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          Hiking Nose Hill on Voting Day

          I was up at 3:40, because I have no say in the matter.

          That’s how it is with me. What’s a guy to do? So, I threw on the coffee and worked for a couple of hours.

          At 6:15 I was out the door, the eastern just sky starting to lighten. I had decided last night to hike up to Nose Hill. It’s about a two kilometre hioke from Casa Solberg to the hill top, half of it amongst the manicured lawns and tended yards of the suburb of Dalhousie.

          I must have been the first person in the park this morning. There was the lightest of reflections on the pond in the park’s southwest corner. Then it was the long walk up the trail along a shallow ravine past aspen and Wolf Willow. By the time I hit hill top the sun was not yet above the horizon but it was light enough to see the sky-broken cloud and some promising blue.

          A few birds moved ahead of me on the trail, which passes through acres of prairie and tall grass.

          My way back took me through Many Owls Valley where grows perhaps the park’s biggest stand of aspen. Near the bottom of the trail a young White Tail buck blocked the trail-or a “spiker” as we would call them when I was young.

          God knows why but those walks in the woods and across the prairies always makes me inordinately happy, grateful and strangely proud.

          Now I must head off to vote soon for the next leader of the PC Party of Alberta.

          I’ll support Ted Morton, in part because Ted gets it. He also knows that the land and unspoiled nature is part of what makes Albertans independent and strong. In fact it’s at the core of what makes Alberta great.

          Edgemont Hill on September 11th

          Just before 7:00 this morning I humped up an asphalt path through suburbia to the large grass and aspen bowl that sits on the side of the hill immediately to the west of Nose Hill Park. It was cool too. It must have come close to freezing last night. Mist rose from a schoolyard soccer field. I had been up at 5:00 for no particular reason, but the sun is pretty pokey these days so I had to wait until 7:00 to see what the day held.

          Over the fifteen or so minutes it took to pass through a couple of neighbourhoods I saw no one else. A month ago the same path would have been busy with dog walkers and runners. The flip has switched. Summer is over, but I’m not despairing. Fall has it’s merits.

          The path to the top of the bowl passes through a couple of hundred metres of meadow. Mostly it’s non-native grasses, Buck Brush (or Snow Berry) Wild Rose and wildflowers like Smooth Aster, Gaillardia, and what I believe is fleabane, but maybe I just hope it’s fleabane, because I like the name. To the right a draw held a copse of Aspen trees.

          At the end of the trail I come to a pile of boulders, excavated I assume by builders when they cleared the neighbouring land for houses. They would have originally arrived with a glacier bizarrely named the Jasper Tongue, which my reading tells me brought these great erratics south from the Jasper area some 15 or 20,000 years ago. In other words when I was still very young.

          From the top of the hill the Calgary skyline was lit up by the rising sun. To the west I could see the mist that concealed the Bow River.

          Apart from the view the highlight was to kick up a covey of Hungarian Partridge. First, two exploded from the grass along a fence line. Another ten or so flushed out of an adjacent backyard. That set my blood pumping and I thought of long ago hunting trips with my dad and brothers.

          Telling you this has no real point except it occurs to me that despite what happened a decade ago, life can still be good. I’m onside with the idea that the best way to honour the memory of the dead has something to do with living well, making things better for others and being grateful for whatever we have. Not that I’m an exemplar of any of that.

          A Good Morning

          I was up very early this morning, around 3:40. I’m not sure why exactly but I was too hot when I woke up and that was enough I guess. I can stay asleep if the room is, say 17 degrees, but if it hits 17.5 that’s it and I’m awake.

          Anyway, it worked out well because I had things I needed to do like drink coffee, surf the internet and read about the Missouri Coteau (never mind, I’ll explain in subsequent posts).

          I finally went outside to irrigate my trees at around 6:15 and then went hiking down our service road, up on to the secondary highway and started walking west.

          I decided to take the highway because even though the morning was cool enough to warrant a jacket, the mosquitoes would be murder in the grass. It turned out to be a good choice.

          After leaving our little rural suburb I passed the Par 3 golf course bordered at one point by lilacs and russian olive trees. There were no clouds this morning. Just that beautiful blue vault that for some reason makes me fiercely proud, as though I personally own it. But then again In a sense I suppose I do.

          A half a mile from the house I saw a red fox crossing the road. We’ve seen her many times. This time she was leaving a neighbour’s yard and crossing into a low area by a canal.

          When I reached where she crossed I saw her looking at me through the white prairie clover and the willows. I nodded at her. She nodded back. Two great hunters paying homage.

          Okay neither of us nodded and I’m not a great hunter but it’s still fun to imagine. Further on what looked like a Swainson’s Hawk sat on a power pole looking ominous and screaming periodically for no obvious reason. A quarter mile on a Black-crowned Night-Heron stood slumped over in a slough waiting for some poor critter to swim within its ken. It slouched in a way that brought to mind Peter Falk playing Columbo.

          After the hot, unpleasant scirocco-type wind the day before it was a cool and calm morning. The odd truck roared by. Probably oil patch workers off to check wells. But for that moment at least it was largely peaceful with most of the noise coming from nature itself. A great start to the day.

          #NoseHill #hiking #nature

          I hiked Nose Hill to celebrate Canada Day. At least that’s my excuse, though I never need much of a reason to go hiking.

          I humped up Many Owls Valley cutting through the Aspen woods and then east along the brow of the south slope.

          The springs continue to flow with some force here and there throughout the park. Amongst the Aspen of Many Owls Valley the springs have carved their own modest channel and especially in the shade Robins come there in large numbers to search the mud for worms.

          On the south slope the wildflowers are blooming in full force. My favourite may be Blue Flax, whose scientific name acknowledges its discoverer Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame.

          In one location I found them turning the prairie a stunning blue over most of fifty square metres.

          Speaking of explorers a common but pretty purple flower on Nose Hill is Mackenzie’s Hedysarum, named of course for Alexander Mackenzie who also lends his name to the great Mackenzie River.

          Finally it is said that David Thompson was the first explorer to lay eyes on Nose Hill in 1787. Then fellow explorer Peter Fidler joined Thompson on another expedition to the Bow Valley ten years later.

          Obviously the aboriginals were here first, by a long way. Some camps have been found showing occupation going back over 8,000 years. Later this would be Blackfoot country, and in particular the territory of the fierce Peigan. How odd to consider that those hunting grounds below Nose Hill are now suburbs.

          But on top its easy to forget that you’re in the city. As you walk through hollows the sounds of the city disappear. And Nose Hill is big-four square miles. You can especially lose your self in the old gravel pit on top, now covered by Balsam Poplar, which seems to thrive in gravel.

          The gravel it seems was deposited there by the Bow River which is a bit baffling when you consider that the Bow now flows several hundred feet below Nose Hill.

          According to Nose Hill, A Popular Guide prepared by the Calgary Field Naturalists’ Society the Bow Valley has eroded a titch since the end of the last ice age 15,000 years ago.

          Back then it was on a plain with the top of Nose Hill on one side and Broadcast Hill on the other. But of course ice ages produce a lot of water when they melt and this swept millions of tons of gravel downstream to be deposited in all kinds of places including Nose Hill.

          There are erratics (large stones deposited by glaciers) all over the hills as well, many of which were used by buffalo to rub against. Over millenia many have been rubbed smooth.

          The same terrific little book told me that these stones had actually been transported to Nose Hill from Jasper, hundreds of miles to the north, by a glacier known as the Jasper tongue, a name that would probably cause some teasing from other glaciers. At any rate it seems these stones are the same as naturally occur around Jasper. The things you learn when you read books!

          Anyway, a seasonal slough has formed in the gravel pit which many Mallard Ducks and some shore birds are happy about. It’s a bit of a marvel that something so temporary as that little body of water could be so full of life, but so it is.

          On my way back coming back down through the Aspen a young White Tail deer and I face off 30 yards apart. He is, as they say, “in the velvet” referring to his antlers still covered in fuzz. We look at each other for a minute. Finally I move forward and he flees, his white tail fully extended.

          That’s about as good a Canada Day as anyone can have.

          The Plane Truth

          Closing in on soggy Calgary from muggy and sodden Toronto. Before that it was temperate and insouciant Ottawa and before that an infinite regression of Calgary-Ottawa-Toronto-Calgary all the way back to the beginning of the universe. You know, right to the time where Toronto became the centre of the universe.

          I was interested to read that just before the big bang the universe could have fit in a teaspoon. Clearly however the teaspoon would have been borrowed from God’s spoon collection because all the other spoons were stuck in that tiny ball of a universe.

          Anyway, the flight has flown by, which I think happens a lot. Below an unbelievably green countryside and water sitting everywhere. The prairies are usually pretty brown by this time of the year. Chestermere is immediately underneath us. Now the city. Good. There’s no place like home.


          I wrote this last Saturday when I was in Berlin but had all kinds of email problems that were only resolved today. Here it is:

          Am coming back from Berlin. A crazy day of delayed flights resulting in missed connections and finally having to fly from Heathrow to Edmonton in order to get to Calgary. Instead of getting home at 3:00 I’ll probably get home at 10:00 tonight. That said I had a great walk at Berlin’s famous Tiergarten this morning so my day started off on the right foot.

          The Tiergarten was once the royal hunting grounds for German princes and kings but around 1700 work began to transform it into a garden and park for the use of the people. Today it sits in the middle of Berlin. One portion houses the famous Berlin Zoo. I set out at 6:00 a.m. for what turned out to be a two hour wander.

          For starters its big. It’s probably a couple square miles. There are many ponds, the odd meadow and lots of oaks, maples and fir trees. Its dark enough to get a sense of how legends could grow up about otherworldly figures lurking in haunted German forests.

          There are many statues but my favourite is probably the huntsman taking on a wild boar with a spear or maybe it’s a pike, but I’m not sure what the difference is. Two dogs nip at the mammoth boar.

          Another depicts what appears to be a Roman soldier stabbing what looks like a bison. (Well, that’s what it looked like but I know that doesn’t make sense) Anyway, it was all apropos given the park’s history.

          Much of the park was damaged during the war. Fully 60% of Berlin was flattened by Allied bombs. What wasn’t destroyed in the park by bombs was cut down by Berliners who needed the firewood. You wouldn’t know it today though. It looks awfully wild in some places.

          Lots of crows or it was certainly a bird from the same family (corvidae), herons, what I take to be some kind of thrush (they sounded very similar to Robins) and rabbits every where. Lots of little birds that I couldn’t identify.

          All in all Berlin is a terrific city. Incredible history, unbelievable architecture. Checkpoint Charlie was another highlight as was the little museum that highlighted the stories of those who found ingenious ways to get over, under or through the Berlin Wall.

          If you get the change go.

          Berlin bound

          June 15, 2011 at 2:16AM

          I’m sitting in the Frankfurt airport after flying overnight from Toronto. My flight to Berlin left before I even landed so now I’m on standby for a 10:15. Failing that it will be 11:40.

          I’m worried about my suitcase which, against my better judgment, I decided to check. In my defense I’m half way through ten days on the road and I needed more stuff than usual. Let’s hope the Germans are as efficient as their reputation says they are and my bag follows along with me.

          Plus I want a shower. The air in the airport is sticky and hot. I’m reminded of Louis the Sixteenth of France. He is said to have bathed only twice in his life as bathing was considered to be bad for one’s health and believe it or not the practice of someone with loose morals.

          A Russian diplomat who had the dubious pleasure of meeting him claimed Louis smelled like a wild beast.

          I’m not to that stage yet but its in everyone’s interest for me to get on that flight and to my hotel.

          As a sad aside I note that everyone in Germany is cooler than me. Everyone here has cool shoes and glasses and hair.

          Good news. I’m on the flight. Seat 36B. The last row, but I’m on. Berlin, here I come.


          My bags have arrived with me. The German reputation is intact.

          The cab, a Mercedes naturally, is decked out like a spaceship. A GPS, an iPhone and two other screens. The cabby is wearing white linen pants, and matching white pull on shoes of some kind and a rugby shirt. He has cool sunglasses and a shock of white hair, and he refuses to talk to me. I feel privileged that he is letting me ride in his cab.

          Almost to the hotel. Need to ensure I can stream game 7 at whatever ungodly hour its on over here in the land of Dennis Seidenberg.

          Go Bruins!
          June 15, 2011

          Chuck Strahl

          My friend Chuck Strahl is hanging up his skates. After 17 plus years in politics he’s moving on, and in a way that’s sad. He’s made a great contribution as an MP, Deputy Speaker and Minister. His staff, colleagues and department officials will miss him deeply, and what’s not to miss.

          He combined a dash of partisanship with a dollop of good humour that made him both effective and well liked, something the House could use more of. He treated people well. He didn’t savage his opponents. He was decent, fun and tough in the right measure.

          Some of my best memories are Chuck and I cutting up in the House as we sparred with our opponents across the way. In fact I think the Libs liked it too.

          He could lose his temper though. I laugh when I think about how he could burn with righteous indignation if a cabinet colleague brought forward an idea that offended his Reformish sensibilities. And of course Chuck is big and a tad ominous looking which gave his criticism a bit of extra force. He brought wisdom to the cabinet table that will be missed. Like I say that part of it is sad. Few people in Canada make as big a contribution to public life as Chuck.

          But Chuck and I were room mates in Ottawa and we remain good friends so I think I know how much he missed his family and his beautiful home up the mountain above Chilliwack. In case you haven’t noticed politics isn’t all good times. You give up some things for that glamorous Ottawa life so leaving isn’t sad in that sense.

          I know Chuck won’t just sit on the porch and watch the world go by. He’ll be engaged. I suspect every once in a while you’ll hear from him. He has given and he has a lot more to give.

          In the meantime though, all the best buddy to you and Deb and your terrific family. Looking forward to seeing you Thursday, St Patrick’s Day. I’ll buy you a beer on behalf of the people of Canada for making this country a better place and for giving us someone to look up to.

          Go Scott Walker!

          He’s the Governor of Wisconsin, and he wants to cut wages for public sector employees. Naturally the workers are a bit unhappy about this and have come out in large numbers to protest. I pray that he sticks to his guns (if you are a deranged person please do not become violent because I said g-u-n-s!).

          Wisconsin is a “progressive” state, which is another way of saying it is “broke”. The good Governor is doing what he must to save his state. The protestors of course have no answers to the deficit problem. They are concerned about themselves, which is natural enough. But Governor Walker has to be concerned about all Wisconsinians or Wisconsonites or Wish You Were Here. At any rate he can’t afford to be narrow and small, we’ll leave that to the protestors. I just hope he does the right thing knowing that the pain of today will be worth it over time for everyone, including those protestors who hate him now. Sent on the TELUS Mobility network with BlackBerry

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