new old older


young green leaves, rooted into
rough hewn stump, anchored upon
rich forest soil, draped across
cragged heavy stone, wedged along
ancient sweeping mountains, jutting from
shifting geological faults, slipping around
revolving green orb, floating in
vast mysterious universe

– bardo

I have reserved some space on this blog each week to be creative, and to post some fiction, poetry, art or prose. Writing a daily blog could easily get repetitive and turn into driveling updates. Instead, Wordy Wednesdays give me a bit of a creative nudge when inspiration strikes.

Book: Handbook of the Canadian Rockies

I don’t buy many paper books these days, so I caught even myself off guard when I dropped fifty bucks on this doorstop-grade loaf while on vacation over the summer, and in a souvenir store no less.

We had spent the day in the wilderness and flipping through the pages it caught the dangling threads of my vacationing soul and pried open my wallet.

I had woken that same morning and gone for an eight kilometer trail run up the side of a small mountain to an overlook of the town where we were staying. I’d met a friend (who had moved out to there a few years back for career reasons) and she’d led me on a 7am (and two degrees Celsius in July!) run along a quiet road and up towards the trailhead of a short day hike path that was still quiet of all human life save us. We ascended a few hundred meters of elevation into the early morning crisp air and stood on a smooth boulder with a vista view spanning what seemed fifty kilometers in multiple directions, and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of envy that she could go up there any time she wanted and I was due to drive back to the city the next day.

Flipping through the display copy of Handbook of the Canadian Rockies by Ben Gadd that evening evoked some overlapping emotions I’d been feeling from that whole week-long excursion into the National Parks, but in particular tugged at my heart in the same sort of way that standing atop a small mountain did at the dawn of that day.

A few minutes later I was standing at a cash register, tapping my debit card on the kiosk and watching my own copy being handed back to me with a crisp little receipt bookmark protruding from the edge.

When I was a lot younger I was fascinated by the kinds of books that were stuffed with bounties of information, the kind of books like encyclopedias or almanacs that could surprise you with any visit. Those kinds of books you pry open to a random page and are greeted with a sub-sub-heading of some curious topic and you just read.

This is that kind of book.

I opened the book three times at random as I started to write this paragraph and on those three visits I was greeted with a page filled with information about local lichen species, then a page detailing the dietary habits of the mule deer, and finally a two-page spread timeline of the major geological events of the area dating back a few billions of years.

If that kind of thing isn’t your style, you’re probably also not the kind of person to feel pangs of wonder at the beauty of a particular rock formation or pause in the middle of a long hike to contemplate a small copse carpeted by lush green moss.

A month later I’ve consistently kept this book on my nightstand and made something of a habit of opening the book at random (if not every day) a few times per week and reading a few pages here or there about the history, flora, fauna, and geology of my nearby mountain escape…

…and then pining to be back there.

If that isn’t an endorsement for a book, I don’t know what is.

Half Ha Ling

This month marks a year and a half since our local area got caught up in the global pandemic that, among many other things, made world travelling near impossible.

We’ve made up for this by trying to find some room between the bad news, ever-shifting-work-life, and many cancelled plans to get away on some local escapes.

This summer was no exception, and over my blogging break we found ourselves in Canmore, a small town nestled into the Eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, where numerous small adventures were had, including a certain last minute attempt to climb a very tall mountain.

for whatever one photo is worth:

Stand on the main street of Canmore, Alberta and look towards the towering range of mountains standing to the south of town and you wont help but see a prominent jag of rock protruding high into the sky, standing with a sentry-like pride over the valley below.

That peak had borne many names over the years and stirred it’s share of controversy for the same, but locals now almost uniformly refer to it as Ha Ling Peak.

We spent the better part of a full week in Canmore in July.

We’d rented a small hotel room near the center of town.

We wandered on foot to grab groceries or breakfasts or beer or silly thing tourists buy when they visit small towns on vacation.

We loaded up the car to drive into the wilderness to tackle family-friendly hikes with the puppy and the teenager.

We hiked, relaxed, and ate, avoiding the heat and smoke as much as possible, while trying to make the best out of a local vacation in an admittedly beautiful place to be trapped during a global lockdown.

On the last night of our trip, sitting on a patio eating an early dinner, looking down that same main street, my wife asked me if I’d done everything I’d wanted to on our little family getaway.

”I’d like to climb Ha Ling … someday.” I replied. “But I guess we’re out of time.”

Most people set aside a full day, starting early to climb to the eight hundred meter saddle, and a further slog up to the summit and peak. It was just after five pm and we had at best four hours or daylight left.

“How far could we get tonight?” She asked.

”I’m staying at the hotel with the dog.” The teenager objected.

”We could go up as high as we can and give ourselves an hour to come back down before sunset.” I suggested.

Shortly after six my wife and I were standing at the trailhead in our hiking boots.

There are inherent risks in trying a new trail of moderate difficulty outside of the normally travelled hours. If something goes wrong while you are up and alone on a mountain with an encroaching night… well, that’s bad news.

We knew we wouldn’t reach the summit, but being fit and adventurous we gave ourselves two hours to go up as far as we could then come back down. We agreed: we’d hike until my GPS watch read exactly one hour then we’d turn around and hike back down leaving a good thirty to forty-five minutes of cushion for the sun to set behind the mountains.

And off we went.

About thirty minutes in we’d reached the first viewpoint.

At exactly an hour I could see the second a hundred meters or so ahead on the path.

We reached the half way point up the mountain and a few minutes over the half way point of our agreed time. We took a blurry selfie with light failing on the the smoky vista behind us. And we hiked back down along the slippy path, found the car, and were back at the hotel before the last sliver of sun had vanished behind the rocky crags in the distance.

It may have only been half a goal but it was easily a full adventure.

Reminder: Blogs are not a replacement for professional advice. Please read my note on safety and safe participation.

The Brink

A couple weeks ago I stood at the edge of a cliff, half way up a mountain, looking west across a smoky haze shrouding the setting sun as it cast an eerie pall upon the landscape.

As the summer forecast creeps into higher and higher temperatures, the meteorologists are predicting that we’re entering another span of unseasonably hot temperatures for the third time in two months.

Smoke and heat. The world is burning, literally and figuratively.

And just yesterday the United Nations released another climate report, ringing the warning bell yet again to a mostly indifferent world, politicians with their heads locked into timespans of election cycles, not generational catastrophe.

In fact the little man who calls himself the leader of our province stood on a podium in front of the media yesterday and called the effort to adapt our energy habits to a changing climate that is literally killing us “a utopian impossibility.” Hardly a rousing, inspirational speech as much as a shrug and a “why bother even trying” approach. I have many reasons not to vote for his party, but the doubling down on the very thing that is destroying us has cemented my resolve.

I don’t like to get political here, but my dream of a fantastic vaccinated summer camping, cooking, and exploring has been trampled by air filled with so much smoke that it’s dangerous to go outside, temperatures so hot that my head pounds after a few minutes of exertion, and a head-in-the-sand, anti-vax ignorance that has stumbled us all into what should have been a completely avoidable approaching fourth wave of pandemic.

And now the understated conclusion from the UN report of our headlong rush into climate disaster and destruction of our fragile ecosphere tells me little more than that the rest of my life will be much of the same, if not worse, and as we hand things off to my daughter’s generation… well, let’s just say that the looming sense of nihilism I’ve been feeling over the last day has been justifiably gripping.

Travel broadens the mind and enriches the soul, and in travelling we learn that we are but small, temporary beings that have but a passing moment in a vast and complex society that is itself but a speck in an infinitely more complex universe.

We are mere passengers for a brief time on a world that neither needs us nor will adapt itself to us, and we are shaping that world for ourselves in a way that seemingly leaves us unable to survive in the singular place in that whole complex universe that will abide us.

Warm weather is nice. And yes, the smoke offers a unique opportunity for hazy romantic photos of the glowing red sky from atop a mountain hike. Yet, I would trade it all in the blink of an eye for a little bit more hope in our future.