Someone asked about winter camping today. People don’t often think of camping in the winter, but the conversation reminded me that the best time to try it is around the beginning of March. Days are getting longer, nights are less cold. Check the weather forecast. If it looks like it won’t get too cold – or too warm – head out for an overnight trip. Anywhere in the range of -15°C ( -5°F) to about freezing is good. Sitting around a campfire watching stars doesn’t begin to feel like a chore at those temperatures. You can sleep in that kind of cold with a couple of heavy summer-weight sleeping bags tucked into one another. When it goes above freezing, it’s too easy to get wet — and then you really do get cold. If you have worries about trying it for the first time, you can always plan to stay close to a warm car and a short drive to a warm hotel. Waskesiu Lake in Prince Albert National Park makes an ideal destination for that.
Anyway, today got me thinking about some of my past trips and, in particular, a trip I did with a friend a few years ago, following a conversation with the editor of the member magazine of CAA Saskatchewan. The editor found the the whole idea of winter camping intriguing. Next thing you know, I’m traipsing off into the wilderness (sort of — we weren’t far from the road) to pitch a tent and write about the experience. The story and photos, published in the Winter 2010 edition of Westworld Saskatchewan, got nominated for a Saskatchewan Gold award in the 2011 Western Magazine Awards.
The story is hard to find online, so I’ve reproduced it below.
By the time we got there, the village’s Canada Day festivities had drawn to a close. But the sun was still up, so we decided to take a walk downtown. It’s sort of a personal goal to see every “Railway and Main” in Saskatchewan.
When I was growing up, the best milkshakes in the world were at the Dairy Bar. Of course, when you’re a kid, everything in the world is new and every experience is the best.
The Dairy Bar was special. It was in the middle of nowhere, about as far as you’d want to ride a bike on a hot summer day. You had to ride to the end of our subdivision, across the CPR tracks, then up a long, steep hill. You’d have to travel a bit on the highway to cross over a deep ravine. Lastly, you’d have to traverse a wide, gravel-strewn field to reach the Dairy Bar, perched atop a cliff overlooking the ravine and the railway tracks and the river valley and, way off in the distance, the subdivision that we left behind.
But the milkshakes were worth the effort. There were only three flavours — vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. They were the best milkshakes in the world.
I don’t know where people get the idea that art galleries are stuffy places to be avoided. Maybe they were taken to fine art galleries on elementary school field trips, where they were admonished to keep their distance from the art. Maybe they’re reminded of movies where someone scratches their nose at an art auction and accidentally finds themselves on the hook for an expensive Picasso. Maybe they’re put off by incomprehensible artists’ statements.
Art galleries, especially the ones in Saskatchewan’s small towns, are great places to get to know a community. You find some amazing art and even more amazing people at these galleries. There’s nothing stuffy about them.
We popped down to Elbow for Canada Day. It’s a fun little community. Things are pretty quiet until school gets out. But once the kids are on summer vacation and parents are free to take the family travelling, the town really comes alive. Once the doors open for the season, no one sleeps until after Labour Day, and many won’t rest until after Thanksgiving. Canada Day, July 1, is the day it all begins.
I wonder how often people take the turnoff to Bradwell, I mean, besides the people who live in the little town. Depending on which way you’re speeding down the Yellowhead Highway, Saskatoon is barely 15 minutes behind you or ahead of you. If you’re in a hurry, as most people seem to be these days, you’ll just blow by the Bradwell access sign like it’s not even there.
I like taking the turnoff. As soon as you leave Highway 16, you feel the pace of life change. The road to Bradwell is a narrow ribbon of pavement winding a quiet 6 km into town. If you’re on that stretch of road just as the last drops of a late-day summer thunderstorm sizzle on the pavement and the sun lights your way with a pristine brightness and clarity that you only find after a prairie rain, you can’t help but think to yourself, Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
“Why does it always rain when we go to Manitou Beach?” Sandra asks. It doesn’t always, but when you wake up on a Saturday morning and it feels like nighttime because the skies are overcast and the rain is drizzling like a Vancouver winter, it seems like a good day for a soak in a hot mineral spa. Manitou Beach is only an hour and 20 minutes away. It’s not that it rains when we go to Manitou Beach. It’s that we go to Manitou Beach when it rains.
Last Saturday, the cat woke us up at the first light of dawn. Robins were singing outside the window and the smaller birds were making a racket in the trees and bushes around the yard. The cat was excited: time to get up, guys!
I can’t believe it’s already six years since I visited Windscape Kite Festival in Swift Current. I was thinking about that earlier today, because the festival takes place on a weekend as close as possible to the longest day of the year, part of the Long Day’s Night Music Festival. This year, Windscape is June 24 and 25. Long Day’s Night is June 22 to 25.
I’d like to go back, but it won’t be this year, I’m afraid. Next weekend is already spoken for.
Windscape had been running annually for six years when I was there in 2011, but its roots go back to 1998, when the Art Gallery of Swift Current curated an exhibition of art by Canadian kite builders.
I always wanted to try infrared photography. It seemed so mysterious. The film was expensive and hard to get, you had to keep it refrigerated, you had to load it into your camera in the dark, you needed to know how to adjust for the way your lens focused infrared light, you needed special filters to expose it, you had to process it right away, and the results were unpredictable. In a way, I guess that’s what makes it so appealing.
Ilford and Rollei are the only two manufacturers that still make infrared film, and only in black and white. Also, these are more like regular black-and-white films with increased infrared sensitivity. They aren’t as sensitive as earlier films, nor do they cover as much of the infrared end of the spectrum. But it does mean that they are easier to handle and care for, and also behave like regular films when used without a special filter to block visible light. Of the two, Rollei goes a little deeper into the infrared spectrum, and is a very fine grained film, so that’s the one I thought I’d try.
I ordered a few 120 rolls online and set about spending a day of experimentation. The manufacturer recommends making the first exposure, metered correctly, without any filters, to establish a baseline for comparing the developed images. I wandered off with a camera and tripod to a local park on a bright springtime Saturday morning just as the lilacs were coming into bloom.
Back when I was a kid I received a home darkroom developing kit. I remember the gift coming from a favourite aunt and uncle. I’ve been lugging that kit back and forth across the country, as I’ve moved from job to job, for probably 50 years. Last weekend, I decided to haul it up from the basement. I found a paper envelope in the kit. Inside, a black and white negative. Odd size. Definitely not 120, more like 116 or 616, film formats that Kodak manufactured for some models of Brownie cameras from 1899 to 1984. I plopped it on my scanner and pressed the button.
The image that emerged was of a scene that looked familiar, yet one I hadn’t seen for a long time.
To describe the midsummer day as sweltering would be an understatement. The thermometer had soared past 35° C shortly after noon. At 5:30 p.m. I’m slouched in one of two big wicker chairs on the porch of a 100-year-old log cabin. The porch, covered by a broad tin roof, faces away from the afternoon sun, and a southwest breeze gently curling around the cabin fans away the day’s heat while I take sips from a tall, dewy glass of water.
The crickets love the heat. They’re chirping frantically, all around. I waggle my wrist and the ice in my drink tinkles against the side of the glass. A few crickets nearby go silent, but only to take a deep breath it seems, because they quickly resume their chorus with renewed ferocity. With a slight chuckle, I lean back in the chair to listen to nature.
There are a few things I’ve always loved about Saskatchewan: the bright, wide open skies; the friendly, welcoming hospitality of the cities, towns and out-of-the way places; and the fiercely inventive spirit of the people. When you combine all those attributes, you get some marvelously creative and energetic activity.