“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.
I don’t know for sure when it happened although, if I were to go through my old journals, I could probably pinpoint it. I only know things have changed. It wasn’t even a subtle shift—it was more like two pieces of a model railroad track snapping together with a click. It was the moment I changed from being a writer looking for credibility to a writer who had things to say. It is a welcome change. I’m still dealing with the dynamics of the shift. There are bits and pieces needing to be put away, organizing to be done, and more. But I’m not waiting for everything to be perfect. I’d be waiting the rest of my life. In fact, I’ve already started. I’ve been gathering resources, dipping my toes in the water, and trying to learn as much as I can.
I may have just sold my first, no second, piece of writing. In fact, the first piece I was commissioned to write might have been the catalyst. To discover I could be paid for my work. Or it might have been the end of my part-time casual job. I could look for a new job, or I could focus on writing, and see if I could earn enough to have the odd weekend adventure. Or it might have been signing the contract for my first book, as though I put a big checkmark next to “Get Published” and said, “Ok, now what?”
The thing is, I have time. A lot of time. And while it’s (almost) possible for me to survive on my disability check, a little extra cash makes for a nice cushion. My current situation gives me a little wiggle room. To explore. To change.
I’ve never been fond of change. I find myself clinging to the familiar. Maybe that’s why I stayed in my marriage as long as I did. God knows it was terrifying to walk away, not knowing what the future might bring. And maybe that is why I am so much more comfortable with change now. Change is an adventure.
I started the year by signing up for five different free on-line writing workshops, challenges, etc. The one I found most useful was a one-day workshop hosted by a friend of mine. Without going into too much detail, this is what I learned –
You don’t close the door on the year just past. Instead, you look at it critically. Make a list of the bad things that happened. Make a list of the good things that happened. The bad things are the lessons you learned. The good things are the memories you created. Instead of closing the door, you want to build on that.
I was surprised to find my memories were a longer list than my lessons. I want more. I want more memories, less lessons. I sat down and created my Live List—a list of all the things I’d like to do this year, no matter how impractical they might be. (Ziplining. Really?) Now, my goal is to find a way to achieve as many of them as possible in the coming year. I’m never going to get them all done. But I found my Live List contained a lot of things that could be accomplished, with a little effort and planning.
Whew! That’s a lot of preamble just to tell you one of my goals is to do at least one blog post per month. But this year is going to be a little different. My focus is going to be a little less on the backroads and a bit more on what is right in my own back yard. Oh, I’ll still be hitting the backroads on occasion. I have an addiction to road dust and wildflowers. But with high gas prices, I’m thinking it wouldn’t be a bad idea to visit some of the places I’ve heard of but never seen. I want to do a little walking, a little writing, and just exist in the moment.
Today seemed like a good day to start.
I didn’t go far—just to the beach across the street from the park I live in. While I have been walking daily, trying to build up my strength, I’m not far enough along to walk all the way there. No, I drove, parked, and used my energy to do my walking on the beach. I knew I wouldn’t be able to push my walker over snow, grass, and sand. So using just the steam of my own two legs, I went for a walk on the beach. Even though I wore full length pants, a shirt with sleeves, fingerless gloves, and the cloth coat I’ve owned for more than 30 years, it was freaking cold out there!
The wind off the lake went right through me, but the sun and clouds were playing tag over the water, and I didn’t give up. I walked right down to the water’s edge and parked myself on the sand. The mallards were having a spa day, splashing and preening both in the water and on the shore.
There were no geese in sight, but they left their distinctive three-toed tracks and piles of slimy green evidence to mark their territory.
There were also no people. I got back up and continued my walk down the beach, stopping to take pictures of whatever caught my eye.
Sun, cloud, waves, shore, the braided bark of the willow trees – there was plenty to keep me entertained. Even the sharp bite of wintery air on my face felt good. Damn good. Euphoric, even. My word of the year is Adventure. And my new motto:
I don’t believe in having regrets. Everything that happened or didn’t happen in my life has led me to where I am, here and now. I can’t even regret the years of trauma I endured because without them, I wouldn’t have two beautiful children. They say at the end of your life the things you regret are the things you didn’t do. The closest thing I have to a regret is one of those things.
When I was 18 or 19, I had my heart broken. I decided I needed an escape, a change of scenery, time to rest and reflect. A friend of mine who lived in Kelowna invited me to come and stay with her for a couple of days. I boarded a train in Calgary.
Oh, what a tragic figure I painted! Girl travelling alone, tears streaming down her face, writing sad poetry in her journal. But riding through the Rockies, feeling the rumble of the train beneath me, watching the spectacular scenery pass by – I didn’t stay sad long. I was a bit of a drama queen and rather enjoyed playing out the role of the broken-hearted. Eventually, it began to get dark. It was, after all, early October. I moved from my seat by the window to the club car, which was nearly full. An old man waved me over and patted the empty seat next to him.
I settled in, ordered a vodka soda, and we began to talk. His wife had passed away just a few months earlier, and he was on his way to Vancouver to see his kids. For the next few hours, we talked and drank together, revealing things about ourselves that are sometimes easier to say to strangers than the people who love us. As the alcohol found a foothold, our conversation became lighter, filled with laughter and a comfortable companionship. A couple of hippy-looking dudes who didn’t speak English pulled out a guitar and began to play songs everyone seemed to know. Before long the entire club car was singing along. One of them beamed at me. My companion nudged me and said, “See that? Smiles, laughter, and music. That is the real language of love.”
I got off the train in Salmon Arm, smoked a joint with a couple of backpackers who were sleeping in the station and made my way over to a 24-hour coffee shop to wait out the four hours before I could catch a bus to Kelowna. During my coffee shop stay, I made friends with a young runaway. We talked for hours, exchanged poems, and just before my bus arrived, we used the payphone to call his mom. He hugged me before I boarded the bus, said he would always remember this night and the way I helped him find his way home again.
The rest of the trip didn’t matter. I learned the journey really was more important than the destination. I learned there were more people who wanted to help you than there were people who wanted to hurt you, and from there, the dream was born.
One day, I would ride the train from coast to coast. I would meet people, listen to their stories, and experience the whole of the country by rail.
But there was always some reason I couldn’t go. There were no cell phones back then, and I worried something might happen to someone in my family and no one would be able to reach me.
The truth is, I wasn’t bold enough. How different might my life have been if I had boarded that train?
Again, regrets are something I won’t allow myself. Maybe someday I will board that train and from there who knows what might happen?
In the nearby town of Summerland is the Kettle Valley Steam Train. It’s a 90-minute, round trip, scenic tour of the area. While it’s not the same as a cross-Canada journey, I thought it was something I should do anyway. Impulsively, I booked two tickets and dragged Santana along for the ride.
The valley was hazy from wildfires across the border, but the sun was shining, and the air smelled of autumn. I had booked an open-air carriage, wanting to experience this with all my senses. I wasn’t disappointed. The whistles and bells of the train, the stunning views of the valley, the way falling leaves would blow inside the carriage, and of course, the pure joy of being on a train again remembering that long-ago journey made the whole thing worthwhile.
When my oldest child came to visit last month, instead of clothing, they filled their suitcase with old journals, rescued from our former home. These journals of mine dated back to 1981, when I was a young teenager. I took some time to arrange them in order by date, and slowly began to read them.
Going from 1981 to 2011, the journals were sporadic, some of them only a few pages long. I tended to only keep a journal until something bad happened, and rather than write about it, I would stop journalling altogether. You could pinpoint the dates of the trauma in my life.
I learned a lot from reading the words of my former self, watched myself change and grow. It wasn’t an easy read.
My memories of life before my second husband had been polished by time. I thought I was happy then, but the words I’d written belied that notion. It was sad and disturbing. My self-esteem was painfully low. I was an easy target for what came next. Reading through that era of my life was unsettling at best. I could feel myself experiencing those emotions all over again. I used men, many men, to determine my self-worth. I get a sour taste in my mouth just thinking about it.
I needed a minute to come back to myself. Taking camera and car, I escaped into the mountains and forest. I didn’t have much of a plan, just a need to make things right.
Bear Lake Main was hot and dusty, bone-rattling washboard, wildflowers choked with dust. But there on the side of the road I encountered what my friend Jaki refers to as “feral fruit.” There was an apple tree with small, red apples. Larger than crab apples, but smaller than apples from curated orchards. I stopped and picked just a few. It never hurts to have a snack on hand in case you run into trouble. I rubbed one of them clean and took a bite. It was tart, almost sour tasting, and took me back to a time, years before, when money was tight. There was a house in Inglewood with an apple tree just like this. I would go down the alley at night and pick the apples hanging over the fence – fruit for my children’s lunches.
Shaking my head as though I could shake off the past, I moved on.
I turned off Bear Lake Main to the Aspen Trail. From there, I simply chose one of the many side roads and turned upward.
As I wound up through the hills, I inevitably began to feel better. Driving slowly over deeply rutted roads, I was able to look out over forest and meadow, drink in the freshest of air, and feel calm settling over me like a fuzzy blanket.
It’s hard to stay sad when surrounded by such beauty. Even the dried grasses and flowers looked as though they’d been arranged by an artist.
Siberian Aster grew along the roadside, pre-formed bouquets of purple.
Deeper purple in the Canada Thistle that hadn’t yet gone to seed.
Fields of dried Mullein, some still sprouting yellow blossoms at their tips, looking more like they belong in a desert than a mountain meadow.
And of course, Fireweed, already turning to strands of tangled silk.
Bright spots of colour in a world slowly turning to browns and yellows.
The ruts turned to rocks and still I climbed until the road began to narrow and I could go no further. Turning around, I headed back down.
The day was still young. I could have chosen another road and continued, but the road had already given me what I needed. Instead, I headed into the Aspen Trail Recreation Site, found an open campsite, and parked. For some reason, I had thrown a book of poetry into my bag. Taking it out now, I sat at the picnic table and read, letting the words take me. The only sounds were a cricket and my own heartbeat.
I thought back to the journals and the words written there. In many ways, things haven’t changed much. I still want to lose weight, save money, and spend more time writing. But a lot has changed. I don’t need to be loved by a man to love myself. I’m slowly learning that how I look is only a tiny fraction of who I am. I may not be happy with my body or my smile, but who I am is more than that. Finally, I am loving the person I am becoming.
Sure, being alone has its downside, but until I was alone, I never had the chance to discover who I really was. I should have done it a long time ago.
A little taste of summer. That’s what I had in mind when I suggested to Bear we go for a drive. He works hard, and it seemed to me he hadn’t taken much time to enjoy the season. Go for a drive, maybe spend some time at the beach, have a picnic… anything to get him out of the house for a while. I was thinking about one of the local backroads, but Bear had a different idea.
“Can we go to Revelstoke?” he asked. Revelstoke? It wasn’t exactly the short drive I had in mind, but why not? I wasn’t sure what there was to do in Revelstoke. When I was a kid, it was just the place we stopped for gas on our way to Whispering Pines Resort, a most amazing family-friendly campground near Mara Lake. I have many fond memories of Whispering Pines – camp cookouts, movie nights, mini-golf, the pool. I learned to dive in that pool.
But Revelstoke….Hmmm. Could be fun.
“Sure,” I said. “A daytrip, or do you want to spend the night?”
“Let’s spend the night.”
I booked us a room using one of those websites like Expedia (remind me not to do that again) and looked up Things to Do in Revelstoke. Bear looked up Top Ten Places to Eat in Revelstoke.
With a vague and fuzzy plan, we got up early in the morning and headed out.
Once we were past Sicamous, it was new territory. I had never driven the Trans-Canada Highway, and Bear had never seen it. We stopped at the Enchanted Forest along the way, just to have a quick look. Bear is a little old for it, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to walk it. I haven’t been to the Enchanted Forest since I was 18. At the time, the exhibits were in a sad state of disrepair, fading and chipped paint, structures collapsing. It was wonderful to see everything has been fixed up. There is a second family fun park right next door for slightly older kids – an adventure park with numerous small zip lines, etc. The parking lot was crammed full of cars, dogs, and strollers. Knowing the Enchanted Forest would be around to enchant generations to come was strangely comforting.
Once we arrived in Revelstoke, our first order of business was lunch. We shared a large poutine at The Village Idiot. Of course, with a name like that, we had to eat there. The poutine was amazing, as was the atmosphere. When the cocktail menu was unfolded, we found a version of Snakes and Ladders, called Slopes and Lifts. Using coins as tokens and a site on my phone to roll a die, I kicked Bear’s butt three times before lunch arrived.
Even though it was after check in time, our room wasn’t ready when we arrived.
“Let’s drive to Golden,” I said.
“Okay.” Bear didn’t bother to ask why. He just agreed. I love that kid.
The Roger’s Pass stuck out in my memory as some of the most spectacular scenery I’d ever seen. I was excited to share it with Bear. It didn’t disappoint.
On our way into Golden we stopped at the Northern Lights Wolf Centre, arriving just in time for the last presentation of the day. As we were listening to the presentation, one of the wolves began to howl, and all the others joined in. It seemed to come from all sides – a haunting, yet exhilarating, symphony. The hair on my arms stood on end as the sound of the wolves filled my whole body. There was something so primal, so natural, even though this was the first time I heard wolves calling, I felt it had always been a part of me, and I had been a part of it. Calm settled over me, and the slight headache I had from driving all day vanished in that moment.
Bear took this picture.
Once we arrived in Golden, we found an ice cream truck and ate a cone. Then we drove back to Revelstoke. Well worth the trip. Mountains, wolves, and ice cream. I wanted a taste of summer, and I got one. But it wasn’t over yet.
Back in Revelstoke, live music was playing in the street, as there is every night during the summer. We couldn’t get a patio table at The Taco Club, but we did get another fine meal.
During the drive to Golden, or maybe on the drive back from Golden (who’s counting?) we agreed on a plan for the following morning. I made a phone call, and we were all set.
In the morning, we would embark on a white-water rafting trip.
When the alarm went off at 7:30 in the morning, I made my way to the bathroom and slipped on my bathing suit, which, for some reason, I had thrown into my bag at the last minute, not really expecting to need it. Then I woke Bear. The day was absolutely gorgeous, and even at 8:00 am, already starting to get hot. We opted to take the grab-and-go breakfast the motel provided – yogurt, a boiled egg, an apple, and a granola bar, instead of trying to find a restaurant.
After signing our waivers and being fitted for wet suits, neoprene socks, and borrowed sneakers, we boarded the bus for the ride to the drop-off point, some 25 minutes out of town. While on the bus, we were given instructions on what to do in all kinds of emergency situations. My heart began to beat faster. What had I signed up for? This rafting trip would last about two and a half hours and take us through both class 2 and 3 rapids. Was I ready for this?
At the drop-off point, we fitted ourselves with helmets and lifejackets and made our way down to the water. Even though I’m 75 pounds lighter than I was the last time we went white-water rafting, it was still a challenge to get down to, and board, the raft. Our guide, Luke, told me I didn’t have to paddle if I wasn’t up to it. Bear laughed out loud, knowing there’s nothing wrong with the upper half of my body. I’m not completely helpless yet.
(Apex, the rafting company we signed up with, takes photos of the trip from various points along the way, and gave us digital copies when the run was complete. The following photos are from the album taken by Apex.)
We pushed off, letting the swift current carry us to the first major rapid. The glacier-fed river is full of silt, making it a pale, Egyptian Blue. And it was cold. Both Bear and I had refused the fleece shirt and water jacket offered to us, as we both tend to run a little hot. Despite the temperature of the water, I did not regret my decision.
Squeals, screams, and laughter filled the air as we navigated our first set of waves, rolling, tossing, and splashing. White water foamed over the raft as we dipped and rose. Between rapids, our guide Luke entertained us with stories and jokes, and educated us about the area. The stunning views and thick forest along the banks added an aura of peacefulness to the excitement of the white-water.
My foot was cramping from being jammed under the seat to hold me in, but I held my own, paddling hard when it was called for. At one slow spot, Luke asked if anyone wanted to take a dip. Partly to stretch out, and partly to cool down, I opted to slip into the water, and was somewhat mortified when it took Bear and Luke to pull me back in. But the cool dip was worth the humiliation. Making my legs work to get back into position was worse.
As we neared the end of our run, the only disappointment was that it was about to be over. I could have gone another couple of hours, easy.
Or maybe not. Once on dry land, I realized how exhausted I was. I stumbled back onto the bus, after picking up a slice of watermelon. I was barely able to pull myself up the stairs and into a seat.
That slice of watermelon was the best thing I’ve ever tasted.
Once back in town, there were three objectives – washroom, water, and food. Fortunately, all three were available right there.
The final leg of our journey was a drive up the Meadows in the Sky Parkway, in Mount Revelstoke National Park, a twenty-three kilometer drive up the mountain, switchback fashion. We stopped at a few viewpoints along the way.
I’d read early August was the best time for wildflowers in the park and was disappointed there didn’t seem to be many. But the higher we climbed the more wildflowers appeared until the meaning of the words Meadows in the Sky became apparent.
Our final stop, in Vernon, for a quick dinner before heading home. Here, the tables were equipped with Connect Four. Bear kicked my butt three times before our meal arrived. I guess we’re even.
I could feel the sweat trickling down my back. I could have rolled up the windows and put on the air conditioning, but then I wouldn’t be able to hear the crunch of tires on gravel, the creek rumbling in the canyon, or the crickets on the side of the road. I wouldn’t have been able to smell the road dust, the sweet scent of Cedar, and the fragrance of wildflowers. No, it was better this way. Besides, the higher I climbed on the road to Postill Lake, the cooler the air felt. It was still bloody hot, but every so often, a breath of cool breeze flowed through the Chevy, offering a taste of relief.
I hadn’t been out in a long time. The road trip to Vancouver must have taken a toll on the poor, old Rodeo, because it began to die a slow, painful death. It managed to hold out for a few more months, survive a move, and get me from A to B until I felt it just wasn’t safe to drive anymore. With the help of a few very good friends, I purchased a 2008 Chevy Uplander – a minivan. This was our inaugural back-road day trip.
I didn’t want to do anything crazy – a nice quiet drive up into the hills, see what there was to see. I knew there wouldn’t be cell service for much of the drive, so I didn’t want to deviate from the path I told Santana I would be taking. Just in case.
My concern was irrelevant. The Chevy did just fine. It was much quieter than the Rodeo was, and I thought there was a chance I might see some wildlife. But it was the weekend, and while not exactly busy, there were more than a few off-roaders. The most exciting wildlife I saw was a chipmunk, and a black cow I mistook for a bear.
But there were flowers. Not as many as there would have been in June, but enough to capture my attention. Oxbow Daisies, Cinquefoil, Siberian Aster… There were even a few wild strawberries still in bloom, and Lupine everywhere. I busied myself taking photos of the flowers, trying to exercise the photo muscles out of use for so long.
I made it to the lake, but instead of taking pictures, I bought myself a bottle of water and just sat there, looking out over the water, remembering how much fun Santana and I had during our stay there.
The drive back down was just as slow as the ride up. By now, not only was I taking photos, but I was also composing haiku, pulling over to jot them in my notebook as they came to me. I took a side road and followed it until it broke into two. One was sunlit and the other disappeared into the shadow of the forest. I sat for a few minutes, trying to decide which one I should take, and finally decided to leave it for another day.
My day was already full of joy and contentment, capturing small moments with camera and pen, bright bursts of colour and birdsong.
Some people may think of them as weeds. But I’ve gotten to know them.
“I’m thinking about signing up for a tournament in Vancouver,” Santana said.
“You should. I’ll even drive you.”
“Really? You’d do that? Can I bring friends?”
“Sure, why not?”
Almost immediately after having this conversation, I began to have regrets. It was impulsive. The reason I offered in the first place was partly because there was a poetry contest I wanted to enter that required a location-based poem of a location within the Vancouver city limits. I had a place in mind, and I thought if I were to visit that place, I’d be inspired to write something spectacular.
But here’s the thing. Despite driving professionally for more years than I care to count, I don’t really like to drive the Coquihalla, as beautiful as it is, and I’m uncomfortable driving in cities I’m unfamiliar with. Then I realized the deadline for the contest was a week before the tournament. So much for that plan.
It was too late to back out. The boys had paid their fees and booked a hotel. I looked at the reviews for the hotel. They weren’t great.
My biggest concern, of which there were many, is that the elevator tended to be out of order. Was I going to drive all the way to Vancouver to be stuck in a hotel room all weekend? I would not be able to handle three flights of stairs, of that I was certain.
Even if that were the case, the boys would be out all day. I’d be alone. With nothing to do. Except write! I had at least a dozen potential deadlines coming up. This would be my own, personal, writer’s retreat. Hopefully, I would have a view of English Bay and not the back alley, but either way, I’d make it work. Once I made up my mind to look at it from a different angle, I began to get excited.
We arrived at our hotel without incident; the cherry blossoms an eruption of colour against a brilliant blue sky. To my delight, the elevator was in perfect working order, and the beach was only a block away.
I’m not going to take you on a play-by-play of the entire weekend. Suffice to say I spent my mornings on the beach, looking out at the ships waiting to dock. My afternoons were spent meeting friends, taking naps, and exploring Stanley Park. I did more walking in three days than I have in the last month. Exhausting, but so worth it.
Our final morning in Vancouver found me beneath an ornamental cherry tree on the patio of Starbucks, cradling a latte and enjoying the fresh ocean breeze on my face.
I’d come because our suite was a little too warm for my liking (the only complaint I had about the hotel, by the way) and I wanted to spend some time writing in my journal. It was, I admit, the only writing I did all weekend, except for one little cherry blossom haiku.
But that’s okay. It was in that moment I realized that I was not just content, but actually happy. Happy because I like my life. It wasn’t about being in a city as vibrant as Vancouver, although that was part of it. It was the freedom of choice, of being able to take a weekend to go somewhere new. It was as though the little girl who lived inside of me was finally allowed to come out and play.
e.e. cummings said, “It takes courage to grow up to be who you are.”
You know you’re having a bad day when you put “breathe” on your to-do list. My oldest child had gone home after an extended visit. I’d just finished writing one haiku per day for the month of February, and I received some bad news from the neurologist. I felt like I had lost my purpose, waking up every day wondering, what’s the point? Jaki thought we should go out. I didn’t want to go. I was feeling sad and lonely and just wanted to keep on feeling sad and lonely. Funny, that. Sometimes we get so lost in our heads it’s hard to find the way back out. I’m not saying Jaki pushed me, but there was a solid nudge there.
We were going to go check out a local birding spot in town but when Jaki arrived, I’d made up my mind – I wanted to go somewhere up in the hills, away from the incessant noise of the city, someplace I could check “breathe” off my to-do list.
“Yes,” Jaki said, and we were off.
I chose McCulloch Road because it’s beautiful, well-maintained and would take us up, but not too high. It is March, after all.
I suppose I was hoping to see bits of green – wildflowers poking up, ready to embrace spring. There was none of that. I was a little surprised to see how much snow blanketed the forest floor and tried to fathom how so much of it ended up there, through the thick canopy of trees.
The higher we went, the darker the clouds, the lighter my heart. This was good. I needed this.
“You know how everyone gets Imposter Syndrome? What if it isn’t that? What if you really are crap?”
Jaki didn’t try to placate me. She didn’t try to tell me how wonderful I was. She was silent for a moment. Then she replied.
“We write anyway. It’s what we do.”
That’s why I love Jaki.
I had taken the turn-off to Brown Lake but access to the lake itself was blocked by huge piles of plowed snow. There was a road here I’d never taken. Why not? Now seemed like a good time.
Snow was falling, but it was fairytale snow, the kind that makes you think of cross-country skiing, followed by a warm drink in the cabin next to the fire. I said so to Jaki and we briefly argued whether it was mulled cider and cookies, or coffee and a hearty soup.
All this talk of cookies and soup made me hungry, but Jaki came prepared. We shared a snack of crackers, cheese, and an orange.
The road continued to climb.
Eventually, I found a place to pull over, not that it mattered. We had seen exactly one vehicle since crossing the gate onto First Nations land. We got out to stretch our legs. The softly falling snow had turned blizzard-like, and the wind had teeth. I looked out over the horizon. It felt sad and lonely. I took a deep breath. I didn’t want to feel sad and lonely anymore.
By the time we made it back to the highway, I was a different person than I was when we started out. After hours of driving no more than 30 km/hour, it was hard to get back up to 90. But I was better equipped to deal with traffic and noise. Back in Kelowna, there was a light rain falling. The grass was greening, there were buds on the trees, and snowdrops were poking through the ground. Spring had arrived. Oh, I know it was there before we left – I just couldn’t see it. Thank you, Jaki.
The snow is thick on my balcony, thick on the trees in the yard, and it’s still coming down. I’m happy to sit by my window and watch it fall, in slippers and sweater, with a blanket and a cat on my lap. It’s time for cozy doings, quiet reflection, and I am grateful I don’t have anywhere I need to be. The solstice is almost upon us and Christmas soon to follow.
“How would you feel about getting Chinese food on the 24th?” my son asks. I know why. For his entire life, until we left Calgary, it was a tradition to go to Confederation Park to look at the lights on Christmas Eve and pick up Chinese food on the way home.
“Good idea,” I said, “and while we’re out, we can take a drive down Candy Cane Lane to see the lights.”
I understand the need for tradition, rituals, ceremony. I’ve incorporated them into my daily life. I like the way they keep me grounded, yet open to whatever the universe might have to teach me. I love the way they remind me to appreciate all I have. We all have traditions that speak to our hearts, but they’re not the same for everybody.
Some of my favorite holiday traditions have been brought forward from my childhood, and others are my own design. Christmas dinner, for example, must include perogies and cabbage rolls, even if I’m the only one eating them. I love that we each add a couple of things to each other’s stocking and wrap everything, no matter how small. And I really love giving and receiving gifts that involve some aspect of personal creativity.
My best friend, Jaki, has a favorite tradition, too. For her, the best part about Christmas is going out to find a Christmas tree. We’re not talking about walking around the Canadian Tire parking lot looking at pre-cut, farmed trees. No, we’re talking about getting a license, heading out to the forest, finding the perfect tree, and bringing it home.
Last year it was just me and LumberJaki (a name she gave herself that makes me giggle every time). This year, we were joined by Jaki’s sister, Kat, our friend, Michele, and Tusket-the-Dog. Kat was doing the driving, so all I had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride.
There wasn’t a lot of snow in the valley, but it didn’t take much of an ascent before the landscape began to change. We travelled east on Highway 33, and turned off on Three Forks Road, into the Graystokes area. The snow here, and there was a lot of it, was pristine, marked only by animal tracks. The sky was dove-gray but had an ethereal glow. The whole world was black and white with shades of grey.
The forecast was for heavy snow, any second now, but we were in no hurry. Finding a likely spot, Kat parked the Rav and everyone got out to explore. Armed with her hacksaw, LumberJaki led the charge and before long, pine trees of various sizes were laid aside.
The snow began to fall.
Tusket-the-Dog was tied to a tree with a lengthy lead and was having a marvelous time in the snow.
LumberJaki and Michele were selecting and cutting trees, and Kat dragged them back to the Rav.
I’m not exactly sure what happened to Michele, but at one point she looked like a partially dipped ice cream cone.
I could relate. Needing to pee, I managed to get myself into the forest and out of the line-of-sight. There were animal tracks there, but they were small, probably a rabbit. My business completed, I endeavored to cover my tracks by kicking fresh snow over the spot. Losing my balance, I grabbed the nearest tree, only to have it dump it’s load over both me and the spot I was trying to cover.
Mission accomplished, I guess.
I laughed, imagining that rabbit watching me from the cover of the trees, wondering what kind of strange ritual this was.
The rest of the party had gathered back at the Rav and were loading the trees into and on top of the vehicle. My legs were done, so I parked myself and from inside the vehicle took this photo of LumberJaki loading a tree on top of the Rav. Yes, that’s a knife between her teeth.
I swear, when the end of the world is near and we have to head to the mountains to live off the land, I want Jaki by my side. She knows how to do stuff.
Once the trees were loaded, all that was left to do was find a spot to share a snack. Kat found a little alcove to park in, and the treats were brought out.
There were freshly baked cinnamon buns with cream cheese frosting, chocolate chip cookies, cheese, and mandarins.
Tusket-the-Dog didn’t get any. Poor Tusket.
The drive home was at a relaxed pace, our goal being to get out of the mountains before dark. That still gave us time to stop and appreciate the fast-moving stream and the pair of White-tailed deer that graced us with their presence.
A few days later, a small group of friends gathered at Michele’s house for an afternoon of poetry and soup. Her beautiful little pine tree was enveloped in Christmas cheer and surrounded by about a million Nutcrackers.
A friend of mine has SAD. No, she isn’t sad, she has SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is like regular depression, only it tends to occur at the onset of winter. Shorter days and continual cloud cover can lead to the hypothalamus not working properly. This, in turn, affects the production of melatonin and serotonin, causing sleepiness and depression. People who suffer from SAD tend to improve in the spring, when the days are longer and brighter.
Me, I suffer from regular old depression. There are many reasons, but I don’t want to start unpacking that just now. Another day.
There are a number of things you can do if you have SAD. Antidepressants, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, other talking therapies, even the use of a light box can help. But there are also things you can do on your own if drugs and paying strangers to listen to your problems isn’t your thing.
a balanced diet
manage your stress
sit near windows
try to make your home as light and airy as possible
take walks outside
try to get as much natural sunlight as possible
Even though my depression isn’t seasonal, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try the suggestions on the list.
Trying to get as much natural sunlight as possible was code for get Santana and go for a drive. And you know what? It worked. From the moment I decided to take a little trip, my mood improved. When you’re depressed, it helps to have something to look forward to. Planning where to go, how to get there, which lenses to bring, what to do for lunch are all cogs in the wheel.
Now, I’m not a weather geek, but I do look at the forecast every day. It had been raining off and on, mostly on, for days, and I knew there would be snow in the mountains. I wanted to stick to the lower elevations. The forecast for the day of the drive was rainy periods and gusty winds. It sounded reasonable.
The destination was Enderby, a small town of 3000 or so people, 80 km north of Kelowna. There was what looked like a secondary road from the even smaller community of Lumby. If we timed it right, we would arrive in Enderby right around lunchtime.
We started out on the highway to Vernon. Low lying clouds wound their way through the hills and a light rain was falling. As the highway rose in elevation, we found ourselves surrounded by fog. Well, Santana calls it fog. I prefer to think of it as driving with my head in the clouds. My biggest complaint about the highway between Kelowna and Vernon is that there are so few places to pull over. The views on this highway, especially between Oyama and Vernon, are spectacular, and even more so with the mountains rising from the mist. The autumn trees and jagged rock faces were made dramatic (Santana would say “ominous”) by the assorted consistency and color of cloud.
The drive from Vernon to Lumby was filled with conversation. Santana knows I’m struggling. We talked about depression, causes and solutions, about cancel culture and how social media has managed to create a whole new mental health crisis. I’m always impressed by his maturity and insight. I’m grateful to have these moments, to hear his thoughts.
Once in Lumby, it was an easy matter to find the road I wanted and within moments I knew this was exactly what I needed. The area was sparsely populated, with little traffic, and turned to gravel a short way in. All of which leads to slowing down.
Slowing down is the perfect way to find yourself living in the moment. There is a breathlessness that comes with finding yourself surrounded by natural beauty. There is a beauty that reveals itself in the everyday when you take the time to slow down and really see. The resulting euphoria is the exact opposite of depression.
We made many stops along the road. We stopped to look at donkeys, trees, high-flowing streams, and moss-covered shacks.
The rain was still falling lightly, and the shoulder of the road was covered in mud. I had foolishly worn flip-flops, again. (You’d think I’d learn.) Every footstep created a sucking sound until eventually my flip-flops, which were already held together by packing tape, gave up. Fortunately, I had a pair of water shoes in the back of the Rodeo.
We arrived in Enderby on schedule, just in time for lunch. When we’re having lunch in an unfamiliar town, I like to go somewhere locally owned and operated. The very funky Small Axe Roadhouse was perfect. If you go, try the pulled pork tacos.
After a brief stop at Belvidere Park, we headed home, taking the main highway to ensure Santana was back in time for work. As we were driving home, Santana asked me if I wanted to stop in Oyama, to take a few more pictures. (Oyama is a section of Lake Country, located on a narrow strip of land between Kalamalka Lake and Wood Lake.) I turned off the highway and parked next to the beach looking out across Wood Lake.
The sky above the far end of Wood Lake was dark. As we watched, lightning began to flash and the wind picked up, ripping leaves and branches from the willow tree we were next to. The storm came in suddenly and ferociously. My windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. Silently giving thanks for the impulse that led us to the lakeshore and off the highway, we waited it out. Just as suddenly as it appeared, it was gone.
We didn’t learn of the devastation until later.
In some places, that storm was the proverbial straw. Every major highway leading into the Lower Mainland was damaged by mudslides and washouts. Whole towns had to be evacuated. Almost a thousand farms were flooded, and countless livestock destroyed. Even the mighty railway fell. People were stranded. Lives were lost.
The summer’s heat dome and ensuing wildfires rendered the land unstable, unable to absorb the atmospheric river that fell on it. And it’s not over yet. There is more rain forecast for areas of the North Coast in the next few days.
I was consumed by guilt. Imagine. Going out and enjoying myself while my province was crumbling to pieces. My heart was breaking, and I didn’t know to stop the pain.
But Santana knows. He and I lived in Calgary during the flood of 2013. He remembers, as do I, how great a toll was taken. It took years for some neighborhoods to recover. There’s a smell—river mud and death. Years after the flood, I’d catch a whiff of that smell, and it was like a punch in the gut. The sadness was overwhelming.
He was too young to do anything about it then. Not anymore. As soon as he’s able, he’s planning to go to Princeton to aid in the clean-up. And I know where my next drive is going to take me.
“Human life is as evanescent as the morning dew or a flash of lightning.”
– Samuel Butler
I don’t know why it bothered me as much as it did. Bear had been away before. But somehow, Vancouver was scarier to me than Montreal. All I know is when I hugged him just before he walked out the door, I was overcome with fear I might never see him again. Ridiculous.
Yet I was a mess. When presented with the option of taking the day off, I took it, curled up with Natalie Goldberg, and read myself calm again. I decided to take the next day, find a picnic table in some isolated part of the wilderness, and spend the day writing, or painting, or something. I’ve been feeling kind of empty lately, like I had nothing more to give. Like I had no purpose. I needed to adjust my focus. It was good to have a plan.
Plans, however, don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to. Mine was to arrive at Bear Lake around lunchtime, enjoy my indulgent picnic lunch and spend the day amid silent trees on the shore of the lake. What I forgot is that it was Saturday. On a long weekend. There were people everywhere. I still managed to find myself a table away from the crowd, but people weren’t the only issue.
I was prepared for cold. I was prepared for rain. What I wasn’t prepared for was a wind so strong my eyes teared to the point of sightlessness. I couldn’t tell if my camera was in focus because I couldn’t see. I took a few pictures anyway, hoping for the best, and decided to move on.
I found a side road not far from the lake and turned in. The pond looked still, but was fed by a lively, noisy little stream. Sheltered from the wind by the cliff on one side and trees on the other, I set up my picnic lunch on the passenger seat and sat on my walker. At the first rustle of food, the Whiskey Jacks showed up – four of them. When they realized there would be no easy access to food, the “camp robbers” soon departed.
The location was perfect for my lunch, not so much for writing or painting. Time again to move on. Thinking I’d take Glenrosa Road back to West Kelowna, I headed off in that direction. When I reached the intersection, I impulsively decided to pop by Jack Pine Lake to see if I could find a table with less wind. Again, that thing about plans.
I was on the wrong road. Oh, I realized it about ten minutes in, thought about turning back and decided against it. I knew where I was. I had been on this road before. Well, almost. It was back in November of 2019. I was in the Grand Prix, snow drifts everywhere, and wearing flip flops. I wanted to take the road but didn’t want to make the Darwin Awards for death by stupidity. Today was different. Today I could finally find out exactly where this road went.
It was a wonderful day for driving. The forecast had been for rain, snow in the higher elevations, but those high winds had driven most of the clouds from the sky. Aspen leaves dropped like gold coins from the sky, and every corner offered new and wonderful things to see. I even managed to forget my fears for a while.
“When you are present, the world is truly alive.”
– Natalie Goldberg
I was so emersed in the drive and the sights I didn’t notice the sky was changing again. Dark clouds were forming, giving the fire-ravaged trees near Windy Lake a haunted look.
My phone pinged to announce incoming email, and I jumped. I had been without cell service for a while, no one knew where I was. Quickly, I pulled over and dashed off a quick email to Jaki with my approximate location and estimated time of return. Knowing she would send out, hell, probably even lead a search party if I failed to return, I comfortably set out again, determined to see the end of this road.
There was evidence of previous snowfall on the side of the road, but so far, no more than a sprinkling of rain had fallen. The road was not paved, but neither was it the bone-jarring washboard I started out on. I wasn’t writing or painting, but damn I was having a good time.
Coming around a corner, I had to pull over to fully grasp what I was seeing. High above the forest on the mountain ridge were wind turbines. I knew exactly where I was. Those were the same wind turbines I’d seen from a much different angle along the Okanagan Connector. That’s where I was?
After all that worry about Bear being on the Coquihalla, I was going to end up there myself unless I wanted to turn around and spend another five hours going back the way I came. As much fun as it had been, I was getting too tired to take that option. It was still a lovely, twisty 15 km or so before I joined up with the Connector, 60 km from home. Oops.
So maybe I didn’t spend my day writing or painting. I spent it doing something I loved, feeling richer for the experience, and less anxious by far. Bear, by the way, had a wonderful time in Vancouver, making it home safely in time for Thanksgiving dinner. I have much to be thankful for.