Everyday Beaches

The day started out beautifully.  The rain from the day before had ended sometime during the night, leaving behind little gifts for me to discover – purple violets blooming in the lawn, leaves unfurling on the lilac bush outside my door.  Even the hills had turned from cardboard brown to olive green.

I patted my bag to make sure I had my camera with me.  I rarely leave home without it and today I had an errand to run in Penticton, about 70 km away from my home in Kelowna.  I was hoping there would be time for a side trip.

As I was descending the hill into Peachland, still trying to decide where I should go on my side trip, my attention was caught by the view of Rattlesnake Island, purported to be the home of the Ogopogo.  I was so struck by the image that I took the first opportunity to turn around and go back up the hill.  I pulled over onto the gravel easement and stepped out of my vehicle, camera in hand.

How many times had I passed ths very spot without really noticing my surroundings?  Of course, I had noticed it.  Here in the Okanagan, I am surrounded by beautiful scenery.  But I mean really noticed it.  When was the last time I was made breathless by my surroundings?  When was the last time I took the time to appreciate what could so easily be taken for granted?

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Outbuilding on the verge of collapse, Highway 97

 

I had my lunch on the beach in Penticton, as the clouds began to move in, casting their shadows over the hills surrounding Naramata.  The beach was quiet.  Nearby, a child played in the water while his grandmother watched.  There was a raft of gulls on the lake and a pair of Mallards wandered over to see if I was willing to share. (I was not.)

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Mallard Drake, Okanagan Beach, Penticton

I thought about mindfulness. I thought about what it meant to be present in the moment.  All this time, I thought I had been practicing mindfulness, but clearly, I had not.  Instead of being aware of my surroundings, I was thinking about my errand and where to take a side trip.  Because of that, I almost missed the experience of seeing Rattlesnake Island from a new vantage point.

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Eroding cliff, Highway 97

 

There are times for thinking and planning, and there are times for letting go and embracing the experience.  The trick is to know the difference.  And when it’s time to let go, remember to actually do it.

Bring all of your senses into it.  See the beauty in the ordinary.  Hear the gulls calling.  Smell the sun-warmed sand, touch the sky and taste the wind.  If you do all of those things, you will feel something else, an opening, an awareness – peace.

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Skaha Beach, Penticton

I didn’t take a side trip.  I didn’t need to.  I just drove home slowly, stopping at all the beaches along the way.  I said the names out loud, enjoying the way they felt on my tongue.  Skaha, Kickininee, Soorimpt, Pyramid, Sun-Oka, Antler.

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Pyramid Beach, Highway 97

Each one was unique.  Each one was beautiful in it’s own way.  Each one had something to teach me.

And it occurred to me – beaches are a lot like people.

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Driftwood, Antler Beach, Highway 97

 

The Creative Ink Experience

It was my first writer’s conference and I must have printed the program grid at least three times, attacking it fervently with my yellow highlighter. There were so many lectures, workshops and panels and no matter how I looked at it, no way to fit them all in.

In addition to the full three-day schedule of learning opportunities, the Creative Ink Festival offered extra sessions that you could sign up for, and I did sign up, not wanting to miss a single experience.  Because my focus is poetry, not all the panels and workshops were relevant for me, but in almost every time slot, I found something I thought I could use.  When it didn’t seem like there was anything appropriate, I chose something anyway, reasoning that there can be no bad learning.  In some cases, those random workshops turned out to be the ones that were the most fun.

But the most important thing I learned this weekend didn’t come from any of the workshops or panels.  It did, however, stem from one of the extra sessions – the one in which I had the opportunity to pitch my work to an agent.  I had 15 minutes to convince an agent to sign me.  I didn’t know what I was going to say, but I was reasonably confident in my work.  One of the children’s stories I was about to present had recently taken second place in a National competition.

I walked into the boardroom where my designated agent waited.  We smiled and introduced ourselves.  I handed her my flagship story.  She read the first stanza.

“I can’t do anything with this.  No one buys picture books that rhyme.”

The reason, she went on to explain, was that rhyming picture books couldn’t be translated, so immediately, that eliminates the potential to reach an international market.

Her eyes skimmed over the rest of my piece.

“It’s a nice enough story.”  She shrugged.  “You might be able to rewrite it without the rhyme.  But really, does anyone even use Vapo-Rub anymore?”

I stumbled.  I didn’t know what to say.  I had brought six or seven of these stories with me – all useless.  I had nothing else to offer.  My 15 minutes was over in three.  I was humiliated.  I did my best to excuse myself from the room without bursting into tears, but I wasn’t successful there, either.

I escaped to the cool, quiet of my hotel room.  I put on some music and lay down on the bed, trying to come to grips with what had just happened.  I’d have to go home now.  I’d have to quit my writer’s group.  I certainly wouldn’t be able to show my face again.

This was not the agent’s fault.  If anything, she was kinder than she should have been.

I was the one who came unprepared, who hadn’t done the homework.  In my… enthusiasm… to sample everything, I forgot some basic rules.  Or maybe, in my own twisted way, I didn’t think they applied to me.  Either way, I only had myself to blame.

I wallowed in self-pity for a while, but as I’m not a teenager anymore, that got dull in a hurry.  I started formulating a new plan.  A short time later, satisfied that I had regained control of myself and wouldn’t have to go home or quit my group, I rejoined the conference.

And yet… when my son and I were having dinner later, and he asked me about my day, I changed the subject.  I wasn’t ready to share my story.  It was still too raw.

Sunday came, and one of the hours I had been looking forward to all weekend – the Live Action Slush.  For those of you who already know what a Live Action Slush is, feel free to skip the next paragraph.  Otherwise, read on.

A slush pile is the name given to the stack of unsolicited manuscripts that builds up on an editor’s desk.  An editor, or more likely an intern, will go through the slush pile, reading just a few lines or paragraphs in order to determine whether a manuscript has any potential.  If so, the manuscript moves on to the next stage.  If not, the manuscript is discarded.  In the Live Action Slush, conference goers were invited to submit the first page of their manuscript, to be read aloud, anonymously, in front of a panel of experts.  During the reading, the panelists raise their hands at the moment they would personally stop reading.  As soon as two of the three panelists raise their hands, the reading is stopped, and the panelists explain their decision.

Of course, I brought a piece.  I was trying for the full experience, after all.  But a feeling of apprehension settled like a shawl across my shoulders.  I sat down with a friend and her fiancé.  She excused herself to use the restroom, and I was left alone with the fiancé.

“I was going to submit something for this, but I’m having second thoughts.  I had kind of a rough day yesterday and I don’t know if I can do it.”

“Then you probably shouldn’t.”

“On the other hand, I’m curious to know what they would say about my work.  They are professionals.”

“Yes, they are.  They probably aren’t going to be mean.”

“It’s just that I’m still sore from yesterday.  If I did put it out and got negative feedback, I might be tempted to throw away my pen forever.”

“You definitely don’t want that.”

“You know what?  Screw it.  I’m going to do it.”

“Go for it.”

It’s clear this man has been down this road before.

A fist bump later and I was on my way to the front of the room to deposit a piece of paper onto the ever-growing pile.

In the end, I never did get to hear what the panel would have said.  Time ran out.  But it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I did it.  I took my lumps and I put myself back out there.  Instead of retreating into my introverted, writerly self, I took a chance.  And because I found the guts to take that first step, the next one will be easier, and the one after that, and the next one…

Burnaby Lake

I have this fantasy.  I call it “The Emily Carr Vacation.”  Emily Carr had an old caravan.  She would have it towed out to some remote location on Vancouver Island, where she and her monkey, Woo, would spend a week or two in isolation.  Emily would sketch and write and paint, sleeping in her caravan and presumably, cooking on a camp stove or fire.

As someone who rarely had even a weekend off, the idea of spending a week or two engaging in creative pursuits was a dream that kept me going during some difficult times.  I got into the habit of making the most of whatever time I could carve out of a busy schedule.

This past weekend was the Creative Ink Festival, held in Burnaby, BC.  I’d never attended a writer’s conference before and I was thrilled at the idea of spending a weekend attending lectures, panels and workshops.  I arranged to share a ride with a friend on the organizing committee and started making plans.  When I noticed a blank spot in my schedule, I decided to “Emily Carr” the weekend by doing a little bird photography.  With a little help from the Birds of BC community on Facebook, I decided to visit Burnaby Lake.

Friday morning was clear and bright.  By the time I left my hotel room just before 9:00 am, the temperature had already reached 14 degrees Celsius.  My cab driver was a bit confused about how to get to the location I requested and I ended up having to pull out my phone and have Siri give him directions.

After that, it was smooth sailing.

The recommendation I had received was for the Piper Spit entrance to the park.  This is located on the North side of the lake, at about the mid-way point.  Here you will find the Burnaby Nature House, open on weekends from mid-May to Labour Day, a watchtower, and a boardwalk that leads out onto the spit.  Burnaby Lake has miles of walking trails and many of the trailheads can be found at Piper Spit.

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Red-Wing Blackbird Female, Burnaby Lake

 

The lake itself is 3.11 square km and, according to Wikipedia, home to at least 70 species of birds, although as many as 214 species will visit during the year.

Surely, I would see something wonderful!  I had heard that a Mandarin Duck had been sighted and photographed quite regularly at Burnaby Lake and while there is some debate as to whether it is a wild duck or someone’s escaped pet, I really didn’t care.  I had never seen one before.

But the big surprise, as my son and I walked out onto the spit, wasn’t the Mandarin Duck.  It was a pair of Sandhill Cranes standing in the shallow waters of the lake.  I’m relatively new to birding and had only seen a Sandhill Crane once before, nesting in a quiet, marshy area of Water Valley in Alberta.  These two were much closer and I was able to get a couple of shots in before they lifted off for better fishing on the far side of the lake.

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Sandhill Crane, Burnaby Lake

We wandered along the spit, enjoying the sight of so many varieties of duck on the lake.  I didn’t spot the Mandarin, but there were Wood Ducks, Green-Winged Teal, Bufflehead and Ring-Necked Duck.  There was also a Eurasian Widgeon – a lifer for me.

If you’re not familiar with birding, you should know that birders keep lists.  Sometimes the lists can be quite detailed and complex.  I only keep three lists, the most important of these being my life list.  As the name would suggest, a bird gets added to this list only when I see it for the first time in my life.  That bird is universally referred to as a “lifer”.  Once you’ve been birding for a while, lifers tend to be few and far between and are reason enough to do a little happy dance when no one is looking.

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Eurasian Widgeon, Male, Burnaby Lake

To my delight, I had the opportunity to dance again when I spotted a Spotted Towhee hopping along the boardwalk.

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Detail, Water on the back of a Canada Goose

The day was growing even warmer.  After a brief rest in the shade, we followed one of the trails into the forest.  Fresh catkins attracted birds and bees.  Moss was thick on the trunks of trees while ferns unfurled new growth from beneath last year’s remains.

At a fork in the trail we paused, considering our options before turning toward the watchtower that overlooks the lake.  The watchtower has a ramp that makes it wheelchair accessible, but we took the stairs and climbed to the top.

The air was perfectly still, without even a whisper of a breeze.  From this vantage point, we could see even further along the lake, and the spectacular views of Lougheed Town Centre to the East and Metrotown  to the West, beyond the wild spaces.  A cacophony of sound rose from the ducks and geese gathered on the lake below.

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View of Metrotown from Burnaby Lake

Alas, my legs are not what they once were.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to tackle one of the other trails and still make it back to the conference in time for the first lecture.  We took our leave.

Perhaps another day, time and legs permitting.

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Catkins along the trail, Burnaby Lake

Why I Write

I write because I’m too quiet when I talk.  I write because someone once told me I could, and while I can’t sing, or paint, or make music, I can write.  I write because I have a vision – sage purple mountains dim in the twilight –  I write because Jack Kerouac wrote, “the fields were the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”  I write because I love blank pages, hardcover books and new pens.  I write to escape the everyday, acknowledge the beauty, the pain, the solitude of knowing myself.  I write to escape the noise.  I write because the curry is too hot to eat right now, and I write because I dream.  I write because every book is a treasure chest waiting to be opened.  I write because words make my soul sing.  I write to hide.  I can escape into my writing and somehow, the act of writing makes the sameness and the strangeness a little closer together.  I write as a reflection of myself, to prove my existence to myself.  I write because I live, and the act of writing is as natural and essential to my existence as food or water.  I write to release the rage and the pain, and to capture the laughter and the joy.  I write because I live.

 

Welcome to Featherstone

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

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

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