Last week, during a drive from Vancouver, we took a short break in Hope. It was almost 10 o’clock at night and the fire near Agassiz was raging, mountain aglow and the plume above it a threatening dark grey. As we got out of the car, the air was thick with heavy, grey smoke. Though far enough from the fire, the smell was overwhelming. I could not imagine what it would be like to be right there, gear on, tools and everything, fighting this hot monster up close. Or the rest of the almost 600 fires across the province.
Tag: British Columbia
Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on February 12, 2016.
My family and I went to Victoria for a few days. It was quite a treat. The breath of early spring was present in purple crocus patches, red tulips and yellow daffodils spread along sidewalks, even a cherry tree shyly showing its tiny pink blossoms much to the delight of passersby in the heart of the harbour.
It was warm enough, sunny enough and the bit of rain was a good reminder that we were on the Coast after all. Our province really does have one charming capital.
As the boys are now homeschooled, we took our learning with us. And, as a friend aptly pointed out, one good thing about them learning at home is that there is no tuning in and out of the process.
No boundaries to separate learning hours from the rest of the day, and that learning comes with is simply the unavoidable reality that life and its lessons happen every step of the way. Deductions are our own, they come with lots of reading, and they complement the process.
You never know enough, I tell the boys. That’s the measure of humbleness that adds quality to your learning; realizing that what you learn adds pieces to a puzzle that keeps on growing, providing you with the bird’s eye view that we need to understand our path and the purpose of being here.
In the four days we had in Victoria we visited the Royal BC Museum, the Miniature Museum and the Bug Zoo. We visited the BC Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan and we were lucky to have a family friend take us to a forest research facility nearby where we learned about the pine beetle and other troubles that our majestic woods encounter, as well as the hard work involved in finding sustainable solutions to them thriving.
And just like that, as we headed to the BC Legislature two days later, we happened upon a peaceful protest. The Wilderness Committee volunteers were on the front steps holding unrolled banners with big letters: ‘Save Walbran Valley’. Media was there and there were people carrying small tree cardboard cut-outs. The Walbran Valley has magnificent old-growth trees, Sitka spruce and red cedar groves. It makes sense that it should be saved.
Who would want to cut those and why? Surely not someone who knows about the amazing old trees and their presence among us and in our forests. Being aware and willing to fight for them matters. Speaking up and standing up matters, but you have to know your reasons. Learning why forests are needed, and how to stand up for the tallest old giants among us and more, that is what learning helps with.
We were impressed to discover that we happened to be at the BC Legislature on the same day when the very buildings opened 118 years ago on February 10.
And we were also impressed to realize that Steve Thomson, the BC Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, who would have the power to reverse the controversial (detrimental to our province) logging permits, was likely just a few steps away at the time we visited.
Learning helps us all gather facts and understanding why we need to preserve rather than consume or downright destroy, reuse rather than make new, and recycle rather than add to the waste pile. The plethora of facts, past and present, may seem daunting but what’s the future going to look like if we don’t, and if we do not encourage our children to open their eyes and minds to see and learn?
We saw biking lanes lining the side of each road downtown and many people cycling every which way. A good thing to strive for in every city. Sure, temperature in Kamloops drops lower than theirs, but we have enough warm weather to make the most of it, cycling-wise. Or walking. All we need is to ask (and ask again) for lanes that make cycling safe.
Then we have to be diligent enough to help our children learn (by example ideally), that exercise is the best way to deal with stress, chronic health problems and to make a community tighter and healthier in all aspects. It takes learning but that is what carries us forth and makes us mind the miracle of being alive and keeping the world alive too.
We befriended two harbour seals who were so immensely curious and cute, willing to play and hang out with us humans. They danced gracefully underwater, they surfaced and dove again, they peeked at us from underwater and they almost spoke, or at least that is what it felt like. Then they left to return to their watery abode, wherever that might be. Theirs to choose and rightfully so.
All of that prompted a conversation about animals living in freedom, as opposed to those we imprison so that we can be entertained as we see them up-close. We know better by now. Conservation and rehabilitation aside, there should be no zoos but instead shelters and sanctuaries for animals and birds who cannot return to the wild.
It truly never stops: Learning and then learning some more. It’s a gift to ourselves, our children and to those with whom we share our world. Which is all of us.
Say you get in the car on a Wednesday morning and head up highway 1 with mighty big plans to get to Kamloops. A long drive with two boys in the back but who’s to say you cannot make it. It takes you almost an hour to get on the highway from the city, the roads are swarming with cars. Big city gridlocks. You’re flying through farmland as you bid goodbye to the mainland. Lush green hills roll on the side of the road. The boys read in the back, they’ve seen this part of the road before. As you head past Hope greenness abounds and you head up towards the canyon sheltered by the bluest sky you’ve ever seen. Stop for gas and organic cherries. Sold on a plate, rather unpractical you think as you head back to the car balancing them like an unskilled waitress. Half an hour later you chuckle as you pick the cherries from in between the front seats with your right hand. Turns can do that to a plate of cherries but you knew that…
By now the boys are clinging to the windows. The Fraser River Canyon is displaying its beauty. Raging turbid green water piling high into white crests surrounded by walls of yellow rock. The sun came alive and died on these walls many times and it shows. The train on the other side looks like a thread. Two hundred cars or so, they looks so small you’d think you can pick them up and roll them up on your wrist for a nice keepsake.
As you approach Ashcroft, there’s warnings of crosswinds. Why you ask? Because as you get out of the car you have to hold onto the door so it won’t fly off. The boys get off for that kind of break and you assume they can figure as much as to not pee against the wind. Gusts of hot air sweep the barren hills but leave behind some sun-bleached bushes for the next day of fun. You pass by ghost houses and barns in Ashcroft. One day, you tell the boys, I’ll bring you here to the posh tea house. Why not now, they ask. Because here, you explain, they use forks and knives to eat pies, they sip the tea and they talk to a whisper. Oh, they say, later then. Thought so.
Cache Creek is where the desert paints itself shamelessly all over the tall hills. There’s ranches with lazy cows and beautiful brown and white splotchy horses. You love driving and feel the car almost sailing on the melting black ribbon of black road. You pass a crowd of bikers, they seem to take their time cruising along but who can blame them.
Thompson River shines on one side, another train. How much longer, mom? Not much, you say, almost there. That’s what you keep saying, mom. That’s how I buy some time, you reply. You know they’ll forgive and forget, kids bounce that way. Pass Savona, a junk metal graveyard on the right side. Can we stop there, mom? No can do, plus it’s tractor and huge plows old parts, there can be no hauling that home.
Kamloops. You made it! Hot summer day. The boys look around, eat some and walk around. Many houses here are tiny. Dolls houses you think. You’ve been exasperated by all the big houses that have been overtaking the small ones for years now in your neighborhood, what a shame. But the ones here survive. Small space living is in fact living at large. Little do they know, you think… You head over to Riverside Park, the boys splash at the water park, you read and there’s a band getting ready for the nightly Music in the Park.
You head over to Paul Lake for camping. Set up the tent, get the fire going and listen to the boys’ chatter. They find raspberries and are now carving the marshmallows sticks. The park ranger comes by, you chat about life on the lake, small houses and making the best of every day. It makes sense, she’d know, she’s been here for 15 years or so. Night slithers around the trees and you’re getting ready for sleep. Come morning you’re but a tiny seed in a giant sun pumpkin. Watermelon for breakfast, red sweet and sticky juice all the way to your elbows, then head down to the lake for a good swim. The sun-kissed water is warm and smooth. The boys play with a tiny eel and walk around through the shallow water followed by a school of fish. They find a dead one. Take it, put it in a bucket, add some lake water and some sand and you’re now having someone in the passenger seat.
Back in town, stroll and come noon or so you head towards highway 1 west. Savona, Cache Creek and this time you’re heading down highway 97 south through Lillooet. That’s an important hub, you know that for a fact. It’s called a scenic drive so you’re ready, eyes peeled and soul open. It’s a must. Drive through humbling valleys, huge walls of crumbling stone that would make a Tyrannosaurus look puny. Now you understand how they once were. The boys go wow and so do you. And again. And again. You feel grateful, there’s no other way to put it.
The coast mountains grow around you and your heart is beating faster as you’re approaching The Lake. It’s your favorite lake, Pavilion Lake. Turquoise water over white sand. You jump in, dive, splash, swim on your back with your eyes climbing over the tallest rock walls that guard the lake. Close your eyes, float, dive and look at the white sand. The boys swim to you and back, they’re laughing and screaming at the same time. There’s no better way to say it as it is.
Fly to Lillooet. Winding road, souls gasping… Lillooet with the rock shop. It is one of a kind, you’ve been there before, spent a good two hours chatting with the guy who knows all there is to know about rocks and local legends. Store is closed, hearts sank. But no, you say, he’s somewhere close. Just as you explain this, the guy shows up. You’re lucky, he says, the store was closed for the day. But come in, and you do, the boys are quiet. You’ve told them about the store that holds rocks, Indian arrows from the seventeenth century, skulls of big horns with blades stuck in. Stories and questions rolling out like rocks off a mountain. You guess it right, you take a nice rock home. Choose a piece of jade too. Rub it on your cheek every now and then. It’ll become part of you as you will become part of it. Two hours later, your head is full of stories, and the boys have spent their money on rocks that shine, sparkle and each of you is given a piece of petrified walrus task. You’re speechless and you know why. It’s that special. Promise you’ll be back because you know you will.
Follow the winding road through snow-capped mountains to Vancouver. Near Pemberton is where you camped once and fed a white horse some horsetail, Whistler is where you’re not keen on going because of the crowds, and Squamish is where you take the boys visit the mineral museum and for a good walk on that spit of sand where you first stepped with two feet when your leg cast came off.
Reach Vancouver with a gorgeous sunset wrapped around your shoulders, warm and orange. The boys are dozing off though Pavarotti’s “Nessun dorma” is filling the car to the brim. You get to Vancouver, carve yourself a spot in the big city traffic and inch your way home. The fish made it too but it stinks. It really does, it’s been a hot day. Park, unload the car, let the thoughts twirl through your head and eat the rest of the watermelon. It’s sweet and sticky, like the rest of the things you’ve come across during this trip. Wait, the piece of jade from Lillooet… you thought you lost it but it’s there. Green. Touch it to your face. You’re part rock now. Feels like it.
Say you do all this. You’d love it. I did. The boys did too.