Floral notes: July (belated).

If you’ve ever spent any time in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, you have probably visited the town of Banff, located in the National Park that bears its name.  My hubby and I don’t travel to the townsite often even though it’s not very far away, but we decided to make the trip a few weeks ago so we could summit Tunnel Mountain, which overlooks the town.  Instead of driving and worrying about where we would park in the busy tourist-filled town, we took a commuter bus operated by On-It Regional Transit.  For ten dollars each way, we were able to board the bus near our home and relax enjoy the incredible scenery nap all the way to our destination and back. The On-It buses operate between Calgary, Canmore, and Banff and have a regular weekend schedule with several routes running during the summer.  It’s definitely a great option if you don’t want to drive from Calgary and back.

As for Tunnel Mountain…we had fun doing this quick trek under cloudy conditions.  It’s a short peak, relatively speaking, topping out at 1,692 metres. (It’s a 4.3 kilometre trip return, with a 300 metre elevation gain). Despite the name, the mountain doesn’t actually have a tunnel.  When the Canadian Pacific Railway was working to push tracks through the area in 1882, they wanted to blast right through the mountain.  While it was a shorter route than what was eventually constructed, it would have been far more costly, in dollars and labour, to build the tunnel.  So the mountain doesn’t have a big hole in it…but the name has stuck. (The mountain’s Indigenous names include Sleeping Buffalo, Iinii Istako, and Eyarhey Tatanga Woweyahgey Wakân).

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(I wasn’t asked or compensated to provide a review of the On-It service – we just loved it so much I wanted to talk about it!).   🙂

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There is a brand new story up at Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction, the online flash fiction magazine I publish six times a year.  Check out Ed Ahern’s bittersweet “The Spring” here.  

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We have a very cool art exhibit going on at the library branch where I work, a sample of multi-media work by children participating in art classes at the Wildflower Arts Centre.  These kids are aged 5 through 14 and it is amazing to see such talent!  Paint, charcoal, fibre, paper (collage and mâché)…the creativity is fantastic!

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Reading highlights for the month: the hilarious and action-packed YA novel The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, by F.C. Lee.  Think Chinese mythology meets California high school – it has Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibes but it’s way loonier and, quite frankly, a bit more juvenile.  But it’s silly good fun and I can’t wait for the next book…hopefully it is published soon.

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Another YA offering: M.T. Anderson’s Landscape with Invisible Hand. I laughed, I cried, I despaired. I think I was supposed to eventually feel hopeful, but that’s actually the point where the tears appeared.  This is a satirical (and just plain devastating) story of an alien invasion of Earth that has some startling, wayyyyyy too-close-to-home consequences.

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Soundtrack for the month: The 1990 grunge album “Uncle Anesthesia” by Screaming Trees; the newly-released single “Half-Light” by Madrugada.

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Early in the month, my hubby and I took a tour of the Coutts Centre for Western Heritage, near the town of Nanton, Alberta.  This amazing place is the family homestead of Dr. Jim Coutts (1938 – 2013), a prominent southern Alberta lawyer, businessman, and art collector – and in addition to all the artifacts and buildings onsite, it boasts the most incredible gardens filled with predominantly native prairie plants.  Truthfully, I hope no one noticed me while I was wandering around the grounds, because I believe my lower jaw was firmly positioned somewhere around my ankles and I may have been drooling a little.  If you happen to find yourself in that part of the province during the growing season and plants are your thing, make it a must-do pit stop – it really shouldn’t be missed.  And, if the gardens aren’t enough (what!?), the place boasts what is likely the only example in Canada of a camera obscura built from a 1920’s-era grain bin.

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These. Poppies. Seriously. 

Re: my vegetable garden.  Things are just sort of making an appearance, finally, after thousands of days of rain. I have golf ball-sized kohlrabi!  I have really diminutive turnips!  I have the smallest, most perfectly round pumpkins you’ll ever see…the kohlrabi are actually larger and at this rate, it will be about a year before I can harvest them, LOL.  The zucchini fruit might be more than five centimetres long next week…we’ll see.  I’m heartened by this new grand emergence of things but…um…cautious.  The weather has been WEIRD…it’s mid-August already and we occasionally get frost(!) at the end of the month, so you can see where I’m coming from.  I am harvesting dill and parsley and potatoes right now, which is delightful (especially as those three things go really well together at suppertime).  And these supremely pretty bush beans, ‘Dragon Tongue’, are just coming on now.  I simply want to gawk at them – they’re almost too gorgeous to eat!

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I was very rushed before the growing season began this year and I failed to get a handle on them as the months flew by. Next year, I am planning to do more winter sowing – it truly provides the jump start often needed in this climate.  If my personal assistant, Smudge, deigns to allow me to do so, I’ll start some seeds indoors as well…but she has an annoying habit of constantly snacking while at work.  😉

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Smudge’s Sage Advice: It’s important to actively track your prey in case it goes somewhere.  Even if it can’t, really.  ♥

 

 

Lichen the mystery.

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I am struggling to ID this colourful lichen, so I’m calling out for assistance: is there anyone out there familiar with lichens in Alberta (or perhaps North America) who can help me with a name for this?  While hiking in Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park this fall, a group of us found a prolific brilliant yellow growth on several trees in one particular location.  (This was above the upper falls, en route to the Ink Pots).  It actually looked as if the trees were glowing, like they had been spray painted gold.  There was a trickle of a mineral-laden spring nearby and we wonder if that has something to do with the unusual growth on specimens in just that area, but we really can’t explain it.  I am familiar with old man’s beard lichen and wolf lichen (and know that the latter can sometimes be bright yellow in colour) – but this doesn’t appear to be either of those.  Thanks in advance if you can help out on this one; even if I don’t get a positive ID, it’s still a fascinating find.

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Alberta snapshot: Johnston Canyon (past the Upper Falls).

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Admission to Canada’s national parks has been free all year as the country celebrates its sesquicentennial, but it’s a gift I hadn’t yet enjoyed…until braving the insane long-weekend crowds in Banff’s Johnston Canyon last Saturday.  Parking was at a premium (thank goodness my brother has a car with a supremely compact exterior and a dimension-bending interior) and the steel catwalks to the spectacular falls were crammed with visitors, but as we ventured past the Upper Falls and headed towards the mineral pools known as the Ink Pots, the throngs thinned out and the scenery kept getting better and better…if such a thing is even possible.  It’s pretty easy to see why everyone is so keen on showing up.

Bankhead rhubarb.

My hubby and I took a quick dash up to Banff National Park this past weekend, and although we didn’t have time to do any serious hiking, we managed to walk some sites we’d never been to before.  The most eye-opening place was the old townsite of Bankhead, a mining community that sprang up in 1903 to extract coal from nearby Cascade Mountain.  Nestled against Lake Minnewanka, Bankhead rapidly boomed – at one point, the town had 900 residents, running water, electricity (and, according to one interpretive sign, tennis courts!).

The glory days all ended abruptly in 1922, when the lease of the parks land from the government ran out.  High costs and declining production further sealed the deal, and the town was shuttered.   By this time, Parks Canada was no longer interested in the mining business, either – its focus had shifted from exploitation of resources to conserving them.  (Indeed, within the decade, mining would be banned in the national park).  The citizens of Bankhead relocated to neighbouring towns:  Banff, Canmore, or Calgary, and all of the buildings in the town were demolished.

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Walking among the industrial ruins of Lower Bankhead gives you a sense of how large the mining operation was, and how many people it took to keep all of the machines running.  Apparently, in 1911, when the mine was at peak production, 450 men yanked 500,000 tons of coal from the mountain.

While we picked our way around the piles of shiny coal slack near the former tipple, my hubby suddenly remarked that the plants growing in the black heaps looked an awful lot like rhubarb.  An interpretive sign confirmed his suspicions – apparently, the immigrant labourers that kept the tipple running day and night had planted rhubarb in their gardens…and all these years later, it is reseeding itself and multiplying all over the landscape, shooting up architectural stalks and flowers, bearing fruit that no one will ever eat because it is carcinogenic.   What an interesting living reminder of a past that most people have long forgotten.  (It may also be a testament to the fact that rhubarb can grow pretty much anywhere!).  😉

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Photo credit – #7 by R. Normandeau