In Which Sally Meets a Bear, AKA Mabel Lake

I don’t remember how old I was the year we went to BC to deliver a baby gift.  I don’t remember for sure where in BC we went.  But I do remember my mom’s opinion on the whole matter.  She was a teensy bit judgmental, I think.  The relative in question was a nephew of my father’s.

“First he moves into a cabin on the side of a mountain to raise goats and make candles.  Now he’s shacked up with some woman and they have a baby.  For certain, they’ve saddled that poor child with some God-awful hippy name like Infinity or Marzipan.”

I laugh out loud as this memory surfaces, brought on, no doubt, by the landscape I am driving through.

But let me start at the beginning.

My plan, at the beginning of the day, was to go find a place called Shuswap Falls, located on Mabel Lake Road outside of Lumby.  It was overcast and cool, but the forecast was for much hotter temperatures later in the day.  My destination was less than an hour and a half away, so I was comfortable taking my time.  I chose to take backroads between Vernon and Lumby.  Google maps, I discovered, will reroute you if you go off-course.  The other one just kind of quits on me.

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I stopped to watch a border collie round up a flock of sheep.  I stopped to look at an old farm building falling back into the ground.

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I stopped to admire the corn towering over my head.

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Have you ever had a day where everything you looked at was beautiful?  That’s the kind of day I was having.

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Arriving at the Shuswap Falls Recreation Site, I headed down the trail to the viewpoint.  There were stairs.  I thought I could probably make it, and since they were going up now, they would be going down on the way back.  I could probably do that.

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Except when I got to the top, there was another set.  I hadn’t planned on that.

After a brief rest, I tackled the second set of stairs and arrived at the viewpoint.

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Once I made it back to the minivan, I decided to take a little side trip down a gravel road I had passed.  There were number of farms and houses along the road, but still plenty to look at and enjoy.

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Once I’d finished exploring that road, I found myself wondering about Mabel Lake.  I took out my phone to check the map.  No service.  Well, how far could it be?  I started out the day with half a tank of gas.  I wasn’t down to a quarter yet.  I figured I could drive until I reached a quarter tank and at that point, I’d really have to turn around and go back.

It was on that part of the drive that I recalled my mother’s feelings regarding that long-ago trip.  I’ve always wondered about farms in the middle of mountainous areas.  They don’t seem natural to me.  Of course, I’m from the prairies where farmland is a golden field that stretches to the horizon.  These pockets of green, growing things seem out of place, and maybe that’s why I remembered the landscape from the past.  That “cabin on the side of a mountain” would have been on the other side of the road, where driveways head straight up and you can’t see where they end.

I was thinking about turning back.  But through the trees I could see the blue of the lake.  I didn’t know how far I’d have to go to gain access, but it couldn’t be much further.

That’s when the bear stepped out of the woods.

He ran back when he saw me, but he didn’t run far.  I stepped out of the minivan with my camera in hand.  We looked at one another, and I almost forgot to take the shot.  Once I had taken four or five frames, I got back in the minivan and slowly drove away.

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I am blessed.

How many stops had I made?  How many breaks did I take, just to arrive at that spot at that exact moment?

I continued down the road, convinced now that I had plenty of gas.  I arrived at Mabel Lake just a few minutes later, and it too, was beautiful.

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Amy, by the way.  The baby’s name was Amy.

Yellow Lake

Last year I had an epiphany.  Well, maybe it wasn’t so much an epiphany as it was a realization.  My life had changed.  I wasn’t required to work seven days per week anymore.  I had actual days off, and I could use them for things like, I don’t know, camping?  I used to love camping.  

I set about trying to get myself outfitted for some outdoor living.  Through Kijiji and other on-line sites, I ended up getting everything I needed for under $200.  Yes, I had to do some driving around, but it was well worth it.  

We didn’t do a lot of camping, Santana and I, because our days off didn’t match up, but we did manage to get out a few times.  Our first trip was to Keremeos to look for mountain goats.  We drove up and down the highway from Keremeos to Hedley for two days and never did find the goats.  But we had a lot of laughs.

I remembered the drive to Keremeos on Highway 3A. The area intrigued me and I meant to go back and have another look.  My chance for that came on the weekend.

My friend, Tania, and I made plans to go to Keremeos for the Similkameen Pow Wow of Champions.  Santana decided to come along for the ride.  We left early in the morning so we’d have time to stop along the way.

The turn off for Highway 3A is just south of Penticton, near Kaleden.  We wound our way through the rocky outcrops and forests, past the community of Twin Lakes, until we reached a lake.  Strangely, this is not one of the Twin Lakes – you need to take a different road to get to them and that’s a trip for another day.

This is Yellow Lake, a popular spot for fishing. We walked the boardwalk to the floating dock where people were lined up on the dock in camp chairs, casting their lines out over the water.  We arrived just in time to watch an angler bring in his catch.  

Too small for dinner, but promising, all the same. The lake is stocked with Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, and Kokanee Salmon.  You can also catch Perch and Goldfish.  

Yes, Goldfish.  Apparently, the dumping of live Goldfish in the waters of Yellow Lake has been a problem.  The population has grown and threatens the natural eco-system of the lake.  The article I read was from November of 2017 and I was unable to find any information about what, if any, action is being taken to combat the problem.

Whether you’re an angler or not, Yellow Lake is a quiet, peaceful place to spend some time.  The waters are full of plant life, making it quite attractive to ducks.  

Heavily scented wildflowers that I can’t name line the path, and the soft buzzing of pollinators is almost hypnotic.

At the West end of the lake there is another rest stop, complete with picnic tables and flush toilets.  There is also a boat launch there, but there are restrictions on the use of motors.

It’s my understanding that there are hiking trails on the other side of the lake, moderate to difficult due to the elevation, but I’d be happy to just sit here, looking up at the cliffs instead of trying to climb them.

Different strokes.

Winfield Creek Habitat Preserve

There are days I want to get into the minivan and drive, drive, drive.  And then there are days I just don’t want to stray too far from my coffeemaker.  Know what I mean?

I stumbled upon the Winfield Creek Habitat Preserve one day last summer and promised myself I would return. So many birds!  Given the proximity to my coffee machine, it seemed like a good day to go.

My plan was to take my coffee and my beach blanket, find a spot in the park to set up with my camera and journal, and wait for the birds to come to me.  I remembered there was a small clearing that seemed perfect.  But by the time I got to Winfield, I was having second thoughts.  I couldn’t remember exactly where the clearing was.  It occurred to me that by the time I put my camera in my purse with my keys and my journal, hauled out the big lens (in it’s own case; it’s rather heavy), grabbed the blanket and my coffee – that was a lot of luggage to be hauling around on a trail, especially with my limitations.  

I draped the camera around my neck, threw the big lens over my shoulder, and tucked my keys in a hiding spot.  No journal, no blanket, no coffee.  Oh, the things we’re willing to sacrifice…

The parking area was occupied by a number of California Quail families, all of which scurried off into the undergrowth before I could get my act together.  It was a promising sign.  There were sure to be a lot of birds.

I made my way slowly down the trail.  I could hear a number of different birds, but the leafy canopy overhead prevented me from seeing any of them.  

I wasn’t worried though.  I knew once I got to the clearing, I would see plenty.  And the trail was lovely, winding its way through the mixed forest.  Breathing deeply, I let the fragrance of the trees fill me.  That scent is like a drug and I’m an addict.

Early signs of autumn were visible – leaves beginning to turn, bushes heavy with rosehips – but for the most part, it was still green.  

As near as I can tell, there are three separate ponds connected by the creek.  The first pond was empty.  The second pond was covered with bright green algae.  The third pond was full of ducks.

Where the heck was that clearing?  My legs and lungs were both feeling the burn. It felt like I’d been walking for a long time.  It had to be close!

I wandered through a stand of Ponderosa Pine and Red Cedar, turned a corner and there it was.  The tall grass sparkled in the sun.  Sparkled.  Because it was wet.  Nope.  I’m not wading my way into tall, wet grass.  I probably shouldn’t be disturbing the native plants, anyway.  This was a nature preserve, not a park.  I plopped myself down on the dirt path next to the clearing.  I desperately needed to rest. I could probably still see the birds from here. The strange thing was, I couldn’t hear any birds.  Well.  This didn’t work out at all.

I sat there for a while, resting my legs and wondering where the birds had gone. Birds tend to get quieter as the day gets longer, but surely, I hadn’t been out here that long.  Awkwardly, I got to my feet, thinking about the coffee I’d left in the van.  That’s when I saw him.  

No wonder the birds were quiet!  

Just ahead of where I had been sitting on the path, I saw what I thought was a pile of deer droppings.  Drawing closer I realized that the poop was made up of partially digested cherries.  That wasn’t deer.  That was bear. 

I made it back to the minivan in no time.  Not because I might be sharing the park with a bear, but because the path is a loop.  Had I gone the other direction when I started, I would have arrived at the clearing before my legs had a chance to say anything.  Live and learn.

Goose Lake

I meant to go to Swan Lake.  Really, I did.  But at the last minute I changed my mind and switched out Swan for Goose. The problem was that I discovered the Swan Lake Nature Reserve Trail would require I walk more than a kilometer in 30-degree heat through a field just in order to reach the lake’s edge.

I didn’t think I had it in me.

On to plan B.

Goose Lake is a small lake located in between Swan Lake and the northernmost arm of Okanagan Lake on the outskirts of Vernon.  On the map, it looked like there was access to the lake, but I found myself out of road at a concrete barrier some distance from the lake.

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Just beyond the barrier was a path that led down.  It was still too far a walk to the lake, and private property besides.  The land belongs to the Okanagan Indian Band Reserve and was formerly used as a military training ground.  Down closer to the lake were signs warning away trespassers, due to the presence of unexploded explosive ordnance, or UXOs. There have been at least seven deaths here attributed to abandoned munitions, between 1948 and 1973.  While there has been some cleanup, it is still far from safe.

The area I was in was, presumably, clean.

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White Chicory, Rare

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Wild Chicory

I walked down toward the lake, through vegetation that was ripe with singing crickets, cabbage butterflies and bees.  Wild Chicory and St. John’s Wort filled the field, along with thistles that stood eight feet tall and had stalks thicker than my forearms.

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Some kind of monstrous thistle

Chokecherry bushes bowed under the weight of their fruit.

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Chokecherry Bush

It was beautiful here.  There were Sparrows and Goldfinch in the bushes, and I could see ducks on the water below.

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Female Goldfinch

It’s too bad the land is unusable.  Let me see if I’ve got this right.

White man shows up and takes the land from the indigenous people.

White man gives back a piece of the land in the form of a reservation.

White man says, “Hey, we need to borrow some of your reservation land, for the good of the country.”

White man returns the land, now useless, to the indigenous people.

Sometimes I am ashamed of the colour of my skin.

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I had gone about as far as I could go.  I plopped myself down on the ground in the shade of a chokecherry bush and waited for the pain in my legs to abate.

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Man, it was really hot.  Sitting there on the ground, feeling the sweat trickle down my back, looking at water I couldn’t get to – obviously I needed to go find myself a different lake, even if this one was pretty.

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Cabbage Butterfly

BX Falls

It was Santana’s first day off all summer.  So even though I was on a ten-day stretch myself, I agreed to go for a drive to the destination of his choosing.  He chose Vernon and invited a friend, Keith.  The boys had a list of places in Vernon they wanted to check out.  I had a list of my own.

Just a few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with someone, describing my hobby.  He suggested I check out BX Falls in Vernon.  Breaking with tradition, I looked it up before we went.  Not very thoroughly, as it turns out.

“These falls are five minutes from the parking lot… quick, easy visit.  No real place for picnics, just walk and view…nice, relaxing.”

That sounded great!

I should have kept reading the review.

“Lots and lots of stairs to the bottom…. So that means lots of stairs on the way up.”  (CalGirl1982)

Well, you know what they say about hindsight…

Either way, when we arrived, I was expecting the nice, relaxing five-minute walk.

 

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Harvesting St. John’s Wort

It started out that way, to be sure.  The forest of mostly cedar was deep and cool.   The sound of the creek was soothing.

Then we got to the stairs.

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Guest Photographer – Santana

I might have made it to the bottom without any issue.  But there were no handrails.  I would never make it back to the top.

I handed each of the boys a camera.

“There’s no way I’m going to make it.  You’re going to have to do it for me.”  They promised to take lots of pictures and headed off.  I turned around and began to make my way back.

Before long I realized that I didn’t have the car keys.  I had no pockets, so I’d given them to Santana when we got out of the car.  I looked around.  There was a lovely spot beside the creek where I could dip my feet in the water and wait for the boys to return.  Much cooler than waiting in the parking lot.

I settled onto a nice large rock and put my feet in the water.  It was COLD!  But it was also clear and beautiful.  Almost instantly, I regretted giving away both cameras.  There were plenty of things I could be taking pictures of right now.  Then I remembered the story told at the beginning of a National Geographic Photography video – Don’t Forget to Pet the Whale.

Basically, the story is about a man on a whale watching trip.  A whale approaches the boat and everyone on the boat reaches over the side and pets the whale.  The man is so busy photographing the experience that he forgets to experience the experience. Don’t Forget to Pet the Whale is a reminder to not let life pass you by while you’re taking pictures of it.

I took a deep breath – the scent of water and rocks, overlaid with a touch of mud.  Cedar, moss.  Damn.  It was beautiful here.  I watched a Cloudless Sulphur coasting over the moss.  I watched the odd leaf betray the season by falling early.  I watched a squirrel race across a fallen log and leap over the creek to another fallen log because, well, because he could, I guess.  He did it three or four times.  Show-off.  I let the sound of the creek lull me into a place I haven’t been for a while.  I was so relaxed I almost didn’t see the boys coming back down the trail.  They had kept their promise and taken photos for me to share.

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Guest Photographer – Santana

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Guest Photographer – Keith

So while I didn’t get to see the falls personally, I had a wonderful time petting the whale.  Of course, once the boys were back I was free to take a few shots before we headed home.

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Shelf Fungi

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BX Creek, as seen from the rock I was sitting on

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Random Tree Roots

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Flowing Water

Hey, I said I’d pet the whale.  No one said anything about a full-body massage.

Idabel Lake

Holding the camera as steady as possible, I slowly exhaled and pressed the shutter button.  Nothing happened.  I adjusted the focus, held the camera steady, exhaled and pressed the shutter button.  Still nothing happened.  What the *#@&?

“Come ON!” I said, pulling the camera away from my face in order to look at it accusingly.  The two Columbian Ground Squirrels that, up until now, had been posing on a rock for me, decided that enough time had been wasted, and scampered away.  I examined the camera and, finding nothing amiss, tried to take a random shot of some trees.  Nothing.  This time, however, I could see that the battery light was blinking.

Of course.  This is what happens when you decide to take a road trip on no sleep but plenty of caffeine.  You forget things.  But really?  The battery?  How could I possibly have forgotten that?  Cursing myself, I got back in the Kia.  Nothing to do now but go home.  “But you’re not done!” the voice in my head protested.  The voice was right.  There were still two roads on this trip that I wanted to check out, and at least two places I told myself I would stop at on the way back.  Now I had to drive home and try NOT to see anything on the way.  Good luck with THAT.

Regardless, I was glad I came.

The day started early, and it was a lovely one.  The morning air was still cool, but the sky was a brilliant blue and the roads were quiet.  Starting out on Highway 33, I headed to the spot where McCulloch Road meets the highway.  From there I turned onto the forestry road.  Along the way there were openings in the trees where it was evident that clearcutting had taken place.

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Clearcut, OK Falls Forestry Road

Some of those areas had been reforested, while others had been left for Mother Nature to take care of.  The process is slow, but eventually life finds a way.

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American Robin, Juvenile

I didn’t know what I would find at Idabel Lake.  I had seen a sign for it while exploring McCulloch Road a few weeks back and made note of it as a place to visit in the future.  I didn’t look it up.  I’ve decided that I like the element of surprise in my travels.  I was surprised to find a paved road when I turned off the forestry road I was on.  I was even more surprised to find street signs.  This wasn’t just a random, wilderness lake.  This was a community.

There was a man walking down the middle of the road.  My window was open, and as I slowly passed, he turned and smiled.  I put my foot on the brake.

“Hi,” I said. “How are you today?”

“I’m good.”  He seemed to be waiting for me to continue, so I did.

“I’m just out having a look around.  I’ve never been here before.  I like to visit new places and take pictures of what I find.”

“You like nature?”

“Yes.”

“Me, too.  Are you headed to the beach?”

“Does this road take me there?”

“Yes.”

“Then I guess I am.”

“How long are you going to be there?  If you’re going to be a while, I’ll run home and get my phone so I can show you some of my pictures.”

“How long will that take?”

“About ten minutes.”

“Oh, yeah.  I’ll still be there.”

He waved and turned around.  I continued to the lake.

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Columbia Ground Squirrel

The “beach” was really a boat launch, with a couple of picnic tables nestled in the tall grass and daisies.  I climbed out of the Kia with my camera in hand.  A Columbian Ground Squirrel was standing in the grass next to the water.  A family of loons was visible, just offshore.

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Common Loon

The lake itself was beautiful, peaceful and still.  I looked out over the water and breathed deeply.  I don’t know what it was about this lake specifically, but it was the most idyllic place I’d come across yet.

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Idabel Lake

My new friend, Carmen, arrived with his phone in hand.  We sat on one of the picnic tables and he showed me some photos and a video he took of wildlife in the area.  He shared a little bit about his life and how he came to be there.  It was an altogether pleasant encounter, sitting in the sun with a stranger, enjoying the peace of the morning and the view of the lake.  I was glad we had met.

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Idabel Lake

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Yellow Water Lily, Idabel Lake

But there were more roads to follow, and this blog wasn’t going to write itself, so eventually, I packed up my lenses and moved on.  It was the very next stop I made that found me battery-less. In retrospect, I suppose I had seen all I needed to see in order to know I want to go back.  It just would have been nice to stay longer.

Postill Lake

It felt like it had been a long time since I went for a drive.  Actually, it hadn’t.  I’d driven to Vernon on errands but didn’t have the time or energy to visit any of the places on my list – all which involve walking.  I’d been out for a cruise on West Side Road, but there was traffic, and I just wasn’t feeling it. So by the time I had the right circumstances – a day off, lots of sleep – I was pretty anxious to get started.

Santana was a last-minute addition to my plans, though not an unwelcome one.  I was planning to visit a place I found on the map – Postill Lake.  I’d never heard of it before, although apparently, I should have, as it was in the news just a couple of weeks ago.

 

“Central Okanagan Search and Rescue said three people and their dog were found after searchers, driving through the new-growth forest on ATVs, heard them “screaming” for help. Another wave of rescuers had missed them minutes earlier, unable to hear them shouting through the dense brush.”

Rhianna Schmunk · CBC News

 

After their truck went off the road, landing them in a ditch, the three were trying to get unstuck when the dog jumped out of an open window and took off into the forest, chasing a deer.  Chasing after the dog, the three got turned around in the deep forest, and couldn’t find their way back to the road.  Twenty-five hours later, they were found.  Thankfully, all were unharmed.

 

Of course, I didn’t know any of this.  I found the lake on the map and wanted to go.  I didn’t Google it until I got home.

That’s just how I roll.

The sky was overcast but there was not supposed to be any rain.  I would have thought, given the proximity to the airport, that the forecast would be accurate, but rain had already fallen – the gravel road was damp and droplets of water glistened on the leaves.  The grey skies had the effect of deepening the green of the forest and I could feel myself sinking into the calm that comes whenever I start to breathe the forest air.  The drive was lovely and would have been picturesque if it weren’t for the illegal dumping marring the landscape. I understand 3500 tonnes of trash was removed from the area, just last fall.  Shameful.

Still, if you can overlook the old couches and partially burnt mattresses, there is plenty else to see.

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I had Siri on because there are multiple ways to start out for the lake.  When she told me to make a right-hand turn, I came to a dead stop.  What??? She wanted me to go where???

The “road” Siri wanted me to take was next to impassible.  It was a steep, uneven climb that did not look like a road at all.  I’m not overly shy about taking rough roads, but this didn’t look right at all.  I checked the map.  If I didn’t turn off, I would still end up at the lake, but it looked like this was a shortcut.

Santana offered to go scout the road to see if it improved any.  That sounded good to me.  While he was gone, I grabbed my camera and had a little look around.  There was a deep, tree-filled crevice on the other side of the road.  Perched in a tree were a pair of Turkey Vultures.

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Santana came back and said, “Let’s go.”   His voice sounded hurried.  What he found when he ventured up the road, was a partially built structure that looked as though someone might be living in it.  He described what he found and said that the whole thing made him feel very uncomfortable – like there was something sketchy going on.  I made some joke – shades of “Deliverance” – but of course, he’s too young to get the reference.

We made our way to the lake, stopping on occasion so I could indulge my photo bug.  There were fields and fields of Fireweed.  There was a wildfire in the area last year, but it was fairly small and quickly contained.

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Soon we arrived at the Postill Lake Lodge.  This is a very cool trout fishing, family-oriented resort that has cabins, cottages, and camping sites available, along with boat rentals.  I completely fell in love with the site. The rates are very reasonable, compared to other places I’ve seen, and I fully intend to make a return trip.  I’ve even chosen my accommodation already.  I asked about winter stays, but unfortunately, the resort is only open until mid-October.

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The lake looked moody under the overcast skies, but I like that.  Not every day can be sunshine and laughter.

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We headed for home.

Strangely, when we reached the place we had stopped earlier in the day, I spotted the Turkey Vultures again and stopped.  But there was more… There were six Turkey Vultures and two Bald Eagles, all in the same location – across the road from the shortcut.  It was weird and a little unnerving.  I couldn’t help but wonder what lay at the bottom of the crevice that had their attention.  I peered over the side but could see nothing.

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We made our way back down the road, and I thought about the discussion my Poetry Circle had earlier in the week.  We were discussing Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”, and what it might have meant – especially the final stanza.

 

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”

 

Some of the group agreed with the analysis that suggested Robert Frost was considering abandoning civilization, perhaps even contemplating suicide, but I disagree.

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I think he was talking about heaven.