Archive | April 2016

City of Angels

Question: What do Los Angeles and Vancouver have in common?

Venice Beach

Venice Beach

Answer: Both cities have beaches. (But the beaches in Los Angeles are a lot bigger and the surf is a lot higher.) Both cities have palm trees. (But the palm trees in Los Angeles are more varied and much taller, and the palm trees in Vancouver ― well, I am being kind when I say they look a little ridiculous. I mean, palm trees do not belong in Canada. Right?)

And both cities are surrounded by mountains. (Here, I think we win, as our mountains are a lot closer. I think ours are taller, too.)

But there is one area where Los Angeles and Vancouver have absolutely nothing in common. Hands down, the weather in Los Angeles is waaaay better than in Vancouver, and a whole lot more dependable. I know this because I spent last weekend in Los Angeles, soaking up some badly needed Vitamin D.

And now I can’t wait for summer to arrive in my home city.

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Happy Birthday, Charlotte Brontë!

Haworth Moors

Not that I need a reason to travel, but I often select my travel destinations based on the books I’ve read. A setting comes alive in a way that it never can, quite, in a book. You don’t completely understand Sinclair Ross’s short story “The Painted Door” until you’ve witnessed a prairie blizzard. And I didn’t realize how much small-town Ontario influenced Robertson Davies’ fiction until I saw small-town Ontario for myself, many years after being introduced to his work.

And so it was when I saw the moors near Haworth.

Haworth Moors and Fields

Haworth in West Yorkshire is where the Brontë sisters grew up. And the moors in Yorkshire just might be the bleakest landscape in all of England. They are certainly not what you picture when you hear the words “English countryside.”

And that is why I had a new appreciation for the Brontë novels after walking the moors by Haworth. I realized that the despair Jane felt when she walked away from Thornfield Hall was mirrored by the landscape she found herself wandering through, and I understood Heathcliff’s angst and turmoil after feeling the wind blow across the moors. (Wuthering, incidentally, is a Yorkshire word for “stormy weather.”)

Haworth Crossroads

Of all the Brontë novels, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is my favourite, and today is the 200th anniversary of her birth. Which is the reason for this post.

Happy birthday, Charlotte Brontë!

And thank you.

Skiing at Cypress

Cat Track 1

Yesterday was the last day of the ski season on Cypress Mountain ― and what a season it was! I can’t remember when I’ve seen as much snow on the mountain as I did this year. Total snow accumulation of close to ten metres and a base of almost four metres made for some spectacular skiing.

Collins Top

Not all years are alike on our local mountains (thank you, climate change), so I do not take a good ski season for granted. Cypress Mountain was the venue for the 2010 Olympics Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard events, but the conditions that year were close to disastrous. That snow had to be flown in by helicopter to make the mountain competition-worthy got a lot of media attention. And last year the snow conditions were just as bad, if not worse.

Upper Collins

If you are from Vancouver, you’ve probably been skiing since before you could walk, but for those of us who grew up on the flat prairie, hurling oneself down a mountain doesn’t come as naturally. I finally decided I should give skiing a try after I spent a week hiking in the Swiss Alps with an Australian who could not stop talking about how much he loved the sport. But upon my return to Canada, and after my first few feeble attempts at skiing down a mountain, I quickly realized I badly needed expert help and should take some lessons.

And then … I promptly moved to Toronto and spent a decade there, where, yes, skiing takes much more effort than when you live in a city surrounded by mountains. (No, Blue Mountain does not count. When a friend from Collingwood showed me where she learned to ski, I laughed. And laughed and laughed.)

Lower Collins

And so, after moving back west, with the urging of a co-worker who told me she was over the age of 40 when she learned to ski and assured me I could too, I found me some courage and signed up for the Adult Learn to Ski Program at Cypress. The program was a great bargain: five lessons, five full-day lift tickets, and five full-day rentals. Plus one night a week of night skiing for the entire season.

And here’s the thing I was thrilled to discovered: ski lessons are nothing like your grade school phys ed class. You remember those.

Howe Sound

Howe Sound as seen from Lion’s Express Chair

No, ski lessons at Cypress are much different. The instructors are careful, considerate, and skilled. (After all, it’s in the resort’s interest to make sure you have fun ― they want you to come back.) I do think it helped me that I was familiar with the sensation of sliding on slippery surfaces, thanks to all those lunch hours spent on my elementary school’s outdoor ice rink. When the instructor told me to do a “hockey stop,” I knew what he meant and could do it on my first attempt. But more than all that, learning how to ski was just so much fun.

Mount Baker

Mount Baker as seen from Black Mountain

The instructors begin by having you slide down a short incline in front of the ski lodge ― just a few metres to start. You move on to a longer incline, and before you know it, you’re on the bunny hill and learning how to turn.

After my first couple of seasons, I bought some second-hand skis and now, every year come December, I regularly check the ski report. The best are the blue bird days ― a brilliant day of sunshine after an overnight snow fall. Fresh powder is what you want. And then there’s spring skiing, which some years ― like this one ― can be awesome.

I know I’ll never be a great skier. No black diamond runs for me. But with 53 runs ― the longest is 4 kilometres ― and a vertical drop of more than 600 metres, there’s plenty on the Cypress Mountain to keep me challenged.

Vancouver can be a miserable place in the winter because of its rain. But all that rain in the city translates to snow on the North Shore mountains. So every winter, when I moan about how much it’s been raining, I only have to look up at the mountains and know that it’s going to be a great ski season.

Barring an early season Pineapple Express, of course.

Cat Track 2

Through My Lens: Vancouver Sunset

Vancouver Sunset

Of course, I don’t have to go all the way to Africa to see a spectacular sunset. I took this photo exactly a week ago while walking the seawall with a friend.

Kalahari Sunset

Oops. That took a bit longer than I anticipated. But, yes, all good things eventually come to their end, and I, too, have come to the end of this series on my safari in the Kalahari.

And so, to close it out, here’s one last photo, this time of the setting African sun.

Kalahari Sunset

Kalahari Birds

Kori Bustard

My Kalahari safari predates my interest in birding, so I wasn’t paying too much attention to the region’s feathered friends. However, I did think to take one or two photographs. And, because they are rather memorable, I learned some of their names.

Kori Bustard on Dune

These first two photos are of the largest bird capable of flight. It’s called the Kori Bustard, but, thanks to the accent of our South African guide, I kept hearing “horny bastard.” (Believe you me, that made my head turn.)

This one is being stalked by a jackal.

Kori Bustard and Jackal

Here’s another bird whose name I enjoyed: the Spotted Thick-knee. I like its Afrikaans name even more: Gewone Dikkop.

Gewone Dikkop

I don’t have a photo of the Sociable Weaver ― in fact, I don’t think I ever saw one ― but we saw lots of their nests. Part of the sparrow family, they reside in large colonies ― hence, their name ― and build magnificent nests like these to live in.

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Yellow Mongoose

Yellow Mongoose 1

One reason why I was so enamoured with lions on my Kalahari safari is because they really are just really, really big cats. I live with two (much smaller) cats, so I should know.

Yellow Mongoose 2

Another animal that reminded me of my cats is the yellow mongoose. I entertained myself one evening at camp taking photos of these fellows. Yellow mongoose are about the size of a kitten, and have just about as much personality. They never stop moving. Not for a second.

Yellow Mongoose 3