Gillard-Forestry Road

I used to have a Land Rover. It was a ‘94 Defender and it was a lemon from the day I bought it. I loved it anyway. It was big and roomy, scratched up and dented, and spent more time off the road than off-road. Still, it represented freedom, the ability to go where other vehicles just couldn’t take you. I miss my Land Rover – never more so than today.

“This is a bad idea, Sally,” I said to myself, “A very, very bad idea.”

It wasn’t enough that I had decided to follow the Gillard-Forestry Road to the very top. No, I had to follow one of the side roads that amounted to little more than a dirt path – in a minivan. Yup, I was missing the Land Rover for sure. The road was narrow and rocky, with deep ruts and pools of an indeterminate depth.  I hugged the side of the road, preferring to hear branches scraping my paint than the rocks ripping out my undercarriage.  But in spite of my out-loud verbal admonition, inside I was filled with glee. They don’t call me the Dirt Road Diva for nothing. Okay, no one actually calls me the Dirt Road Diva – I gave that name to myself.

And now you know why.

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Dark-eyed Junco, Oregon Variety, Kelowna

The forestry road itself is in pretty good shape. It’s a gravel road but it’s also an active logging road, so it’s well-maintained.

The Okanagan Mountain Fire of 2003 swept across the slopes and even now, more than 15 years later, the scars of that fire lend a sad, haunted look to the landscape, especially on a day like today when cloud and fog cling to the edges.

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Gillard-Forestry Road, Kelowna

There is little traffic other than the odd logging truck and I was fairly comfortable driving slowly so I could absorb my surroundings. The views from this height are spectacular.

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View of the valley, Gillard-Forestry Road, Kelowna

About three quarters of the way to the top of the road, the landscape becomes greener as you reach areas that were spared by the fire. Sadly, amidst the green there is plenty of orangey-red, a sure sign of the Mountain Pine Beetle. Although only about the size of a grain of rice, the Mountain Pine Beetle is devastating to forests of Lodgepole and Ponderosa pine.  The orangey-red trees left behind become kindling for the next lightning strike, causing forest fires to burn hotter and spread faster than they would in a healthy forest.

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Second-year Mule Deer fawns, Kelowna

I reached the top of the forestry road. There is still plenty of snow up here, but there won’t be for long. Already this section of the road was a mud pit. I looked at the large tire tracks deep in the mud and decided to turn around before it was too late.  I could feel my little minivan starting to sink and I stepped on it, throwing a shower of mud into the air. A little shot of adrenaline coursed through me as the minivan broke free and I hit the gravel again.

My success is what coaxed me into turning off onto the side road.

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Mother Nature’s Rock Garden, Kelowna

I didn’t follow it too far -I’m not a complete idiot – but I followed it far enough that turning around might become a problem.  I turned off the engine and stepped outside. The clouds were starting to clear and the air was sweet.  The moss was thick on the rocks and water tricked out into a small puddle.  There was no other sound. Even the birds, so cheerfully noisy on the lower part of the mountain, were silent. I was completely alone.

Well, except for this guy.

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Columbia Ground Squirrel, Kelowna

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

 

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

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.