Taboo (2005 – 2016)

Taboo, my feline companion, passed away early in the morning of April 16, 2016. We don’t really know why he died, but had been very sick for three days before he passed. He lived with me for several years in Hamilton, and relocated to London to live with my parents when I moved to Calgary. More adventurer than house cat, he made many human friends over the years, and will be missed by his family and friends.

Taboo (the Guide Cat) was really lucky when he was out wandering the woods of Muskoka in October 2005. He followed the group home from the hike, and joined us at the cottage for the weekend. We thought he was lost because he was very much into people, and ran straight to the refrigerator when he got inside the cottage. I liked his big tail, and how much he wanted to be around humans. He was more like a dog and less like cats I’d experienced previously. After a brief search for his proper owner, and a bit of drama about who was going to keep him, he ended up going home with me. I wasn’t the one who wanted him most, but lucky for both of us, he did. He was small-ish when we brought him home, but we thought he was mostly full grown. Little did we know he would more than double his size, weighing in at more than 15 lbs of pure muscle (ok, and maybe a little fat) at times in his life!

When he was young, his scavenger instincts were strong. If I happened to leave the bag of food out of the cupboard, he would it and eat until he was sick. He eventually grew out of his food addiction after a couple years of realizing he would be fed every day.

He was very much an outdoor cat, happiest to be in the wilderness, and he was a great hunter. My first student house in Hamilton had a hydro line behind it, and my grad school apartment backed onto the escarpment. Taboo would spend hours outside every day, sometimes exploring several kilometers away, and sometimes bringing a fresh kill back to my doorstep as a “present”. After moving to London he was proud to keep the backyard “certified chipmunk-free.”

He loved being around humans, and had lots of love to give. When his people were around, he wanted to be close by, and sought their attention. He would protest my Masters thesis writing by sitting on my keyboard while I was trying to type, or sleep above my head while I was watching a movie. After he moved to London, he slept stretched out above mom’s head, and happily watched TV in the evening with dad. Always after a long day of adventuring, of course.

He was talkative with his voice, and had many different sounds and tones he could make, but he alwas had trouble purring. He just didn’t learn that language when he was young. After moving to London and meeting Eclipse (who had a great purr), Taboo learned how to purr a little bit, and by the time we met for the last time at Christmas this year he rumbled like it was his first language.

At my parents’ house, he built himself a nest in the backyard where he could be close to people, monitor the chipmunk situation, and be protected from the elements so he could be outside any time of year. This was his favorite place, and he was buried under his nest this morning.

Rest in peace, Bubbs. You will be missed.

Bow Hut

The end of skibattical is nigh. As the sun shines brighter and longer every day, the snow slowly fades from the main ranges of the Rocky Mountains. The bears have emerged from their dens, buds are appearing on trees, RV’s roam the highways with reckless abandon, and the word “rain” appears in the weather forecast from time to time. Of course, none of these things apply to the Wapta Icefields where oceans of snow and ice persist, despite sixteen hours of direct sunlight per day through the peak of summer.

This past weekend my friend Andy and I toured to Bow Hut, the largest and best equipped of the Alpine Club of Canada’s backcountry shelters. Bow Hut is situated high on a cliff, at the toe of the Wapta Icefield in Banff National Park. The approach is a gorgeous eight kilometer ski tour, gaining nearly five hundred meters in elevation, traversing wide frozen lakes, narrow canyons, and a steep pitch leading up to the hut itself. The ski route was well marked, and the snow bridges over the creek were intact, save twice where we had to dismount and ford a stream that was a couple inches deep. Once we arrived, we were greeted with bluebird skies, cold clear nights, and blustery winds. Skiing on a glacier is something incredible to experience. Something akin to the vastness of the ocean, snowfields that go on farther than the eye can see. Like the ocean, flotation devices (skis with climbing skins), navigation (map, compass), effective training, and a sharp sense of self-preservation are key to having a great time, while not falling into a crevasse or being caught in an avalanche.

One of the amazing things about this trip was the emptiness of the hut. Bow Hut is incredibly popular this time of year, and while it sleeps thirty people on a busy night, there were only six of us this past weekend. The other group of four guys we met were from Washington and Oregon, were a group of old friends, one of whom had been visiting this place for over thirty years! We shared the day’s adventures by the fire over a glass of whiskey at the end of the night.

After two beautiful ski days, we descended to the Bow Valley where the sun was shining, temperatures were warm, and the lake we recently crossed was uncomfortably wet and melting fast. A cold beer on the dock of Num-Ti-Jah Lodge never tasted so good.

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Approximate map of our approach and ski touring from Icefields Parkway in Banff. (Google Earth)

 

Reading break adventures

Spring break is for professors, right? While my students were studying for their mid-semester exams, I took off to the mountains and the coast for a break from the city life. My first stop was in Golden for a ski day with my friend Mark Rabin. Mark’s been working on a great project called Portable Electric that is bringing green energy to events near you. Think about the diesel generators powering lights at a festival, or lighting the set of a movie shot in the wilderness. Now think about replacing these with clean, silent, renewable-powered battery systems. Brilliant. In addition to shaping the future of energy, Mark’s a great skier. We had about 15 cm of fresh snow all over the mountain, and made the absolute most of the fresh stuff on a bluebird day. It was a fantastic day of discussing the future of energy in the gondola, and shredding fresh snow at the Horse.

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Shredding selfie on top of Terminator Peak. The snow was so great I had to choose my snowboard.

I stayed in the night in Golden with my good friend, Annie, and we skied the next day to the tune of another 10 cm of fresh white stuff. I was a little hesitant to get on two planks in the morning, as the Horse is a challenging mountain, and I’m still a bit of a newbie skier. Fortunately, Annie pushed me off a steep face first thing in the morning, and I ended the day saying that was the best I’d ever skied. Great day all around.

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Annie and Val in Dead Tree Chute

Driving to the coast always takes a long time, but the scenery is beautiful. I didn’t take any photos, because photos + driving = crashing, but trust me, it was beautiful. After a brief stop in Vancouver to see a couple friends, I hopped on a ferry in the morning to meet up with my Lake Louise World Cup volunteer-friends Anna and Anton, who are working at Mt. Washington for the winter (editor’s note: Mt. Washington is also known as Mt. Washingmachine because of the rainy climate). We skied two days, which were polar opposites of each other. The first, somewhat hilariously, involved one of the instructors on a monoski, on a relatively warm, light snow/rain afternoon. We did park laps, and checked out the medium-quality grooming of the Thursday slopes. Then the storm came. The second day was bottomless powder in a wild winter storm. Anna is one of the best technical skiers I’ve hit the slopes with, and fortunately she has been good about sharing tips with me, and on a powder day, I needed all the help I could get. We skied the back bowl on Mt. Washington in the storm, and I can’t say I’ve never skied something as incredible in a resort. The whole situation was very ski-movie-esque, bouncing turns off pillows, and having so much snow I didn’t quite know what to do with it. Thanks especially to Anton for hosting me, hope to see you both again next year at the Lake!

My reading break ended with at trip to Victoria to catch up with my family. I hadn’t visited them since I left for the east coast a couple years ago, but always feel at home here. The cherry blossoms are in bloom by February, the smell of the sea, a slightly slower pace of life, good food and great conversations. Life is great on the island. Here are a few photos from my weekend.

 

~B

Sabbatical update

OK, I confess, January 2016 was certified a blog-free month. However, that was not because the sabbatical adventures have stopped. Things have sort of gone the other way, with what seems at times like a frantic pace. Christmas and New Year travel was a bit hectic, reaching friends and family in Boston, Toronto, London, Ottawa, and Montreal. However, seeing so many people, and connecting with old friends felt very good, and I was glad for all the planes, trains and automobiles that got me there. Even the ones that lost my luggage. Holidays are a crazy time, but worthwhile to see so many great people.

Perhaps most time consuming for me in the new year has been a course I’ve picked up at the University of Calgary. This semester I’m teaching aqueous geochemistry (GLGY 403) to 3rd, 4th, and 5th year undergrads, which has been a great refresher on important concepts in chemistry, and given me a bit of responsibility mid-week. I’ll write more about how the course is going later, but it’s felt good to do something productive again.

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Sometimes it’s worth getting up for a sunrise.

Otherwise, I’ve been working on my skiing, both in-resort and outside. I’ve chalked up nearly 40 days this year so far, including world cup, and managed to ski my first double-black diamond runs ten days ago on the backside of Lake Louise. Taking a lesson  earlier in the day (Thanks, Christina!) improved my balance and technique, and left me feeling confident to ski nearly anything on the mountain. I’m still not the best technical skier, but can stay in control almost anywhere, and am feeling confident making turns “on-demand,” which is good when I’m approaching a large tree or cliff band.

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Andy is looking over the edge of D. I followed.

This year has started well, and I’m excited to see what the rest of winter brings. Onward to 2016.

-B

 

Alpine Ski World Cup at Lake Louise. How to ski for 24 days without stopping.

Have you ever hiked through waist deep snow carrying fifty pounds of steel fence post? Skied a steep slope on a powder day while packing two dozen bamboo poles on your shoulder? What about stubbing your toe repeatedly while trying to build an ice staircase? Tied more than 400 knots bare-handed in sub-zero temperatures? Scrambled across glistening ice in ski boots to drill a hole in the snow/ice and repair a gate in less than a minute to avoid being run over by a racer? Have a fetish for dingleballs? Or even know what a dingleball is? If these things sound appealing, volunteering at a World Cup ski event may be for you!

Of course, the picture I’ve painted above doesn’t include the good stuff like waking up at 5:15 to catch the 7:00 lift, and skiing before sunrise under a full moon. Then there was watching the best skiers in the world race by you, five meters away, at 130+ km/h. And of course, the incredible crew of people working together to put on one of the best ski races in the world. Also, free beer, and bacon. Lots, and lots of bacon.

Everyone who volunteers at the Lake Louise event said the same thing: it’s hard to explain to friends and family why they would want to spend a week or two of their lives working hard, for long hours, in difficult conditions, for free. After three weeks at Lake Louise, I feel the same way. I feel that it has something to do with the group of people that take on this crazy project. Each of us take time out of our busy schedules to do something we are all passionate about, and over the years this has selected a small group of really dedicated and special people. As I write these words, I’m “Revelstuck,” sitting in a coffee shop in Revelstoke, BC, waiting for the highway to open after avalanche control, and very much missing the camaraderie of our crew. It’s the team that keeps people coming back year after year. I won’t try too hard to explain the details of what we do at the Lake here, because it does defy explanation to the uninitiated, but I will let some of the photos I’ve taken over the past few weeks describe the experience.

 

One of the worst kept secrets of the World Cup volley team was my snowboarding habit. I’d only skied about five days (ever!) on two planks before jumping into the WC event, but managed to pick my way down the steepest section of the course (Fallaway) in the first week, and managed to jump out of the starting gate at the end of ladies week to ski Sunset Gully (badly). I had a number of amazing coaches/teachers during the week, especially Anna, Theo, Tor, Charlee, and Z, who all helped me ski much better by the time the event was over. Thanks, all! You rock!

Saving the best for last, special thanks to my awesome build week crew (Vexar Villains and Vixens), and our Crew Chief Joanski. Nobody should be able to take the Vexar task (another difficult thing to describe), and make it as fun and efficient as Joan did this week. Our crew worked hard, bonded through adversity, and were always up for a nightcap and a few games of pool at the Explorer’s Lounge. Thanks all, can’t wait to be back next year!

 

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Joan should have known better than to say, “We’re working late tonight.”

Maybe as an afterthought, there was a ski race happening while we were having a great time on the mountain. Congrats to Aksel Svindal, and Lindsey Vonn for their incredible performances, each of them winning both the Downhill and Super G for their respective events.

 

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Hey, look! There’s a racer flying down our course!

Thanks everyone for making the last three weeks an unforgettable event. Hope to see some of you around Calgary, Whistler, or in the mountains over the next few months, and for everyone else, see you November 12, 2016!

B

PowDay the Thirteenth

Today was a powder day. The kind of powder day where 20cm of fresh Great Divide champagne fell overnight, and then Mother Nature kept the skies falling until noon the next day. This was my first-ever deep snow day on skis, and as a result, my legs are tired/sore in a very good way. Also, my brain isn’t quite working properly yet, and I’m struggling to get words written, but here they are. Glacier chair was open all day, allowing wondrous laps of the “Wiwaxy 500.” Top of the World and Summit Platter opened up for a couple hours before they were shut down by wind and abundant rocks hiding just under the surface. I think the resort wanted to give us a little teaser snow in the high alpine and help them do avy control by packing down the snow a bit. It felt good getting a couple laps in up top on two planks, even if I reached a little bit on my skiing abilities in waist deep fluff. My brain says “I can ski that” more often than it should. Photos below:

OK, I admit, there weren’t very many photos today. Too busy skiing great snow for my camera to get much work.

Over the next few weeks I will be volunteering at the FIS World Cup alpine events at Lake Louise ski area (Mens’ events November 28-29, Ladies’ events Dec 5-6, free admission if you’re local and want to make the trip out). I feel entirely unprepared for this, as there’s a ton of work that goes into these events, and I know how to do exactly none of it right now. But I will learn. Waking up in the mountains every day, skiing a little bit, and meeting cool people. I’m stoked. To be continued…

Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada

Lake O’Hara has always been a bit of a unicorn for me. Supposedly, it was a beautiful alpine environment with rustic lodges and alpine huts, with wildlife abound and some of the best views in the Canadian Rockies. However, this valley is a pain to approach in the summer for a number of reasons: a) Parks Canada buses a large number of tourists to the lake, up a 10 km fire road, requiring scheduling and paying for a bus service I don’t really want, and being surrounded by a lot of tourists (this may sound snobby, but sometimes you want some solitude in the mountains), b) the prohibitive cost of staying at the lodge ($940 per night, for 2 people), and c) there is a lottery to stay at the reasonably priced alpine hut run by the Alpine Club of Canada that requires a little bit of luck to get in. So I’ve never contemplated a summer approach, despite everyone telling me how awesome it is.

As luck would have it, Anna and I were planning a different backcountry trip up the Yoho Valley to Takkakaw Falls to do one of my favorite alpine hikes, the Iceline Trail, and camp in the backcountry. And then the road was closed for the winter on the day before we were going to leave. Sad, we were. However, while looking for a Plan B, I decided to check the ACC’s website for availability at other huts, and found that the Elizabeth Parker hut had availability for the days we wanted to go. This had to be a mistake. But, when I called the office to book, it was no mistake, and we booked right away. Woohoo! Lake O’Hara!

After packing our bags for a hut (meaning we could bring some heavier items like a cold beer or two, in lieu of a tent!), we departed uphill on the fire road. It’s a solid 10 km walk from the highway to the hut, and for the most part it’s a boring, wide, fire road, without a lot to see. However, when we eventually reached the alpine meadows after a little under three hours of hiking, it was clear what all the fuss was about. The alpine environment was spectacular in the chilly autumn air, with a fresh dusting of snow up high.

After reaching the hut, that I somehow neglected to take photos of, we took our packs and boots off, stored our food in the kitchen, and went back to the Lake for a quick evening walk. On the way back, we discovered that Mary Lake was completely frozen, and also that skipping rocks across a frozen lake makes an amazing sound, echoed off the rock faces around.

When we got back to the cabin, we made a quick and easy dinner of pasta, drank a cold beer with some young-at-heart retired alpine guides who have spent many years in the area, and went to bed fairly early to rest our tired legs.

Day 2 was probably the best day of Anna’s visit (from my perspective). After a tasty pancake breakfast, we hiked the high-alpine route to Lake McArthur, an easy hike (with two small scrambly sections) from the cabin. The reward was calm serenity of being the only people in the cirque on a beautiful morning.

We returned to the hut, made a warm ramen lunch, and headed up again toward Lake Oesa, which was dotted along the way by smaller lakes, waterfalls, and great geology. We finished the afternoon sitting on the deck of one of the closed Lake O’Hara lodge cabins, in a truly relaxed state.

Returning to the cabin, and starting on dinner, some new guests arrived in the main part of the lodge. Turns out, they were some of my friends from Calgary that unexpectedly had the same idea as we had! They were fairly surprised to see me, thinking either that I still lived in Boston, or had not yet arrived in Calgary. On the agenda for the evening was a couple fingers of whiskey, and some stargazing at the spectacular night sky, while catching up on adventures of the past couple years. Great to see you all, Andrew, Genevieve, Matt, Amber, and Adam.

Next morning, we woke up early and walked down to the lake to look for wildlife. Success! Goats on the hill! I’m not sure how they manage to stay up there without falling off the side of the cliff, but it’s impressive that they do.

Goats on a hill
Goats on a hill. Warning: cliffs in the image are steeper than they appear.

Finally, we packed up our gear, said goodbye to our friends, and walked down to the lake via the fire road. I’ve never felt happier to take my boots off, which were doing my flat feet no favors. After a quick stop in Banff for lunch (and game 2 of the ALCS), we drove back to Calgary, bringing Ben and Anna’s adventures to a close for the next little while. Lake O’Hara was a serene escape from the hustle of Calgary’s city life, and one of the top destinations I can imagine for a visitor to the Canadian mountain parks. Put it on your bucket list, this one is worth it.

B

Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

Back on Canadian soil. It’s been a whirlwind since I’ve been back and I haven’t had a chance to write. However, this means I’ve been busy adventuring in the mountains, getting in as much alpine time before true “shoulder season” hits.

My girlfriend Anna came to Canada to visit, so I planned a trip for us to the Rockies as soon as she arrived. If you’re a friend reading this, you probably know how much I rave about the mountains west of Calgary, and how it’s the most beautiful place in the world, etc. etc., but you’re going to hear it again for the next couple paragraphs, with photographic evidence.

We started our trip at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, which is one of the most stunning landscapes in North America, if not the world. The deep turquoise lake is held in place by a massive boulder pile, at the bottom of the Valley of the Ten Peaks (see my header image!), and is fed by several glaciers in the valley. Most notably, the largest mountain in the Bow Valley, glacier-capped Mount Temple, looms large above Moraine Lake. Unfortunately we had a bit of low cloud cover when we arrived, so the mountain peaks weren’t all visible. After exploring the boulder pile, we hiked up to Larch Valley, where the needles were just beginning to turn brown from their bright yellow fall colors. Autumn comes early in the Rockies.

We continued our day driving up Icefields Parkway (Highway 93), which runs between Banff and Jasper National Parks. This is the definitive mountain road in Canada’s national park system, with views of glaciers, enormous mountains, high mountain passes, waterfalls, and wildlife. Along the way we stopped at the Athabasca Glacier, which is rapidly retreating due to climate change. On the walk up to the glacier from the parking lot there are concrete pillars marking the location of the toe of the glacier in past years, and this melt is expected to accelerate with warmer, and warmer conditions in the future.

Finally we arrived at the Whistler’s campsite in Jasper, one of the few that remain open until Thanksgiving weekend. Jasper is decidedly a summer town, with many services and roads shutting down for the winter season. We made camp by the light of the moon (or more accurately… the truck’s headlights), and slept comfortably in the tent overnight.

On the second day, we decided to do change our plans a bit to accommodate the early Blue Jays game, which started at 2PM. We drove five minutes from our campsite, and came upon a beautiful bull elk near the Townsite. After checking out the elk for a few minutes, we continued to Maligne Lake and hiked to unexpectedly stunning sub-alpine tundra at Opal Hills (8.2 km loop, 450 m elevation gain). This hike had a bit of everything, a beautiful lake at the bottom of the valley, different types of meadows and forest as we ascended, a hill-side ridge hike with a great view, and finally moonscape tundra, which probably makes great caribou habitat most of the year. Better yet, we were the only people on the trail or in the car park! Being alone was great except when we stepped over relatively fresh grizzly scat, but fortunately we didn’t encounter any bears on the trail. We went back to town to catch second half of the ball game, and get dinner. After dinner, we saw (and heard!) the large bull Elk from earlier in the day on the Athabasca River. The bugling noise sounds a bit like brakes squealing. Finally, we drove north to the Miette Hot Springs for a warm sulfur-spring soak on a blustery evening. A perfect ending to a busy day.

On the third day, our plans were interrupted by an early baseball game (11AM start!), so we decided to have a late morning in camp, followed by a stop at the local pub. This was the brutally long extra-innings game against the Rangers, and I’d have traded nearly anything for a 1-0 2.5 hour pitcher’s duel. Unfortunately, 5.5 hours and a couple plates of food later, the Jays lost in extra innings. Sigh. After the game we rode the Jasper tourist gondola to the top of Whistler Mountain, where we found a herd of goats grazing on the slightly nutritious alpine vegetation. The baby goat caught most of our attention, but the views of the valley weren’t bad either.

On the fourth morning, we drove back to Calgary, but not without stopping at the Bear Paw cafe for some bakery treats. On our way out of town, scones and muffins in hand, we saw a big black furry thing in the woods inside the townsite. Bear! The black bear meandered his way through the woods, and climbed a tree so he could get a better look at us. Fortunately we had binoculars, so we could keep our distance and take a few photos. He didn’t seem concerned that we were around, or that people were zipping past his tree on the bike path below him. Good bear. The drive back to Calgary was very wet, until the mountains parted to the blue skies of the prairie. The way the weather changes in the mountains will always fascinate me.

Bear in a tree. The light wasn't particularly good for capturing his facial expressions, but he looked curious.
Bear in a tree. The light wasn’t particularly good for capturing his facial expressions, but he looked curious.

After regrouping in Calgary over Thanksgiving weekend, and consuming far too much food at two dinners (thanks Findlays and Bensons!), we set our sights on a new mountain adventure: Lake O’Hara…

… to be continued.

Book Club, September edition

A large part of being a scientist involves reading, constantly. However, many things scientists read in journal articles can be understood by maybe a handful of people in the world, and don’t have much impact on broader society for many years after their publication. I always feel awkward in conversations with non-scientists when the topic of conversation turns to literature. Despite reading all the time, there’s a little less excitement in the air when I talk about a recent article from the Bergmann, Myers, or Martindale labs with my non-scientist friends. Furthermore, while I was keeping pace with the scientific literature, I rarely found time to read a novel, a biography, a poem, or broadly, anything that would be found in a liberal arts college dorm. Part of my sabbatical plan is to start catching up on the literature I should have read over the past ten years, so here’s a little blurb on what I knocked down in September.

The Martian, by Andy WeirThe_Martian_2014

I can’t quite put my finger on what makes The Martian a spectacular read, but indeed it was fantastic. There are many ways my cross-country trek felt like Mark Watney’s adventure, including eating lots of potatoes, having a lot of solo time driving and making camp, and having your friends know more precisely where you are on the planet than I did myself (thanks to a SPOT beacon). There were lots of things that tried to kill me, too, like bears, storms, and ticks. I think what made this book such a great read was the portrayal of an astronaut as a regular human. Most people think of astronauts as super-people, which in a way they are. But, beneath the jumpsuited ‘thumbs-ups’ they have perfected in astronaut school, all the astronauts I’ve met have been down to earth human beings, too. Watney’s character is written perfectly, as a human, not a superhero. Judging by the movie reviews out this week Matt Damon has done a reasonably good job of conveying this trait on the silver screen. If you haven’t seen the movie, pick up the book first! It’s a great read.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I’m not sure how I managed to get through high school in Canada without any exposure to Atwood, but I felt it was time to pick up her best known book. Set in future dystopian Harvard Square, I felt an odd connection with the main character for reasons unintended by the author. While The Handmaid’s Tale won the first Clarke award for science fiction, it’s most certainly not a classic sci-fi novel. Indeed, Atwood has stressed that it is a piece of “speculative fiction” which does not require any leaps in human technology, or intergalactic visitors to be logically consistent. Atwood’s style contrasted with Weir’s in a way that made it difficult to jump between the two books. The Handmaid’s Tale is described in such great detail, as opposed to The Martian which left a little more to the imagination. The narrative laid out by Atwood placed me right back the heart of Cambridge, with obvious references to familiar landmarks, and placed some difficult imagery on those landmarks at times. It was hard to remember that this book was published in 1985, as it felt like it could have been published much more recently, given the attention paid to environmental and social issues which are far ahead of their time. If you have missed this book along the way, I’d certainly recommend picking it up. I should also note that this book has been surrounded in controversy since its publication, usually by overprotective parents at PTA meetings, however Game of Thrones makes The Handmaid’s Tale seem rather tame by comparison.

Superfreakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt

Meh. That’s how I felt when I finished this one. Maybe I’d set the bar too high from the first Freakonomics book being quite good, but despite being a quick read, with some interesting stories, I didn’t really feel that my life changed by reading this one. The pace is quick, I finished it in two post-hike evenings by the campfire, and the language was probably oversimplified by the journalistic background of Dubner. Anyway, I received this book for free, I’ll give it away again soon in a Little Free Library somewhere in Calgary. Pick it up if you want a light read that makes you think a bit, but don’t take the authors’ words as the final say on any of their investigations.

Should we Eat Meat? by Vaclav Smil

Vaclav Smil is my favorite author for many reasons. His books are dense, not particularly well written, and of subject matter uninteresting to most non-academic humans, but damn they’re well researched, and good research allows for interesting conclusions. In this book, Smil takes on the notion of modern carnivory in a way only he can: data-rich, speculation-absent, with a strong historical background. Humans evolved eating meat. This much is clear. Our gut has evolved to process vegetables, too, but meat consumption has allowed humanity to expand its range, forced cooperation among individuals and the development of strategy, provided the foundation for a specialized economy, and perhaps the energy and protein obtained from meat allowed us our large brain size that differentiates ourselves from other animals. From a historical perspective, it is very clear that humans have a long tradition of meat consumption. However, Smil does not shy away from the downsides of the meat-industrial complex that dominates in the western world, and increasingly in the developing world. There are obvious problems with industrial-scale meat production that could be fixed quickly if the political climate required such change. If you feel strongly about meat, either for or against, you will probably be offended by something in this book. That’s my favorite part about reading Smil – he’s a slave to data, not to ideology. Those with strong feelings about an issue tend to ignore the data when it’s not in their favor, and Smil’s dispassionate approach may leave you feeling that your cause was not well represented. That’s a good thing. If you get a chance to see Smil in a public lecture, definitely make an effort to attend. He’s sarcastic, and very intelligent, with a cynical dark side to his humor. Should we Eat Meat? lives up to that reputation, and while I can’t recommend this book to everyone, I absolutely loved it.

~B

ps – I’m back in Calgary now, getting settled, and adjusted to Canada again. I’ve never heard so many hoser accents before, but my ear picks up on it so quickly now. I’ll be off in the Canadian Rockies for the next couple weeks, trying to get some backcountry camping in before the snow flies. More adventures to come, soon!

pps – I’d love suggestions for good reads. Leave me a note in the comments!

Fossil Forest, Tourist Stops, and Fishing

The last three days in Yellowstone have flown by. It’s hard to not wake up excited in a place like this! I took yesterday ‘off’, which included a 600′ hike to Monument Geyser basin, but also a stop at the Old Faithful Inn for Oktoberfest sausage and sauerkraut. Mmm. It felt so good to have a meal not prepared by campfire or Whisperlite. Luxury. I spent some time reading in my hammock, and resting up for the next day’s hike.

Day four started with a solid hike up Specimen Ridge to the fossil forest. This unmarked trail is visible from the highway, but nobody would be crazy enough to hike straight up an alpine bowl would they? Would they? The hike was a brutal 1800′ ascent in less than a couple miles, in blistering sun, but worth it. The views were amazing, and the petrified stumps were pretty cool, too. I even had a wildlife moment as a curious pronghorn tried to steal my lunch!

My fifth day of Yellowstone I spent fishing, and unfortunately there are no photos of this. Relaxing, slow-paced, sunshine and frustration of seeing the fish, and not having them bite every time. But I did manage a few bites and had a successful day.

That’s full time for Yellowstone, and this leg of the trip is coming to an end. I’ll be back in Canada before you read this. I’m looking forward to catching up with lots of you in Alberta soon!

B