Casting Call

Our recent camping trip north of the city opened the door for a few good opportunities to toss a line into the lake. I brought along my new fishing rod, rigged it up for the ready, and leaned it against an out of the way tree in case the mood or moment struck.

Our campsite was a sixty-second walk to the shoreline, and on a good choice of visit I often found empty a small wooden dock protruded five meters out into the murky lake water.

On a less-good choice of visit I found the dock occupied and myself instead needing to trudge through the spongy layer of grasses and mosses growing from the loamy sand to find a spot clear enough to edge up to the waterside to be able to cast out without tangling my line in the vegetation.

Conversation Starter

It also turns out that a fishing rod is something of a lakeside invitation to chat.

Strolling to the shore, invariably someone would comment on the potential for a catch. “How’s it looking?” someone would call out. “It might be a little hot for them out there right now.” Someone else would add, noting the 30C heat still lingering from the day.

And “Any luck?” not just someone but everyone would ask as I strolled back to camp empty-handed after an hour of tossing my lure into the water.

As it turns out the most inviting pose a guy can take (by far) when visiting the lake is to sit by oneself at the end of a narrow dock, dangling one’s feet over the end, holding a fishing rod with a line threading outward into the water. This must project some magnetic signal to other campers inviting them to wander up, sit down and chat.

I found myself playing host to all manner of random characters telling me their tales as I sat holding court with my fishing rod patiently dangling outwards.

Catchless?

At the end maybe the weather was too hot or I was too impatient or perhaps my small collection of lures was not in agreement with the fish swimming through the murky lake water that weekend.

I didn’t catch so much more than a few clumps of weedy grass.

I did however catch a moment of peace, and a few curious stories.

A Reprieve by Rain

It was raining this morning when I woke up, the light, almost inaudible patter of drops hitting the windows and roof, creeping into my zone of awareness as I lay in bed contemplating starting my day.

The rain is oh-so welcome this morning, in the wake of a week-long heat wave that baked the city streets and melted our souls, reminding us yet again that we’re too cheap (or just too environmentally guilt-ridden) to install air conditioning.

To be fair, the heat mostly broke over the weekend and the air has cooled considerably since the unbearable never-ending outdoor-oven-like temperatures late into last week. But the rain dropped the temperature even more into the mid-teens and it was the first time in recent memory that I felt a bit of a shiver and chill when I opened the door to let the dog outside.

More important than my personal comfort, of course, is that the rain brings an area-wide break in the risk of fire. The provincial map on the Alberta Fire Bans website had turned from yellow caution to orange restriction and had begun changing to splotches of angry red prohibition against burning, lest the very real risk of forest fire turn into literal flames.

Each year it seems that entire communities burn to the ground because the rain is a few days late in arriving to quench the tinder-like deadfall.

Never mind that in a few days I am about to go camping and as we plan our oh-so-important campfire menu we were seriously wondering if our trip would be a campstove adventure rather than an open flame cast iron cooking frenzy. That would have been a personal disappointment.

Almost always the rain means cool, wet and fresh but this week it also means campfires and cast iron.

And it is raining this morning.

Local Big

In merely one week I’m going to be packing up that little black truck in the background of this photo and driving north with a cargo of camping gear to spend some quality time in the Alberta wilderness.

(No) thanks to the pandemic it’s been two years since I’ve slept in a tent, and coincidentally that same tent will be pitched on about the same weekend in the same vicinity as when this photo was taken… two years ago.

for whatever one photo is worth:

It’s something of a running joke, or insider gag, that every local road trip through the rural country highways usually involves stopping for at least one photo with something big.

No… BIG.

An oversized bird statue. An obscenely large perogy on a fork. A life-sized UFO landing pad. Or the world-famous giant Easter egg, a Ukrainian pysanka, in Vegreville.

Or, for this example, a few kilometers drive from where we had been camping in the bush, we escaped the rain for a couple hours to meander into Vilna, Alberta for some ice cream and (of course) to pose with the World’s Largest Mushrooms.

Like so many World’s Largest objects scattered around Western Canada, the World’s Largest Mushrooms are a photogenic bit of roadside art propped up in a small park, tucked into a tiny neighbourhood, hidden behind the main street of a pinprick town in the middle of the Alberta prairie.

This is as much a kind of local hubris as anything else. For many of these small little towns, despite their small town beauty and unique identity in vast western expanse, the there is little reason besides a fill of the gas tank or a happenstance need for a meal to veer off the highway into their streets. They are lovely little places, but apart from a green highway sign marking their location as one speeds by at a hundred kilometers per hour, few people turn turn gaze from the road… unless as there occasionally may be, there is a World’s Largest… something… anything to be seen.

With some steel and paint and artistic license, any small town in the middle of nowhere becomes a tourist destination.

An excuse to visit. A reason to stop. A purpose for a day-long country-side road trip with a camera and a sense of local curiosity.

And of course, there is usually some ice cream close by, too.

Camping: Of Annual Adventures Gone Awry

It’s Travel Tuesday and once again I’m reminded of the challenge of living through a global pandemic and a life dismantled by a thousand small cuts. You see, each year with — the exception of last year — we usually go camping with a small group of families.

Eight adults. The same number of too-rapidly-growing-up kids. Pets. Tents. Campfires. Walks in the woods. Weather. Lakes. Crafts. Bike rides. Outhouses. And whatever new adventure strikes.

I’m wondering today if this bit of local travel is one more of those cuts.

for whatever one photo is worth:

This past weekend as the rolling summer booking window started to traverse those optimal summer camping months, The Email made its rounds to the families:

What’s the plan for 2021? Y’know… with COVID and all that?

It was a long weekend in late-June and despite the pouring rain upon our arrival, we set up the tents and tried our best to keep our gear dry. We have a lightweight backpacking tent that sleeps three, but a huge truck-camping tent that would make up a hundred and fifty percent of my backpacking carry weight, but lugs out of the truck box easy enough and is rainproof enough to tolerate most of the seasonal weather.

I had pulled up my photo software and was poking nostalgically through some of my old photos of the last time we went out with that group. Kid cooking marshmallows. A day at the lake-side beach.

We’re being cautiously optimistic, the first reply came through, but we might cancel at the last minute if things don’t get better.

Cut?

We cooked that first night over a hot-spitting fire, fending off the dwindling rain with some steaming cast iron pans. This may have been the exact weekend when some beer-fueled conversations about my collection of pans inspired the registration of a domain name and would a year and a half later kick off a daily blog you may have heard about somewhere.

I just don’t think that I could keep my distance for an entire weekend while out there with everybody, came a second reply a half hour later. It would be really tough. Thanks for understanding.

Cut.

I have any number of summer plans, but one weekend with friends in a remote campsite still seemed like a safe bet.

Or maybe not.

Cut.

Perhaps there will be just the four of us, a fire, a tent, and some lonely cast iron over a gently smouldering fire.