Close to Home

Turns out, I’m a morning person.  My mother never would have believed it possible considering I was one of those teenagers that had to be dragged out of bed for school and slept until noon on weekends.  But somewhere along the way, I developed an appreciation for the early hours of the day.  This is a bit of a problem.  I work graveyard shifts, and by daybreak, I should be on my way home to bed.  It doesn’t always work out that way.  My intentions are good but then, you know, morning.

I like empty beaches, empty highways, the sound of birdsong and the golden light that infuses everything.  Before the afternoon sun has painted the sky that pale, washed-out shade of blue, I want – to steal a line from Field of Dreams – “to squint into a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes to look at it.”

When that feeling comes over me, there’s no point in going home to bed.  I’m not going to be able to sleep until I’ve had my fix of morning.  Fortunately, I know just the thing – West Side Road.

Once I drop my son off at work it’s just an evil laugh, a nudge to the right, a spin through the roundabout and I’m on my way.  Is it weird to have a favourite road?

The thing is, I don’t have to drive long or far.  Spectacular views are all along the road, whether it’s overlooking the lake,


Lake View, West Side Road, West Kelowna

the mountains,


Forest and Mountain View from West Side Road, West Kelowna

or even just the road itself.


West Side Road, West Kelowna, BC

From the West Side Road, I get access to another of my favourite roads, Bear Lake Main.  Bear Lake Main is a gravel road that leads up into the mountains.  I have not yet found my way to Bear Lake itself or seen where the road comes out on the other side, but I will one day.  There is always something to see on Bear Lake Main.  This week it was the flowers.  Reams and reams of Arrow-leafed Balsam Root,


Arrow-leafed Balsam Root

and bush after bush of Saskatoon Serviceberry.


Saskatoon Serviceberry

I followed Bear Lake Main as far as the 15-mile marker before turning back.  There is a spot up there I have in mind for a camping trip and I wanted to see if it was as pleasant as I remembered.  The stream flowing through is high and turbulent, but in a month or two it will have calmed down.


Mountain stream, Bear Lake Main


There is logging up here.  Logs are taken down to West Side Road and formed into booms


Log Boom, West Side Road

that are later towed across the lake to the mill, taking advantage of the fact that this is the narrowest part of the lake.




Tug pulling a boom across Okanagan Lake to the mill in Kelowna

The Sylix people used to use the narrow portion of the lake to trade with people living on the other side.  This is, of course, still the traditional and unceded territory of the Sylix Okanagan people and I am grateful for the opportunity to be here.

You know what else I’m grateful for?  Mornings.


Rock face along Bear Lake Main



Coquihalla Highway

The last time I was on the Coquihalla Highway, you still had to stop at a toll booth. Well, that’s not entirely true.  I was on the Coquihalla last month when I went to the Creative Ink Festival.  But I wasn’t the one driving.  In fact, I wasn’t the one driving thirty-some years ago either.  I’ve never driven the Coquihalla – I’ve always been afraid to.  Of course, that’s silly.  It’s just a highway.  And I did drive for a living as recently as 2017.  But high speeds, unpredictable weather and accidents that always seem to involve multiple vehicles kind of scared me off.  They say you’re most likely to be in an accident on a road you drive often.  If I never drive it, I eliminate the potential for an accident at all.  Seems like sound logic to me.

It was being a passenger last month that reminded me just how beautiful the Coquihalla is.  Running through the Cascade Mountains, connecting the cities of Hope and Merritt, this section of the highway was built in 1986.  At its peak, an elevation of 1244 m, it feels as if you’re rolling along at the top of the world.

The Coquihalla is the shortest route between the interior and the coast. People on it are usually there because they want to get from A to B as quickly as possible.

Except for those that don’t.  Except for the people who, like me, like all those little side roads that are off the beaten path.  I knew the only way I was ever going to see any of those side roads was if I sucked it up and drove myself.  So, I did.

I was on my way to New Westminster for LitFest New West.  I had driven the connector between Kelowna and Merritt before, and I had driven the Trans-Canada between Hope and Vancouver, so really, it was just that one little stretch – 115 km – that would be new to me.  Nothing to be nervous about.

It was a spectacular start to the day.  Traffic was light and the day was brilliant.  I got so caught up in the beauty of it all that I forgot to be frightened.  The panoramic views are stunning and water cascades into roadside falls from high above.  But there aren’t a lot of places that it is safe to stop along the highway itself, so I didn’t try to take pictures.  You’ll have to imagine the towering cliffs and mountaintops that stretch on into eternity.

I did, however, turn off the highway to explore a little bit along the way.


The Coquihalla River, BC

My first exit from the highway was on the Sowaqua Creek Road.  Who can resist a fast running river in shades of blue and green?  The air here was tangy with pine and moisture. The water clear and cold.


Crystal Clear Water of the Coquihall River

This road runs for a while along the Coquihalla River before it turns under the highway and becomes the Sowaqua Creek Forest Service Road. I wasn’t too sure about driving underneath a highway in what basically amounts to a culvert of corrugated steel.  But the engineers must have had some idea what would work.


Sowaqua Creek Road, Coquihalla Highway, BC

A little further along the road is a sign warning that cell service is non-existent.  As tempting as it was to follow the Forest Service Road as it wound up into the wilderness, I decided that it wouldn’t be the wisest thing to do.  Now, if Santana had been with me, I would have gone for sure.  When it comes to the possibility of getting stranded, two people are better than one.


The Sowaqua Creek Forest Service Road, BC

My next stop was Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park.  This road leads to the Othello Tunnels.  The Othello Tunnels were once part of a rail line but have since been converted to walking trails.  The Kettle Valley Railway was built in the early 1910’s, passing through the canyon and five tunnels.  The tunnels are currently closed due to unstable conditions but are forecast to be open again near the end of May.  This is definitely a trip for Santana!  At only 1.8 km on relatively level ground, even I might be able to walk it. I’m certainly going to try.

While I didn’t do as much as I would have liked, just being back in the Lower Mainland was a treat.  The area around Hope is close enough to the coast that the forest is not much different than the rainforest.  Here are a few photos of the Canadian jungle.


Moss devours a fallen tree


New fern unfurling


Geranium robertianum, or Death Come Quickly


Cliff face with moss-filtered water falling.

The weekend was great.  Although LitFest ended reasonably early on Saturday night, I didn’t come home until Sunday.  Just as well.  There was a blizzard on the Coquihalla Saturday night. I’m not sorry I missed it.



What a Picture is Worth

Because I’m headed off this weekend to another writerly-type event, I didn’t venture too far from home this week.  In lieu of a road trip, I offer you a glimpse into one of my favorite local spots – the Rotary Marsh in downtown Kelowna.  This beautiful bird oasis, right in the heart of the city, is an ever-evolving cornucopia of sensory wonder.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking.


Rotary Marsh, Kelowna BC


Canada Geese, looking for a nesting location


Black-capped Chickadee


Mallard Pair


Northern Flicker


Buffle-head, Male


View of the William Bennett Bridge from the Marsh


American Coot, or Mudhen


Oregon Grape (?)


Red-winged Blackbird, Male


Osprey, bringing lunch home.  I know this isn’t the sharpest picture, but it’s definitely the coolest! His mate is back at the nest sitting on the eggs and he’s trying to get to her, but he’s being chased by a Red-winged Blackbird.  I shot this one as he was almost right over my head.

Thanks for stopping by.  I hope you enjoyed this look at what I consider to be an IBA (Important Bird Area) right here in the city.  See you next week, when I hope to share details of my weekend road trip.


Chute Lake

“Santana!”  I banged on the door.  “Get up!  Time to go!”

The day was young, the sun was shining, a picnic lunch was packed and ready to go – all I needed was my son to haul his butt out of bed and we could be on our way. I was delighted to find that he had a day off and no plans.  There are a few places on my list that Santana wanted to see – slightly longer trips – and this day was absolutely made for one of them.

A few months ago, there was a local news article about a near-forgotten resort, high in the mountains, that was being overhauled and brought back to life.  The Chute Lake Lodge is located just outside of the Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, North of Naramata.  The new owners of the lodge spoke of their plans to use the resort for corporate events, yoga classes, writer’s retreats, etc.  Some of my writer friends from the South Okanagan took a trip up a few weeks ago to scope it out.  The report they brought back was encouraging.  I asked one of them about the road.  She shrugged and said that it was rough but do-able.  I couldn’t wait to see the lodge for myself and Santana was anxious to see Naramata.  That was the plan – but there was more.

Back in the summer, before I’d ever heard about the Chute Lake Lodge, I had asked a long-time resident if there was another way to get to Penticton from Kelowna.  He said there was, but the road wasn’t easy to find, and not for the faint of heart.

Naturally, that’s the way I wanted to go.

The journey began on the Gillard-Forestry road that I travelled last week, which looks entirely different in the bright sunshine.  It turns out that the place I thought was the top was not the end of the road after all.  I hadn’t seen past the logging equipment parked there to the continuation of the road beyond.  The mud was all dried up and we sailed on.

We also didn’t have any trouble finding the turn-off, thanks to a weather beaten, hand-made sign that said “Penticton” with an arrow pointing the way.


White-tailed Deer in the forest, Gillard-Forestry Road

“If this road gets too rough, we’re going to have to turn back.”  I didn’t know what lay ahead.  The “Drive BC” app on my phone doesn’t exactly cover road conditions in places like this.  We drove slowly, avoiding the potholes, ruts and sharp rocks along the way.  But the drive, even at 25 km/hr was fabulous.  The road continued to climb and every so often, through the trees, we would catch a glimpse of the city below and the valley beyond.


View of Kelowna from Chute Lake Road

Then this happened.


Chute Lake Road, from the Kelowna side

“It’s not too deep,” Santana said, after having a look. “I think we can make it.”

I hugged the side of the road as much as was possible. My hands gripped the steering wheel while I muttered pleas to whichever deities might be listening.  I should have known there’d be water.  Just last week there were snowfall warnings issued for the higher elevations.  That on top of the rain, the existing snowpack and the warmer weather of springtime pretty much guaranteed that there was going to be some run-off.

Gotta say, though, I’m proud of my little Kia.  She soldiered right through those puddles without hesitation.  “Thank God that’s over,” I thought.  But was it?

There was water everywhere.


Water pouring off the rocks, Chute Lake Road, Kelowna side

That section of flooded road was only the first of many along the way.  Each time, we discussed whether we should turn around.  Each time we went forward and each time we made it.  Then we came to a section that was so deep that water started to seep in under the door.  At this point there was no way back.  I had no choice but to go forward.  I heard something scrape the bottom of the mini-van and I cringed.  I stepped on the gas.  The mini-van lurched forward and my tires found some solid gravel, pulling us forward and on to dry ground.  I turned off the engine and breathed.

We got out and waited for the water to finish draining out of the vehicle.  Then we checked for leaks, fortunately finding none.  We could only go on from here, because there was no freakin’ way I was going back through that.


Chute Lake Road

The rest of the road, while rough, seemed a breeze after the white-knuckle experience we had just survived. Admittedly, there were times that the road seemed little more than a narrow gravel causeway built up through a valley, with steep drop-offs on either side.  I had to stop, at least twice, for waves of vertigo to pass. Eventually, we began to descend, and the road became friendlier, with forest and marshland on either side.  The air was full of Mourning Cloak and Angelwing butterflies.


Angelwing Butterfly, Chute Lake Road

It was 1:00 pm when we finally arrived at Chute Lake.  We’d been on the road for three and a half hours.

There was a cold wind blowing, and waves were breaking on the ice still built up along the far shore.  But the sunlight sparkled on the sapphire blue water, and the air was crisp and clean.  It was a truly lovely sight, and obviously well-loved, judging by the memorial plaques that were mounted on a large boulder at the side of the lake.


Rock, Chute Lake

The lodge at Chute Lake was, unfortunately, closed for the day.  Electricians were busy getting things in order.  We did have the opportunity to speak with the manager, who was outside with her children cleaning up the grounds.

“You came from Kelowna?” She laughed.  “How was the road?”


“You’re adventurous, I’ll give you that.”

I’m not sure adventurous was the right word.  Had we lived in the area longer we probably would have known not to even attempt that road for another few months.  Here we were, nonetheless.

The road into Naramata is a sharp decline, still gravel, still rutted, but nowhere near as rough as the way we came in.  I was almost disappointed when we had pavement and a yellow line a mere fifteen minutes after leaving the lodge.


Coming into Naramata

We took the highway back home.


A vaguely surprised Yellow-bellied Marmot, Peachland

I’m sure I will return to the Chute Lake Lodge one day soon.  If I had the sense God gave a gopher, I’d take the route up through Naramata.

But it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

Gillard-Forestry Road

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

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

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

And now you know why.


Dark-eyed Junco, Oregon Variety, Kelowna

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

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


Gillard-Forestry Road, Kelowna

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


View of the valley, Gillard-Forestry Road, Kelowna

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


Second-year Mule Deer fawns, Kelowna

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

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


Mother Nature’s Rock Garden, Kelowna

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

Well, except for this guy.


Columbia Ground Squirrel, Kelowna

Everyday Beaches

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

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

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

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

Outbuilding on the verge of collapse, Highway 97


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

Mallard Drake, Okanagan Beach, Penticton

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

Eroding cliff, Highway 97


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

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

Skaha Beach, Penticton

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

Pyramid Beach, Highway 97

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

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

Driftwood, Antler Beach, Highway 97


Burnaby Lake

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

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

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

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

After that, it was smooth sailing.

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


Red-Wing Blackbird Female, Burnaby Lake


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

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

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


Sandhill Crane, Burnaby Lake

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

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


Eurasian Widgeon, Male, Burnaby Lake

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


Detail, Water on the back of a Canada Goose

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

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

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


View of Metrotown from Burnaby Lake

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

Perhaps another day, time and legs permitting.


Catkins along the trail, Burnaby Lake

Welcome to Featherstone

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

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

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