A little detour (waiting for winter)

I got all excited a few weeks ago because there was an early blast of winter at the start of November. Since then it has been somewhat disappointing (if you enjoy snow) with barely a flurry and higher than average temperatures. Several Chinooks have eaten what snow there was, and the forecast for the next couple of weeks doesn’t hold much promise. Still, being so close to the mountains, that could change…DSCF6034

Oh yes, the mountains, there’s snow out there! A few weeks ago we took a little detour in Mount Revelstoke National Park, and drove up the Meadows in the Sky Parkway, wondering if there’d be snow up top in early October, and looking for a place to eat a picnic lunch. We didn’t see snow, but we did have expansive views and fall colours to enjoy, and there was a hint of snow on higher peaks all around.DSCF6026

The Parkway is a very pleasant drive. In summer there are meadows of wildflowers, but I’m told there are also large crowds, so go early or late in the day. Or go in the shoulder seasons, when flowers aren’t likely, but it’ll be quiet, as it was on the day we were there. DSCF6029At midday, there were only a few other cars sharing the winding switchback road to the top. There is a change from cedar rainforest on the low slopes to alpine fir and spruce, and at the top you’ll find fragile high alpine growth. There are a few short loops and there and back trails to explore. The summit trail was closed due to a bear in the area. It’s lovely up there, and home to a few happy bears, not that we saw any.DSCF6019

A quick trip back to earlier this fall, and a time when we were anticipating snow. Let’s hope December delivers – once the fall colour is gone, it’s best to put on some snow!DSCF6030

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

End of the line – all change!

When I was a young boy, a thrilling day trip out was riding on a red double decker London bus. The big city! The excitement at seeing the sights! When the bus reached the final stop on a route, the bus conductor would call out:

“End of the line – all change please!”

All change please! I adore that call, and it has stayed with me over the years, echoing in my head whenever we’ve opted to move somewhere new. (I’m less keen on end of the line, hoping not to be there quite yet…)

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River banks revealed
Well – and I’ve been on about this for a while now – I think that winter is fast approaching the end of the line for this year. What a disappointment…but then I realized I had to undergo something of an attitude change to this incoming, and sooner than anticipated, seasonal shift. Time to stop writing as the environmental pessimist, and get en route to destination glass half full. Time to be enthusiastic about the arrival of spring, and regain some anticipation and excitement. Be more like the bespectacled little boy pressing his nose against the window, soaking up the incredible wide world from the top deck.

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Incredible wide world
How and why did this mental makeover come about? I was sat on a cabin deck last weekend, feeling faintly down about the morning spent snowboarding through poor snow due to the warm conditions, when I had to give myself a richly deserved kick in the pants. Talk about personal invisible Western problems. A morning at Louise, then afternoon sunshine on a deck looking out at the Rockies, and being unable to appreciate how fortunate I was? Not on, old boy. Reality check and attitude change please.

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Coniferous green
Instead of whining and wailing about the lack of snow, I got off my butt and we took a little wander along the creek and down to the river. So much to enjoy! Coniferous green in full sunshine, with the trees shaking off winter whiteout. The gurgling of the creek rising up through gaps in the thinning ice.

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Sparkle
The shining, bright, almost painful sparkle of reflected sun on the river.

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Gurgling creek
It was an absolute pleasure to be out in the early spring sunshine, inhaling the resin aromas from warming tree trunks. A highlight? Hoping to catch sight of the American dipper once again, and there he was, on the far bank. What a pleasant short hike, and easily as thrilling as a boyhood bus ride in the big city. Of course there is much to be concerned about, but it’s equally important to enjoy soaking up the incredible wide world, show some appreciation, changes and all.

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Warm and resiny – spring time
We finished the day by sharing a bottle of stout from a craft brewery here in Calgary. The Wild Rose is producing a series of limited releases, and this Flemish stout was a pretty good way to sign off on old winter and welcome new spring. It was deep and dark, as a winter beer should be, but brewed with cherries and wild raspberries that gave a suitably sharp and tart note – allowing us to anticipate the warmer months ahead? Maybe…glass half full, PlaidCamper, half full!

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Deep, dark, and slightly tart (so was the beer)
All change please! Thanks for reading, I always appreciate you taking the time to visit here. As ever, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment.

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Highlight!

Downhill Racer!

Downhill racer! Like Robert Redford in that movie. Oh, if only. More like an uphill plodder when it comes to cross country skiing.

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Slightly slushy – and well provisioned

We were out in Yoho last week, enjoying all the snow on the BC side of the mountains. Although still unseasonably warm, the greater relative snowfall meant there was plenty to fall over in. Sporadic flurries fell from overcast skies, with lengthy breaks in between to admire big valley views. I spent plenty of time enjoying those views from all kinds of angles down in the soft, soft snow.

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Enjoyable view

We decided to risk a little xc skiing on slightly slushy track set trails in the Yoho Valley (Isn’t that great? Yoho is derived from a Cree word meaning awe and wonder. In the Yoho Valley – I could say that over and over…) There were very few fellow skiers or hikers about – in fact we saw only four other people after setting off. Wonderful really, but given it was a long weekend, shouldn’t more families have been out embracing the park, simply being in the Yoho Valley? Maybe they’d heard about me blowing the cobwebs off my skis.

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Long straight bits – wonderful

Not kidding about the uphill plodder. Being a contrary old so and so, I like to claim great enjoyment of uphill skiing. Taking on gravity, and winning. The gradual climb, and the aerobic workout. Yup, the going up is for me. Huh? Really? Well, no, the truth is I am terrified of going too fast and losing control coming back down. Who isn’t? Not so much on long straight descents, that’s fine. It’s when the long straight bits have a turn at the bottom. I don’t seem to have mastered the art of going around corners – unless I’m traveling really, really slowly. Like when I am going up.

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Oh no! Is that a turn after the bridge?

The trail we took at the weekend was a there and back again we’d not visited before. The initial ascent was long and gentle, and I was congratulating myself on this good fortune, and on how well I was fighting gravity. Foolish boy! Of course, there were then turns and steeper parts as the uphill trail followed the down flow run of the Yoho River. To a seasoned – or ordinarily brave – skier, the track was probably as easy as can be. My inner voice however, was repeating “we’re coming back down this way, looks fast, and how about that right turn? Will you make it or hop out of the tracks and over the edge? Bet that water is cold…”

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Cold waters of the Yoho River

Clearly, we made it back down in one piece, or at least enough working pieces for me to be able to write this. Suffice to say my usual, if not preferred, method of slowing down worked as well as ever. Gravity is my friend. I fell over, or threw myself down. Quite a lot. Far too often. Wonderful really, that so few families were out embracing the park.

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Still a little too warm?

Anyway, bruised dignity aside, it was a fun afternoon of (early spring?) uphill plodding and downhill skiing in a beautiful place. It has us looking forward to having another go, and maybe getting a bit further along next time out. Then, if they ever decide to make a belated sequel to Downhill Racer, one set many years after the original, I’ll be available (I do all my own stunts) – provided the new movie is called Uphill Plodder.

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Potential Uphill Plodder location

For the record, these really were some of the thoughts in my head as I enjoyed the long uphill aerobic workout in the Yoho Valley. Probably some sort of altitude sickness.

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Looking down at the Yoho from flat on face

Thanks for reading! As ever, please feel free to share a story or make a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Fractionally further out (on the edge)

Something of an odd title, but bear with me, it might make sense. The last week or two has definitely seen a change in the weather, moving from surefire winter to a more uncertain season. There is still plenty of snow on the ground, at least out in the mountains, but everything has warmed up, and I don’t like it! But let’s try to be glass half full…

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Loves winter

I know, here he goes again, loves winter, blah, blah, blah… It feels wrong to be this warm, with temperatures above freezing and even up into the mid-teens centigrade, with chinook after chinook blowing through. Mid March, alright, but to be this warm from the beginning of February? It’s not all chinooks, but honestly, what a meteorological maelstrom. El Nino and climate change, warm winters and extreme weather, doom mongers and deniers. We’ve just had the warmest year on record, so let’s get fracking. No! Let’s not.

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It should be cold

We have to show a fraction more sense. It should be cold(er) in winter! Global warming isn’t a leftist anti-oil and big business fabrication, but a common concern for all thoughtful (and thoughtless) human beings. Non-renewable resources are dwindling, and they will run out. We have to shift to renewable sources, and put our mental energy, education, and training into facing this reality. I understand the concerns about employment. Jobs won’t have to disappear, but different ones will need to replace current ones. New energy requires engineers, technicians, scientists, maintenance, infrastructure, retail and associated skills. This is an opportunity! Blocking clean air initiatives is fiddling while Rome burns. It’s fracking silly, and we can do better. Goodness, I am irritable this week.

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Precarious

A classroom, many, many years into the future:

“Excuse me, teacher? Are you sure this information is correct? It says that our ancestors continued to pollute the air, water, and ground, even when they had an opportunity to do things differently. Really? And they did it for profit?! They prioritized money over the health of the planet? Huh? But weren’t they educated? Couldn’t they see what was happening? Who was Willow?”

We’ll be long gone, and of course, I’m simply being fanciful…

Maybe I should step outside, calm down. Our last little snowshoe adventure saw us along the river once more, and the river was fractionally higher, with ice shelves collapsing into the water. Don’t get too close to the edge, and a precarious situation… Lovely to look at, but in February? Too soon! I tottered along (as mentioned last week, was still feeling under the weather, hence the tottering) and realized we were past the midpoint of winter, over halfway and racing towards spring. To be honest, I wasn’t racing, or even tottering, not in snowshoes, but isn’t tottering a great word? I do look forward to spring, but please, not yet.

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This is not Willow

So, Groundhog Day came and went, with the sad news that Winnipeg Willow died a day before having the chance to pronounce an end to (or continuation of) winter. Was this natural causes, or a shadowy groundhog grassy knoll conspiracy to suppress the truth? Who would want to silence poor Willow? The naysayers, or the doom mongers?

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Under grey skies

All these thoughts – too strong a word? – were swirling around as we enjoyed the snow, the streams, and the relative silence under grey skies. Oh, my mental maelstrom. Suppose the planet keeps on heating up? What of winter then? How thin is the ice? Hmm. Enjoy winter while you can, and if a snowstorm hits, embrace it because, who knows, suppose you don’t experience another? What an awful thought…

DSCF1907Fortunately, and on a more positive note, we did encounter the American Dipper once again. Knowing that they only frequent unpolluted rivers and streams made everything seem a little less precarious.

I think I’d best keep this brief, and aim to top up my optimism glass. Here’s hoping winter hangs on a little longer around here, and I’ll seek to enjoy it – it’s what Willow would have wanted. For all my doom and gloom, there’s usually a way to fractionally brighten the spirits:

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Glass (more than) half full! A fine fractional IPA from Lagunitas – recommended.

As always, thanks for reading! Please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

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…

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.