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 whose 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.

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One never knows what you might find in the woods.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

On Being

This is not a post about going for a drive.  This is a post about staying put.  Granted, we went for a drive to reach our staying put place, but once we were there, that was it.  Kind of.  Let me try again.  Maybe I can clear this up.

It’s been a tough year for everyone.  Covid-19 has taken its toll on all of us, in one way or another.  I’ve been lucky in that my friends and family have so far been spared.  May that continue to be the case.  My son was laid off but qualified for benefits, and I continued working.  With the addition of a timely bonus and some hard-core saving, I was finally able to replace the old car.  I drove the new one in the city and took it out on the highway one night at 2:00 am. (Santana and I drove to Winfield for hot dogs and lime Jarritos and no, I don’t know why.) But we still hadn’t tested it out on the back roads.

Santana was bound to be called back to work soon.  Once that happened, our days off were rarely in sync, and taking a holiday this year might just be a pipe dream.  It was almost my birthday.  I wanted to have an adventure, damn it!  I booked a cabin at Postill Lake for two nights.

For me, this was a challenge in being unplugged.  Like a lot of people, I’d been drowning in news reports and social media, trying to keep up with what was going on in the world and helpless to do anything meaningful.  I needed it to stop for a minute or two.  I needed to be unplugged.

We arrived at Postill Lake on a sunny Thursday afternoon.  My cell phone went into my purse and I was determined it would stay there.  I asked Santana to check the temperature of the lake.  He immediately changed into his good, old-fashioned gum boots and waded in.  This is the look he gave me when I asked if he had any keys in his pockets. Not impressed.

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How peaceful it was to just sit and look out at the lake!  It was like someone turned down the noise in my head and for the first time in a long time, I was able to just BE.

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Postill Lake Resort is charming and delightful, and no matter where you look, there’s something to see.

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Evening found us on the porch of our cabin, listening to the loons calling, and later the frogs singing.  In between we played board games.

Finally, it was bedtime.  There was a bedroom with a queen size bed, and a pull-out couch with a double hide-a-bed.  I’d already claimed the bedroom.

Santana set up the bed.  He laid out his bedding.  He climbed in.  The bed immediately tried to eat him as it folded back in on itself.  He fought his way free as I cried with laughter.   He set up the bed.  He laid out his bedding.  He climbed in.  Wham!  The bed tried to eat him again.  By this time, I could hardly breathe.

Santana fought his way free.  He took a deep breath.  He set up the bed.  He laid out his bedding.  He very gingerly climbed in.  He very gingerly wiggled.  So far, so good.  He looked at me, still trying to contain my laughter.  “Goodnight,” he snapped.

Morning dawned brightly.  I don’t know about Santana, but I had an awesome night’s sleep.  Him, maybe not so much.

We decided to rent an electric fishing boat, just to go out for a cruise.  Santana was going to be driving, so I had to sit at the front of the boat, for even weight distribution.  There was no room for my legs up there, so I sat backwards which made it a little awkward for taking pictures.

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We followed the shoreline, slowly putting along.  I had hoped to see some birds on the lake, but other than one diving loon, there were no water birds to be seen.  We did come across a frog as he swam along, and although I tried, I couldn’t get a clear shot of him.  We came around a bend in the shoreline and discovered a whole other bay we hadn’t know was there.

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By this time, I was starting to cramp up.  I’ve had issues with my legs for a while, but in the last month or so, my condition has deteriorated a great deal.  I told Santana we’d have to head back to the lodge.  Although he amped it up a bit, the ride back to the lodge took some time and by the time we docked, the pain was nothing short of excruciating.  Now came the big question.  How the f*&% was I going to get out of this boat?

I’ll tell you how.  I rolled.

Yup, I managed to get one leg out and then I ROLLED onto the dock.  Not my finest moment.

Once I’d gotten to my feet in a complicated reverse downward dog move, I was good to go.  Funny, I care way less about being graceful anymore.  I’m happy if I can get from A to B, regardless of how it’s done.

After a quick lunch, Santana took off to hike to another nearby lake.  I parked myself at the picnic table and spent the afternoon writing.  Could it get any better than this?

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Evening was much the same as our first night, but with no clouds in the sky, the colors were more brilliant than before, and the fishermen stayed out longer.

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Eventually, they all come home and night falls.

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We came home early.  Santana had issues with his bed, so he got up and started the packing and housekeeping.  By the time I got up at 7:30, he was pretty much ready to go.  Morning was absolutely brilliant on the road back down to the city.  We came across deer, turkey vultures, and marmots.  The sun sparkled in the trees.  There was music playing, birds were singing. I hadn’t used my phone at all and I was still alive.  So now I knew for sure that it wouldn’t kill me to not check it every ten minutes.  I hope I can remember that.

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Balcony Birding

 

I don’t get out much.  Even before the global pandemic made “Shelter in Place” a thing, I wasn’t going out much.  My car was on its last legs.  Half my camera gear was stolen. My health was in a steady decline.  I was trapped in a world without words.

I tried going out a few of times, but my heart wasn’t in it.  I’d come home with a couple of dozen photos and not even bother to upload them for a week or two.  For someone who likes to take roads just to see where they go, I had finally lost my way.

Not quite ready to give up, I thought about re-purposing my blog.  Other than posting random cat photos, I didn’t know what I should do with it.

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But this morning the air was warm and the sky was blue.  I took my cappuccino and my bowl of berries and set out for the balcony.  As soon as I opened the door, I could hear the birdsong.  The smell of spring was everywhere.  It was a great day for “quiet sitting.”  I had my camera and my journal, and didn’t have to be anywhere for hours.

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Maybe it was that lack of pressure that made it the day it was.  Or maybe it was the season.  Or maybe I was finally ready to open up and accept what was right in front of me.  There were Eastern Grey Squirrels, one a black morph, chasing each other through the trees.  There were butterflies – Mourning Cloak, Cabbage and Cloud Sulphur. And there were birds.  The Robins, of course, were the loudest.  They strutted across the lawn, their chests puffed up, yellow beaks in sharp contrast with black faces.

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Warblers flitted from tree to tree, shaking the branches and hiding amid the new foliage, while White-Crowned Sparrows foraged in the shadows below.  A flock of Starlings with their iridescent feathers moved between the very tops of the trees and the lawn.

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The cat joined me on the balcony around the same time that a Northern Flicker joined the ruckus in the trees.  We watched as a Magpie wandered through and a Mourning Dove bobbed and weaved along the fence line.  But the crown jewel of the day was a Western Tanager performing aerial maneuvers.  He was a hard one to photograph, almost as hard as the Warblers.  No sooner did I have him in focus than he’d fly off to a new destination.

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Eventually, patience paid off.

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The coffee and berries were gone.  It was almost time to go to work.  But the simple joy of finding myself truly living IN the moment for the first time in months was a sharp reminder.

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I ain’t done yet.

Walking on Sunshine

People told me when I first moved here, that winter can seem long and depressing, with grey skies crowding in.  I didn’t see that as a problem.  I lived in Alberta.  Those are long winters.  I also lived on the Vancouver Island.  I was pretty familiar with grey skies.  I thought I’d be able to handle it.  Turns out, maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I thought.

I don’t know if it was the weather.  It might have been something else entirely.  Something about my car not being well-suited to winter driving.  For someone like myself, with limited mobility, being able to drive where I want represents a certain level of freedom.  Without it, I feel trapped.

It could have been the weather, it could have been the car, it could have been a thousand other little things, but no matter which way you added it up, it came to the same thing.

Depression.

I’ve been trying.  I’ve tried to keep doing the things I love.  I’ve done my best to ignore the little voice in the back of my head that keeps saying, “What’s the point?”  I’ve tried to not dwell on things that make me sad, but some days, the sadness is overwhelming. I want to focus on the positive, but some days, the positive is hard to find.

Ever watch a cat wake up from a nap in a sunbeam?  There’s this long, slow stretch followed by a lazy roll.  The sun has the chance to reach every single spot on the surface of that cat.  Imagine how good that must feel.

I needed to go find a sunbeam.

Randomly choosing a direction, I set off to see what I could find.  Eventually, I found myself climbing Postill Lake Road.  I knew I wasn’t going to make it the 15 km to the lake, but I could go for a while.  After the initial stretch filled with potholes, the road smoothed out.  For a while, it was clear.  I stopped on the bridge at Mill Creek, where the air was crisp and the water was noisy.

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Although I couldn’t get too close to the creek, I could still see the ice.  I love looking at ice as it starts to break down. I like to see how it is effected by water and sun.

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Likewise, on the rocky outcrops along the side of the road.  I could see the water moving beneath the thin layer of ice, bubbling along as it sought the quickest route to the ground.  That was hard to capture with the equipment that I had, but I could take photos of the frozen “falls”.

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The higher I went, of course, the thicker the snow.  Snow crystals brilliant in the sun, unmarred by human touch, rolled upward along the hillsides.

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This picture made me want Kool-Aid, I don’t know why.

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I’d gone as high as I was comfortable going, and it was time to turn around.  But I wasn’t quite ready to leave. I pulled over to the side of the road, turned off the engine and stepped out of the car.  Closing my eyes, I breathed deeply, letting the cool mountain air fill my lungs.  The breeze was cool on my face, and the sun warm on my back.  The air smelled of water and wood. The silence was spellbinding.

This was my sunbeam.

The brilliant blue sky was reflected in the streams of water running down the road, carving new paths in the gravel.

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Looking at the snow piled on this rock, I imagined that you could read the layers like tree rings, to determine the number of major snowfalls there were this year.

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Finally, at just about the exact spot where I made my first stop of the day, I came across a herd of mule deer, the perfect ending.

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I see my doctor next week, just in case.  But I’m feeling a whole lot better.

Walking in Peachland

There was a cloud on the bridge between Kelowna and the West Side.  I drove in, surprised by the onset of vertigo – something I’m not used to.  The feeling remained with me as I drove through the cloud.  When I emerged, I was in Peachland and all was right with the world.  In fact, it was spectacular.

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Peachland is a lovely place, no matter what time of year it is but today the contrasting colours seemed especially vibrant.

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I puttered around Beach Avenue, enjoying the fresh air, trying to decide what I was going to do.  I found myself a picnic table and took out my journal, prepared to write a long, philosophical, exaltation on the wonders of the day.

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What I wasn’t prepared for was the cold wind coming off the water.  Journal back in bag, butt back in car.  Time enough to write later.

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I decided to take Princeton Avenue and see what there was to see.  I knew, from my travels last year, that it was paved for a good distance before going to gravel, and then was paved again a little further up the road.  I’m still driving the car that isn’t suitable for winter excursions, so I knew I couldn’t take too many chances.  It’s far too easy for things to go terribly wrong as they did earlier this month in Sooke, when lives were lost due to a tragic set of circumstances.  My heart goes out to the families of those three young men.

I drove to the end of the pavement.  The gravel stretch was hard-packed snow.  I followed it for a while, but the grade became too steep and I was left, quite literally spinning my tires.  Turning  myself around, I came back down the hill, stopping for the briefest of moments to take a photo of the snow through the trees. Or was it the trees through the snow?

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Back in Peachland, I wandered through the park, checking on the condition of the totem pole.

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There is a beautiful new boardwalk in Peachland that was completed last year.  Jutting out over the water, it offers not only a beautiful view of the lake, but a bit of local history in the plaques that are mounted along the way.  There are also plenty of benches for wimps like me.

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It seemed like everyone and their dog was out for a walk.  Really.  Everyone had a dog.  What’s up with that?  Aren’t there any cat people in Peachland?  Maybe all the cat people stuck their heads outdoors, felt the wind and decided to stay in where it was warm.  Curled up with their cats who gave them the look that said, “Told you.”

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Yes, such are the thoughts of someone with nothing better to do than stand on the boardwalk listening to the gossiping geese and the swish, gurgle and slap of water on the rocks.

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What a glorious day.

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Back in the Saddle

It’s the beginning of February, and the warm, high winds are reminiscent of the Chinooks I knew when I lived in Alberta.  I listened to them whistling high in the trees outside my window, and felt an inner longing – although for what, I’m not exactly sure.

The one thing I am sure of is that it’s been far too long since I went out into the world, just because.  There was a lot of snowfall this winter, and the car I brought back from the coast wasn’t up to the task.  Rather than risk some kind of incident, I put my road trips on hold until I either bought a new vehicle, or the snow melted – whichever came first.  I didn’t expect it to take this long.

This week, I had to get out.  It’s not as though I had cabin fever.  In fact, it was almost the opposite.  The more I stayed at home, the more I didn’t want to go anywhere.  Then my car was broken into.  Foolishly, I had left my camera bag filled with specialty lenses under a coat in the back set.  Of course, it was taken.

My initial reaction was that I might as well give up.  I wouldn’t be able to replace those lenses, and without them, I wasn’t going to be able to take the kind of photos I wanted to take.

But somewhere inside a little voice was telling me I was wrong.  My vision didn’t depend on a specific lens, it depended on me.  My camera is part of my life.  I needed to feel the weight of it in my hands.   I needed one picture that spoke to me – just one – and I’d know everything was going to be okay.

And if I couldn’t head out into the mountains, there were still places I could go.  The city of Kelowna is an interesting mix of residential, farmland, orchards, beaches and wild places. I would find my picture out there somewhere.

I started out on Lakeshore Drive and followed it to the end before turning back.  I stopped in Cedar Creek to take a picture of the park.

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I stopped at the beach access, where I was intrigued by the wood washed up on shore.  There were many other stops I would have made, including a stop for a small herd of mule deer, but traffic prevented me.

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From Lakeshore I headed to the pond on Hull Road.  This was the very first park I visited in Kelowna, while looking for a place to live.  I was hoping that, like that day, there would be swans on the pond.  I found Buffleheads instead.

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I left Hull Road, and made my way to Myra Canyon Road.  The rule I made for myself was that I would keep driving as long as I could see the road.  Unfortunately, although I could see the road, it was covered by ice and slush.  The higher I went, the worse it got.  I turned back.  The only stop I made in that area was KLO Creek, beautiful as it carved its way through the ice and snow.

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I took the backroads through orchards and farmland to East Kelowna, stopping to take pictures of the geese in the orchards.

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I arrived at Scenic Canyon in Rutland, but didn’t take any pictures.  I was standing there, looking at the snow, and wondering when the last time I threw a snowball was.  I was overcome with the desire to do just that. I made snowballs and threw them as hard as I could toward the river, laughing till I was breathless.

It wasn’t until I was on my way out of the park that I realized there were people in a parked car near mine.  I wonder what they must have thought at the sight of an overweight, middle-aged woman throwing snowballs at nothing, cackling to herself.

My final stop found me back at one of the small beaches off of Abbott Street.  I took pictures of bark and sand, but mostly I sat there, looking out over the water, at the gilded clouds and the blue mountains, remembering how lucky I am.

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And the shot that I needed?  I got that.

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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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