I know, I know. Here I go again, talking about the weather.
For the benefit of my non-Canadian readers (in case you haven’t figured this out yet), talking about the weather is a bit of a national obsession.
The western part of Canada is in the middle of a polar vortex. I got outside today to tramp through the deep snow that arrived overnight in Vancouver, but in this post, I’m going to talk about the next province over. That would be Alberta, where a lot of my family lives.
They’re cold, to put it mildly. My sister in Calgary was faced with a commute this morning in temperatures of –40° C.
In fact, it’s been too cold all week for the Penguin Walk at the Calgary Zoo. That’s right. The zoo’s king penguins, native to the sub-Antarctic, had a Snow Day. And Calgary today was colder than Antarctica.
I took these photos of the Calgary Zoo penguins almost a year ago, when I visited the zoo on a much balmier day than today.
I spent much of May gallivanting around the Eastern Time Zone, and most of June sorting through my photos and planning what blog posts I might write about my travels.
This photo though. Not your usual holiday snap, but it makes me laugh every time I look at it. I met up with this raccoon one evening in Toronto while exploring the Scarborough Bluffs with a friend.
For my non-Canadian readers, raccoons are known in this country as trash pandas. They’ve adapted remarkably well to urban living and are known for finding their dinner in our garbage cans. Toronto spent millions developing and purchasing raccoon-resistant green bins — only they turned out to be not so resistant.
Back when I lived in Toronto, I had a mom and her three kits hanging around my house for an entire summer. Every evening, like clockwork, they would amble along the fence in my backyard as I watched from my kitchen window.
Here in Vancouver, I see raccoons mostly in Stanley Park, although one hot summer afternoon, I noticed a hefty raccoon napping in the tree outside my window. The tree is long gone — it came down in a winter storm — but I thought the clever creature had found a innovative solution to the heat.
The raccoon got its name from the Anishinaabe word aroughcun, which means “one who rubs and scrubs and scratches with its hands.” Raccoons are known for washing their food before they eat it.
Canadians can be pretty low-key except when it comes to (1) their sports teams and (2) the weather. We get absolutely patriotic when our teams win (sorry — I just had to get in at least one Raptors’ reference) and we get absolutely giddy when the summer temperatures kick in.
To celebrate the 16 hours and 15 minutes of sunshine that Vancouver experienced today on the first day of summer, here’s a photo I took of the turtles at Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon.
They, like most Canadians, take their sun-worshipping seriously.
Another island I hopped to this summer was Salt Spring Island. I go here often, thanks to the hospitality of one of my dearest friends.
These Highland cows are at Ruckle Farm on Salt Spring’s South End. Salt Spring has a long agricultural history and Ruckle Farm — founded in 1872 — is one of the oldest farms in the province. It is still being farmed by the Ruckle family.
Fun fact: Highland cows are a Scottish breed of cattle and my friend who lives on Salt Spring Island is a proud Scottish-Canadian.
Just though I’d mention that.
One more note: The haze in this photo is due to the smoke from BC’s wildfires, which blanketed the southern coast of the province the weekend I was on Salt Spring Island.
In my last post, I mentioned that one of Lost Lagoon’s four remaining Mute Swans had been killed by a river otter. These furry fellows can be found in Lost Lagoon, but also like to hang out wherever there’s fish. Sometimes, that brings them to the beach in English Bay
Which is where I took this photo.
River otters are not the same as sea otters, so don’t be confused by the fact that they can be found near the ocean. They go wherever the fish are, so if that means they hang out on the beach, so be it.
Sea otters, I’ve been told, are not found in the Salish Sea. They live on the west coast of Vancouver Island or along BC’s northern coast. One clue, apparently, to tell the two types of otters apart: river otters almost never swim on their backs, while sea otters often do.
My Canada 150 series would not be complete without a post about Canada’s oldest national park. But since every single one of my previous posts on Banff consists of a photo of a mountain, I’d thought I’d mix it up this time. (Otherwise you might get the idea that the only thing to see in Banff National Park are mountains.)
There’s wildlife, too!
Of course, say “wildlife” and “Banff” in the same sentence and most people will start listing off which of the Big Five — deer, elk, moose, bear, and wolf — they’ve seen. The big animals do deserve the attention they get, but it is often the little animals, which are far easier to get up close and personal with, that lead to the best photo ops.
Like this Columbian Ground Squirrel.
We Albertans call these gophers. They live in underground burrows and spend much of the year hibernating. As far as rodents go, they’re kinda big — typically about a foot in length.
I took this photo last summer.
It first dawned on me that people from outside our country had some wildly out-of-date notions about Canada on my first ever trip to Europe. It happened when one of my Dutch cousins began asking questions about what life in Canada was like.
“And the cowboys,” she said. “You have lots of cowboys, right?”
I hesitated. I was acutely aware that I was about to burst her fantasy bubble.
“Uh, some,” I said. “You mostly see them at the rodeos.” I think an awkward attempt to explain what happens at rodeos followed ― awkward because I had never actually been to a rodeo. I quickly changed the subject.
Then again, if you are a couple of Italian tourists visiting Calgary during Stampede Week ― like the ones I met standing beside me at the parade ― it’s easy to go home and think Canada is all about the cowboys.
I suppose there are worse stereotypes out there.
The Calgary Stampede (also known as The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth) finished up just a week ago. I went this year for my first time ever ― and had a blast.
First held in 1912, the Stampede became an annual event in 1923. These days, the rodeo attracts competitors from all over North and South America.
The Treaty 7 First Nations have been an integral part of the Stampede since its beginnings.
In addition to the parade (which starts the Stampede off with a bang), the rodeo, and the chuckwagon races, there are lots of animals to see.
There’s also a midway, and lots and lots of live music. And pancakes.
And, every year, the Indian Village.
If you’re feeling underdressed, don’t worry. There are plenty of places where you can get your proper Stampede attire. For a price.
The Calgary Stampede celebrates Alberta’s history, but also its present. Ranching is big business in Alberta ― half of the country’s beef is raised here.
I’ve lost touch with those Dutch cousins of mine, so I don’t know if they ever made it to Canada. But if they did, I sure hope they got to see a cowboy or three.
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.
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.
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.