This weekend marks a few anniversaries in the Craven Hermit household. It was eighteen years ago that I moved to Alberta to pursue a graduate degree in mechanical engineering. The funny thing about moving away to go to school is that sometimes you forget to move back home after graduation. I’ve now spent more of my life in Alberta than I spent on the farm in Manitoba where I grew up, which tends to blur the definition of ‘home’.
In the early 1970s, Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote a song called “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” for a Detroit group called The Undisputed Truth. Their version of the song didn’t trouble the top of the charts for long. A year or two later, the Motown assembly line retooled “Papa” into an epic twelve-minute recording by The Temptations that took the R&B world by storm. It features all the trademarks of the emerging funk-soul era – liquid bass lines, funky wah-wah guitar, Wurlitzer electric piano, hand claps, expansive drums, expressive vocals – the works. Amid a dozen musical hooks, the song turns on the lyric:
Papa was a rollin’ stone
Wherever he laid his hat was his home
And when he died, all he left us was alone
I’m no philanderer (very far from it), but there’s something to be said for the idea of calling your primary residence your ‘home’. Wherever you happen to find yourself in life’s rich pageant, home is the place where you can kick off your shoes, collapse onto the sofa with a cold beer, and chillax.
It was also ten years ago this weekend that I moved into my little townhouse in the suburbs. There’s a whole shelf full of hats in the closet by the front door. The condo fees are getting irritating and some of my neighbours are certifiably insane, but it still feels like home to me.
A lot of things have changed over the years. When I first moved to Alberta:
- Gasoline sold for 39.9 cents per litre;
- A dozen decent beers sold for $12;
- A ticket for new releases like “Pulp Fiction” and “Forrest Gump” at the movie theatre cost $5 on Tuesdays;
- The engineering marvel known as the ‘Chunnel’ between France and England was opened;
- A flip-to-talk cell phone was a real novelty;
- My nicely-appointed Pentium PC had a 320 MB hard drive and a 56k dial-up modem;
- Getting good seats for a rock show normally meant standing in line at a Ticketmaster kiosk at 6 am on Saturday morning;
- “Loser” by Beck was at the top of the alternative rock charts;
- Justin Bieber hadn’t yet learned how to crawl;
- Pink Floyd was touring the world’s stadia;
- Quebec City and Hartford still had NHL franchises;
- Mark “Moose” Messier had just led his New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup victory.
The weather this weekend is unusually cool and cloudy, so I threw on a fleece jacket and headed out to the Strathcona Wilderness Centre for some hikes in the bush. The place was pretty much deserted; it seemed more like a Tuesday morning in October than the Saturday of the Labour Day long weekend. The leaden grey skies and threats of rain made the day feel more like fall than summer, even though the aspen and poplar leaves haven’t yet changed to yellow. Adding to the autumnal ambiance was an abundance of mushrooms along the trails. It’s been a humid summer by Alberta standards, so maybe that’s why there is a bumper crop of funky fungi like these:
One advantage of doing a wilderness walk on a sleepy Saturday is you have a better than usual chance of encountering some wildlife. I could tell from the many hoof prints in the mud that there were moose on the loose:
Moose (Alces alces) are very shy animals. Like white-tailed deer, moose tend to move around only at dawn and dusk and get anxious when they detect the presence of humans. And, like the Craven Hermit, moose are solitary creatures, preferring to forage through the woods solo or in very small groups. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than three moose together at one time. You would think that the world’s largest member of the deer family would bound gracefully through the bush, but moose look almost comical in full flight. Their long legs and muscular shoulders are well adapted to walking through ponds and marshes in search of tasty water lilies, but when they run their limbs look like they’re going to fly off at any minute. Moose can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, over virtually any kind of terrain, but their gait is much closer to ‘athletic’ than ‘pretty’.
About 5 km into my journey, I hiked around a corner on a hill and came upon a big cow moose on the trail. I was down-wind and walking quietly, so I had a few moments to take in the scene. I dug out my iPhone and snapped a few pictures before she noticed me. This photo turned out okay, though I wish I’d remembered to bring my real camera with a proper lens and zoom:
A few seconds later, her adolescent calf emerged from the underbrush and the two of them high-tailed it into the poplars. I kept walking for another couple of hours, but didn’t see any more woodland creatures apart from a few chipmunks and woodpeckers. Still, crossing paths with a couple of free-ranging moose was one of those unplanned encounters that makes bundling up for a walk on a blustery day seem so worthwhile.