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Welcome to Featherstone

“Why Featherstone?”  Joe asked. “Is that your hippy name?”

Well, Joe, I suppose in a way, it is.  I’ve reached a point in my life where I need to follow what the quiet voice inside has been trying to tell me for years.  I need to let go and be who I was meant to be all along.  The name Featherstone reminds me that it is possible to be grounded and still able to fly.

Inside these pages you will find poetry, photography and a few random thoughts.  I hope you enjoy your visit.

Winter Wise

Winter looms above us like a dark prophecy…

Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic. But remember a few weeks ago when I said that winter was just a few kilometers up the road? I wasn’t wrong.

It started out simple enough. Santana had a four-hour shift to put in. Rather than drop him off, go home, turn around and come back, I decided to go for a drive. I’d been wanting to check out a certain stretch of road – Jack Pine Forestry to Bear Lake Main to the Coquihalla Connector. My concern was the Connector. A high mountain pass that connects mild-mannered Highway 97 to the tempest that is the Coquihalla, the Connector is subject to rapid weather changes and high volumes of snow. Frequent accidents are the norm. Drive BC has a sign between West Kelowna and Peachland that keeps drivers up to date on the road conditions. I figured if the sign said it was bad, I’d just roll on into Peachland and buy myself some lunch. Win-win.

The sign said, “Slippery Sections.” That didn’t sound too bad. I exited onto Glenrosa Road and began my ascent.

Evidence of winter’s approach was almost immediate. Before I was even beyond the residential area, there was snow on the side of the road. The further I went, the thicker it got. The weird thing was that the snow had been plowed. I have to ask – who does that? Or a better question – who pays for it? When I lived out in the country, if you weren’t on a school bus route, you were pretty much S-O-L. And finally, if the money is there, why hasn’t the road been fixed?

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It was, however, absolutely gorgeous. The sky was a brilliant blue and for the most part, the snow had that virginal look to it. Except for the tracks.

When I lived in Alberta and worked in the newspaper industry, we would arrive home everyday shortly after sunrise and I would check the yard to see what creatures had visited through the night by reading the tracks. We got quite a variety – enough so that I finally asked Santa to bring me a trail cam. I left Alberta before getting the chance to set it up.

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I could see plenty of tracks in the snow. Deer and rabbit, birds, coyotes and even a large cat, although I couldn’t say for sure if it was lynx or cougar. The snow had blown over, so the tracks weren’t exceptionally clear, but I could see that there were no claw marks. That’s how you tell the difference between canine and feline tracks. Canines don’t have retractable claws.

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The snow was thick in the areas the sun couldn’t reach, hanging precariously from branches. It sparkled blue and silver in the filtered light.

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Partially frozen streams added texture to the landscape.

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Eventually, I reached the junction of Jack Pine Forestry and Bear Lake Main. I made my turn. The road was narrower here, hugged by trees on both sides – and it hadn’t been plowed. I stopped to take some photos and couldn’t help but slip into a memory.

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It was near Christmas and I was about eleven. I was spending a few days with my best friend and cousin on her farm. Every season on the farm had something special, but winter seemed even more so. Whether it was skating on the frozen beaver dam or snowmobiling in the endless fields, there was always something. On this evening, we were on our way to a neighboring farm for a Christmas party. The road was exactly like this one, dark and magical, and there was an air of anticipation, the kind you only feel when you’re young.

I remember the kids were permitted to drink cider. I’m not sure if the parents realized that the alcohol percentage was higher in the cider than in the beer they were drinking, but somehow, I don’t think so.  I think they thought it was non-alcoholic.  Albertans weren’t that familiar with cider in those days. I don’t remember much more about that night – no big surprise there.

But that road – that road with its towering trees and snow-coated branches is something I never forgot.

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I wanted to drive down this road – I was hungering to drive down this road. I rounded the first corner. The snow was getting deeper. There was a large 4X4 headed toward me, only the second vehicle I had seen all day. I pulled as far over to the side as I could to make room for him to pass. I felt the rear end of the car slip a little and quickly corrected the steering. My window was already down, as usual, so I waved at the other driver as he was about to pass. He lowered his window and looked down at me.

“How’s the road ahead?” I asked. He shook his head.

“It just gets worse from here.” He looked down at my little old Grand Prix with its all-season tires. “Frankly, I’m amazed you made it this far.”

I laughed.

“I drive slow.”

With a wave he pulled away. I thought about it for a minute or two. I looked longingly down the road and with a sigh I wiggled my little car back and forth until I was fully turned around.

I may be adventurous, but I’m not stupid.

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Well…OK.

 

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Where the Wild Things Are

I make a big deal about bears – about how I’m always looking for them.  I’ve complained that even though I was never guaranteed to find one, at least when I lived in Alberta, I knew where to go look.  I knew where to search for moose.  I knew the best places to go birding and where I would be most likely to spot a herd of elk.

I didn’t always know.  

Even though I grew up in Alberta, it wasn’t until I had moved away for a few years and came back that I began to understand and appreciate what Alberta was.  It wasn’t until someone handed me a camera that I realized there were more birds out there than Magpies and Mallards.  It took me until I was in my 40’s to see the beauty in a field of wheat, the call of a coyote, the taste of a thunderstorm and the songs of tiny frogs. 

Sometimes, I miss all that.  

It’s not that BC doesn’t have all those things.  I know it does. I just don’t know where to find them – yet.

Except for the sheep.  I know where to find the California Big Horn Sheep.  There is no way for me to adequately express how truly fortunate I am to live in such a place, a place where fifteen minutes after leaving my house, I am looking through my lens at these glorious creatures.

Because it’s such a short distance, I went out twice this week – once early in the morning, when the sky was the colour of sapphires,

 

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and again, late in the afternoon, while the sun slipped behind the mountains.  

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So, if you hear me complaining that I haven’t seen a bear or that I forget what a moose looks like, just remind me that there are still plenty of roads to travel.  Remind me that I live in a world of endless possibilities.  Say, “Sally, remember the sheep.”

 

Aspen Trail

I’m on a quest. Mid-November – about the time of year that the Big Horn Sheep rut begins. Generally speaking, the challenges take place on the female’s wintering range. I’m not exactly sure where that is, but I know where I usually see ewes and kids, so I thought I’d start there.

The rain was coming down in sheets when I left the house. By the time I dropped Santana off at work, the sky had begun to change from a blanket of soft grey to a mix of colours and textures. There was even a bit of blue. Sunlight fell in patches on the hillsides, and the road glistened in the light. The spray that followed each passing car created a prism of light, making me smile. I was surrounded by rainbows. What a great day to be out!  

I followed West Side road until just past Fintry, stopping occasionally to take a picture or have a look around. I was struckby how much colour there was. At this time of year in Alberta, the colour has seeped out of the land, and what isn’t covered in snow is a dull greyish brown.  Maybe it was the rain, but the colours seemed so alive and fresh.

“Opens a door in Heaven:

From skies of glass

A Jacob’s ladder falls

On greening grass

And o’er the mountain-walls

Young angels pass”

 From Early Spring by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

Turning around, I headed back toward West Kelowna. I stopped when I spotted a large gathering of Ravens and Magpies feasting on something at the side of the road. Bald Eagles looked on from nearby trees. 

I turned onto Bear Lake Main and followed it for a while, all without seeing any sign of the local sheep. The nice thing about gravel roads after a rainfall is that there isn’t any dust.

I had my window down and the stereo off, listening for any sound that might indicate head-butting action.  Nothing. But the day wasn’t wasted.

I found myself on a narrow road off of the main drag.  The forest here was quiet, and there was a low, golden glow about it.  

This was the road to the Bear Creek Recreation Site – Aspen Trail. There is a lovely hidden campground that still housed about three or four motorhomes.  No tents. Wussies…

The clouds hung low in the sky.  Winter is just a few kilometers up the road but I’m not quite ready for that.

Maude-Roxby Bird Sanctuary

It’s time to turn in my flip-flops.  I found this out the hard way – by going for an early morning stroll in the Maude-Roxby Bird Sanctuary.  It was cold enough for ice to have formed on the marsh, except in the places the Mallards had broken it up. That didn’t stop me from spending an hour and a half walking around with my toes exposed.  Brrrr….

I was there hoping to catch a glimpse of a specific bird rumoured to be hanging out in the area, and even though I didn’t spot said bird, I have no regrets.

It’s easy to miss those little moments.  Last week I looked down from my balcony to the lawn below and all I could think about was how much I wanted to roll around in the leaves, like I did when I was a child.  I put it off because I was busy.  It could wait until my day off.  That’s also when I was going to go down and take pictures of the mushroom garden growing on an old tree stump.  My day off came and I was woken by the sound of a mower.  The landscapers had come, all those lovely leaves were gone.  The mushroom garden had been weed-whacked.  Two missed opportunities, and while they might not be big or important, they reminded me that I need to say yes more often.  Especially when I’m the one asking.  

When it occurred to me I should go see if I could spot a single, specific bird in a forest of trees, I didn’t question the likelihood of it – I said yes.  Surely there would be things to see.  There were.

First of all, there were swans on the lake.  They must be Trumpeter Swans because the ruckus going on sounded very much like a Middle School band.  As it turned out, there were both Trumpeter and Tundra Swans on the lake.  You can tell the Tundra Swan by the yellow teardrop just below the eye.

Inside the sanctuary, a boardwalk winds its way through a marsh situated on the last piece of undeveloped shoreline in the Kelowna area.  

I love a good boardwalk.  Somehow, even though I struggle to walk across a parking lot, when I’m on a boardwalk, it feels like I can walk forever.  Of course, a few well-placed benches help.  The smell of fallen leaves, nature’s sweetest bouquet, rises all around, and the plants are tousled and wild, looking as though they just got out of bed.  The cattails, if I were on the ground, would tower over me like a scene from “Alice in Wonderland”.

Moss covers exposed roots between lake and marsh, and there are countless hiding places for birds looking to take a break from the flock.

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It’s quiet in the sanctuary.  The few other people on the trail walk softly and speak in muted tones.  What noise there is comes from the Mallards on the marsh, and the squirrels racing in the trees.  

I’m glad I came, even if my toes are cold.

Solitude

“What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.”

⁃ Ellen Burstyn

It took me a while to become comfortable in solitude. The day it finally happened, I discovered not only comfort, but joy. Alone with my camera and my journal, my blanket and my picnic lunch, I prowled the marsh at Pearce Estate Park in Calgary. I was captivated by the abundance of wildflowers and the way the sunlight played upon the marsh grass. Minutes turned to hours and I had no concept at all of the passage of time, as deeply involved as I was. That feeling, somewhere on the edge between exhilaration and utter calm turned out to be what I was seeking.

Or on the shores of Frank Lake, Alberta in early May, when migrating birds would darken the sky with sheer numbers and I could barely hear my own thoughts over their cries. They went about their business, driven by instinct and ignored me, the lone human on the landscape – never has a moment been more euphoric.

Each week that I go out, head into the backcountry, my true purpose isn’t to get enough pictures to fill a blog. It’s to reach that place of silent wonder, enfolded in the beauty that surrounds me. Lost in time among the trees and hills, the lone human, wandering unnoticed, on the landscape of the gods.

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A Tamarack Tale

And some days, like today, I get in my pickup truck and drive.  The leaves that have fallen from the trees in the driveway have collected in the truck bed, and as I go down the road, I watch in the rearview mirror as they swirl and rise and float out behind me.  It’s as though I’m some kind of fairy, but instead of fairy dust, I sprinkle autumn wherever I go. It makes me smile.

(Taken from my journal, autumn, 2016)

 

It was dark when I dropped Santana off at work.  The days are so much shorter now, and working graveyard shifts, sometimes it feels like I don’t get to see the sun.  But not today!  It was my first day off in almost three weeks, and I was not going to waste it.

 

I took June Springs Road to the Little-White Forestry Service Road, trying to find my way to Ruth Station, in the Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park.  The sun was just cresting the mountain, kissing the valley below.

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Sunlight cut a swath through the trees, turning the grass from silver to gold.

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The air was sweet with the smell of cedar.

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Snowberries and autumn flowers lined the road.

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The rocks were tending their gardens.

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But the trees.  Oh, the trees.

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And so it was, that the gods of the forest summoned the kings of the cone-bearing trees to their Great Hall for a meeting.

“There are too many of you for the land to support.  One of you must die.  You will have three days to decide. If you are unable to decide, then all of you will die, and we will begin anew.”

The gods left the hall, and the trees began to argue.  Each one stated reasons they deserved to live, and some of them even offered suggestions as to who they thought should be the one to die.  Their voices rose and fell as day turned to night, and night to day.  At the end of three days, the gods returned.

“Have you reached a decision?”

There was silence in the hall.

“You have left us with no choice….”

“Wait,” came a voice from the back of the hall.  The trees parted, and Larch stepped forward.

“I will do it.” Larch said. “I will die so that my brothers might live.”

The gods smiled.  They had been testing the trees, and they were pleased by the selfless act of Larch.

One of the gods placed his hand on the trunk of Larch.

“For your willingness to sacrifice for others, Larch, you will not die. Instead, once each year, your needles will drop, and in the spring you will grow soft new needles.  To ensure your service will not be forgotten, before they drop, your needles will turn to gold, and all will be reminded what you were willing to give up for your family.  All the trees that come after you will not have needles, but leaves, and in the autumn their leaves will also fall, in your honor.”

From that day forward, Larch lived in peace among his brothers.  He did not grow as tall.  He did not grow as wide.  But every autumn, when Larch turned to gold, the other trees nodded and remembered.

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Do you see what I see?  Gold dust on a gravel road.

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Sunlight and Shadows at Chute Lake

It was Sunday morning and there were about 19 of us sitting in a circle within a small cabin near the shores of Chute Lake. It was the final day of what I hope will be an annual event, the Writing Wild retreat.  It had been a glorious weekend – the nights were cold, but the cabins were warm.  The mornings were crisp and it seemed the days were designed specifically to show off the autumn colours.  Everywhere you looked, there was something new to see, from the buildings, many of which had stood for more than 100 years, to the ancient, rusting farm equipment found scattered all over the property.  There were dogs and horses, squirrels and birds, lake and forest.  

We’d been having a great time, learning new things, spending time in silent communion with our pages and words.  I’d sneaked off a few time to take pictures, and that was the cause of my distraction.  All that visual stimulation! I was a bit overwhelmed.  I didn’t know how to narrow it down.

I was supposed to have my eyes closed, following along with the guided meditation.  But for some reason, I opened my eyes, just in time to see a shaft of sunlight pierce the clouds and come in the cabin window.  It shone through the petals of the bright orange flower on the top of Norma’s pen, illuminating it from behind and I knew.  Sunlight and shadows.  

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Fungi in the forest

 

Wildflowers blossoming on the shores of the lake

 

Many-colored moss

 

Sap in the shadows

 

More wildflowers on the shores of the lake

 

Lichen hanging from the branches

 

Sunbeam in the forest