Photo Expedition: Wilcox Pass Epic

We spent another pandemic weekend in the mountains, playing the social distanced tourist in our own province, not crossing any borders, wearing masks, and staying six feet away from others whenever humanly possible.

In some cases, we stayed much more than six feet away from others, such as when we took on an eight klick round-trip hike up to the top of the Wilcox Pass just south of the Columbia Icefields Glaciers, with a view of the same.

I dragged multiple cameras up for the hike, but the best pics by far were the dSLR photos.

With my other cameras I captured some video (the GoPro) and some sweeping panoramas (with my iPhone) which I use for desktop backgrounds on my multi-screen desktop computer setup.

The lighting was nearly perfect for a stretch of over an hour, and the vistas (and the speedy gait of my hiking companions) made for multiple opportunities for expansive, epic shots with a view yet still a contemplative subject staring off into the scenery.

Photo Expedition: Spray Lake

One of the core inspirations for this site, something I (surprisingly) haven’t written much about in the last few months since launching it, is photography. In fact, arguably, one of the reasons I paid for hosting on this site rather than taking the approach I’ve taken with other sites of self-hosting on a home server, is that I wanted the larger bandwidth of a hosting package to post more photos. (I avoid that on my other sites so that I don’t overwhelm my home connection!)

Of course, insert pandemic lifestyle changes here… and I haven’t taken many photos lately. In fact, when I pulled my camera out to prepare it for the short (local…ish) vacation we took last weekend, I still had pics from last summer’s European trip to remove, a small repair to one of the dials to make, and the camera clock was still set to whatever timezone Dublin is in.

Needless to say, I dusted the dSLR off and took it to the mountains for a long-long weekend vacation.

I’ll post a small handful of pictures over the coming days, themed into collections, starting with this small set from part of a day-trip we took from the hotel-base.

Our trip was set in the mountain resort area around Kananaskis. The lake pictured is actually a dam reservoir, and many of the lakes in this area are … well … the result of human intervention that took place a generation or two ago. I used to visit this place as a kid, and it hasn’t changed much since the early 90s. So, despite our changed societal appreciation for reshaping the landscape of these beautiful mountain parks and how we think of that today, years ago that was not the sentiment. It is what it is, and now they are protected areas with abundant beauty and wildlife.

These photos, unedited from my camera, were snapped at a picnic stop along a 60km gravel back-road route connecting Peter Lougheed Park with the town of Canmore. A little roadside stop, a two minute hike, and a beautiful day. The reflection on the water was nearly perfect and the colour and symmetry that I was able to capture was only spoiled by the fact I didn’t bring a tripod and was manually levelling my camera through the viewfinder against a jagged horizon line.

One of these pics is also now the desktop wallpaper on my iPad.

Drawing on Dublin

There are a moment one Saturday afternoon last August while I was wandering, literally aimlessly, through the streets of Dublin when I was inspired to draw something.

The question readers may want answered before I explain the drawing is “why were you wandering aimlessly through the streets of Dublin?” To which the simplest answer is simply that I was there alone and early to do one thing I needed to do on Saturday, and with no reason to do anything but explore a place I’d never been I wandered. Aimlessly.

In fact, I had walked for two hours from Chapelizod to Trinity College, which on the map seemed a lot shorter than it actually was, and having scored a bus pass only after I’d reached the downtown core I was free to catch a fast ride back to the hotel but was not inclined to do so knowing that all which awaited me was some television and pondering the race I was scheduled to run the next morning.

Instead, wandering aimlessly through the streets of an old Irish city filled with life and culture, streets lined with countless variety and ages of architecture, and nothing but free time for myself, I bought a sketchbook and some inking pens from a bookshop and found a nearby place to sit.

I remember a few things about the hour while I sat in a small square on a concrete bench sketching what I saw:

  • there were pigeons bustling about the place, doing what pigeons do, which is to look extremely busy while accomplishing very little
  • virtually no one had spoke with me since arriving in the country, but a man with a sketchbook in a park might seem more approachable so I had a brief conversation with two people, first about a pair of shoes that had been abandoned in the middle of the square, and second with a young lady who seemed to think I’d let her tether her phone to mine so she could borrow my mobile data
  • there was a cafe built into an old rail car of some kind, and we returned there later in the week and had coffee — well, I had coffee

Not having sketched in public in over a decade, my rendition of the square was weak, and lacked a lot of details, and wouldn’t be much to brag about, but it was the first in a series of a dozen I composed while we spent the following week in the city and spurred me to become a prolific, regular urban sketch artist upon our return to Canada.

Only that never happened.

I got home, went back to work. Heck, I even bought a nice new sketchbook (not wanting to “spoil” the travel edition that I’d started) and went to the middle of our city square and drew exactly one picture.

To be fair, life got really crazy and busy for a while after we returned from three weeks in Europe, and sketching in the street was not a priority, but something else was going on.


Dublin was simply that: inspiring. But more than being a beautiful old city, full of life, people, buildings, colour, shapes, texture, culture, everything, it was also a new place for me. It was the same sort of reason that I don’t take many snapshot while I’m on my lunchbreak from work even though I might be sitting in a similarly simple city square, engaging with similar random people, and watching Canadian pigeons behave virtually identically to their Irish cousins. Novelty, opportunity, and purpose might just be a thing one finds on vacation. Or not?

I’ve got it in my head to do more sketching during the pandemic, cracking open the art tools I own to draw the world in which I now find myself temporarily trapped: sheltering, holding ground, and staying healthy. I penned some nature art on the sketching app on my iPad during May and as June hits its stride I’m going to try and post at least one proper “urban sketch“ per week — analog, pencil and paper, a moment in space drawn in place.

I’ll be in my own neighbourhood, like as not, but I’ll be thinking of and drawing on Dublin.

Three Dozens

I enjoy bread. Gluten and carb naysayers be warned, this is a bread-friendly space. Sandwiches. Toast. Even just nibbling the heel with a bit of butter or olive oil. We always have bread in our house.

One of the historical touch-points for this pandemic lock-down also turned out to be bread-friendly. As people sheltered at home, directed to avoid the outside world for a few months, fearful of an un-quantifiable viral transmission risk, hoarding toilet paper and learning the nuanced stresses of multiple hours spent video chatting, many people turned to baking. Flour and yeast came to such short supply that commercial bakeries were offering online sales of their stockpiles, and Canada’s most famous flour supplier streamlined production by packing in plain brown paper bags because they could not manufacture the branded sacks fast enough.

I was well-stocked for flour. On the day I came home from the office with my laptop and set up a work from home office in my basement, I made sure to wander upstairs shortly after and pull my sourdough starter out of the fridge with the vague notion of maybe baking some bread while I was home.

I think I started making sourdough in 2015. I’d watched a documentary on Netflix about the history of naturally leavened breads — which was more exciting than it sounds — and the perception that this traditional approach to food, including the process of long fermentation and simple ingredients, had a holistic nutritional advantage over industrial bread production. I was intrigued. Shortly afterward I bought a bread-making book, set out on the counter some flour and water to ferment into a levain, and then fumbled through a dozen failed bread experiments. That starter lived about two years before it stagnated from distraction. My success rate was low, and my summer had been busy, and one day I pulled it out of the fridge after neglecting it for about two months and it was a grey box of goo.

In the spring of 2019 we took a trip to San Fransisco and (I likely need not elaborate on my inspiration) upon our return I hatched a new bread-making plan and brand new starter. A little more research. A little more patience. A little more practice. And between May 2019 and March 2020 I baked a batch of bread every week or so, each a little different than the last, but increasingly closer to personal perfection.

Traditional sourdough is that classic domed loaf with the slice across the top blossoming like a flower in the springtime. The Kid, who shares my appreciation for bread-based food, noted one morning that it would be so much smarter if I baked actual sandwich-shaped loaves of bread. “Are you allowed to do it that way, dad?” …to which I promptly replied by ordering a second cast iron loaf pan from Amazon and running the experiment. My standard batch of dough turned out to be a perfect recipe to divide in half and create a pair of mini sandwich loafs roughly 21cm x 12cm. Perfect for the toaster. Perfect for a grilled cheese.

“Neat.” I thought — and I went back to baking a classic dome.

Then came the pandemic.

My starter had warmed up on the counter, the last loaf we’d bought from a grocery store was dwindling nearby, twenty kilograms of flour lurked in my pantry, and I pulled out my tools and started mixing a batch of dough. Five hundred grams of flour. Twelve grams of salt. Three hundred and sixty grams of water. And a portion of my starter. Proof. Bake. And voila: two mini-loaves of sourdough sandwich bread to hold us over until the grocery stores are back to normal. That should be enough, right?

Today marked two months since I got pulled into the pandemic panic that ramped up at my job, and this morning I cut into the thirty-sixth mini-loaf of pandemic sourdough I’d baked since this story began. Three dozen. Eighteen batches. In the meantime, online communities have sprung up to share advice and tips and photos. Friends have quizzed me for secrets. We stood on a street corner and one of our neighbours suggested a bread swap. Pandemic sourdough has defined this span of time almost as much as the daily news briefings or the long hours in my basement office or the endless video calls.

Will I still enjoy bread when this is all over? Some time in the future, I imagine at least, I’ll be telling a grandkid or two about the year twenty-twenty as we sit together and nibble on the heel of a loaf of fresh sourdough. “This was actually what we ate. Bread like this. Made from this same starter. These pans. This kind of bread. Every day. It fed us and kept us a little bit happy through a sad and crazy time.”

“That doesn’t seem so bad.” They’ll say.