to develop as wild spaces? So many questions…IMG_20170418_133717

Clearly, I should stick to teaching and let others be futurologists. I have woolly (but friendly) notions about how our planet could be a greener place, and how we could manage the apparent conflict and contradictions between urban needs and a healthy, vibrant environment in and out of cities.

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Making concrete interesting? They tried…

I daydream about a future where citizens love their city, they frequent large natural spaces in the city, and make visits – long and short – into the surrounding countryside and wilderness. They meet the food producers growing and rearing wonderful produce. They hike and camp (leaving no trace, always showing consideration for flora, fauna, and fellow campers/hikers…) and paddle and fish, and paint and photograph and play and then I stop daydreaming because all I want to do is head out there when I’ve a mountain of paperwork to do, report cards to write, and data to produce to prove students might be learning things I’m teaching. Phew, run on sentence. Easy there, old boy. How early can an early retirement be? That’s another daydream. I’m often amazed I get much of anything done at all.

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Well, if you have to live in a city…

Focus, PlaidCamper, focus. Cities shouldn’t be ugly or difficult places to live in. Housing, transportation, education, recreation and healthcare should be available and affordable. Vancouver, like other cities, scores well in some, but not all, of these measures. Like other perceived as desirable cities, it is an expensive yet beautiful location. The beauty and economic opportunity draws people to the city, and this in turn increases pressure on services and raises prices. What is the solution? Can we reverse the inflow to cities? What will it mean if more people elect to live and work outside cities? Can we find positive and better than sustainable ways to dwell in wilder areas? Do people wish to live away from cities?  Will I stop typing questions?

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Could you lower a rope please?

As I said at the start, these are a few of the thoughts (or daydreams) and questions that have been bouncing around in my head the past week or so. Pleasant environments nurture and encourage pleasant citizens. Care about the local, and you’ll treasure the global, city dweller or not. Oh, woolly old me…

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I could be tempted

Thanks for reading, feel free to chip in with a thought or two, and have a wonderful weekend!

Pacific Great Blue Herons (thank you!)

Pacific Great Blue Herons! I enjoyed writing the title for this post so much I had to write it again. Padding for a short post…

I don’t know too much about birds in general, but find myself increasingly hooked by all the feathered wonders to be found. A couple of weeks ago, our guide in Stanley Park asked if we’d like to see the heron colony? Well, yes! There’s something rather solemn and stately about the way a heron walks – or stalks – and a thrill when they spear and strike.DSCF4801

Our guide took us to a wooded area near the headquarters building of Vancouver Parks. Compared to other parts of the park, it was positively urban, with a road cutting through and condo buildings and tennis courts nearby. Up in the trees were many many nests, and sitting in the nests were many many herons. I always think it’s a jackpot seeing a single heron, so to have dozens nesting and coming and going in one area was an absolute delight.DSCF4806

I snapped a few photographs from underneath, and have shared the best I managed on here today, but the real treat is the following link:

Stanley Park Heron Colony Cam

Go on, you’ll love it! Be sure you have plenty of time and a good cup of coffee. I’m not suggesting you spend hours in front of this, but you might find it hard to tear yourself away. Can you see the eggs? I haven’t spotted the chicks yet, but soon…Reality television!DSCF4804

Pacific Great Blue Herons! Aren’t they beautiful? The herons seem perfectly at home and well used to their city accommodations. I like to see this example of urban and natural coexistence, it makes me hopeful.

Above the fray – if only in my imagination – the herons have kept me sane in what has been a challenging week or two. I keep checking in – can’t help it – and find there’s distraction, excitement and calm being up in those trees. I never thought I’d be a daytime TV person…DSCF4798

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Signs of spring (and a little rant)

The rant comes at the end. It’s not much of a rant, but it is a bit incoherent, so there’s that. Enjoy it if you get down to that part.

We’ve been looking for signs of spring this side of the Rockies. So far, not too much success. There are one or two hints of green beginning to appear on trees and shrubs, a teasing glimpse of what’s to happen (soon, please!)

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Tuesday morning walk to work

My morning walk to work on Monday was through sleety rain, and that wasn’t much fun. It was more fun than the Tuesday morning walk through wet snow. Snow that fell on and off throughout the day. It settled for a few hours, but I guess solace could be found in that it mostly melted away by early evening. That thaw, the suggestion of green, and a rising river level is about it for spring to date. Yes, the daytime temperatures are above freezing, but not significantly so.

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“Spring” as seen from the train, Tuesday morning.

What’s with the complaining PlaidCamper? Don’t you like winter? Yes, but not when May is here on Monday, and not after our recent west coast trips – we were (are?) spoiled by those warmer, sometimes wetter, but oh so colourful and verdant days…

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Vancouver, six days earlier…(I spy green)

A few days in Vancouver last week, at a conference and “working” hard on the coast. The theme was nature and outdoor education. I had to smile at us all shut in a windowless, air conditioned hotel events room, earnestly discussing the importance of being outdoors in green spaces, and the benefits of connecting to nature. To be fair, many of the sessions were outside and hands on. Just as well, because they weren’t likely to contain all those tree huggers in a large room with Stanley Park only a short walk away.

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Hugged this one

After a morning of fine speeches, impassioned presentations, and information overload, we went on a guided walk through Stanley Park, looking for trees to hug.

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I was working, honest

Vancouver has a lovely setting, on the water, and surrounded by forests and coastal mountains. Stanley Park is an urban jewel, with pockets that feel wild in between more traditional city park patches. Our guide pointed out many restoration projects centred on the Lost Lagoon, and the balance park officials are trying to achieve between urban dwellers and wild animal inhabitants. Not an easy task, particularly because there’s no overall consensus as to what restoration really means. Restored to pre-nineteenth century habitat? Or even earlier, to before European contact? And how to restore a wilderness that is never in stasis anyway…

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Get me, I live in Stanley Park

It was a wonderful walk, and an example of how a city can aim to be a greener and more pleasant place through thoughtful planning – even if there are no simple solutions. Given that humans are more likely than ever to find themselves living in cities (regardless of whether that is a first choice for many of us) it seems sensible to expect nature to be included as an essential part of urban planning.

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Pleasing

Common sense suggests that we are happier in pleasing and greener environments, and research presented at the conference supported the idea that children (and everyone else?) are more successful in their learning and in themselves when they have ready access to green spaces for play and learning. Simple enough – pleasant environments promote positive physical and mental health. Have we really forgotten that so easily and in a few generations? Are new roads, malls and parking lots more important than play spaces and green places for city dwellers? Dollars before deeper contentment? What’s the real and necessary investment here?DSCF4816

Oh, those recent announcements – regarding the future status of protected wilderness spaces south of the border – have me wondering if (so called) leaders can honestly say they care about or are planning for the longer term health of the planet, or the health of future citizens. I don’t know, is extract, extract, extract, and burn, burn, burn, really the best path forward? Can we talk about a healthy society and a vibrant economy when the air is unbreathable and water is undrinkable? Should we drink the bad water through a straw made from dollar bills and call ourselves wealthy and wise?

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Calming

I think I’d best stop now, take a deep breath (while we still can) and wish you all a wonderful weekend! I’ll be out looking for signs of spring and calming myself down. I know, it wasn’t much of a rant, but I feel better for it…

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Also calming (a very good west coast pale ale – had a second pint, just to be sure…)

Cheers, and thanks for reading!

Hills, thrills, and tender tales…

…enough to make an urban hiker happy in a big city!

First off, I have to make a full and frank confession, and a big thank you. We didn’t actually walk to all of the places photographed in this post. One day we were lucky enough to be given a car tour around the various neighbourhoods of San Francisco, with an emphasis on looking in from the edges. A huge thank you to Jet Eliot for this wonderful overview of a fascinating city – a memorable day out!

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Overview!
I have to say, I think you could live for years in SF and never get to grips with all the stories and possibilities it has to offer. It is a mass – and mess – of contradictions, in the best possible way. I’ve been struggling with figuring out how to convey our visit in a short blog post and, to be honest, concluded that I can’t. It’ll have to be several parts posted intermittently over the next while or so, but not week on week. So bear with me (if you’re still here!) and my next confession is that I’ve decided to pretty much use the unedited notes I jotted down there each evening – I do promise I spellchecked most of it. If it is a little incoherent or disconnected, never mind, let’s say that might also be true of parts of SF…

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A hardboiled apartment building (huh?)
All this talk of confessions, promises, and being honest, why, it’s like I’m wishing I could write a hardboiled detective mystery. Well now, we didn’t know before arrival, but it turned out we were staying in the same apartment building Dashiell Hammett lived in for a while.

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You should read this, I tell ya!
Once I found this out, I immediately got hold of a copy of The Maltese Falcon, and it was quite the thrill to be reading and recognizing some of the place names in the book, to be treading those same mean streets, let me tell ya, sister. (Hmm, best leave it to writers of detective fiction…)IMG_20160322_155813

The streets of San Francisco (really, PlaidCamper?) can be tough, like many big cities. Our exchange with a cab driver upon arrival:

Me: Hi there! (Ooh, the air is warm!) San Loretto Apartments, Nob Hill please.

Jamal: That’s near the Tenderloin! Do you know the Tenderloin? Don’t go to the Tenderloin after dark. There are prostitutes, drug dealers, and other criminals. It’s not Canada!

Me: How close is our apartment to the Tenderloin?

Jamal: Not far! Don’t go down the hill towards the Tenderloin. It’s not Canada. I like driving. I once drove to Toronto to visit my sister and her baby. Took me two weeks, there and back, with three days in Toronto. Stay away from the Tenderloin. I deliver cars. I like driving. California, Utah, Wyoming and Montana. Delivered from Africa. This is the Tenderloin! I won’t stop, don’t worry. Maybe you could visit here in the day, but not after dark. See the people?”

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Not Jamal’s taxi – but he would have loved this car. He liked driving.
Not wishing to taint Jamal’s vision of Canada as a crime-free northern Utopia, we agreed the Tenderloin wasn’t like Canada. Anyway, as Jamal slowed down but didn’t stop, we did see the people, and they might have been up to less than good. We didn’t visit later, not even during the day, not even out of curiosity. Perhaps another time. For a detailed description of the Tenderloin, you could read chapter two of Gary Kamiya’s Cool Gray City of Love. Actually, read all of it, it’s a splendid book, and that chapter makes for a wonderful introduction to the colourful history of the Tenderloin. As Kamiya puts it a “radioactive core of junkies, drunks, transvestites, dealers, thugs, madmen, hustlers, derelicts, prostitutes, and lowlifes”…so, not all bad then.

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A good read!
Each evening after dark, I did enjoy sitting at a small corner table in our rented apartment, wedged in between two windows, taking notes as the sounds of a different city drifted up. We live in a big – for Canada – city, close to the downtown, with an evening soundtrack of sirens, trams, and big city noises. It was the same but different in SF. The apartment block is on an intersection between Sacramento and Leavenworth, so reasonably busy. The sirens were more frequent, the clanking cable cars almost musical, the streets more populated later into the night, and the air warmer, with pedestrians strolling less hurriedly than the brisk, let’s-fight-the-chill-air speed walk we have in Calgary. It was fun to hear the bursts of laughter, and snatches of conversation as passersby came and went.

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Part of the city soundtrack – almost musical
I’ll leave it here for now. As I said near the start, this is the first of a somewhat jumbled series of posts about SF. It’s a beguiling city, and the fun here is in writing and attempting to make some sense of it. More to follow later…DSCF2141

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to make a comment or share a San Francisco story or book recommendation!