You teach your children some fashion sense
And they fashion some of their own
- Gordon Downie

Monday, July 26, 2010

Nordegg - Reason #3 to Love Central Alberta

Nordegg is an amazing place. In the words of one of it's most colorful residents, "there's not much happening, but it's all going on in Nordegg." As you wander around the current townsite, it is hard to believe that 3000 people once called this place home. There is a real sense of community in Nordegg. It has about 100 year round residents between those who work in the service industry, live in the north townsite or have other reasons for staying. In no particular order, here are the things that make Nordegg such a worthwhile place to spend a few hours or a few days.
  • It is possible to climb several different peaks to get a birds-eye view of Nordegg. Coliseum Mountain, Shunda (Baldy) Mountain and Eagle Ridge are all quite easy to climb and there are few greater feelings than being on top of a mountain!
  • Fishing is what first brought me to Nordegg. Within 45 minutes of driving, walking or hiking, you can fish for most of the major trout species (Rainbow, Cutthroat, Brook, Brown, and Lake Trout.) If you have the financial means, you can fly to a pristine alpine lake to fish for Golden Trout. My children have caught most of their fish in this area. It can be busy, but can feel wild and abandoned compared to the crowds you find in the Livingstone, Oldman and Crowsnest drainages.
  • You can golf all day for $15 and it's even less for kids. The self-proclaimed Historic Nordegg Golf Course is, well, rustic, but it is perfect for a hacker like me.
  • There are tons of trails for mountain biking. One of the most interesting routes follows the abandoned rail bed from the quarry entrance to the Beaverdam Campsite. I rode this route with my kids this summer and it was one of my best afternoons ever.
  • There are tons of options for accommodations. There is a hotel in town, at least 10 campsites within a half hour drive, David Thompson Resort, Shunda Creek Hostel, Aurum Lodge, Goldeye Centre and COE (Center for Outdoor Education) are all great possibilities.
  • You can visit a National Historic Site and ghost town - Brazeau Collieries
  • The Beer Cabin
  • The name of one seasonal business (my kids' favorite) says it all - Nordegg Rocks!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Places I Love to Fish

Last week, I had the good fortune to spend five consecutive days wading, wandering and wondering. Fly fishing is a profound passion for me. As I have written before, "I can't help myself. I love to fish. If I could, I would spend all day, every day fishing." When I am on a river, hours and hours go by where all I think about is catching a fish. Where are they? What are they feeding on? When will they be feeding? Have I got the right fly? Am I presenting it the right way? Hours can go by where I think of nothing but the last fish I caught and they next fish I would like to catch.

However, this post is not about the act of fishing, it is about the places I love to fish. It is a reflection on very special places. Places I love. I have fished throughout Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. I have wet a line in Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming. . In many of these places, I feel very spiritual. Often, I am awestruck and wide-eyed. I am always deeply respectful and thankful for the opportunity to spend my time in these places. No matter where I fish, the places I love have several things in common.

The first common denominator is the fish. The fish are why I drive, hike, scramble, swim, bum slide, or fly to a body of water. Usually, the places I love to fish are home to trout. Trout and fly fishing go hand in hand. I have caught pike, grayling, whitefish and even suckers on my fly rod. However, it is trout that I love more than anything else. Brookies, browns, cutties, goldens, lakers, rainbows. Each of the these species of trout can be caught on a fly rod and I have wonderful memories that involve each of these fish. They the "raison d'etre" of fishing. A common fisherman's cliche is "It's called fishing, not catching." This is often the mantra of an unsuccessful fisherman, but it does allow me to focus on the act of going fishing.

The second thing these places have in common is geography. Most of these places are surrounded by hills, foothills and mountains. These places are enclosed by forest, usually a mixture of aspen, poplar, spruce, pine, larch, cottonwood and willow. The banks of these creeks, lakes, rivers and streams are strewn with boulders, gravel, pebbles, rocks, sand and silt. The water is cold and usually clear. Every year, these places change. Snowfall, runoff, fire, flooding and storms can all dramatically change them. Things are rarely a carbon copy and every chance I get to visit them brings something new and interesting.

The final attraction is solitude. I don't like to fish alone, but I do like to have my own stretch of river. I don't mind sharing a fishing hole with wildlife. Birds like dippers, loons, mergansers, grebes, geese, pelicans, herons, ducks, plovers, kildeer and sandpipers are common companions. I come across frogs, toads and snakes on a regular basis. Often, I share a large pool with a muskrat, otter or beaver. It is not unusual to spot larger mammals like deer, elk, moose, goats or sheep. I have not come face to face with large carnivores like cougars and bears, but I know that I share these places with them. It is the cougars and bears that make me prefer fishing with a partner.

Most of the water I like to fish is not easy to get to. True, some places are clearly visible from the busiest highways. Some places are within major urban centres. Some places are littered with evidence of mining, exploration and human habitation. In general, though, it takes knowledge, effort and time to get to the places I like to fish. You need to drive gravel roads, hike paths, bushwhack, climb, slide, and follow unmarked intersections to find these places.

These are special places that I share with my family, friends and pets. Many of my very best memories are the result of fishing trips with my kids, my dad and my best friends. I love extolling their virtues. Sorry, but I cannot release names. I will not publicly share directions and locations. I have been shown many special spots and have shared many of my special spots, but I simply can't publish any more information. I won't tell you how to get there, but I'd be more than happy to take you there!

Centrality and Equidistance: Reason #2 To Love Central Alberta

Week 2 - Centrality

Living in this part of our province means that you have to travel. Fortunately, you never have to travel too far (unless you are going way north to places like Grande Prairie, Peace River or Fort McMurray). From my home, it takes exactly the same amount of time to travel to the airport in Calgary or Edmonton. In two hours, I can be in Nordegg or Kananaskis Country. A three hour (give or take 30 minutes) drive gets me to Lake Louise, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Lloydminster or the Crowsnest Pass. It takes approximately the same amount of time to travel to Jasper or Waterton. Six hours in the vehicle gets me to Cranbrook, Saskatoon, Great Falls or Revelstoke.

Even better, it takes the same amount of time to return home. As much as I love traveling, nothing feels better than seeing the signs that tell me Red Deer is close.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Red Deer River: Reason #1 To Love Central Alberta

I had great aspirations to blog each week about the great things central Alberta. It didn't happen, so I'm renaming the first two blogs.

Reason #1 - The Red Deer River Valley

The Red Deer River valley is one amazing place. From whitewater rafting west of Sundre to Dickson Dam to Red Deer's Waskasoo Park system to Canyon Ski Area to Dry Island Buffalo Jump to the Badlands, the Red Deer River offers an incredibly diverse range of opportunties.

As as a resident of Red Deer, I get a chance to see the river up close. It is a place where my dog can run off-leash and swim. The city has an extensive network of multi-use paths for people to cycle, skate, ski, walk and run. The river valley is home to River Bend Golf Course and the Red Deer Golf and Country Club. Cultural attractions like Fort Normandeau and Cronquist House are places to learn why people settled in the area.

Let's treasure this resource. Take advantage of it, but don't abuse it. Two summers ago, we took a day trip in our canoe and had lunch on the island across from Bower Ponds. I was profoundly disappointed that we had to watch where our children were walking because the island was strewn with broken glass. On hot days, legions of people float the river in a wide variety of vessels. Most have a fully-stocked cooler on board. Few have paddles or PFDs. It's a terrible accident waiting to happen.

Thankfully, groups like the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance work hard to protect, enhance and promote this amazing resource. The river gives us a place to play and gather. It provides us with drinking water and electricity. Take care of the river, OK? It's not much to ask when you consider the positive impact this river makes on our lives.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Teacher's Summer: Tuna Salad

Yup. To me, Tuna Salad says "summer." It is a recipe I learned from my mother, one that I never make the same way twice. My wife lets me make it because her tuna salad never quite matches up. It is a dish that tastes best on a hot day. As a boy, we ate it several times a summer and always made it in the same green Tupperware bowl. Yesterday, on the last day of school, I made my first tuna salad of the summer. It wasn't my best (a bit light on the mayo, I forgot to boil eggs to put on top), but it hit the spot nonetheless.

Since we live in Alberta, summer is a time I treasure. It's a time when we can comfortably spend several days in a row outdoors. I try to wear shorts every day and wear socks only when necessary. Summer is a time when I get to read for fun. We get to head to the lake, make sand castles, and spend the entire day snacking, playing, sitting and swimming. Summer means blue skies, bright yellow canola fields, and rivers than run cold and gin-clear. Summer means hatches of insects and hatches of insects mean rising trout. For me, no summer would be complete without a trip to the Rocky Mountains. I grew up camping, hiking and fishing in Alberta's foothills and mountain parks. At this point in my life, summer means that I get to spend huge blocks of time with my family doing all of the things that make summer so special.

I won't deny it - summer holidays are one of the greatest things about being a teacher. Summer helps balance the hours and hours and hours of work we put in on evenings, weekends, early mornings, coaching, marking, writing report cards, finding newer and better ways to our job. This year, two incredibly experienced and gifted teachers retired from our staff. There were many tears, despite the fact that they both were embarking upon a permanent summer holiday. And the reason why was summed up best by one of the ladies who was retiring. She said that teaching takes you over. You see the world through teacher's eyes. Whether you realize it or not, you wind up thinking about teaching no matter where you are or what you are doing. Teaching gets into your heart. How true, Deb, how true!

One of my favorite books about teaching and learning is Roland Barth's Learning by Heart. Barth suggests that roots of true school reform lie in the ability of teachers and administrators to become lifelong learners. We need to share our knowledge and expertise by opening our classroom doors. All teachers can and should lead. We need to ignore standardized testing and focus on reform from within our schools. And at the heart of that reform should be making things better for students. I honestly believe that student's don't remember WHAT you teach so much as HOW you made them feel in your classroom. Positive relationships are at the heart of good schools, good families and good communities.

So, this summer, I plan to rest. I plan to spend time with my family. I hope to read, relax and learn. I'm planning to catch many fish and take my children fishing. I will probably sleep outdoors as much as possible. I am going to visit with friends and spend lots of hours around a campfire. I will ride my bike every chance I get, take our dog for long walks, and eat lots of grilled meat (and tuna salad.) Throughout the summer, though, I will be collecting stories and ideas to use in my classroom next year. I will gather new ideas and learn more about technology I can use in my classroom like Prezi, Glogster, Animoto and Delicious. I can't help myself because teaching a deep part of who I am and what I do.

It is day one of holidays and I'm off to a good start. We slept in, we had a big breakfast and it's almost time to take the pooch for a nice long walk and swim before we head to our annual Canada Day party. Life is good!