Monthly Archives: July 2018

O, Canada!

Photo by Jonathan Denney on Unsplash

My husband and I noticed a trend when we were in Kalispell, MT. A lot of people asked us where we were going next. We would respond, Glacier National Park. They would respond, You really need to go to Banff.

So we added Banff National Park (Alberta, Canada) to our travel plans.

While in Glacier, we got the same question: Where are you going next? We responded, Banff. They would respond, Oh, you really need to go to Jasper.

So now we’re going to Jasper National Park (also Alberta), too.

We hit the road on July 3rd, leaving Kalispell behind. Soon, we crossed the Canadian border.

About 1km after that, we met this brown bear grazing by the road side.


I took it as a good sign that I’m going to love Canada!

We didn’t go Banff/Jasper directly. I felt like I needed a little stability in our 3.5 month road trip.

Thanks to the Internet, I found us a nice, short-term housesitting job in St. Albert, Alberta. St. Albert is a little north of Edmonton.

On the way to St. Albert, we stopped in Pincher Creek to stay at an Air BnB. This place has been my favorite Air BnB place thus far in all my Air BnB stays ever. Here’s a picture of the view from their couch:


This place has gorgeous views, spectacular natural light, and not a speck of dirt to be seen in our suite. Showering there was also a rather spiritual experience filled with abundant gratitude and joy. Being at Glacier, I had not bathed in five full days.

We also met two super sweet dogs, and a giant rooster with the most feathery pantaloons. My husband nicknamed him Bear Chicken, but his real name is Pretty Princess Bracelet (named by two little girls).

We then made our way to St. Albert, after a stop in Calgary. We didn’t have much time there, but we did have enough time to visit #REGRUB and share this milkshake.

What I’m enjoying most about the housesit in St. Albert is Stella the cat. Everything about her is adorable. She also does what I call The Flop when you scratch her butt. (video)

This housesit is the first time we’ve only been responsible for a cat and house. Add cleaners that came to the house on Tuesday, and you’ve got a rather easy experience. It was exactly what I needed.

True confession, though: I thought it was closer to Jasper so we could take day trips. It’s not.

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time just to see what really happened because I know I looked at St. Albert and Jasper on a Google Maps.

Ultimately, I don’t think it matters. My husband and I have spent our time catching up on activities we haven’t been able to do a lot of while camping. Writing for me and organizing/editing photographs for him.

Catching up means we haven’t taken full advantage of St. Albert or the area. I’m okay with that. We’ve been on the road since May 15th.

I’m considering this our summer staycation.

The few places we have gone are downtown St. Albert (Jack’s Burger Shack is 5 stars in my opinion), strolled along the walking/bike trails in the surrounding parks (we saw a beaver and a muskrat!), visited the West Edmonton Mall (largest mall in North America), and, my personal favorite, went to the St. Albert Farmer’s Market (the largest Farmer’s Market in Western Canada).

West Edmonton Mall Skating Rink

We’ve been here since July 5th. I think the truest testament to how much we haven’t been doing is that I haven’t befriended a single dog while I’ve been here.

I have patted a few here and there. But never long enough where I felt like I established enough rapport with the dog parents to ask details about the dog and if I could take a picture.

Thank goodness for Stella. She’s so adorable, I’ve had no choice but to take 304 photos of her so far. Seriously, I just counted. God bless the invention of digital photos and cloud storage.


I’m going to miss Stella and the consistency of being in one place. But I’m also ready for another adventure. I’m especially eager to sleep again in a tent.

Thanks, Canada! So far, you’ve been nothing but wonderful.

Reflections on Glacier National Park

Something monumental happened in my life during the first week of July — I lived in a tent for almost a week!

After my husband’s photography workshop in Kalispell, we arrived at Glacier National Park  intent on camping. For my husband who grew up camping and brought a tent as part of his marriage dowry, this housing situation was no big deal.

I, however, grew up in a family that considered a three-star hotel roughing it.

Nevertheless, I have changed a lot in my adult life. One of my favorite ways is that I’ve embraced the restorative and healing power of nature. Some of my greatest moments of joy in the last year have occurred simply by walking through the woods with a dog.

So, I approached camping with an open mind and an enthusiastic spirit.

My husband approached our first camping adventure together with some trepidation.


One of his biggest concerns was that sharing an air mattress would result in poor sleep for both of us. Ironically, he slept great and I slept okay. For someone with narcolepsy, okay sleep is actually quite good.

Case in point: for the first time in years, I averaged more than 8 hours of sleep a night. One night I even slept for a solid 12 hours!

Our trip to Glacier had been planned since December. But I’ve wanted to visit Glacier for years.

Overall, I found the park … meh. The Internet isn’t kidding when it says national parks get crowded in the summer time. More than a few times I had the thought that I was in a more open-air, natural version of Disney World.

If you do not get up early to secure a parking spot at any of the park’s trailheads, which we did not since we were too busy enjoying good sleep, then a good chunk of your day is spent searching for a parking space. Sometimes, you may even have to give up and go home. We heard quite a few people complaining about that in and around the park.

There are also people EVERYWHERE!

The experience reminded me of when I visited Machu Picchu in December 2015. At some points in MP, I literally stood in a line just to walk to the next observation point. That’s the first time I drew a parallel experience from Disney World to an outdoor experience.

Since most of my time prancing around nature in CT is people-less, I had gotten use to the tranquil solitude that comes with those experiences.

I had zero similar experiences in Glacier. That’s not to say there weren’t any moments of wonder or awe for me, because there were actually quite a few. Checkout these views:


At the same time, not everyone experiences awe the same way I do. Take our hike up Avalanche Trail, for example. 

The first time we tried this hike, we got rained out. We went back the next day and trekked up the mountain. The scene at the top took my breath away.


Yet my moments of delight were interrupted by a 20-something year-old, maybe even a late teenager, who stripped down to his shorts and splashed around in the lake. His friends called him crazy, snapped pictures, hooped and hollered it up, and then turned their attention elsewhere after a few moments. This guy then proceeded to yell at them, “I’m peeing in the lake!” Cue giggles and shrieks from his friends.

I can’t really get mad at a kid for acting immature. If he’s been reinforced to act this way by family and friends, he may not know any better and at this point in his life he may not want to know any better. I can only send him a silent prayer of blessing, which I did, and turn my attention to myself. Which I also did.

I sat on a rock watching this chipmunk live his best life (video).

I threw rocks in the lake contemplating the profound nature of the ripple effect (also a video).

I watched my husband take photographs.


And then it started to downpour (it rained all week), so we headed back to the trail. On our way, we met a beautiful tanager.


My Glacier trip ended up being different than I wanted it to be. And that’s okay. Some of it exceeded expectations (YAY camping) and some of it fell below (BOO peeing in a lake). Then there’s the fact that it SNOWED in July. I didn’t even know that should be an expectation! (video)

What truly matters is I had new experiences, learned a few things about myself, spent time with the person I love most in this world, and met several new dogs.


I guess that means it was perfect.

For anyone so inclined, please send love and prayers to Diane and Fred, Tana’s mom and dad. They were our neighbors at the Apgar campground and we’ve stayed in touch. Tana had to be put down last week. Love to them and anyone who is missing a loyal animal companion.

 

The Wild World of Wildlife Photography

I’ve never been one of those people obsessed with supermodels. Until I found out that there’s such a thing as wildlife supermodels. Meet Bruno!

And, yes, he really is this good looking in person, plus he oozes charm. I mean, what bear doesn’t?

In all seriousness, I really didn’t understand the concept of a wildlife photography model until my husband and I took part in my Christmas 2017/Valentine’s Day 2018/Anniversary 2018/Birthdays 2018/Christmas 2018 present to ourselves.

All the way back in December 2017, I was watching episode 309 of Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild. In this episode, Jack and his wife visited a ranch in Montana to photograph bears. Hmm, I thought. That would be the perfect present for my husband for Christmas, et al., since he’s a photographer and I’ve wanted to visit Montana for many years now.

I immediately Googled Triple D Game Farm and discovered that they offer photography workshops for the public. There were a whole host of options to choose from, such as horses or birds of prey.

The choice was tough. I, however, couldn’t resist a workshop featuring baby wildlife. With this option, there’d be a little something for both of us: adorable animals for me to dote over and new photography skills for my husband to master.

I was determined NOT to make the same mistake I made last year in surprising my husband with his birthday present.

One of the things I love most about my husband is his curiosity and drive to learn as much as he can about anything that interests him (which is a lot). A few years ago, he made a goal to be fluent in Spanish by December 2017. I wanted to support him, so when a Norfolk friend told us about a Spanish immersion school in which she and her daughter attended in Antigua, Guatemala, I surprised my husband with a week-long program for his birthday last year (May 2017).

Unfortunately, because I wanted the trip to be before December 2017, the only time that worked for him to travel to Guatemala was at a time when I couldn’t go with him. In hindsight, I should have said to heck with the goal date, because I missed out on my husband’s first international trip. We could have hiked a volcano together!

Lesson learned! So, hello, baby wildlife!

The workshop was lead by an incredibly talented and knowledgeable photographer, Kathleen Reeder. After observing Kathleen during the workshop, I felt a renewed sense of certainty that I made the right decision to quit my teaching job two years ago. Kathleen is a natural teacher, who thoroughly enjoyed what she was doing and enthusiastically shared her gifts with others. In other words, a model teacher who embodied many of the qualities I lost (or never had) after choosing a profession by default rather than true interest and passion.

Every day the photographers would assemble at the crack of dawn to work with different animals, which included baby foxes, wolves, coyotes, otters, pine martens, Canada Lynxes, and a juvenile mountain lion.

Perhaps I’m just naïve, or, maybe the animal lover in me is too attached to the possibility that I could be wandering around the woods and happen across Canadian lynx kittens posing in a log and get to witness the adorableness of it, but I had no idea a lot of wildlife photos are staged.

Watching the animals land on their marks during photo shoots in between romping and playing is something I will marvel over for the rest of my life.

Then, I met Bruno.  

You may be thinking that Bruno is not a baby animal, and you’d be right. I think Bruno is maybe 6 years old.

As part of the workshop, participants were offered the opportunity to photograph additional species for a fee. Talk amongst the participants who had previously attended Triple D workshops was that Bruno the Bear is a ham. He’ll pose during his photo sessions and look at the photographers to make sure they’re watching. He loves laughter and applause and applesauce and wants everyone to love him loving those things.

Of course, I suggested we participate in a Bruno the Bear photoshoot. No brainer, really. Just look at him!

Since I was only attending the workshop as a “sidekick,” I wasn’t allowed to take any photographs of the animals myself, lest I be charged the full cost of attending. So, the photos in this post are some of my husband’s cast-off photos. He said he’s saving his best ones for his own social media purposes, unless I wanted to pay him. HAHA, he’s such a funny guy. He and Bruno could be BFFs, if Bruno wasn’t, you know, a wild bear who just happened to also be a supermodel.

Work it, Bruno. Work it!

National Park Adventures: Grand Teton and Yellowstone Edition

After lamenting in my last blog post about how my first bear-in-the-wild experience turned out to be less thrilling than I thought it would be, Mother Nature showed up for me big time. It started with an early morning drive through Grand Teton National Park.

We saw gorgeous mountain views,

breakfasting deer,

the most majestic elk I ever did meet,

and then, on the way back through the park, a black bear had the courtesy to climb on top of a tree stump and pose for me. Don’t worry – there were two rangers there keeping the humans and bears safe, so I was not in danger while taking this picture.

Add this wildlife to the dogs I met in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and you’ve got yourself one delighted animal lover.

 

I met most of these dogs while attending the People’s Market in Jackson Hole. The People’s Market is like a farmer’s market, except it’s for people who don’t necessarily identify as farmers. What’s amazingly progressive about the People’s Market is that it’s zero waste. Everything is reused or recycled.

While at the market, I bought my first non-essential clothing purchase in over 2.5 years. All the clothes I’ve purchased since December 2015 have been to replace something that has completely worn out. This time, however, I jumped the gun on replacing a t-shirt which still has a few washes left, since I wanted to support Bear Root Bitters, a locally-based company that focuses on remixing ancient herbal remedies from locally harvested and all organic ingredients.

Although I’m a fan of supporting local in general, I am especially fond of Bear Root Bitters since two of their proprietors, Katie and Henry, let us stay with them while we were visiting Jackson Hole. My husband and I know Katie and Henry as the sister and brother-in-law of Cody and Xena, the boxers we took care of a few weeks ago. They’re two chill, generous people, and I’m so glad we got the chance to hang out with them.

After a few days in Jackson Hole, we headed north to Montana by way of Yellowstone.

We didn’t see much wildlife in Yellowstone, except for a few bison here and there.

But, WOW! The geysers here are extraordinary!

I don’t do a lot of research before I visit places, mostly because I don’t want high expectations to be unmet. So I didn’t really know what to expect at Yellowstone other than Old Faithful (which did not disappoint).

As it turns out, there’s a lot more to geysers than just bubbling, gushing water. Check out these colors:

These photos are from Biscuit Basin in Yellowstone, and the only reason we stopped there in the first place is because my husband’s brother (the one who passed away in February) was nicknamed Biscuit. We now chalk up stopping there to divine intervention.

While there, we met the loveliest couple, Ron and Carolyn from Utah, while walking around Biscuit. Carolyn was so enthusiastic about how I quit my job as a college professor to pursue writing, that she insisted Ron take our picture together, so that later when I’m a published author she would be able to say she met me at Yellowstone National Park.

I’m pretty sure Carolyn is a real-life angel. I needed that boost and unwavering belief in my goals as a writer because just a few days prior, my agent and I decided to part ways. Despite liking each other very much and being fans of each other’s professional goals, we just couldn’t seem to connect in a way where we both were on the same page with my manuscripts.

A bummer and disappointment to be sure, but as someone who once sat down next to a complete stranger at a restaurant bar and then eloped with that person three weeks later, I have no doubt that what happened is for the best. I’m already looking forward to the next part of my writing journey.

In the meantime, I have more road tripping to do. Next time I post I’ll tell you all about the supermodel I met in Kalispell, MT. His name is Bruno, and, yes, he’s a bear to work with. Literally.