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Posts Tagged ‘Calgary’

It’s hard to believe that just over a week ago I was telling you all about my enrollment in the Matador U’s Travel Writing course.  Now a couple of weeks in, I have submitted my first assignment – writing about my home town.  There have been a couple of revisions to the initial draft, but I hope that you all feel like you are with me as I returned ‘Home’ to this place I love so much.

Travel writing evolution Assignment – Returning home

Reminders of home

Across the farming land I see them.  The high-rises of my home town.  Two concrete wheat silos standing tall above the mallee scrub. Their corrugated tin roofs reflecting the hot summer sun’s rays back up into the brilliant blue, cloudless sky, and I know I’m almost home.

IMG_3449

The newest additions to Patche – Two 10 meter tall Mallee Fowls. The intention is that they will become a draw card for travellers hoping to tick visiting all the ‘big things’ off their list.

Past the ‘Welcome to Patchewollock’ sign the deserted main street is a familiarity.  The football oval a silvery grey, with bands of brown.  The grass long dead after years of drought and the weeds now crusty from the early summer heat. The old general store, though closed now for years, stands beyond black and yellow striped tape, a caution by the council of danger.  The local hotel, the hub of our community, freshly painted but desolate.  The farmers too busy with harvest to call in for a cold beer or a quite yarn.

Across the road, two giant mallee fowls. Their 10 meter tall structures built to honor this native flightless bird that was once thought to be close to extinction, but now which frequently roams across our remote desert landscape.  They seem strange; foreign, yet their sculptured bodies and finely detailed painted feathers provide our small town with a glimmer of tourist hope.

Nothing has really changed, but it all seems slightly different.  Perhaps I am seeing it through new eyes. Once a town at the ‘end of the line’, many may see it as a lost cause.  A town without life, without heart, without hope, but I know its secret.

Before I know it we are out of town. Where I’d previously thought a puddle of water lay on the road, now only dry bitumen remains. The watery mirage from the 40 degree heat now dancing on the road 50 meter’s ahead.

Golden Fields of Wheat

Golden Fields of Wheat

As far as the eye can see, paddocks after paddock of golden wheat line the road, their full heads of grain swaying in the light summer breeze, a living tribute to the settlers that selected and cleared this land in the early 1900′s. Land that their grandchildren and great grandchildren continue to work and graze in this harsh but un-spoilt corner of Victoria’s northwest.

The blue bitumen turns to white gypsum and the white gypsum to red dirt. The type of dirt that burns your feet on a hot summer’s day, that’s fine enough to stick to your skin after a hard day’s work and the type of dirt that creates a layer of dust on EVERYTHING inside the house after a mid-season dust storm. I know I am home.

The shearing shed, the grain shed. The tractors and the trucks, all reminders of my childhood.  Memories engrained in the sand, the sheds and the land these machines have worked.

Memories of racing through the pouring rain on pushbikes. Of sitting on Dad’s knee and steering the huge tractor and of resting in its wheel hub while sharing cheese and jam sandwiches under a shady tree in the middle of the vast open paddocks.

The smell of freshly turned soil after a rain and the sound of large rain drops falling on the tin roof as I fell to sleep on stormy summer nights. Of waking up to the stillness and calmness of the farm.  The only noise that of birds chirping in the cool of the morning and of the dogs barking, marking the new day.

Getting out of the car, the still dry heat hits me. It has been 20 months since I was last home and only 30 hours since I left a snow dusted Calgary. It feels a long way from where I have come, but everything about this place remains alive within me and I know in my heart that this will always be my home.

DSC_0479_Snapseed - Shearing shed

I always know this is ‘home’

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Reminders of homeThe original family farm truck

It’s hard to believe that is a month ago at this exact moment that I was saying ‘see-ya later’ to some of my amazing friends that I had made whilst I was living in Calgary.

It was an emotional time, but I have to admit I suprised myself and contained the majority of my tears.  I’m not sure if this was because I was tired and lacked the energy; because I was coming home and would see family and loved ones that I had not seen for the last year and a half; or simply because I knew that this was the beginning of the next chapter of my life.  Secretly, I think it was a combination of EVERYTHING.

Getting home was not a quick trip.

Calgary to L.A.  A 12 hour layover in LA.  LA to Melbourne. 5 hour layover in Melbourne. Melbourne to Mildura.

In total I think it was around 30+ hours, but walking across the tarmac in Mildura and spotting my niece Tamsin pressed up as close as she could get to the entrance turnstile with one of the biggest smiles on her face, made the entire journey so much more worth while.  Of course there was the rest of the homecoming crowd including my Mum, complete with a ‘Welcome Home’ balloon.

It was good to be home!

Golden Fields of Wheat

Golden Paddocks of Wheat

The last four weeks have passed by almost in a blur (thank goodness I have photo’s).  I have witnessed 2 amazing friends get married. Enjoyed a day in the beautiful Grampians. Celebrated a hen’s day floating down the mighty Murray river. Played, painted and laughed with my neices and nephews. Met the newest addition to the beautiful McLean family – Jorge. Become a ‘cricket Mum’ for our four farm kids and simply enjoyed the peace and quite, warmth and beautiful sunsets and simplicity of life that exists in this untouched place that I love and that I call home.

 There truly isn’t no place like home!

Beautiful day in the Grampian's

A beautiful day in The Grampians

Watching the kids at cricket
An evening on the pitch
Oops.. was I in charge!!
Oops… was I in charge??
Sunset at the Farm
A picture perfect sunset on the farm

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Picture Perfect Sunset Over Seeley Lake, Montana

 

Part of my love of road trips is being able to experience things that you may never have had the opportunity to see before.  The freedom to set your own schedule and do what you want to do.  To spend as long as you want or as little as you want and the opportunities to enjoy every single moment.

The first day of our road trip from Calgary to Saint Catherine’s had been a long one.  We had hiked the Bear’s Hump in Waterton National Park and driven the spectacular, amazing and absolutely awesome Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park.  As much as the drive is breathtakingly beautiful, it is also mentally taxing.   Tight corners, narrow roads and 1,000+ foot cliff drops. But I would still do it over and over and over again.

With no real plans on where we would stay, let alone, where we would eat, we basically drove until we got hungry.   We arrived in Seeley Lake around 8pm and the sun was just beginning to drop.

Rather than ‘searching’ for food we decided that the Hamburger Cafe beside the lake would be a nice enough option.  Something casual and a chance to sit outside and enjoy our surroundings.  Unfortunately the cafe was closed, but the steakhouse next door was still open and still serving meals.  It would have to do.

After taking our seat we were presented with the menu.  Literally a sign that stood 4ft tall and listed 3 items:

The ‘extensive’ menu @ Linsday’s Steakhouse

We both guessed that sirloin was on the menu for the night :-), which caused some snickering between the two of us (don’t worry.. this was just the beginning of our nightly laughs!!).

After dinner we wandered down to the lake with enough time to take in the beautiful sunset.

Chance just happened to land us in Seeley Lake at the time that it did. And Fate just happened to provide us with a beautiful sunset over the water that truly cannot be described.

The tourist brochures all describe Montana as ‘big sky country’…. I think this picture proves it correct.. What an absolutely stunning view..

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Enjoying the ‘Bubbles’ within Lake Minnewanka

Winter.  What an amazing time of year to be in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Lots of snow, plenty of ice and amazing frozen lakes.

Apart from venturing onto Lake Louise on Christmas Day (very cautiously too I might add), I’ve always stayed away from frozen ponds, lakes and rivers for the simple fact that ‘you just never know’.  But last year after a morning cross-country skiing a friend of ours told us about the amazing beauty of Lake Minnewanka (pronounced Minn-a-wonka, by all Canadian‘s) and how the majority of snow had been blown off the top and you could clearly see the bubbles frozen in time.

It’s amazing how something so simple can be so beautiful and amazing, and yet so terrifying at the same time.

Coming from a country that could quite possibly boil water on a hot day, you must forgive me for being a tad resistent when it comes to stepping out onto the ice, even if it is 12-14 inches thick!

The cracks that criss-cross across the face of the ice and the ‘warbling-cracking’ sound that can be only described as eerie and daunting almost cause you to hold your breath.  Knowing that the further you step out, the further you are from the shore and the further you are from safety.

But it truly is amazing.

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Making tracks across the U.S.A.

Solo travel can teach you many lessons, but the biggest ones it has taught me are to ‘Trust your Gut’ and to ‘Take a Chance’.

For me learning to trust my gut has been a huge learning curve.  Growing up I know that I was not the most self-confident person and quite often relied on others for direction and to make the decision for me.  But travelling has changed that and so often it’s one of the hardest things to listen to.  When your mind is telling you one thing and your gut is telling you something else. It’s hard to hold true and follow that gut feeling.

Anyone who knew me growing up knows that I did not take chances.  I was NEVER the first to do something, nor the second.. perhaps maybe the third or the fourth, but preferably always the last.  I NEVER did anything that would put me out on a limb, out by myself, rather more preferring to stay as one of the crowd.  While some of this is still true today, there is a higher chance that I will be tempted to take the plunge.  And I know now from experience that if I trust my gut when I take a chance… I’ll probably be ok.

Packing up and moving myself to another country and starting fresh was the first chance I took.  The second, stepping out and taking the chance to put myself out there to meet total strangers knowing that I might not have anything in common with them and the third? The third was taking a chance to drive halfway across the country with someone I had only met not eight weeks earlier and with whom I had only spent a couple of hours (at the most) with.

What makes someone do this?

The chance of adventure.  The chance to do something that you might never have the opportunity to do again. The chance that you might miss out on something. The chance that you might see something that you would never have otherwise seen. The chance to see it all. But mostly it’s the chance that if you don’t, you will live to regret it the rest of your life and forever ask yourself, ‘what if?’ and tell yourself ‘if only’.

When Laura first mentioned moving to Ontario and the potential of a road trip, I know that my eyes lit up (who doesn’t love a road trip) and I knew that I’d be jealous of her if she did it without me. It’s strange thinking about how easily it is to become jealous of someone you hardly know, simply because they are going to get the opportunity to do something that you know you could only dream of.   So when she mentioned that she needed company and a copilot for the drive, I told her, without hesitation, that I was in.

Preparation of trips can be consuming.  They can also be stressful and loads of fun. Laura can probably tell you a different story but when you email each other a potential road map and your trip routes are almost identical.  I think that you are pretty much on the same page. It almost felt too easy.  We never had any discussions on ‘what if’s’, and the only time I considered the potential of this trip not going to plan was the night before we left when I drew the conclusion that no matter what happened and where we parted company, as long as I had my credit card and could get to a bus station or an airport, I could get back to Calgary no problems.

Thankfully I can say it was the only time I had that thought and now fourteen months on, it is almost a distant memory and one that I am almost ashamed to admit.

In eight days we covered eight American states, including; Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan and the two Canadian provinces of Alberta and Ontario. But within the confined space of the car we also covered a lot more. We talked and we sat in silence.  We sang and starred in awe. We laughed (OMG did we laugh) and every day I became more thankful for this road trip in more ways than one.

Since that moment we pulled away from the curb in Calgary I have been thankful that I chose to take the chance.

 

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A beautiful winter morning in Calgary

There is nothing better than getting out and exploring the city, town, area that you live in.  Actually it can become quite fun and you never really know what you are going to find, experience or see.

Last winter I’m sure that many people thought that we were stupid getting up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings to go for walks along Calgary’s many river paths, but when you get the opportunity to witness, to photograph and to enjoy unspoilt scenes like the one above.. it makes it oh so worth while.

With the many pathways and parks along the river and the quietness of the weekend downtown core.. it’s hard not to feel like you are a million miles away from the hussell and bussell of the city.  Another thing that I love about Calgary – That city feel that isn’t quite city.

Explore your neighbourhoods and the ones next door. Check out the local diners, the local cafe’s and of course the local pubs. Find out what makes this city, your city beat and what makes you fall in love with it everyday.

Challenge yourself to see as much of it as you can.  To enjoy every tiny detail and to search out those hidden secrets that no-one, absolutely no-one knows about and share them with the people you love and care about.

If I could take my little pieces of ‘Calgary’ home with me.. one would be the place in the picture above.  The quite little Island park between the Bow and Elbow Rivers. A park that is not frequently visited, but more likely to be home to the homeless.  A park that has its own peaceful stunning views of downtown Calgary and the iconic Calgary Tower.  It’s own suspension bridge that makes it seem so much more unique and special.

The other.. well that’s a secret…..

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Denim, Boots and Big Hat‘s.. yep that’s that Calgary Stampede.

No visit to Calgary in July is complete without making it at least one day to the Stampede.

The first I ever heard about the Calgary Stampede was from my eldest brother when he came to Calgary to visit his then girlfriend (now wife) in the early ’90’s.  I remember him coming home and telling us that while he was visiting he had been asked to go into her work to help ‘build horses‘.  We were a bit stunned.. Horses.. why did they need horses in the bank?  His reply ‘Everyone has them, they go crazy at stampede time’.  Now I know what he is talking about.

From July 1st downtown Calgary becomes a mix of wood and hay bales as every establishment ‘Stampede-ifies’ their buildings in hope to convert their corporate buildings into rustic old ranch stables, outhouses and barns.  And if it’s not wood and hay bales, it’s painted windows depicting a wild wild west or a simple YEE-HAW!!!.

Corporate suits go out the window and wrangler jeans, boots and big hats become the office norm.  Rarely any work is ever done for the 10 days of the Stampede. Corporate functions, staff parties and other entertainment take over the working world and the celebrations begin.

Every morning generally commences with free stampede breakfasts at various street venues around the city (if you wish to wait in line…. enjoy) and of course on day one the Stampede Parade takes centre stage as it passes through the downtown core and onto the stampede grounds.

The full 10 days are action packed.  From walking the park and taking in all the sights, to enjoying the free entertainment at the various stages; hypnotists, bands, dog shows, motorbike riders, to sitting back in the saddledome and watching the Cowboy Up Challenge, Sheep dog trials or Team Cattle Penning. Wondering the Agricultural section and watching the blacksmiths, the shearers and even the Clydesdale teams being prepped and primed for the heavy hitch competitions, or simply to be ‘bedded down for the night’.

And of course you can’t forget the daily bone crunching rodeo where cowboys rope and wrestle steers and attempt to ride a full 8 seconds on bucking bronc’s and spinning bulls, nor the excitement and speed of the nightly chuckwagon races when the pounding of hooves takes over the arena and wagon’s appear to be flying all over the track.  When dinner consist of the best pizza, fried chicken or strangest concoction of foods available on the midway and dessert is that deep-fried cheesecake, snickers or in my case this year, wagon wheel (YUMMO!)

In my time here I have been to the Stampede all three years.  Watched the chuckwagon races every year and witnessed the rodeo nine times (yes nine!.. I may be slightly addicted!!).  I’ve enjoyed it on my own and with new-found friends, but by far I enjoyed it the most when I got to share it with my family and my two beautiful nephews.

The excitement on their faces. The joy in their eyes.  The passion to be ‘just like everyone else’ as they laid out their jeans and shirts  the night before in anticipation of the day ahead.  The morning of as they threaded their belts and fastened their buckles to make sure that they sat ‘just right’ before pulling on their boots and tipping their hats with a ‘howdy partner’.  They were set for the day ahead.

Seeing the amazement in their eyes as they watched in awe (and sometimes pain) the cowboys below us in the world renown Calgary Stampede Rodeo Arena, being thrown from their beasts; to watching the team cattle penning in the Saddledome and hoping and praying that the team working the cattle could beat the clock and be faster than the team before.  They truly have been special moments.

My two favorite Cowboys!

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