A bike ride with the Olympus 35 SP

I just got a new camera and was eager to try it out, so what better way than to get on my bike and ride Hwy 1A. Except that it snowed last night. The going was slow and slippery, even with studded tires, and it made me appreciate the effort that goes into plowing roads, even when there's only an inch of snow on the road. I got to the location where I had noted some decommissioned power lines and got off my bike and headed down the hillside toward the tracks. It was steep and I almost turned back, but found some animal tracks, so followed them down safely. I walked along the tracks until I got to the first decrepit power pole and got out my new camera. It's a rangefinder with a leaf shutter and operates very differently than an SLR. After focusing, and figuring out the exposure, I snapped the photo. It was not a very authoritative "click." It made me wonder whether a photo was taken, and whether the camera worked at all. So I decided to do manual exposures and that gave me a little more confidence that I was actually taking pictures.

Later on, I noticed a train approaching slowly. By the time it was heading by, I realized it was a some sort of maintenance train. It was short, had a small engine, and had a few cars that were cooking up something awful--maybe tar or some other substance to keep the railway ties in good order. It smelled bad and looked worse. By the time I could get my camera out, it had gone by, followed by 3 pickup trucks riding the rails. I generally don't think about rail maintenance, but it needs to happen. The railway is one of those things that used to be civilian friendly as it was the primary means of getting places afar. But these days, it's just a means for hauling cargo, and the public tolerates it. Less understood is how important it is to our current economy. Without it, Alberta wouldn't be able to sell all its grain, oil, potash, and coal.

But it does come with a cost--including whatever toxic substance that maintenance train was spewing out.

A bike ride with the Brownie

My Kodak Brownie camera was feeling neglected, so I took it with me on a bike ride around Tunnel mountain. But before that, I stopped at the Cascade power plant and snapped a couple of pictures, then took a couple of double exposures mirroring the road. The trail was icy and fast, and the ride was fun as always. I got to the place where the powerlines crossed the highway from the power plant and composed and shot the power poles with the surge tower in the distance. The camera itself is unassuming, has a soft "click" when taking photos, and has no exposure controls, relying instead on the latitude of the film to make up for any errors in exposure.

Using the Brownie has its challenges. The 120 film roll has to be modified to fit into 220 format, or rolled onto a 220 roll to fit into the Brownie. Then, the wide film is difficult to roll onto developing reels without kinking. It took around 10 minutes to feed this roll onto the reel. Developing takes twice the amount of developer, and the negatives need to be scanned individually because the variation in the exposures.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, because this is a Brownie camera after all, with a single plastic lens, which has distortion, flare, and only the center of the photo is somewhat sharp. I learned a new commandment after seeing the photos: "Thou shalt not take pictures of vertical lines near the edges with a Brownie." And I remembered an old one: "Thou shalt only view these pictures in Brownie format," which is on photo paper, 3" square, with a 1/4" white border. Anything more and the imperfections of the camera are magnified, and subject to scrutiny. So I'm not sure what I'll do with these photos. I'll print them on paper for sure, 3" square. And they may end up on this site.

Castle Mountain

Today I drove out to Castle mountain. I may not be incorrect in saying it is the most photographed mountain in Banff. It's imposing nature makes one feel small--almost like looking at the stars.

I went tromping through the snow to get a photo of the mountain juxtaposed against the wildlife fence. Unfortunately, I left my snowshoes in the van and sank knee deep trying to get to the perfect spot. A little later and a little wiser, I tromped to another location--with my snowshoes. I forgot how exhausting it is. With the temp at -12C, I was breaking into a sweat. As I was taking pictures of an overpass with Castle Mt in the background, standing at a junction of the highway which is cleared of trees for hundreds of meters, pavement laid down, signs put up, snow piled up from clearing, and fencing strung out for miles to keep wildlife at bay, I realized that at that point in time, I was a part of this. The road brought me there. The fencing helped me not to hit wildlife. Signs helped me know what/what not to do, and piled up snow meant I didn't have to drive in deep snow to get there.

Still, I couldn't figure out whether it was good or bad that I was there...


Another year has passed and Banff has suffered an economic setback from Covid-19. Hotels are struggling and some businesses are on the verge of closing for good. Is this a bad thing? On the one hand, many are out of work, others are struggling financially, and the economic landscape is changing. But if you were to ask the landscape what it thought, it might breathe a little sigh of relief. For at least one year man hasn't kept up his unrelenting advance in occupying Banff. Of course, this will be all but over in a few months, and I imagine the spring back in visitors will be strong, from people desperate to get away from their confinement. Then it will be back to the status quo.

The push and pull between man and nature will continue, and the advocates on both sides will keep fighting. There is no clear answer. I'm human too, and while enjoying Banff, I make an impact on it just by being there and insisting that roads be kept up, businesses stay opened, and garbage bins be emptied. I do not agree with the nature advocate who insists on restricting man's access in Banff while selfishly continuing to enjoy it. Nor do I agree with the tourism industry and parks who would like to see the number of visitors increase year after year. But perhaps infrastructure can be reduced to give the visitor more of a natural experience, and maybe Parks can reduce the amount of international marketing which brings visitors from around the world, even while allowing unfettered access to all areas in Banff.

Sulphur Mountain

A nice day starts with a hike up Sulphur Mountain--an intermediate 5 km hike up switchbacks, which ends up at a visitors center. Warming up with hot chocolate before descending on the gondola, which used to be free in the off season, could be followed by a dip in the hot springs at the base of the climb. It wouldn't be nearly as nice without the convenience of the heated visitors center and the gondola ride down. It's hard to imagine doing without these things. Would I climb Sulphur mountain if it was just a bare mountain top? Probably not as much.

But the gondola and visitors center have an impact. Trees need to be trimmed, power lines maintained, boardwalks de-iced, and supplies brought up while waste brought down. This is what Banff has become.

Go to Sulphur Mountain