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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Where the Wild Things Are

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

I didn’t always know.  

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

Sometimes, I miss all that.  

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Aspen Trail

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

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

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

“Opens a door in Heaven:

From skies of glass

A Jacob’s ladder falls

On greening grass

And o’er the mountain-walls

Young angels pass”

 From Early Spring by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maude-Roxby Bird Sanctuary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solitude

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

⁃ Ellen Burstyn

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

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

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

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