Road Trips

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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.

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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A Tamarack Tale

And some days, like today, I get in my pickup truck and drive.  The leaves that have fallen from the trees in the driveway have collected in the truck bed, and as I go down the road, I watch in the rearview mirror as they swirl and rise and float out behind me.  It’s as though I’m some kind of fairy, but instead of fairy dust, I sprinkle autumn wherever I go. It makes me smile.

(Taken from my journal, autumn, 2016)

 

It was dark when I dropped Santana off at work.  The days are so much shorter now, and working graveyard shifts, sometimes it feels like I don’t get to see the sun.  But not today!  It was my first day off in almost three weeks, and I was not going to waste it.

 

I took June Springs Road to the Little-White Forestry Service Road, trying to find my way to Ruth Station, in the Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park.  The sun was just cresting the mountain, kissing the valley below.

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Sunlight cut a swath through the trees, turning the grass from silver to gold.

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The air was sweet with the smell of cedar.

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Snowberries and autumn flowers lined the road.

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The rocks were tending their gardens.

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But the trees.  Oh, the trees.

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And so it was, that the gods of the forest summoned the kings of the cone-bearing trees to their Great Hall for a meeting.

“There are too many of you for the land to support.  One of you must die.  You will have three days to decide. If you are unable to decide, then all of you will die, and we will begin anew.”

The gods left the hall, and the trees began to argue.  Each one stated reasons they deserved to live, and some of them even offered suggestions as to who they thought should be the one to die.  Their voices rose and fell as day turned to night, and night to day.  At the end of three days, the gods returned.

“Have you reached a decision?”

There was silence in the hall.

“You have left us with no choice….”

“Wait,” came a voice from the back of the hall.  The trees parted, and Larch stepped forward.

“I will do it.” Larch said. “I will die so that my brothers might live.”

The gods smiled.  They had been testing the trees, and they were pleased by the selfless act of Larch.

One of the gods placed his hand on the trunk of Larch.

“For your willingness to sacrifice for others, Larch, you will not die. Instead, once each year, your needles will drop, and in the spring you will grow soft new needles.  To ensure your service will not be forgotten, before they drop, your needles will turn to gold, and all will be reminded what you were willing to give up for your family.  All the trees that come after you will not have needles, but leaves, and in the autumn their leaves will also fall, in your honor.”

From that day forward, Larch lived in peace among his brothers.  He did not grow as tall.  He did not grow as wide.  But every autumn, when Larch turned to gold, the other trees nodded and remembered.

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Do you see what I see?  Gold dust on a gravel road.

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Sunlight and Shadows at Chute Lake

It was Sunday morning and there were about 19 of us sitting in a circle within a small cabin near the shores of Chute Lake. It was the final day of what I hope will be an annual event, the Writing Wild retreat.  It had been a glorious weekend – the nights were cold, but the cabins were warm.  The mornings were crisp and it seemed the days were designed specifically to show off the autumn colours.  Everywhere you looked, there was something new to see, from the buildings, many of which had stood for more than 100 years, to the ancient, rusting farm equipment found scattered all over the property.  There were dogs and horses, squirrels and birds, lake and forest.  

We’d been having a great time, learning new things, spending time in silent communion with our pages and words.  I’d sneaked off a few time to take pictures, and that was the cause of my distraction.  All that visual stimulation! I was a bit overwhelmed.  I didn’t know how to narrow it down.

I was supposed to have my eyes closed, following along with the guided meditation.  But for some reason, I opened my eyes, just in time to see a shaft of sunlight pierce the clouds and come in the cabin window.  It shone through the petals of the bright orange flower on the top of Norma’s pen, illuminating it from behind and I knew.  Sunlight and shadows.  

Chute Lake

 

Fungi in the forest

 

Wildflowers blossoming on the shores of the lake

 

Many-colored moss

 

Sap in the shadows

 

More wildflowers on the shores of the lake

 

Lichen hanging from the branches

 

Sunbeam in the forest

The Forest Floor

I wasn’t planning to go out yesterday.  I’ve been feeling a little tired since my return from Tofino.  A person should always try to plan for at least one day of rest after a vacation before jumping right back in to work. 

I’ll try to remember that next time.  

I dropped Santana off at work in West Kelowna.  Judging by all the news reports, bears have taken over the municipality, so naturally, I thought I should have a look.  I also wanted to take the new wheels out for a test run on unpaved roads, just to see how it felt.  And it was morning.  Did I really need any other reason?

Still, there was one – autumn.  I like autumn.  I like crisp mornings and warm shawls. I like roasted squash and a fire in the evening. I like the smell of fallen leaves. And I really like back-to-school supplies.  But that’s another story.

Most of all, I love that brief period where Mother Nature puts on her best show before settling down for the winter.  All those rich, jewelled tones!

I decided to drive a road I’ve taken before – Glenrosa to Bear Lake Main.  I was already familiar with it, so there would be no surprises.  I knew I could handle the road conditions. And it’s where I saw my first BC bear.  Maybe lightning would strike twice?

Like Alberta, BC doesn’t get the same variety of colour in the autumn leaves as you would find in Ontario, for example.  But that doesn’t mean the colour isn’t there.  You just have to know where to look.  In Alberta, you find the best colour in the grasses.  In BC, you look to the forest floor.  

The colours are stunning.

It was a beautiful drive.  There was no traffic at all on the first leg of the journey, and I was free to drive as slowly as I wanted, stopping often to take a closer look at something or take a few pictures.

Autumn reminds me that there is beauty in death and regeneration.  Fallen leaves and needles provide warmth, protection and nutrients for re-growth in the spring.  Seeds are dispersed, and fungi help speed up the compost.  It’s kind of an amazing process.

The road continued to climb.  

There was snow.  Oh yeah.  I’d completely forgotten that there had been snowfall in the higher elevations.  So far, there was no snow on the road, just in the trees, and the potholes were filled with water instead of ice.  Someone with a sense of humor had thrown some Christmas decorations up on a tree next to the road.  I found this guy planted in the ground.

The car was doing well.  I didn’t have any concerns with how it was handling the road.  There was one problem, though.

Remember that old joke?  How do you catch a unique rabbit?  Unique up on it.  This car was loud.  I wasn’t going to be “niquing” up on anything.  I’m not surprised I didn’t see any wildlife.  They would have heard me coming from miles away.  Gonna have to fix that.

I turned off the road and headed to Bear Lake.  Funny, it wasn’t too long ago that I couldn’t find Bear Lake.  Now I’m dropping in just because I’m in the neighborhood.

Bear Lake was all but deserted.  The picnic tables were covered in snow.  The lake was still and glassy.  I saw two ducks in the shallows, but nothing else was stirring.  I parked the car and got out.

Something was happening.  Leaves were falling and snow was falling and I stood beneath it all and laughed.

Part of my heart will always belong to the West Coast, but the Okanagan is my home, and I am filled with joy to be here.

Tofino or Bust!

It was my first vacation in 30 years.  It was meticulously planned, down to the last detail.  Yes, the forecast was for rain all week, but I used to live on the island.  I was sure I could handle that.

The Kia was loaded up and ready to go, armed with everything we might need and then some.  I picked Santana up from work and we were off.  The plan was to go as far as Hope, spend the night and hopefully arrive in Qualicum Beach at a reasonable time the following day.  We found a place in Hope where we could rent a one room “cabin” for little more that the price of a campsite, saving us the hassle of setting up the tent in the rain.  It was perfect.

Hope, between showers

Our second day was just as perfect.  Two of my best friends from the island had arranged the rental of a condo on the beach for the four of us to share.  Have you ever had a friend that you haven’t seen for a while and you just pick right up where you left off?  It was like that. We spent the night talking and laughing, sharing stories from the past as though I had never been gone. I am lucky to have such friends.

The following day saw us headed for the West coast of the island.  We stopped in Cathedral Grove, or, as I like to call it, the Church of Emily Carr.  This is the forest of my dreams.  

Deep, cool green, moss-covered everything, and a silence that makes you stop and listen. 

The skies began to clear as we neared the Pacific Rim National Park.  By the time we got to Wickininish Beach, it was clear blue, all the way to the horizon.  The tide was coming in, and the waves were high and wild.  The unending thunder of the waves is the song in my heart and I rejoiced to hear it again.

Wickininish Beach

Ah, but here’s where our story starts to turn.  You knew it was going to.  The tip-off was that this vacation was meticulously planned.  When has that ever worked out?  I had purchased a park pass, and sent Santana back to the Kia to hang it from the visor.  He was gone only a few moments before joining me on the beach.  He put on his rubber boots and was trying, unsuccessfully, to jump the incoming waves.  Here is a photo of Santana on the beach.

This is the exact moment, unnoticed by either of us, the keys to the Kia fell out of his pocket.  (See arrow and circle)

Now, you wouldn’t think that the loss of a key was that big a deal, except in this case it was.  Last year when my purse was stolen from the beach, I went to the Kia dealership to have a new one made.  Unfortunately, unless you have the “master” key, a replacement can’t be made.  I purchased the Kia second-hand and didn’t have the master. My only option was to replace the entire “immobilizer” unit, at a cost higher than what I had paid for the vehicle. 

The nearest Kia dealership was in Nanaimo.  I was looking at $500 for towing, $1500 minimum for a new unit, and God only knows how much for labor.  I called the dealership in Nanaimo, as it was getting late in the day.  It was then I was told that the part I needed was no longer being made.  We were hooped.

Poor Santana was beside himself, thinking he had ruined our vacation.  But here’s the thing – stuff happens.  Stuff is always going to happen, and how it goes from there depends a lot on how you react to it.  Getting angry wasn’t going to do anyone any good.  Besides, it could have just as easily been me. 

Time to move on to plan “B”.  

Our campsite at Mackenzie Beach was already paid for.  I reasoned that if I had the Kia towed there instead, I would buy myself three days to figure out what to do next.  So that’s what I did.  I had our entirely useless vehicle towed 35 km from one beach to another, using up my last BCAA call for the year.  The tow truck had to be dispatched from Port Alberni and because of highway closures for construction at Kennedy Lake, we had a three hour wait.

We went back to the beach.

Santana had been walking up and down, hoping to find the keys, but the ocean had already claimed them.  I wanted to explore some tide pools.  I didn’t know if I’d get another chance.  I climbed up on the rocks, if you can imagine that, and took some pictures.  

Tide Pool, Wickininish

Getting down again proved to be the bigger challenge and I ripped my leg open on some barnacles.  I had a first aid kit in the Kia, but, oh yeah, it was locked.  I’m not the brightest crayon in the box.

Bleeding and bruised, feeling utterly defeated, we finally arrived at Mackenzie Beach in the dark.  Our phones were almost dead, so we parked ourselves in the office area to recharge.  I had already decided what I was going to do.  I had to buy another vehicle.  I went on Kijiji and started looking around.  I found a couple of likely options and left messages.  We dragged only what we needed down the hill to the beach and set up camp.  We forgot to bring the tent fly down with us and were too exhausted to climb back up the hill to find it.  Hoping that the rain wouldn’t return in the night, we slept under the stars and the gods cut us some slack.  It was a beautiful night.

In the morning, I called one of my friends in Qualicum.  I hadn’t received a reply from any of the ads I’d responded to and I was a little worried.

“Go,” she said, “take your whale watching trip.  Enjoy your vacation.  We’ll see what we can work out on this end.”

It wasn’t the vacation I had planned.  There was much about it that needed to be adjusted.  But it was wonderful all the same.  We went on our whale watching tour.  

Sea Otters

We took our Cultural Canoe excursion.  

Canoeing the Clayoquot

We even made it out to Meares Island for a one night stay in the hostel there.  That was the only night that it rained, by the way.  There was a fire pit in a covered gazebo.  We had a campfire, made s’mores and listened to the rain.

Overlooking the beach, Meares Island

I found a scrap metal guy to come out and take the van away.  My friend, Becky, and her partner, Tim, came out to pick us up.  Turns out, Tim had a vehicle he was willing to part with at a very reasonable price.

Did I mention how lucky I am to have friends like this?

Sunset on Mackenzie Beach

Maybe it wasn’t the “Emily Carr Vacation” that I had in mind, but it was a pretty damn good one.  And there’s always next year.