A Break from Winter

Winter’s great – most times – but long, dark days and colder nights take a toll as the months begin to stretch on. Maybe that’s why we usually escape in January or February for a little break and swap ski boots for hiking sandals. Sometimes the destination is Mexico’s Pacific Coast or the Yucatan. Sometimes it’s Costa Rica or Hawaii.

Occasionally, it’s as close as the southern United States.

Sunset at Big Bend National Park, Texas. (Credit: M. Kopp)

Sunset at Big Bend National Park, Texas. (Credit: M. Kopp)

Where do you like to go when you need a break from winter?

Winter Birds in the Canadian Rockies

It’s a sad time in the fall, when the last of the migrants head south and the woods become silent. All of a sudden there seems to be a huge void, and I know winter has arrived. But there are a few hardy species of birds that stick around to put a little sparkle in winter outdoor adventures.

House Sparrows haunt feeders and town trails. Chickadees fly in flocks from tree to feeder to tree in search of seeds left untouched. Gray jays perch near skiers’ rest stops, hoping for stray crumbs. Ravens soar the skies from mountain hut to windswept pass and back again, keen eyes always on the lookout for their next meal.

One of my personal favourites is the white-winged crossbill – a backcountry denizen large enough to be spotted on its perch and easily identifiable by its odd-crossed shaped bill (used to pluck seeds from cones).

White-winged crossbill. (Credit: M. Kopp)

Female white-winged crossbill. (Credit: M. Kopp)

What is your favourite winter bird?

Twitter and the Writer

Tweet, tweet, tweet!

Tweet, tweet, tweet!

As a freelance writer, I enjoy Twitter. It’s a valuable marketing tool, a place to find inspiration and a vehicle for getting outside of my head and into those of other writers.

A good start is the Twitter Guide for Writers & Illustrators. Whether you are a tweeting fool or tweetless, Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s (@inkyelbows) guide is priceless. Wondering how Twitter can possibly help writers? Read this. Ready to start, but don’t know where? Answer’s here. Wondering how to make your Twitter feed more interesting? Look here.

The Ultimate Guide to Twitter for Writers is one long post – I mean, really long. Although it’s not quite as easy to use as Ohi’s Q & A format, it’s still full of stellar info. Learn how to customize your header, use gearshifts, or perfect your writing hashtags. Frances Caballo (@CaballoFrances) writes even more on the topic at her own site, Social Media for Writers.

Carol Tice (@TiceWrites) offers 15 tips for writers to get noticed on Twitter at Make a Living Writing. Personally, I think #7 “Stop constantly marketing yourself” is critical. Create a dialogue that isn’t self-absorbed and people will want to keep the conversation going.

As a writer, do you find value in Twitter?

Amiskwi: A Backcountry Ski Getaway

Last year right around this time, we were twiddling our thumbs at the airport. The helicopter was late; something about a rescue. You can’t argue with that. We were itching to hop on our chopper and head in from Golden, B.C. to our home away from home for the next week – Amiskwi Lodge – but patience was required.

Bags and boxes and skis and poles were stacked high in the hangar. We paced a little, chatted a lot, took yet another bathroom break, paced some more – and then it was on. Rush, rush, rush – do this, don’t do this, put skis in here, bags in there, buckle up and we’re off.

Amiski Lodge - the view from afar. (Credit: M. Kopp)

Amiski Lodge – the view from afar. (Credit: M. Kopp)

We flew above the Blaeberry River, all eyes on mountains passes, avalanche paths and snow-covered meadows, as if it were possible to judge the potential for a good week of touring options from the air. It didn’t matter. The trip wasn’t really about the skiing, it was about the journey.

The backcountry retreat. (Photo: M. Kopp)

The backcountry retreat. (Photo: M. Kopp)

It was about forging new friendships over shared meals and dice games. It was exploring the thrills of open slopes, testing skills in treed glades and standing still to soak in views from ridge tops. But most of all, it about escaping the turmoil of the outer world to find a sense of peace – for me, at least.

The inner workings of Amiskwi.  (Credit: M. Kopp)

The inner sanctum of Amiskwi. (Credit: M. Kopp)

Such is the magic of getting away, of travelling (near or far), of letting go and finding yourself within.


Places for Writers

“Sometimes you come across sites that are too good not to share with other writers. [places for writers] is one of those sites. The goal here is to help writers find homes for their work, in other words, to get published.

[places for writers] isn’t new, it’s been around since 1997 offering information on submissions and contests – most of which, but not all, are from Canada. Travel writers might be interested in Cargo literary magazine. They’re looking for travel essays, creative nonfiction, poetry and visual art (including photography) that explores travel and personal growth (deadline Jan 30/15.) Another one of interest is Carleton University’s “Passages: Transitions Between Worlds,” open until Feb 15/15.

Another site that caught my eye was “The Punctuation Guide.” It’s a quick and easy reference to terminal points, pausing points, hyphens and dashes, quotations and other points. If nothing else, check out the Top Ten Tips for a valuable punctuation refresher!

Got a worthy writing link to share? Feel free to add it in the comments below!


“As she has planted, so does she harvest; such is the field of karma.”
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib




Turkey: A Hiking Adventure

The Ride
It all started when we asked Hilal, our pansyion owner, if he could help us arrange a ride to another town for a one-way hike back to Üçağiz. No problem, only 50 Turkish lira (TL). When he ushered us out onto the street, I stared slack-jawed at the little blue sedan. Loading our packs into the trunk and avoiding the rusted holes revealing glimpses of cobblestones below, I crossed my fingers that the packs would be there when we stopped.

The car tilted as the driver plunked into his seat, which leaned back at an angle and rested against my legs. I looked out at the driver’s mirror hanging on by a wire. The rearview was shaking so hard as the engine coughed and spluttered that I couldn’t look at it for long. Fumes wafted through every crack and crevice. The gas gauge read empty. No wait, it wasn’t empty. None of the gauges were working. We chugged slowly up the hill out of town and then sputtered to a halt. Stalled mid-road, our driver calmly turned off the engine, started it again, pumped the gas a few times and we were off. We could walk faster at this point.

Creeping up the hill past the bus parking, it was all looking good – and then we crested the hill. At this point, I had a second to wonder about the brakes before we started flying down around the first corner. Up and down we go, blasting past the big new shiny mosque in Boğazcık before coming to a rolling stop beside the Lycian Way trail – our destination.

The chariot. (Credit: M. Kopp)

The chariot. (Credit: M. Kopp)

The Trail
Standing trailside, we stared at the trailside marker. There were three route options. The sign didn’t point to any of them. It momentarily threw us for a loop, until a local came out and kindly mimed that the sign was angled slight off kilter.

Full of ankle bending rocks and rubble, roadway crossings, navigational challenges, spectacular and seldom-visited ruins, and close up encounters with all kinds of “wild” life – we wandered along the route for almost five hours through olive groves and abandoned homesteads before reaching Aperlae and the unexpected opportunity to avoid the remaining three-hour trek back to Üçağiz in the heat of the day.

"Wild" life along the hike. (Credit: M.Kopp)

“Wild” life along the hike. (Credit: M.Kopp)

The Boat
When the price dropped quickly from 80 to 60 TL, we hopped on board. Or would have, if it was our boat. This one – with sunshade and pillowed seats – belonged to another group of hikers. Our boat was on its way.

“Only 40 minutes,” the harbour master muttered under his breath. Forty minutes? Maybe we’ll walk.

“No, no,” he spoke up quickly, “15 minutes.” Now we’re talking.

Forty-five minutes later our one-armed captain jumped spryly off the worn little vessel, deftly avoiding the empty beer bottle just to his right. Not a chance there’s going to be a single life jacket on this puppy. Good thing the wind – and a strong one at that – was blowing at our back.

All aboard! (Credit: M.Kopp)

All aboard! (Credit: M.Kopp)

When our captain left the tiller to skip forward and share a tale about the blood money used to buy yachts like the massive black one pulling into the harbour, I clung to the centre, oddly cross-shaped pole. Sideways in the waves we went – only to be distracted as flying fish soared past.

I was almost sorry the trip was over as our tiny vessel nosed its way between a row of boats to pull up dockside in Üçağiz and the captain killed the motor – by putting two bare wires together.

Focus on the journey, not the destination.
Joy is found not in finishing an activity, but in doing it.”
– Greg Anderson



Alberta’s Mountains: They Have a Way of Putting Life into Perspective

There is something about being outside that puts everything in its place. I headed out for a four-day ski trip up the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park with a mind full of clutter. I came back home with a clean slate, refreshed and relaxed.


Take a look at the picture below.

Looking across to Bow Summit. (Credit: M. Kopp)

Looking across to Bow Summit. (Credit: M. Kopp)

Did you spot our vehicles parked roadside near the lower meadow?

What are men to rocks and mountains?
― Jane AustenPride and Prejudice

Writing Old School

It felt clunky and awkward. Words fell onto the blank page only to disappear in fury of eraser bits and dust. Writing without a laptop or iPad was surprisingly difficult. I couldn’t edit as easily, I couldn’t grab a word and move it up in a sentence. I couldn’t make it work… at first. And then the scratching of the lead against fine wood fibres began pulling me back into the art of writing old school.

Mosquito Creek Hostel provided the perfect writer's retreat. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Mosquito Creek Hostel provided the perfect writer’s retreat. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Spending a long weekend away from the distraction of internet a mere keyboard click away forced this writer to focus on getting the ideas down, rather than editing or breaking the flow to deal with the business aspects of being a freelance writer. Long after the lights of the hostel dorm dimmed, my headlight shone brightly on the notebook tucked firmly in a little corner of my bunk. The blue pencil flew across the page as thoughts and impressions and ideas poured from mind to page.

Productive? Definitely.

Do again? Absolutely.

When was the last time you took a break from writing with a computer?