Thursday, April 21, 2011

Brag, Brag, Brag...

Laura Swan is a transplanted Californian who now calls Calgary, Alberta Canada “Home.” This story, with magnificent shots of her beloved Rockies, delightfully depicts her unabashed passion for her adopted country and plays on her propensity to shamelessly boast about it! You’ll find yourself gasping at the extraordinary beauty and blushing at Laura’s embarrassing adventures in Braggadocio! 

Laura credits her dad, a professional photographer, for instilling in her the basic technical photographic skills—though she takes pride in the fact that he told her she was a “natural.” Much later she began to delve into digital art and she openly admits to adoring that art form. To see more of Laura’s artistry, please visit her gallery .

I'd love to know what you think of the "Relentless Pursuit" series. Please leave a comment below or email me with your suggestions on what you'd like to see on this blog.  If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me [at this moment there are only two stories still on tap--we need YOURS!]. And be sure to take a look at my Photography site. I'd love to hear from you!


Michelle Alton


Brag, Brag, Brag....

What started with harmless bragging ended in a perilous hunt for wild bear. Let me tell you the story.

I live in western Canada, at the eastern edge of the big, beautiful Canadian Rockies where the lakes are turquoise blue and the animals run wild and free. The air is fresh; the water is straight from our glaciers. The crime rate is low. We get more sunshine, here in Calgary Alberta Canada, than anywhere in ALL of Canada.  It's heaven here on earth. Oh. Was I bragging again? I thought I had learned my lesson???  There I go again!

I was born and raised in California. At age 21 I went on a blind double date as a favor to my roommate, Kathy. My blind date was a nice, hard working Canadian fellow--Tall, blond and handsome with tight speech, so clearly Canadian. He had a logger’s beard and the strongest arms I'd ever seen on a man.  (Oops! More bragging! I MUST learn my lesson!)

Dale Swan

Engagement of Dale and Laura (Photo by Alan McKeegan 1984)

Well, that date turned into many dates and finally turned into marriage three years later. Five years after that, in 1990, we moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada to be near Dale’s family and we have been here ever since.

That November, so long ago, I left my own "people" behind. It was very hard for me, so my mission became to get my family and friends to come and visit as soon as possible. That is where my bragging troubles began.

I wrote regular letters to them telling of my new adventures here. Trying to sound up and positive and to be the entertaining person they always knew back home. I took many beautiful photos to enclose in each letter, hoping someone would come see us here.  We moved here in the beginning of the Canadian Winter season so my first letters were filled with tales of survival in the great white North!!! The very night we arrived, U-hauls in tow, it was -25 degrees C. This was unheard of to someone like me or my "people." We were all accustomed to mild and bearable weather. I had to explain to my family and friends what -25C really meant--that it was way worse than sticking your head in the freezer for a prolonged period of time! And how we had to dress in several layers of clothing wearing Kodiak socks on our frozen feet. Walking outside with huge big Alaskan boots on and parkas was the “norm” for Rocky Mountain “garb.” Oh, and of course, not forgetting to add the final fashion touch. face masks to avoid frost bite.


Frost on the Window

My tales must have gripped them, as they’d reply saying that they were at the edge of their seats waiting for my next letter and more photos to arrive. My bragging about Canada, and about the unusual, was paying off big time with every description of crunching snow beneath our feet.

Well when our first spring and summer finally came, and our nose hairs no longer froze fetching the mail from the box, and song birds returned to Canada, windows opened and I had much better things to report. The beauty of the Canadian Rockies was emerging. We were able to make the drive up into the woodlands of the mountains where waterfalls and nature became available to me for the first time. My letters and photos of Canada made Calgary a bigger temptation for them as a travel destination!

Friends and family began to trickle up, even in that first summer. Then more arrived in the next years where they experienced the immense beauty for themselves, returning home to spread the word that all that Laura wrote about was true! Turquoise lakes, bears in abundance, moose, eagles, foxes, elk, all
running and flying wild and free. The beautiful Canadian Rocky Mountains. They all returned to their homes doing their own bragging about this heaven on earth!!!

Visiting Friends from the American Midwest, Ron and Shirley McEwan

Kiki Kjaer (from Denmark) and Laura Swan  (Photo by Leif Kjaer)

There was only one person in my immediate family that I just couldn’t seem to talk into coming here. My eldest brother. My sister flew up to visit as did my nephew; then a second cousin’s wife, my aunt, cousins, friends, and the list got longer from there…Everyone that was able, came. But not my brother.

Nothing I'd say would get him to come see me. No bragging seemed to do the trick. He seemed determined not to visit. ”Too far away” for him. “Too busy working -- No time, no time, NO TIME...

Then one shocking happy Summer 17 years after we moved here, he changed his mind and said, "YES!", he'd come. He wanted to see me and to see some wild life--The BEARS-- The ones I always bragged about.

At some point during my absence from California my big brother had become a hunter. Wild Boar, Bear, Deer...So the notion of seeing animals running wild and in abundance, (under protection of the land), seemed to spark his interest.

He stayed for ten glorious days as did many of our visitors. I guess the word spread that ten days was a good amount. Not too short and long enough to see the BEARS!

As we did with everyone else, we took my brother sightseeing all around the wilderness of the Rockies. I drove; Dale and my brother sat in the back seat in style. Almost every day we got up early and headed straight into the Rockies. Banff, Kananaskis, Johnston's Canyon, several lakes...all the famous spots...My brother salivated at each huge wild elk that we'd see.  Each deer, each eagle, fox
or whatever. We stopped to take photos when we could.

I was glad he didn't have his rifle or a permit! (Insert nervous laughter here on my part!)  Each day someone would remark that we hadn't seen a bear yet. We searched hard and strained our eyes! It was uncanny that we hadn't. We drove to the tops of Rockies, around secret roads that only the locals like us know about.  We hiked, nature trailed along rivers and took gondolas. Not a bear in sight. So we brought picnic food to eat in the car and had fun, making the best of it anyway. Each day brought different weather. Sunshine, rain, sleet and even snow at the mountain tops! Each day brought everything but a you-know-what!

My Brother On the Banff  Gondola, Sulphur Mountain.

Moraine Lake, Banff Natioanal Park, Alberta Canada
Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park
Cameras were clicking. We did have so much fun. Yet his goal each day for over a week now, was still unrealised. Not a grizzly in sight. Not a black bear to marvel over and take photos of. The one animal we are the most famous for eluded us! The ones I had so often bragged about in my letters. Dear readers, it was Day 8 and we had not seen one measly bear. Not one!  I shouldn't have bragged so much about the bears. After all, the BEARS were his main reason (besides a family visit) for coming to the area. As his little sister, I felt like a failure and thought to myself that this might have ruined his trip because he had come such a long way to see them! I had blocked from my mind that it was his little sister and his brother in law he had most wanted to see!

That 8th day, when I woke up something hit me. OH MY GOSH. I felt it in my heart. TODAY WE WILL SEE Three BEARS!  ("Huh?!" I said to myself,  “Three?  LAURA. Don't you DARE say that to anyone. That is just going too far with the empty hopes! A dead worm on a fishing hook!”)

So I marched to the breakfast table, and contrary to my beliefs, said to the boys, “Today we are GOING to see three bears!!!" Well, this got a good laugh and I said "You just wait and see!" After I said this, I said in my heart to myself, "Laura, listen to you! WHAT DID I JUST TELL YOU ABOUT BRAGGING??? Your bragging has just gone too far this time! What if we don't see a bear today?"

Wedge Pond, Kananaskis Country Alberta
Well, I learned my lesson in bragging. Now today I would pay the piper and be silenced for life.

On this day we would take my big brother to Lake Louise. It is a very famous lake far into the Rockies. When we arrived it snowed a little. It was so beautiful...I was hopeful because it is Lake Louise that we ALWAYS see bears! ALWAYS! Well always, for 17 years, except on this day.

On our way home, with my head hanging low, we drove back through the Banff National Park. All of a sudden, we saw a crowd of cars on the right shoulder of the road!  HA! This was a good sign! People always crowd around and park their cars on the road if they see an animal! Could it be my three bears?

Well...NO! It wasn't! But it was ONE BEAR! One big, beautiful GRIZZLY BEAR eating dandelions, peacefully. Hurray!!!!!!!!! One bear was better than NO BEARS. Excited for my brother, I watch as he opened his car door slowly and crept out of the back seat like a true hunter, leaving the door open behind him as not to make a sound. He was in his element. He had found what he was waiting for. He set his camera and zoomed in for his prized photos to take home with him to show the family.

A very ignorant male tourist with a fancy camera ran up the hill there charging the fence trying to startle the bear to get a better shot of its face, maybe hoping the grizzly bear would rear up!  Little did he know that with one retorted charge that bear could have easily plowed that fencing down and we'd all have been history!

Gratefully the bear had more sense than the man and soon ran off into the woods, roaring. Several other tourists then roared at the ignorant tourist and we all got back in our cars and left. As we drove off my brother said, "Well Sis you were right. We saw a bear today.” With renewed confidence and obviously no sense in my head I said, "Yes, but that was only ONE bear. We have two more to go!" They laughed. I smiled.

Before exiting the Banff National Park gates there was one more place I wanted to show my brother and felt we had time to do so: Mount Norquay. Many postcard photos are shot from there overlooking the Banff Townsite. It’s so very pretty. There is a huge ski hill at the top and it is always very worth taking the riveting two lane road up and back. On the way back it's a bit of a “white knuckle” ride down because it's on the outer edge and on cliffs. The views from there are spectacular. It would be our last thrill for the day.

My brother, tired but very impressed with another fun filled Canadian day, sat in the back seat of our car with his window down enjoying the fresh mountain air. As we slowly made our way back down Mt. Norquay we almost got into a wreck around one of the tight and blind bends in the road. Thankfully I was driving very slowly at the time. That is all that saved us.

There were three vehicles stopped in their tracks. Something was happening there. Up on the side of the green grassy hill, but what? We couldn't see anything yet.  As cameras ahead of us hung out of camper and truck windows we waited our turn in the back of the line.  I said "Get your cameras ready folks. We have wild life ahead. Maybe more mountain sheep or MAYBE OUR BEARS?" I said in
suspenseful and joking tones, raising my eye brows at them! Okay. I know you readers here are clever right? But at the time we were not and had no idea what it would be.

"It" was a "them"!

It was a Mama Black Bear and her two new little springtime cubs!!! Her darling babies were little and round and fat and brown (as many cubs can be until they age). They couldn't have been more than 20 pounds each. It was so exciting. She had them there at a fallen tree trunk and she was banging on it to break it up for them. There were maggots inside the rotting trunk and she was teaching them to eat!

Black Bear Cubs

With the bears acting completely unaware of any of us, we took many respectfully quiet photos and eased away so the next car could see what was there. We never got great head shots but with bears you take what you can get, and quietly move on.

This all happened four years ago now, and my brother is still busy back in California bragging about our Relentless Pursuit of the bears and the final victory that his little sister Laura foretold with confidence on that eighth day at the breakfast table.

"Not three bears, like she predicted, but we actually saw four!"

So friends, my bragging rights and reputation unscathed, my stories are still much revered back home. Have I learned my lesson about bragging? Hmm...I don't know. Oh say, have I told you yet about the time we...Oh never mind. Maybe I'd better not?

Laura Swan’s Bio

Born and raised in Northern California with a professional photographer for a father, I learned very early how to compose and shoot photographs. Although digital art is my first love, I have always enjoyed the challenge of making a great shot.

I feel very blessed to now live just a short drive from the Great Canadian Rockies, where there are always new and exciting things to shoot and on which to ply my digital artistry. I shoot with a Nikon D90 and a great point-and-shoot Canon PowerShot SD800 IS.

My work can be seen at my gallery.


 All photos, unless otherwise stated, are by Laura Swan.


Thanks so much for visiting "Tales of Relentless Pursuit." If you have a free moment or two, please check out my Photography Website, Your Best Shot, and sign up for the mailing list! And also consider sending the link to this blog to your circle of friends.




Monnie Ryan said...

Wonderful story from a fabulous artist and photographer!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful true story from a great gal, and photographer! Makes me want to save to visit Calgary, and Laura!

Peaches said...

AWESOME story *chuckle*, When I come, I want to see a bear too LOL, they dont live by me, but more North......though 2 weeks ago, they were tracking a collared bear a mile from the farm YIKES! Maybe I will see him in my woods someday!

Anonymous said...

This is one super story Laura. Knowing from first hand how great a host and hostess you and Dale are. Wish we could have stayed longer. You should write for the Tourist Dept of Alberta.


Kelly Alholinna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kelly Alholinna said...

Laura, I am dying over here after reading that story!! It reminds me of mine and my husbands 10-day trip to Alaska...all I wanted to see was some kind of wildlife (especially a moose) and all I saw in 10 days was a stinkin racoon!! After my sis-in-law dropped us off at the airport...guess what she saw on the way home? A moose!!! To this day I do not believe that the moose are as prevalent as they!!! But at least your brother got to see his bears!!

The pictures are absolutely amazing!!

Lonnie said...

Great photography and a good story to go with it!!! Well done

Joe DiGilio said...

Laura, I remember learning it isn't bragging if you can actually produce, and you did. Your story was very entertaining and your images (I remember them and you from BP) of Alberta Canada and the Northern Rockies make me want to come visit too. You sure paint a pretty picture. Makes me wonder what I'm doing on this island.

Courtenay Vanderbilt said...

Entertaining story and wonderful images, Laura!

Ellen said...

Very interesting story and fabulous photos, Laura!!! A big WOW!!

Anonymous said...

Wow...excellent story, Laura..and, I don't recall seeing all those great landscape photos in your em! :-)

Ken Smith

Dave Phalen said...

A wonderful entertaining story by an outstanding photographer!!

Christine Lobsinger said...

Tell more stories Dear Laura! Whoohoo~ Way to Go! You have me smiling from ear to ear-
A beautiful post with stunning photography!
Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Had me on the edge of my seat hoping your bears would show up...great story telling, Laura!! I love all of the images, and as Ken pointed out...there are some I haven't seen before, either...definitely post them!! You are a good writer, my friend! Congratulations!


Anonymous said...

Great story and phenomenal pics, Laura!! Glad your brother got to see his bears. If the water does not warm up here this summer we may see some polar bears-- I'll post the pics if it happens...

Robert B.

Anonymous said...

This was SUCH a wonderful story, SSSLala.
I enjoyed every moment of it together with your familiy shots and marvelleous images.
You have such talent for writing which is only exceeded by your creativity and talent for capturing and creating images.
I wanted this story to go on forever..

Doug Perry said...

This is just what I expected to hear from Miss Laura. Cute, fun, sincere, and well written. With great pictures!

pam said...

You are not only a talented photographer but an excellent storyteller as well. Having had the pleasure of being one of those old friends that has visited you (many times I might add) from south of the border I smiled all the way through your story. I absolutely Love the place you now call home. It ranks right up there with the most beautiful sites I've seen anywhere in the world.

Kalena said...


I enjoyed reading your story & seeing the beautiful photos throughout! You are such a talented young lady! I'm glad it had a "happy ending", too!

LauraEm said...

Thank you all for coming to my story on Michelle's Blog and leaving such kind comments. It was an honor for me to write this story for you and I look forward to more family and friends making the trip up and over to The Canadian Rockies! I Hope You See A Bear! No PROMISES! HA! :)

-Laura Swan

kk parker said...

Wonderful!! Congrats, Laura, on a great article!!

Gord MacEachern said...

Hey Laura, great story, loved it!!
Your story and those beautiful images are just so great. Being Canadian myself I am so glad you love your adopted country so much. It's been a while since I have been "out west", might be time to go back out again to enjoy every thing you have been bragging about.
Great article Laura.

LauraEm said...

You guys are the best! Thanks so much for your feed back and kind words!

PLEASE come see the Rockies soon. They await you in all their glory!

-Laura :S