The Road To Ruth Station

“Omagod, omagod, omagod!”

My hands gripped the steering wheel, knuckles white. I was coming down the mountain at what looked like a 40-degree angle, entering a hairpin turn on shiny, white, snow-packed ice.  I could feel the wheels of the Rodeo slipping toward the edge as I fought the urge to slam on the brakes. I had the four-wheel drive locked in and I was in the lowest gear I had, but it still wasn’t enough to keep from sliding.

I had texted Bear from the parking lot at Ruth Station, sending him a photo so he could see how much snow was still on the ground. 

The last message Bear sent to me was, “Don’t die.”

Now it looked like I might.

At the last possible moment, mere meters from the edge, the Rodeo found the sweet spot and straightened out. Relief filled my mouth, tasting of clear water. I should have been paying more attention to the grade of the road on the way up. I wasn’t trying to be reckless.

I just wanted to be living.

I’ve been thinking a lot about living lately.  Well, maybe not living so much as quality of life. Wondering whether I have any. I’ve had two sleep studies done in the last six months.  Obstructive Sleep Apnea – I knew I had it, but I didn’t realize how far reaching the effects.

I suffer from 80% of the conditions on this chart. So far “Death” isn’t one of them, but if I don’t do something, it will be.

In the meantime, what am I doing to ensure the life I’m living is all it can be?

It was time to leave the comfort of home, get back to the forest.

I had plans to go out with Jaki later in the week.  I had plans to go out with Santana sometime next week.  But this day was for me.

Sometimes, you need silence to hear your heart.

I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. The sun warmed my shoulders, and the sky was a brilliant blue. When the road narrows and turns to dirt, I am breathless and exhilarated.  This is my religion, my place of worship.

I stop for trees.

I stop for rocks.

I stop for a look at the city on the lake from above.

I stop to watch a Dark-eyed Junco forage in the gravel.

I stop for rocks and moss and spider webs on branches.

No matter where I stop, I am elated–to be here, to be free, to be alive. I needed this reminder.

There is active logging on this road.

The scent of destruction is sweet, sweet in the way a mint leaf is strongest after being bruised, or a flower when crushed underfoot. There is beauty, even in death.  I’m just not ready for it yet.

Penticton, Now and Then

“Have you ever heard of a place called Three-Mile Beach?” Santana asked.  We were sitting on a bench in Penticton, looking out at the Okanagan Lake. 

“Yes.  I’m familiar with Three-Mile Beach.”  Familiar?  I was more than familiar.  Years ago, my parents had friends who bought an orchard out there.  At that time, Naramata was a burgeoning development.   There were no wineries, no school, no parks.  There were no stores or restaurants.  There were lots, laid out with small wooden pegs and string.  The orchard we were camping in was high on the bluff overlooking the lake.  Three-Mile beach was where the adults dropped us off when they didn’t want to drive into town.  I remembered the beach as little more than a rocky outcrop that you had to scramble down to. We were usually the only ones there. I hadn’t been there for at least 35 years.

“We should go.  I’d like to see it.  There’s another place I’d like to stop along the way – Munson Mountain.” Both Santana and I have a soft spot for Penticton.  He got his because we stayed in an Airbnb the first two weeks we lived in the Okanagan while we looked for jobs and a permanent residence.  Every day he would walk to the beach, and every day was a new experience to be stored in his memory bank.

My memory bank was full, too.  My memories were a fair bit older–as a teenager in a resort town in the summer.  I was always a little bit “boy-crazy,” as my mom would call it, and there was no better place for a hobbyist such as myself than the Okanagan beach in Penticton. But I digress…

“Sure,” I said. “Let’s go have a look.”

Munson Mountain is the home of the big Hollywood-style letters that announce Penticton to the world, but there’s also a park there, with walking trails and stunning views. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do any hiking, but Santana could.

We arrived at the park just a few minutes after leaving the beach.  Even the views from the parking lot were wonderful. 

Santana went for his walk while I busied myself taking photos of what I could see from where I stood. 

Then the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hey, mom.  You need to see this.”

“You know that’s not going to happen.”  My walking is tenuous at the best of times, but today it was worse than usual.  I hadn’t had much sleep and my foot was hurting for some unfathomable reason.

“I knew you’d say that.  But the path to where I am now is straight and flat.  You could sit on your walker and I’ll push you.”

I didn’t want to risk breaking the walker, so we compromised.  I walked as far as I could and then let Santana push me until my legs had recovered enough to walk some more.

The end of the paved path was not that far away, after all, and I’m glad Santana was insistent.  I sat down while Santana continued his hike to the top of the trail.

Oh, but it was windy up there!  I had my own coat on, which hardly ever happens, and Santana’s coat on top of that.  The benches were stone, and a little colder on the bum than I like.  I remembered a wooden bench part way back and decided to wait there, instead.  Once I was out of the wind and parked on a wooden bench, all was good. Santana, meanwhile, was at the top.

Once he returned, he showed me the video he took—a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view from the top of Munson Mountain, which he has agreed to let me share here.  If you have sound, you can hear the wind.

There is something almost spiritual about Munson Mountain.  Something that inspires quiet reflection.  Both Santana and I felt it, though neither one of us could accurately put it in words.

We continued to Three-Mile beach.  It wasn’t so different than I remembered it.  The difference was in me.  Instead of feeling isolated and out of touch, the beach felt natural and secluded. 

Funny thing, perspective.

Oh, Canada!

Mile Marker 9.  That was as high as I went before having to turn around and come back down.  Yes, I know.  It should be Kilometer Marker 9.  But that doesn’t have the same ring to it.  I suppose, if I wanted to, I could show off my Canadian-ness by saying 9 Klicks.  I’m not entirely certain I’m that Canadian.  And that makes me laugh.  Just this morning, I was having a conversation with Jaki.  I was telling her about a group of American women I found on-line who have a poetry group much like ours.

“Except,” Jaki said, “we’re more beautiful, more intelligent, more…Canadian.”

“Well, we’re definitely more Canadian.”  I said, and we laughed.

Speaking of Canada, there’s a “polar vortex” scheduled for the week and even here in the sunny Okanagan, temperatures are expected to be 10 – 20° below normal.  Today was the last chance I had to leave the house willingly.  In keeping with the Canadian theme, I decided to follow the road leading to Beaver Lake. 

The first part of the drive was clear and sunny.  Mule deer grazed on the naked hilltop. 

The road wound its way up, and trees began to crowd the edges.

Ahh!  Nothing like a little forest bathing to get you feeling good.  I rolled down my window, inhaling deeply.  There was the faint smell of smoke and rounding a corner, I discovered the source – a couple of old guys in lawn chairs next to a fire, F150’s and snowmobile trailers parked along the side of the road.  They waved as I drove by and I laughed, wondering if they heard me singing at the top of my lungs before I noticed they were there. 

The higher I went, the thicker the snow covering the forest floor. 

At Mile Marker 9 the road changed.  Ice and snow covered the road now, and while it had been worn smooth, it hadn’t been cleared.  I could feel the Rodeo start to fish-tail when I stepped on the gas.  Even though I have four-wheel drive, I decided I’d gone high enough.  I wiggled myself around, put it in low, and headed back down the mountain. 

The sky was no longer the clear blue it was when I started out.  In fact, it was looking rather dramatic.

Damn, it’s good to live in Canada.

I found a hawk near the bottom of the road – the only bird I’d seen all day.  Once I reached the highway, I counted eight more between Winfield and home.  It’s a good time of year to head out on a hawk walk.  Here’s an interesting fact for you.  You know in the movies when they show an eagle flying and you hear that wonderful scream?  Yeah.  That’s not an eagle screaming.  Eagles sound a bit wimpy.  The scream belongs to a hawk doing a voice-over. 

I took my only photo of the hawk, taken from too far away to be any good, and digitally altered it. 

Now it’s art.

On Bulman Road

It wasn’t supposed to snow.  The forecast called for cloudy skies and I figured I could live with that.  But not snow.  I was halfway to deciding to stay home and make a pot of soup when the ancient Roman poet, Horace, spoke to me from the grave. 

“Don’t think.  Just do.”

Fine. 

I had to go out anyway because I promised Santana a ride to work.  Might as well take the camera and go for a short drive.  I doubted there would be much to see.  I’m not very fond of wintery and the day was definitely that.

I decided to follow Old Vernon Road from north of the airport south to Bulman road, which would lead me back to the highway.

Old Vernon Road was interesting enough – the Kangaroo Creek Farm is there.  I haven’t been yet, but it’s on my list of places to see.  The Farm reopens in March.

Kangaroo Creek Farm

Once I turned onto Bulman Road, I realized I’d found my happy place.  There was little traffic, shoulders wide enough to stop on, and there, amid the orchards, were old barns and horses. 

Big Red
And Old Trucks, Too!

I love old barns and horses.

King of the Hill

Then I spotted him.  A lovely coyote out hunting for rodents in a field.  I was far enough away that my stopping to take photos wouldn’t disturb him, too far, in fact, to get in a clean shot.  But the joy came in having the opportunity to watch for a while.

The Hunter

I used to see coyotes all the time.  You’d be surprised to see how many coyotes wander the streets of Calgary at night.  When the kids were small and helping us deliver newspapers in the early morning, one of the first things we taught them was what to do if you saw a coyote.  For the most part, coyotes don’t want anything to do with people and will run if you make yourself big and noisy.  I’d far prefer to come upon a coyote than a loose dog. 

A dog will attack; a coyote will run away.

Coyotes are only aggressive towards people during the mating season, from January to March.  Pets, however, are always at risk of being attacked and should be kept on leash in areas coyotes are known to frequent.

Living out on the prairie meant there were often coyotes in our yard, and I still love the sound of their call.  This photo was taken in 2015.

Another Snowy Day

Snow falls

like cherry blossoms;

surprised songbirds

huddle in hedges.

Though you may

dream of spring,

it is not yet time

for sleeping

in the sun.

Sally Quon

There is much more to see along this stretch of road. 

There is a stream that winds along the road, a golf course, and judging from the many brown and yellow cattails, a thick marsh that will soon host a plethora of birds.  There’s also the opportunity to stand right beneath a plane as it comes in for a landing. 

I’ll be back.

In the meantime, here’s one more old barn for you to enjoy.

Do You See What I See?

 I turned on my computer yesterday to find that all my files had disappeared.  Everything I’ve written, the recipe book I’m working on, contracts and personal papers, and of course, all my photographs, gone.  This, of course, wasn’t the first time I’d suffered such a loss.  When I left Alberta, most of my photos and writing were left behind.  I managed to save some information on flash-drives, but there wasn’t enough time to transfer it all.

Because I used to carry much of my writing back and forth to work with me on flash-drives, a good deal of my recent work was preserved.  I still had the old flash-drives with the photos from Alberta I had managed to save, but nothing from the last three years remained.  I was devastated.  Just the day before, I had gone to Peachland on a mission to find and take my first photo of 2021.  I know.  It’s kind of weird I make a big deal about my first photo of the year.  It’s just a thing I do. 

The idea was to have a pleasant lunch at my favorite restaurant in Peachland and then see if I could find a worthy subject for the all-important first photo.  It wasn’t a big ambitious adventure, simply the spark that lights the fire. 

I remember what my outings were like when I lived in Alberta.  I always had a camera with me then; I kept one in the car.  I can’t do that here.  But when I was going on an actual outing, it was an event.  I knew where I was going.  I packed a lunch.  I brought my sketchbook and my notebook.  I brought a variety of lenses.  I could still walk, and I wasn’t afraid to get dirty.

I showed up at the wildlife centre one day, after a long day of birding in the wet spring sun.  My hair was a disaster, my face streaked with sweat and dirt.  My clothes were covered in mud and I had a hawk in a box.

I’d found her hopping along the side of the highway, unable to fly. It was easy enough to come up behind her and capture her in the long grass with a cardboard box.  I took her straight to the wildlife centre and they named her after me. She never did fully recover from her injuries, which we assumed were from being hit by a car, but she lived out the rest of her life there and seemed content.

Sally, the Red-Tailed Hawk, looking out the window on a rainy day.

My friend, Mike, at the wildlife centre, looked at me strangely that day – most likely shocked by my unruly appearance.  But he told me how lucky I was to be able to do the things I do and see the things I see.  Most people, he said, never get to experience what true wilderness and wildlife are about.  He was right.  I was lucky to do what I did, even if I didn’t get out very often. I’m still lucky because even if I can’t walk, I can still get to the wild places. 

I can still see what I see.

Confucius said, “Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.”

Maybe that’s why those photos are important to me.  I want to show you.  I want you to see what I see.  I want you to see beauty where yesterday you might have only seen a tree stump, or a rock. I want you to feel the thrill of life in every breath. I want you to feel the sun on your face, even if you can’t get out, and see the perfection of a line or the pattern of the whorls in the sand.

Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

Luck was with me once again.  My vanished files turned out to be a wire that had come loose.  My photos were all still there, now all backed up on flash-drives. Have a look and let me know. 

Do you see what I see?

The first photo of 2021
Shades of Blue
Texture

Brown Lake, Revisited

Remember the best friend you had when you were twelve?  The friend that was quirky and funny, who cried with you when you were sad, and celebrated your accomplishments as heartily as if they were their own? The one with whom you could lose hours of a day in conversation, without ever running out of things to say?  The one you could sit comfortably with, in silence, knowing that words weren’t necessary?  I’ve been dreaming about finding that friend for most of my life. I finally found her, in Jaki.

Jaki and I first met at the Wild Writing Retreat last October.  Although we were bunkmates, sharing a cabin, we didn’t really get to know each other until after the retreat was over.  A fellow poet, Jaki emailed me one day and asked if I’d be interested in meeting for a coffee and maybe share some poetry.  From that first meeting, I knew I’d stumbled on to something special.

“Let’s go for a drive,” Jaki said. “I’ll pay for gas and bring a lunch. You do the driving and take pictures.”

Sounded like a good deal to me.

The air was thick with smoke from the fires across the border when I got to Jaki’s house.  She and Tusket-the-Dog were ready to get out of town.  I’d chosen Brown Lake as our destination.  I remembered how much I enjoyed the drive the last time I went out that way, and I was eager to share it with Jaki.

We drove up McCulloch Road, stopping whenever the mood struck us.  I took pictures and Jaki looked at the wildflowers and trees. 

It was too early for the Tamarack trees to have turned to gold, but autumn was definitely in the air.  The further in we went, the more the vegetation crowded the roadside. We turned off the music and the air conditioning, and rolled down the windows.  The air here was sweet, as if the trees were filtering out the acrid smoke.  I was busy appreciating the stumps. 

This one looks like a little boy fishing on the banks of a stream.

Jaki pointed out all of the different plants she knew to be edible, and which parts of them were best to eat.

“Look at that mushroom!” I said, pulling over. 

“Oh, those are very good to eat,” she said, “fried up with butter.  But you have to eat them right away or they turn black and slimy.”

“I’ve got a camp stove in the back, and probably a frying pan.”

“I’ve got butter.”

Who brings butter on a road trip?  I love this woman.  But we left the mushroom where it was.

We talked and laughed, sharing stories from our childhood.  I can’t even begin to tell you what a pleasure it was to be with someone who understood my reference to Treebeard, someone whose knowledge of Middle Earth pre-dated Peter Jackson, before Tolkien became cool.

Jaki, whose memory is much sharper than mine, recited poetry.  I tried to reciprocate, but the only snippets of poetry I know are all Robert Frost.  Cousin Bob, as Jaki likes to call him.  Apparently, her husband was a distant relative.

“Do you suppose that someday, years from now, two little old ladies will be out driving the back roads reciting our forest poems to each other?” I asked.

“Oh, absolutely,” Jaki said, and we laughed.  We’re both geeks.

Eventually we found our way to Brown Lake and had our picnic.

Jaki frowned at her sandwich.

“Needs salt,” she said.  “Oh, wait.  I have some in my purse.”

Salt in her purse… Did I mention that I love this woman? 

After a delightful lunch – food always tastes better when you eat outside – we got back on the road.  From Brown Lake, the highway comes very quickly.  We made one final stop before leaving the woods.  The sun was just starting to go down and the trees were glowing in the late afternoon light.  It was the perfect end to a wonderful day, and I felt better than I’ve felt in weeks.

The Pioneer Girls used to have a saying. “A friend hears the song in my heart, and sings it to me when my memory fails.”

Thank you, Jaki, for singing to me.

Sugar Lake

If it hadn’t been for the news article, I might never have heard of Sugar Lake.  You see those articles two or three times per year – how weekend warriors from the province next door come in, trash the place, and leave without so much as returning their empties.  The article was recent, and had it not been for the fact that we drove past Cherryvale on our way to the Kootenays, it probably wouldn’t have registered with me at all.  But Cherryvale, or what you can see of it from the highway, it a lovely area.  While we were passing through, I noted the fact that I’d like to come back to do a little exploring.  Sugar Lake fit the bill. I just didn’t expect to do it so soon.

It’s been a pretty strange year for all of us.  We’re struggling to defend our homes from a global pandemic while at the same time conduct business as usual.  For many of us, myself included, our reaction to the events of the world around us has not been what we expected.  I thought I was stronger.  Even when opportunity has presented itself for me to get out and explore, my natural inclination has been to hide.  Covid-fatigue has set in.  We’re all going to die anyway, right?  What’s the point?

I found myself with an unexpected week off.  My heart was failing again.  I decided a couple of days off were in order.  Because suddenly, there was a point.  I am just not freakin’ ready to die yet.  For six days, I didn’t leave the house at all.  I ate when I was hungry, trying to keep it healthy, slept when I was tired, and didn’t exert myself in any way.  On the seventh day, there was Bear.

“I have today off.  We should go for a drive.”

I had to pick up a prescription and stop at the lab, so I was going to have to leave the house anyway.  Why not?

Still, by the time those errands were done and we’d purchased some (healthy) snacks for the road, it was almost 3:30 in the afternoon.

“Are you sure you still want to go?  It’s getting late.”

Bear, who had been to two supermarkets trying to find “healthy” was beyond frustrated.  “If you tell me you’ve changed your mind now, I might have to cry,” he said.

Laughing, I agreed to continue.

It was, in fact, a great day for a drive.  The A/C hummed softly.  Music flowed from the Bluetooth, and there was little traffic.  Better than all of that, was the fact that Bear wanted to talk.

Anyone who’s ever parented a teenager knows that if your teenager/twenty-something child suddenly says they want to talk, the only thing to do is shut up and listen.  It’s not something that happens every day.

Between the joyful conversation and the steadily greener landscape, the miles flew by and before we knew it, we were on the turn off to Sugar Lake.  Our pace slowed from here, and we were happy to take our time.  There were plenty of places to stop.

1

One never knows what you might find in the woods.

7

There were forestry roads calling me and I had to rein myself in.  Not enough time today.

6

The rec sites at Sugar Lake are spectacular, located right on the beach with a fire pit and a picnic table, surrounded by forest and obviously well maintained.  You could see the rake marks around the picnic table where food scraps, bottle caps, or cigarette butts had been cleared away.

2

Bear wanted to know if I still had some camping left in me.  I think I do.  And now I know where we’ll go.

5

We got back on the road shortly before sunset and had to pull over to fully appreciate the clouds and the way the colours were reflected on the railroad tracks.

4

We pulled into Vernon just before 9:00 pm and found our way to Intermezzo Restaurant where we had a fabulous dinner.  After that, there was nothing to do but head home.  Or so I thought.

I found myself turning off at Oyama.  The full moon cast a silver path across the lake.  There was a floating dock not too far from shore.  Bear got it in his head that he wanted to swim out to the dock.  I made my way to the beach, worried that I wouldn’t be able to reach him if he got in trouble.  I should have gone in.  If my heart were to fail completely, if I were to die tomorrow, I would die with that one thought – I should have gone for that moonlight swim.

The Summer of Covid-19

(Warning:  Post is much longer than normal)

 

It wasn’t our first choice.  It wasn’t even our second choice.  But when it came time for our summer vacation, we settled on a few days of exploring the Kootenay region.  BC was advertising open for business, except for some of the more remote communities, and because our holidays were booked months before the Covid crisis, it seemed a shame to not go somewhere.

 Planning was difficult.  Many businesses had chosen to not open for the 2020 season.  I left messages – no one responded.  I booked tours, only to have them cancelled.  I tried to book campgrounds, hostels and huts.  I tried to book cabins.  By the time all was said and done, I had one confirmed stay, at the Hostel in Nelson.  I wasn’t too worried.  From my backroad adventures, I know that rec sites abound in BC, and if I was willing to take the time to look, I’d find something.  As I stated on Facebook, we were headed out with a map and a tent.  What came next was anybody’s guess.

I’d packed all my writing, painting, drawing and photographing necessities.  I’d packed all my camping equipment and a cooler full of snacks.  I’d packed extra bedding, clothing and water toys. I packed my walker.  What I didn’t pack was a map-book for the region. I didn’t realize that the one I had didn’t cover the Kootenays until I was trying to find a place to stay in Nakusp.

I was disappointed to find that due to Covid-19 we were unable to get out of our car on the ferry ride from Needles to Fauquire.  Not that it mattered.  The car was so stuffed with all of the things we might need that I couldn’t reach my camera equipment.  This turned out to be an issue throughout our vacation.  Not only did I make very little time for writing and none for drawing or painting, I took far fewer pictures that I would normally.  In fact, the photos I’ve chosen for this post were all taken with my phone.

IMG_3828

For me, the highlight of Nakusp was the waterfalls, both Gardner Falls (above) and the Ione Falls (below).  Both are accessible from the road and don’t require any walking at all.

IMG_3832

We visited the hot springs in Nakusp.  The new rules require a reservation, preference given to those staying at the hot springs campground.  Only 25 people are permitted in the pool at one time, and only for an hour, when a new group is allowed in.  We had a blast enjoying the warm water and the cool mountain breeze.  We were sharing the pool with a European family of 11 blonde-haired, blue eyed beauties – mom, dad, three boys, five girls and a baby.  How do people even do that in this day and age?  All the girls had their blonde locks in perfectly formed ballerina buns atop their heads, and their wide blue eyes reminded me of Cindy-Lou from How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  The boys all had closely shaven heads, little bristles that made you want to reach out and touch them.

Santana walked the beachfront while I did some of the only writing I did on this trip, and later we braved the lake, a welcome relief from the heat.  We cooked over the campfire, played card games, and even watched a local ballgame.  Nakusp, which has a population of just over a thousand, has ten teams in its beer league.  Apparently, Nakuspians love their baseball.

The only drawback was the actual camping itself.  Oh, I love the camping.  I love the campfire, the smell of pine trees, the sign that read “Bear in Area”. But our tent was pitched on a cement pad, and after two nights of struggling to get in and out of the tent without hurting myself, I finally had to concede my camping days might be over.

After two nights in Nakusp, we made our way to Kaslo.  Santana found a remarkable place to stay in Kaslo, with small cabins that were more like well-appointed one-bedroom apartments.  My bed was large and frightfully soft – one could actually get lost in there.  Santana didn’t fare quite as well, sleeping on a fold-down couch.  While it didn’t try to eat him, he’s about two feet too tall for comfort.  We rearranged the furniture for the second night so he could sleep diagonally.  The cabins were located right in the centre of town, making them the perfect place to stay in Kaslo, a beautiful village with many of the original storefronts lovingly maintained.  Santana toured the SS Moyie, an old sternwheeler converted to a museum, and was amused to find another museum in the basement of a coffeeshop when he went to get me a cup of Kootenay coffee.  The thing about Kaslo, at least in the time we were there, was the wind.  It was strong, cold and never-ending.  Even with high temperatures, our stay in Kaslo was made more comfortable by the wind.

IMG_3854

On our first night we made our way to a Mexican restaurant, lured by the promise of tacos.  The restaurant opened at 4:00 and we were there by 4:30. The only table left was an uncovered table on the patio.  Our server told us that if it rained, they would not be able to move us inside, as they were booked for the night.  We decided to take a chance.  Santana rummaged around in the back of the Rodeo and came up with the beach umbrella.  I chided him for the decision, as there was no where to plant it, and he’d have to hold it the whole time.  The other diners on the patio were laughing at us as Santana tried to hold the umbrella against the wind.  They weren’t laughing for long.  That crazy wind brought, not just rain, but hail and while the other diners were fighting to protect themselves from the elements finding their way, sideways into the patio area, we huddled warm and dry beneath our beach umbrellas, laughing our faces off at the ridiculousness of it all.  Best fish tacos I’ve had since Tofino, by the way.  On our second night, we took advantage of the courtyard barbeque and cooked up a mess of chicken, shrimp and veggie kabobs.  Everything about Kaslo was beautiful.

IMG_3850

We left Kaslo, intending to go to Ainsworth, and the hot springs there.  Along the way, we stopped at yet another waterfall.  This one, I sent Santana to on his own, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the hike.  He was gone for a long time.  Just when worry was starting to bubble to the surface, Santana returned.  He was apologetic for taking so long, but found the hike, the falls, and the beach below, to be the most spiritually uplifting place he’s been to since Cathedral Grove on the Island.  He didn’t want to leave.

Ainsworth, as it turned out, was closed.  There were no accommodations available, except the odd campground, and the hot springs themselves were shut down for the year – to my great disappointment.  I was thankful we made the decision to stop at the hot springs in Nakusp.  We decided to keep moving on, taking the “longest free ferry ride in Canada” from Balfour to Kootenay Bay.  Again, we were unable to leave our vehicles, making the longest free ferry ride in Canada a little less appealing.  We made our way to Creston, but didn’t really have any reason to be there.  After one night, we moved on to Nelson.

Nelson.  Ahhh, Nelson.  If I were twenty years old, I would love Nelson.  The combination of lakes, mountains, fine dining, historic buildings and funky little shops would have made me very happy.  As it stands, Nelson is not made for someone like myself.  All those hills!  Parking is challenging, and trying to use a walker to get around is a nightmare.  We had reserved a private room at the Hostel and while we were a day early, it was no problem to book the extra day.  The Hostel in Nelson is a charming century building with steam radiators and no air conditioning.  Temperatures that week were all over 30 degrees, and we ended up using wet towels as blankets, just to be able to sleep.

 

IMG_3861Our first day we found a small beach on the other side of the lake.  It was windy and rocky, but we were having a blast on our floating rings – at least until the point where Santana’s got away from him.  He tried to get it back but the water was moving faster than he could swim.  Eventually he just gave up.  At that point, someone jumped into the water and swam out to retrieve it for him.  That someone turned out to be a topless female sunbather.  Bit of an awkward moment, for him.  I, on the other hand, was vastly amused.  While he was otherwise occupied, in my effort to get back to shore, I managed to bang my feet so hard into the rocks that I broke a toe.  On our second day, we went to the city beach. Much safer. Capping off our second day in Nelson, we had dinner at the Library Lounge, where our patio table overlooked some of the historic buildings of Nelson, buildings I had hoped to draw, if only I hadn’t misplaced my sketchbook in the car.

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After the second night of trying to breathe in unbearable heat, I decided I’d had enough of Nelson and wanted to move on.  I’d already paid for the third night, but it couldn’t hurt to ask – all they could do would be to say no.  The staff came on at 9:00 am.  I made my way down the stairs to the lobby.  Or tried to.  My broken toe had a different opinion on how this should be managed.  I ended up missing a step and falling the rest of the way, sliding across the lobby floor and coming to rest face down on the ground.  As the staff member came flying around the counter yelling, “Oh my God!  Are you okay?”  I calmly rolled over, looked up at him and said, “We were thinking about checking out a day early.  Will that be a problem?”

Turned out it was no problem at all.

The final stop on our tour of the Kootenays was Castlegar.  Our reason for going to Castlegar was a rafting company.  I’d tried booking a rafting trip in both Nelson and Meadow Creek.  Both companies were not operating this year.  The one in Castlegar was operating on a part-time basis.  I didn’t think it was going to happen, but Emily at Endless Adventures was tireless in putting together a group large enough that we could go out on a day they wouldn’t have been operating otherwise.  She called me while we were in Nelson to say it was a go.

“Emily, I know I told you before, but I am overweight, with very limited mobility and not a lot of arm strength.  I can’t walk more than a very short distance, and I won’t be able to paddle much.  Are you sure white-water rafting is something I can do?”

“Yes, absolutely.  Did you bring your own lifejacket?”  I told her I would as standard life jackets don’t fit me.

“I did.”

“Then we’re all set.  See you in a couple of days.”

We stopped at the Brilliant Suspension Bridge on our way into Castlegar.  From there, I took this photo of the bridge leading in to town.

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Castlegar is another charming little town.  Every year they hold a sculpture competition, and the winning sculpture is purchased by the city to grace its streets.  You can take a walking tour of the sculptures.  We checked into a motel that had the best air conditioning I’ve ever come across.  Due to the extremely high heat, we ordered Chinese food and stayed in that night.  The A/C was so powerful that even on it’s lowest setting, we had to turn it off a couple of times through the night.  Alas, the room was only available for one night.

Our rafting trip was scheduled to start at 3:00.  We arrived at the raft shack, signed our waivers, got fitted with helmets and donned our lifejackets.  Then we just had to go down an embankment, cross the busy highway, make our way through the parking lot, and go down an even longer and steeper embankment to reach the river.  I looked at Santana.

“You can do it,” he said.

By the time we got across the highway, my legs were done.  Even without the banged-up knees and broken toe, my legs would have been done.  I was using my hips to try and propel my legs forward and that, combined with 38-degree temperatures and oh, yeah, a heart condition, made breathing difficult.  Santana was doing his best to help me, and our river guide, once the raft had been deposited into the river, came back to help.   It was no use.  I had to lie down on the dirt path, rip open my life jacket, panting and sobbing.  I was going to have to quit.  Who was I kidding?  I couldn’t do this.  But if I gave up and went back, Santana would have to come with me.  I wouldn’t make it back alone.

“Relax,” said our guide. “No hurry.  Take your time.”

I looked back at the raft shack.  I looked at the river. The river was closer.  All I had to do was get to the river.  Then, if nothing else, I would have two hours to recover before I had to figure out what to do.

It was exhausting and painful, but I made it to the river.  I was going to have a chat with Emily when I got back.  Though I could hardly blame her.  She was barely twenty and skinny as a blade of grass.  Her idea and mine when it came to limited mobility were obviously quite different.

After a few minutes of instruction, we set off.  I was determined to stay on that raft.  People apparently fall off quite often.  According to our guide, it’s not a big deal.  The other rafters just grab you by the back of your lifejacket and pull you back in.  Seriously?  I don’t see that as being an easy thing, in my case. I tucked my foot-with-the-broken-toe in as tightly as I could manage, said a silent prayer to the river gods, and gripped my paddle ferociously.

There are six classes of rapids, with one being the easiest and six being the hardest.  On this trip, we would be going through rapids levels one through three.

I survived them all.  In fact, not only did I survive them, by the time we hit the level three rapids, I was laughing with pure joy.  Why did I wait so long to try this?

Two hours later we pulled up to a little spit beneath a bridge with a rope swing.  We were welcomed by yet another topless female sunbather.

“Seriously?  What is with these people?” Santana muttered under his breath.

It was a fitting end to our vacation – the one big adventure we managed to pull off.

And I almost quit.  I almost quit.

Maybe I’m not quite ready to give up camping after all.

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The Road To Tulemeen

I admit it was impulsive.  One minute I was talking to a co-worker, the next I was looking for cabin rentals on-line.  I’d planned to visit the Tulemeen area ever since I read Gilean Douglas’ poem in honour of the river, but I thought it was something for “someday.”  Then I realized that “someday” could be “now,” if I wanted it to be.  And I did.  I’m tired of waiting.  Especially because I’m not sure what it is I’m waiting for.

I booked a river-side cabin in Princeton and was good to go.  I haven’t taken many overnight trips alone – the only other one I can think of was going to Lit Fest New West last April – but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.  Truth is, I like driving alone.  If I feel the need to pull over to take a picture of a rock, I don’t have to feel guilty about it.  Santana doesn’t mind, but he was busy on the weekend, anyway.

My plan was to take the Summerland-Princeton Road from Summerland to Princeton, spend the night and take Coalmont Road from Princeton back to the Okanagan Connector and home.  If it rained.  I had a different route planned if it was dry.

What a great day to be on the road.  There was a storm coming, I could see it approach, and the dark clouds added drama to the skyline.

DSC_0011There were so many places to stop along the way.  The Summerland-Princeton Road is jam-packed with Recreational Sites, and they were being put to use.  Personally, I think BC is a little too free with its rec sites.  The high, constant whine of dirt bikes and quads drives away any wildlife that might be in the area.  But I do appreciate the opportunity to camp in those same areas, so maybe I’m a bit of a hypocrite.

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The flowers were spectacular, adding a kaleidoscope of colour to the landscape.  I especially love the silver-purple-green of new sage, and the bright orange of the tiny wild tiger lilies.

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Thirty-five kilometers of the Summerland-Princeton Road is gravel and in spite of the numerous people at the rec sites, the road was surprisingly quiet.

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The winds were high, and waves on the reservoir were creating curtains of water that fell to the streams below.  Even from my vantage point high on the other side of the valley, I could feel the mist.

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Wildlife was evasive.  I spotted a few mulie does, but couldn’t get my camera up fast enough, and even a big, fat, yellow-bellied marmot vanished from this stump as I clicked the shutter.

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Everywhere I looked, there was something new to see.

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I pulled into Princeton around 4:00 pm.  I’d managed to turn a two-hour drive into a five-hour excursion.  I was exhausted.  I found the River-side Cabins and checked in.  In spite of actually being next to the river, I couldn’t see the river, couldn’t hear the river, and didn’t have access to the river.  I suddenly understood why it was so inexpensive. It didn’t matter.  I didn’t need the river – I needed a nap.  As I pulled up to my cabin, I could see a playground at the end of the lane, and sitting right there was a big, fat, yellow-bellied marmot. I was too tired to go look.

I woke to grey, rainy skies.  I’d slept pretty well, though, and nothing was going to ruin this day.  As I pulled out of the lane, I looked over and yup, there was that big, fat, yellow-bellied marmot.  I reached for my camera.  Before I could even lift it, the damn marmot had scuttled his butt beneath a fence and was gone.

So the next time someone says to me, “Sally, you are slower than a big, fat yellow-bellied marmot,” I will grudgingly have to admit that yes, yes I am.  Two of them was no coincidence.

After maple sausages and two cups of very fine coffee at Billy’s Family Restaurant, I was back on the road.

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The road to Tulemeen is narrow and windy, with rapid ascents and steep declines.  Much of it is advertised “Avalanche Area” and judging by the scree on the side of the road, much of it is recent.  I often pull over to let other vehicles pass, as I know I’m slower and I don’t want anyone to make a risky move that could result in an accident.  It was on one of these “pull-overs” that I looked out my passenger window and locked eyes with a female grouse.  Surprisingly, she didn’t vanish like all the other wildlife and I was able to get a few shots in.  Maybe this was a sign of things to come!

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The scenery between Princeton and the village of Coalmont is indescribable.  At one point, I came around a corner and had I not been worried about being in a blind spot, I would have stopped the car in the middle of the road.  As it was, I had to convince myself to keep driving and not try to find a way to turn around.  This was the shot that wasn’t taken – the one that will be etched onto my memory for years to come.

I was high on a cliff.  Across the valley, the mountains stood framed in sunlight and storm clouds.  The lush valley below was every shade of green you’ve ever dreamed, and the Tulemeen River, wove its pale green self throughout.  I was made truly breathless at the sight.  I imagined what it must have been like for early explorers to come across that valley.  Would they have thought they’d stumbled upon Eden?  There were other spots to stop along the way, but nothing matched that one glimpse of paradise.

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Before long I reached Coalmont, and after that, Tulemeen. I stopped along the river where young anglers fished from the rocky shore.  The air smelled sweeter than anything I could have imagined.

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I stood there, inhaling deeply, until I became dizzy and had to get back in the car for fear of falling over.

The drive between Tulemeen and Aspen Grove, just before the Connector, was a delightful mix of flower-lined farmland, forest and alpine beauty.

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I spotted another doe – and this time got lucky!

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My luck held out. Shortly after spotting the doe, I found a young bear, frolicking in a field of tall grass and flowers.  I pulled over, just as he spotted me and headed for the cover of the treeline (and most likely mom!).  But this time, I didn’t bother trying to get into position.  I just aimed the camera through the windshield and was able to capture him before he vanished from sight.  Not a great photo, I admit, but I was thrilled just to have seen him.

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After that, everything looked like a bear.  Stumps, rocks, fence posts – all of them required that I slow down and take a closer look – just in case.

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By the time I reached Aspen Grove, I was ready to go home.

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The problem is, when you’ve been driving at 35-40 km an hour for two days, and you suddenly find yourself forced to go at least 110 while cars and trucks fly past, well… it was like being a kid on his very first grown-up carnival ride.  I was screaming out loud.

My screams turned to cries of “No, no, no, no no!” as a big, fat yellow-bellied marmot ran out onto the freeway in front of me.  He saw me, turned tail, and boogied back into the ditch.

Suddenly, I was very, very glad to be slower than a big, fat yellow-bellied marmot.