Cherry Blossom

“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.

But wait.

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.”

I think I finally made it.

A Friend in Need…

A Friend in Need…

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.

Gone Hunting, Sort of

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.

LumberJaki and the Kat

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.

Michele

Tusket-the-Dog was tied to a tree with a lengthy lead and was having a marvelous time in the snow.

Tusket-the-Dog

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.

We all have our traditions.

Stormy Weather

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.

  • regular exercise
  • 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.

Bear Lake Main, Complete

“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.

Blue Grouse Mountain

“Which way should we go?” I asked.

“Just give me a sec,” Bear said.

Fine with me.  Putting the Rodeo into park, I got out to stretch my legs. We had started out on the aptly named Aspen Trail, and from there, veered off onto an unnamed road that rose high in the hills above Bear Lake Main.

Now we had reached a Y intersection and I wasn’t sure which way to go.

Surveying the landscape in front of me, the words of Robert Frost came unbidden into my mind.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

Okay, then. Sound advice. 

I peered down the road on the left.  It didn’t look very well-travelled.  I looked down the road to my right. It didn’t look very well-travelled either.  Now what?

I held still, sniffed the air, kicked the dirt a bit, and listened.  The right.  I wanted to take the road on the right. I got back in the car. Bear looked up from his map.

“Right,” he said. “We should go right.”

What can I say?  He has his way of doing things and I have mine.

It was a gorgeous day to be out in the woods, especially these woods, in autumn.  Leaves were turning, the forest floor was brightly coloured, Snowberries and Shaggy Mane mushrooms lined the road.

We came upon an old cabin, its roof crushed by fallen tree limbs. You could tell it had been solidly constructed, and we wondered how long it had stood there.  Bear got out to investigate—he loves a good mystery, and I got out to take pictures. My camera was busy making happy noises when Bear finally returned with more questions than answers.

The road, in the meantime, was looking less and less like a road.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love a sketchy road.  This one had all three R’s—roots, rocks and ruts.  But it also had mud. And road ponds. And fallen tree limbs suspended just high enough for the Rodeo to crawl under.

“Oh my God.  Bear, are you seeing this?” The road ahead sloped downward at a steep angle. There was no answer from Bear.  I looked over to the passenger seat.  There he was, eyes closed, head thrown back, mouth open…and snoring.

“Dude! Seriously? You’re the navigator!”

“Right. Sorry. Holy shit! Where are we?” I rolled my eyes. He quickly referred to his map. 

“Looks like you have to go down it, Mom.  But once we get down, we turn onto Blue Grouse Mountain Road and that will eventually take us back to Bear Lake Main.”

“Here goes nothing,” I muttered.

It sounds worse than it was.  True, I couldn’t take my eyes from the road for even one second.  Silently, I thanked the powers that be for the trust I have in the Rodeo.  I used to have a Jimmy.  I loved that vehicle, but I didn’t trust it not to blow over in a strong wind.  Never took it over 80, even on the highway.

Once we reached the bottom the road began to climb again. I didn’t mind. We were close enough to the other side to see the lake in the valley below.

And I got a healthy dose of autumn.  Enough to remind me how much I love the turning of the seasons. Felt good to be out in fresh mountain air. I should do it again.

Goat Mountain

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky. 

  • Rabindranath Tagore

What a strange year it’s been.  Between the unprecedented heat, smoke-filled skies, and fears of the new COVID variants, I found myself reluctant to leave the house. The entire summer passed me by, without so much as a trip to the beach. I made good use of my time, writing and submitting here and there, but I longed to feel the weight of my camera in my hand, craved the earthy scent of deep woods.

Early September brought cooler temperatures. Periods of much needed rain helped quell the forest fires and freshen the air. It was time. After a miserable summer of working outdoors in unfavourable conditions, Santana was ready for a day out as well.

Off we went.

The day was overcast, but I didn’t mind. Colours tend to wash out in bright sunlight, cloud cover gives them vibrancy. Choosing a direction required careful thought.  With so many forests fires burning, I wanted to be sure we didn’t head in a direction that would lead to a dead end, dangerous conditions, or unbreathable air. 

Beaver Lake Resort, high in the hills above Winfield, was the direction I chose.  From there, there are dozens of small lakes with names like Doreen, Dee, and Alex.  There is a multitude of recreational sites, and Forestry Service Roads splay like nerves across the landscape.

We stopped briefly at Beaver Lake, took a seat on the wooden porch swing, and watched a yellow pine chipmunk nibble snacks on the bricks of the firepit. He was unconcerned with our presence, and I imagined him joining families on the beach in the evening, saying, “I don’t want a hot dog, thanks, but I’d love a marshmallow.”

Santana and I had been on this road before, last September, but this time, we decided to try something different. Pulling the backroads map book from its place in the back seat, Santana began to chart a new path. This is his joy.  While I stop to take pictures of grouse

and rocks,

Santana navigates new roads for us to try.

After connecting several unmarked roads, we ended up on the Goat Mountain Forestry Service Road.

At times the road looked like a lane leading to an English cottage, and other times a dim path through a haunted forest. It wound and climbed, dropped, and turned. Aspen leaves shivered silver in the breeze.

We were in no hurry.  Good thing, too, as the road got sketchy in places.  With only room for one vehicle and nowhere to pull over to let another car by, I wondered what we would do if we encountered other people. I was a little worried, too, about getting a flat tire. There had been no cell service for hours, and the map book was the only thing to guide us. I did my best to avoid sharp stones on the road and hoped for the best.

I was having a wonderful time.

As per usual, from the moment we entered the forest, the stereo went off and the windows came down. We saw plenty of small wildlife, rabbit, chipmunks, pheasant, and mice, but surprisingly, nothing larger. I love to see wildlife, but it doesn’t detract from the joy of the journey if I don’t. There are always flowers,

and hidden ponds.

We talked as we drove, about politics, the environment – about the past and the future, our dreams and desires. I’m always grateful for those little moments.

I started this entry with a quote from Rabindranath Tagore, the Bard of Bengal.  To me, its about perspective, and how it changes with age. I consider myself to be at the best age—old enough to have opinions, and young enough to change them. I am willing to adjust the framework through which I view life, to welcome new concepts into the picture. Sometimes, when things are not at their finest, I need a different view altogether.

Like this.

Hidden in Hedley

Gingerly, I stepped down the stairs, gripping the handrail.  It was clear to me why Coral, owner of Coral’s Cabins, didn’t want me to enter the lower yard.  The stone steps were rustic—varying in height, sharp in places and deceptively smooth in others.  Halfway down, the stairs turned, and the railing ended.  I transferred my grip to a small pine tree.  Just a few more steps and I would be on level ground.  A few steps after that I would arrive at the small table next to the footbridge.

I could have stayed up at the cabin.  There was a small table on the deck.  But this table was bigger, and I wanted to spread out my various writing and art supplies. Plus, this was the only place I could get a photo of the cabin itself, if I dared to venture out onto the bridge that spanned the “bubbling brook,” as the webpage describes it.

It was worth the effort.  I spent the afternoon scribbling in my notebooks, enjoying the fresh, woodsy air, the butterflies dancing with cottonwood fluff, and the slightly less deafening sound of the waterfalls. 

I found Coral’s Cabins last year when I was on-line searching for places to get away for a weekend.  But the season was almost over, and the cabin was fully booked.  I had to wait until reservations re-opened in April to book my stay.  From the start, it was meant to be a solo trip.  The cabin only has one bed.  The idea of going away on my own and spending an entire weekend just writing and maybe a little painting was ideal. I spent hours planning—what I needed to bring, what meals to prepare in advance, even a list of possible things I wanted to write about. For so many years, I worked seven-days/week and never went anywhere.  Now that I have the opportunity to go places, the planning itself is part of the joy.

As the date grew closer, however, I started to worry.  Lately, I’ve had to be extremely careful of what I do. It seems I only have so much gas in the tank, and if I overdo it at all, I’m wiped out for days.  Going alone didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.  So, I invited Bear to join me.

Poor Bear. It’s always about the sleeping arrangements.  Because there was only one bed, we brought along an air mattress and sleeping bag.  There was a leak in the mattress.  By morning, he was straight-up lying on the floor.  The second night, he decided to sleep in the car.

But I was grateful for his presence.  While I had prepped all the meals in advance, he’s the one who did all the cooking on the barbeque.

And he was very respectful of my purpose in coming.  He left me alone while I was writing, and even did a little writing of his own.  How lucky am I?

Even with all the writing, there was plenty of downtime. Most of that time was spent on the deck, watching the spectacular waterfalls.  There was so much to see.  As the sun changed position in the sky, or moved in and out of the clouds, different areas of the falls would be illuminated, and different facets revealed. The earsplitting roar of cascading water at first seemed to block any thoughts from my head, but after a time, became somewhat soothing, and thinking resumed.  

There were Swallowtail and Mourning Cloak butterflies, and of course, there were birds—Robins, Warblers and Steller’s Jays.  But the most fascinating of all were the American Dippers.

I’ve seen American Dippers before.  My first was in the dead of winter in Alberta, at a place called Big Hill Springs, where the water never completely freezes over.  There, with ice all around, I saw my first Dipper and marveled at his ability to withstand the frigid temperatures. But I’ve never really had the chance to observe these birds.

From my vantage point on the deck, I watched a pair of Dippers as they flew and fished.  I began to wonder if they had a nest in the falls, as there seemed to be a place they continued to return to.  I looked it up and learned that yes, Dippers do like to build nests in waterfalls.  I was fascinated to learn that they build their nests in two layers.  The inside layer is your basic stick and grass nest, but the outside layer is made of moss, so that any moisture from the falls is absorbed and the inside of the nest stays dry.

I couldn’t tell which was the male and which was the female, but as I looked more closely at my photos, I realized one of the two had only one leg.

Huh. 

Here I was complaining about how little use I get from my legs anymore, and this tiny bird continues doing all the things a bird does, with only one leg. They don’t complain, they adapt.

I could learn a thing or two about life from the birds.

While I was contemplating the meaning of life through the eyes of a bird, a snippet of a conversation I had with my doctor popped into my head.

“The goal is to lose enough weight so you can have the surgery,” he said, referring to a procedure to repair damage from degenerative disc arthritis.

Wait a second…

How did I forget that?  How could I have forgotten that all my mobility issues might be resolved, if I can just accomplish this one thing? I know it won’t be easy, especially because I’m unable to exercise, and I refuse to bow down to the diet industry—the only industry I can think of where profit is derived from failure.  But with a little common sense and some creative visualization, I might be able to make this happen.

Move over.  I’ve got plans to make.

*A note on Coral’s Cabins

This is an amazing place to stay, beautifully appointed and lovingly taken care of.  One look at the falls and you will never want to come home.

Peachland Forestry Service Road

What a fantastic week–gorgeous skies of brilliant blue, apple blossoms on the trees, leaves bursting into green song, and a lake reflecting every mood known to man. Yes, we could use some rain, but still, it’s great to be alive.  I wasn’t the only one who wanted to go out this week.  Santana needed to do a little back-roads navigating.  Jaki needed to breathe some mountain air.  Me, I was only too happy to oblige.

Santana wanted to see if he could find a path between Peachland and Summerland that didn’t involve the highway.  The air was hot and sweet.  There was no wind whatsoever, and the lake shone like glass, reflecting the low mountains and trees.  It almost felt like a scene from a fairytale.

We tried three different roads.  Two of them ended in ATV trails.  The third may have been what he was looking for, but there was too much snow to continue. Regardless, it was a fine day of driving the dusty roads, absorbing the scent of fragrant pines.  Bouquets of Arrow-leafed Balsam Root lined the roads, and tiny yellow buttercups dotted the meadows.

A few days later, Jaki and I headed out in the same direction. Santana and I had travelled many branches of the same road, but there was one we didn’t take, the Peachland Forestry Service Road, and I wanted to see where it led. Jaki was game.

Once we’d gone past the various intersections Bear and I had travelled, we didn’t see a single vehicle.  Mourning Cloak butterflies lifted off the road at our approach, drifting seamlessly up and over the windshield. 

The road was clear, even though snow still clung to the edges, quite deep in some areas.

We drove through canyons with jagged rock faces, we drove through places where swamp land hugged the road.

We drove where the spring run-off poured out of grass and moss, with the Zen-like sound of a garden waterfall. We drove past waterfalls.

We drove and drove and drove.  There was just no good reason to stop. 

Except lunch.  Jaki always brings a lunch.

While I was finishing my lunch, Jaki brought me a sprig from a fallen Ponderosa Pine – best air-freshener, ever.

Eventually, we reached a point where the road ahead looked too muddy to risk.  The rest of the road would have to wait for another day. We turned around and prepared for the journey home.

“On dusty roads I walked
And over mountains high
Through rivers running deep
Beneath the endless sky”

  • “Skellig” by Loreena McKennitt

Munson Pond

One of the things I love about the city of Kelowna is the apparent confusion suffered by city planners.  Where a normal city is just that—a city, Kelowna is a curious mix of city, country, orchard and parkland. Take Munson Pond. 

“Ecologically, the pond is a beautiful water body surrounded by a mature remnant cottonwood forest that is valued for its bird watching opportunities, waterfowl habitat and habitat for small amphibians, reptiles and mammals. At one time this black cottonwood / water birch ecological community covered much of the Okanagan lowlands but have been displaced by agriculture, urban development, and the channelization of streams and rivers.  It is now a red listed (endangered) ecological community and ranked by the BC Conservation Data Centre as one of the rarest in B.C. “

*copied from the City of Kelowna Parks and Recreation web page

I had my first opportunity to visit Munson Pond earlier this week. I was in the mood to go somewhere I could just sit, soak up some sun, and maybe see a bird or two.  Chances were pretty good.  More than a hundred species of birds have been recorded at this location.

American Coot

There is a wooden platform that juts out over the water, the perfect place to sit and soak up the sun.  I should have remembered that where there’s a body of water, there’s usually a breeze.  I left my sweater in the Rodeo and wore goosebumps instead.  But it felt good, all the same. 

Female Mallard
European Starlings
American Wigeon

For those who prefer walking to sitting, the trail around the pond is about a kilometer long.  Keep in mind that due to the sensitive nature of the area, dogs are not permitted.