Aurora Borealis: The true colors of the wind

I am lucky enough to have witnessed the Northern Lights twice in my life and both times where some of the most memorable moments in my life. First in Northern Ireland and then in Canada, the memories of both will forever be so vivid in my mind.

The first time was a few years ago while I was driving to my university house. It was late on a Sunday night, maybe 10 or 11, and I was travelling the lonely, dark section of road between Belfast and Coleraine. The road was pitch black beyond my car lights, the sky was dark and clear and something in my gut told me to just look up. I will never forget thinking that the sky seemed a little odd, and a thought ran through my head…….” Are the Northern Lights about to start?” and then I laughed at myself, thinking I was just imagining it all. And that’s when it happened. The whole sky turned green. The sight literally took my breath away. The lights danced across the sky for 10 minutes, fading in and out across the darkness. It felt like the longest time, but as soon as it stopped it, it wasn’t enough. There was roadworks along the stretch of road, leaving only a single lane and nowhere to pull over so the few cars that shared the road with me were all travelling at a snail’s pace.

Even though I spent many a night out looking for the lights, it was more special to be surprised by them, although I would have loved to try and get a photo of them.

The second time was while I was living in Lac La Biche, a small lakeside town in Alberta, Canada. It had been a great day; I had been out canoeing with friends and spotted my first ever beaver which I was very excited about. It was the night of the finale episode of Game of Thrones, a night that I had been waiting for, for a long time, as did many people around the world. So, me and a few friends gathered in a small living room, with a projector and watched the episode. When it was finished there was much to discuss, and many emotions entailed; anger, disappointment and confusion. As one guy decided to head to bed, he walked outside and returned within 30 seconds, running and shouting “NORTHERN LIGHTS”. Immediately we all leapt to our feet and ran outside to see. As I looked up, I saw that familiar green dancing across the sky. It was amazing to share this experience with others, seeing the awe and excitement in everyone’s faces made it all the better. We decided to hop in a few trucks, and travel to a local park to find darker skies. The next hour, maybe a little longer was one of my favourite experiences in Canada so far. The park we went to, was along the shores of a large lake, and we found a pier to lie down on. Laying on our backs, side by side, we just stayed in silence for a while, watching. The green faded further and further until it was a pale white, but it still danced just as vividly across the sky. I knew Gabe had grew up in Northern Canada, seeing the lights his whole life, but I thought he was just pulling my leg when he said that they will get stronger if you sing or whistle to them. I can neither whistle or sing and didn’t want to embarrass myself, so I pushed him to prove it. The lights were well dimmed down when Gabe started to whistle and suddenly that strong green flashed across the sky again. It was magic. And just like before, the Northern Lights took my breath away. Gabe continued to whistle, and the lights danced to his song.

If you are ever lucky enough to see the Aurora in your lifetime, sing to them and see if the myth is true.

Prince’s Island Park: Constructed Wetland

It was such a pleasure to discover a constructed wetland in the heart of Calgary, Canada. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know it was even there until I finally walked to the far side of Prince’s Island Park the other day. I used to work beside the entrance to Prince’s Island Park so I am amazed that I never knew about the wetland. Obviously, if you are close to the river at all in Calgary, you will notice the large population of Canada Geese and various duck species but you would never guess that there is a wetland tucked into the park. The wetland was created to treat storm water before it enters the Bow River, but it also acts as a new habitat for lots of species and increases the biodiversity of the area.

This amazing work has been carried out by the Alberta Conservation Association. By artificially damming water and planting carefully selected plants like Wood’s Rose, Balsam Poplar and Slender Wheatgrass, they have developed a very impressive constructed wetland.

After the initial construction, it is up to nature to take over and that is definitely what has happened here. Whilst walking around the wetland area, you are surrounded by waterfowl, mostly Canada Goose, Mallard and the American Widgeon and the trees that line the pathway are filled with birds. I was treated to a sighting of my first North American Water Vole which was swimming between the banks of the wetland.

North American Water Vole (Microtus richardsoni)

Wetlands are an extremely important and useful ecosystem that we need to preserve and learn more about. I love that the pathway takes you all around the wetland banks on Prince’s Island and is filled with information signage to help teach people more about the importance of the flora and fauna of this special habitat. Constructed wetlands are a concept that other large cities should be thinking about; they increase biodiversity, improve water quality and can act as a buffer zone against floods, storms and other extreme weather events, especially along coastlines.

Grotto Canyon Trail: Canmore, Alberta.

On a recent trip to the Canadian Rockies I decided to visit the Grotto Canyon Trail, close to Canmore, Alberta. I have seen many photos across social media of this trail during Winter and I was excited to visit it.

Of course I looked up the trail online to find out more information and I found a lot of recommendations for the use of cleats or studded footwear due to the slippery ice, and I immediately said “…..Awk, I’m sure it will be grand”. This is a typical Irish response to most things, where we ignore perfectly good advice and just hope for the best!!

The first part of the trial is through a sparsely forested area and the terrain is pretty good but as soon as I got to the canyon and saw the frozen river, I immediately regretted my decision. The sun was shining and any ice not in the shade was starting to melt and was extremely slippery. I was able to walk most of the trail but struggled as I got towards the end where the waterfall is located. I was annoyed at myself to be able to get so far and then having to give up. I did not give up without a bit of a fight, I tried to walk further but it was a bit of a disaster and I had the bruised knees to prove it.

Where I stopped, I could see the frozen waterfall at the end of the trail and could even spot some ice climbers scaling it. I even got to witness some extremely comical falls that I wish I captured on my camera!!

The sights from within the canyon are amazing, especially on a beautiful sunny Winter day. I was lucky to spot some wildlife along the trail; there were lots of Squirrels and Chipmunks scurrying around on the ground and in the trees and I spotted my very first Bald Eagle as it swooped high above the canyon. When walking within the deep canyon walls, I could hear the echo of other hikers, the wildlife and even the falling of melting snow from the tall pines that lined the top of the canyon.

This spot is simply amazing during Winter and I would recommend anyone in the Alberta area to give it a try, just DON’T FORGET YOUR CLEATS!! i

Solace in the City

I always have and always will prefer to be in natural landscapes over urban landscapes. So, when I find myself in an urban environment I am constantly looking for little pieces of nature peeking through. Nature gives me Solace, it calms me and this is important to find in the noisy, busy world that we live in.

The city of Calgary in Canada is a thriving metropolis and is luckily surrounded by nature on all sides. The Rocky Mountains can be seen from the city and the Bow River flows right through it. The Bow River is my favourite place to visit in Calgary, as it is always filled with nature. By only taking a few steps away from the busy streets, you can experience the solace of the river. All of the urban noises are overshadowed by the sounds of the river; the fast flowing water rushing by, the Magpies and of course the Canadian Geese. You can nearly forget your in the heart of a city if you sit there for long enough, which I think is pretty amazing.

The image displays a section of the WWI memorial found along the riverside in the Kensington neighbourhood of Calgary.

Calgary New Central Library

I visited the new Calgary Public Library located downtown at the weekend and was I amazed to see large crowds filled all four floors. As I arrived at the steps to the entrance I was overwhelmed by the amazing architecture that stood before me. The wooden infrastructure is a beautiful addition to such an urban space.

As soon as I walked in the door I just felt excitement, I wanted to explore every inch of the building. The building was bustling and I was eager to scale the stairs to see as much as possible. The large windows throughout the building give a great view of the surrounding city. If like me, you like a view with your coffee and a book then this is the perfect place. Yes, there is a coffee shop so you can enjoy a nice latte when you visit.

We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story while we’re here; you, me, us, together… we change the world one story at a time.

Richard Wagamese

It was inspiring to see the children’s section full and how the kids were enjoying the culture, art, education, games and overall fun offered at the library. We need to make these types of educational spaces a place that the younger generation want to visit and I feel that this has been accomplished here.

It is safe to say that I am a geography nerd so when I spotted a cartography section, I was very excited. There are both modern and historical maps of Calgary and widespread Canada which offer lots of interesting information. There are so many things other than books that you can explore here.

We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth

John Lubbock

I can’t wait to take another trip to the library and hope people will keep visiting in such large numbers.

I’m not allowed to use the “I’m not a morning person” excuse anymore!

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a morning person as I love my sleep far too much. However, this morning I got up and went for a walk just catching the sunrise, and it was glorious. I walked through the busy streets of downtown Calgary until I reached the Bow River and crossed the bridge over to Prince’s Island Park. As I reached the park, the hustle bustle of the crowds heading to work faded away and soon the only noise was from the nearby Magpies. Looking towards the trees, it only took a second to spot the Black Squirrels darting between the branches high above me. I just stood there staying as still as possible, watching as they ran between the branches, down the trunks and along the ground. They are such playful animals, so small and fast that they barely make a sound. In this part of the park, I was surrounded by complete silence. As I walked towards the river again, I found the waters filled with Canada Goose and it looked like they were having my lie in this morning. Most of the geese had their heads all tucked in, trying to keep warm. They didn’t make very much noise either, so my morning continued to be quiet and peaceful, giving me a clear headspace for starting the day.

As I left Prince’s Island Park and entered Eau Claire I spotted another squirrel darting around on the ground, but this time it was a Grey Squirrel. As I got my camera ready, the little fella stood up on his back legs and just stared at me. You would think he was nearly posing for my photo. Again, I was too scared to move in case I spooked him. And after about 20 seconds, we both went on about our day, with me walking back into Downtown Calgary and him running up a tree trunk.

It was so encouraging to find nature, wildlife and even silence in the middle of such a busy city. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, whether it be urban or rural, nature makes it way through and can always be found. I’m sure it is pretty obvious by now, but I am very happy that I got up early this morning and I might even make it a regular occasion.