Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Ladies that Lunch"

"We are," said Adrienne with a dignified air, "ladies that lunch." It sounds luxurious, and it is. There is something Victorian about it, and something post-modern as well.

Turns out we're very good at lunching. Today we shared a delicious dejeuner on the quiet side deck at Stella's: mussels, poutine, beetroot salad. The only thing we ordered two of was cafe lattes for after.

The kind of long, rambling conversations we enjoy over a shared meal take time. When we arrange to meet, we make sure we both have the whole afternoon free. We don't always spend the entire afternoon lunching, but we make sure it's available, just in case.

I am definitely old enough to be her mother. I remember her at six, at twelve. Looking into her chocolate eyes, I sometimes see backward through the tunnel of time to the face she had as a girl. That face wore the same expressions: serious, conscientious, thoughtful.

We talk of the most mysterious things, the most daunting and unknowable things. We reveal things we can tell none but each other.

Then something sets us off and we start and we start to giggle. Away we go into gales, laughing our heads off.

Lunches with Adrienne are unique and special. They provide leisurely and luxurious sustenance for body and soul.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bee, Buzzed?

Image from BBC

Today I dined outdoors in White Rock. The weather was fabulous. But the rain could start any day.  Better enjoy the beach now.

I sat on the deck at Cosmos Restaurant to eat bean soup and mark my papers. A bee circled the sweet alyssum blooming in the planter boxes, sniffed my pita bread and flew off.

Dreamily, I watched the Amtrack train slide past along the beach while I had coffee and dessert. Topped with whipped cream and drizzled with orange liqueur, the creme caramel was delicious. When I set the empty plate aside, the bee came back. The cointreau must have smelled better than the alyssum. He buzzed around, then landed on the rim and advanced gingerly toward the puddle of liqueur.

I watched his little dance with fascination. Apparently sensing danger, he carefully avoided wading into the sticky puddle. Instead, he travelled carefully around the plate to find the best position from which to sip safely.

So many times I have watched bees; yet never have I observed one so closely or for so long. While he sipped the sweet treat, he held his feelers out at right angles to his body and his wings in close to his back. His abdomen wiggled as he drank. Apian ecstasy?

When he was done, he rose and made a slow lazy circle. He was moving like a heavily loaded cargo plane, climbing laboriously before he flew off. Was he buzzed?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Water Fountain at Incesu

Photo: town of Avanos with local clay pots
In the hot region of southwest Turkey, roadside fountains beckon. People regularly stop to drink, wash their faces and fill containers. In Marmaris, we visit the roadside cesme in the evening and carry back delicious drinking water for the house.

Central Turkey, near Kayseri, also has public water facilities. Located in the centre of the tiny town of Incesu, the public fountain is dedicated, of course, to Ataturk.

The town's name, Incesu, means thin water, and indeed, the stream that flows from this fountain is thin. The fountain leaks, in spite of a new cement patch. As we drink, fill our bottles and splash our faces, water trickles through the dust at our feet.

A donkey stands in the road. On his back is a diminutive old woman carrying a tiny switch. Her friend on foot is also tiny. In spite of the heat, the two are wearing many layers of skirts, scarves and pantaloons. I fell that when unwrapped, they would be the size of children, or dolls.

They greet us and we chat together. They explain that the woman on the donkey was coming to her friend's house so they could make some food together. Even with their Kayseri accents, I am pleased to note that my Turkish is good enough to follow most of what they say, even though I don't catch the name of the dish they plan to cook.

It seems that some essential ingredient was left at the other house. The rider turns the donkey around with a couple of light taps of her switch and rides off to get whatever is needed. Her friend stays and tells us about her son and her grandchildren.

Monday, September 27, 2010

High school drinking fountain

Image from hawsco

Writing about water fountains yesterday got me thinking. Water is essential for brain and body function and we often get dehydrated. My Grades 8 and 9 ESL kids really needed their water breaks.

Junior high is puberty time and my students found it hard to keep still. When they asked to go for a drink of water, I let them. Once day a kid named Archie went to the water fountain and didn't come back. At the end of the day, the office told me he had transferred out.

Sometimes the kids would skip class. When they returned, I would ask them where they had been. "At the library," said Manuel, with mendacious virtue. "Anyway, I'm thinking of transferring out."

Manuel's first language was Portuguese. His English conversation skills were good but he couldn't read or write very well yet. He was also learning the ropes, but fortunately I knew the game. Kids with ESL backgrounds, as well as troubled or academically weak kids, would try to enter the transfer mill. Three or four schools later, when the year was nearly over, they would transfer back.

"No, Manuel," I said, looking him firmly in the eye. "You are not going anywhere. Starting tomorrow, you are going to be here every day for the rest of the semester." I guess he appreciated feeling wanted, because he didn't transfer and didn't miss another class.

By the end of the term, Manuel had improved his reading and writing skills tremendously. To help him concentrate, he relied on frequent breaks to go to the water fountain.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Drinking Fountain

Today I spent a couple of hours at the Canadian Authors Vancouver booth at Word Vancouver. After talking to a lot of people, I felt thirsty and left my fellow table minders briefly in search of something to drink. I was planning to buy some bottled water, but I popped in to the library for a moment to pick up my hold and remembered they had water fountains.

As kids in elementary school, we routinely drank water from the fountain or bubbler, as it was sometimes called. The bubbler was a great thing for kids who had trouble sitting still, providing a welcome break in the unwelcome routine of sitting for long hours at a desk.

"Miss Holden, can I please go to the fountain?" a child would say, waving an arm in the air. And if the kid asked politely, the teacher would usually agree.

Now we've become used to the concept of drinking bottled water, and paying for it too. In today's society so many things are monetized. But the best things in life are still free, and that includes public libraries and water fountains.

Drinking at the fountain in the VPL today, I felt how blessed we are to have this free place for all to slake their thirst for water, and for knowledge too. As Bill Richardson once said, "If free public libraries hadn't been invented long ago, probably nobody would be willing to fund them now."

But free public libraries have been around for a very long time. Drinking fountains are old too -- even the Romans had them. And people are starting to use them again. Very sensible, too.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Blue Medicine with Loose Skein of Birds Flying over

Stellar's jay image US National Park Service

Driving off in the open car in the late afternoon was bliss. At White Rock I broke my habitual pattern and stopped on East Beach. Parking in front of the Gelato place, I went in and bought ice cream. Waffle cone, one scoop of green apple, one of lemon.

"Ah," said the proprietor, "You like the sour ones." He watched me take the first lick, and asked, "How is it?" Mouth full, I gave him the thumbs-up and he smiled.

The unique blues of the sky and water in the late afternoon sun were just what I'd needed. I crossed the road to look down at the sea. The beach there is very shallow but today the tide was in and the water looked as blue as the Caribbean.

The sky was gorgeous too. These two blues, flanked by pale green trees and dark green shrub palms, were soul medicine. Reluctant to leave the sea behind, I got in the car and drove toward Crescent Beach. From Crescent park, the lush lawn and trees emitted a burst of the lovely green smell that heralds dusk. The treetops were sunlit, one Stellar's jay on a wire alone and blue.

The sun was going down. By dusk, the sky overhead was swathed in a gauzy layer of cloud. Waiting for a light, I leaned back and gazed directly up at a flock of small birds flying over. Seeing them so close up gave me an intimate sense of participation in their flight.

The fresh air and outdoors were what I'd been craving. The birds, the greenery, the burst of fragrance that was a harbinger of evening. All of it was powerful medicine for the soul.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Aberdeen Associations

Photo: wikitravel.org Aberdeen, Scotland

"We are sorry for the delay of the 9:15 to Newcastle, Edinburgh and Aberdeen." The musical British voice over the loudspeaker thrilled me. 1976: I was in England for the first time, Brit Rail pass in hand. The train might be late, but I would be aboard to ride to the end of the line.

Aberdeen. For anyone with roots in the British Isles, that conjures up images of northern Scotland. But for many here in Vancouver, it also evokes memories of Hong Kong.

In 1983, I ate dinner at the floating Jumbo Seafood restaurant in the harbour at Aberdeen and watched the milling junks and sampans, home to thousands of people. It was from that Aberdeen that the local one derived its name.

Now the Aberdeen Centre in Richmond is expanding. Originally built in 1989, it tripled in size in 2003. With the addition of Aberdeen Square (slated to open in 2013) it will become the largest Asian-style retail centre in North America.

The original Aberdeen is a North Sea port, a center of oil exploration and Scotland's third largest city, sometimes called the Granite City.

How strange that it lent its name to a village on Hong Kong island and from there, to the big Chinese-style shopping center that is now served by the Canada Line.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Linguistic Whateverism"

Image from YouTube

From Susanna Kelly's piece in the September issue of the West Coast Editor, I learned about "linguistic whateverism." Coined by Naomi Baron, a linguist at American University in Washington, DC, this lovely phrase refers to the current tendency of the wired generation to turf rules of grammar, punctuation and usage, and say -- well, whatever.

Throughout history, fast linguistic change has gotten up the noses of the self-appointed police and guardians of "correct" expression in speech and writing. Over the centuries, many have recorded such complaints in impeccable prose.

Madison Avenue brought us free gifts many years ago. Now we have text messaging. The corner coffee shop is not helping either, as the Plain English Campaign points out. These days when I ask for a medium coffee and the perky young clerk says, "You mean a regular?" I'm tempted to riposte, "No, I'd much prefer it to be irregular. Medium size please." That would confuse her instead of me.

Speaking of language police, the same edition of WCW (ed. Cheryl Hannah) reports a 2009 Telegraph story that involves both language and police. Bad spelling turns out to be a blessing for a government minister on the hit list of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The title says it all: "FARC guerrillas fail in bid to kill defense minister after spelling mistake."

It's a rare case when bad language can save lives. Definitely food for thought for those who share the doomed ambition of bringing the frisky dog of language to heel.

Escalator and Skateboard Choreography

Would you ride this on a skateboard? (Image from The Province) 

Taking the SkyTrain to work regularly, I witness a lot of interesting scenes. Today I watched something new. As I approached the concourse at VCC Clark, I heard a strange noise behind me -- whatever the machinery was, it was approaching fast.

Before I had time to turn and look, a man in a baseball cap flew by my right shoulder on a skateboard, skidded into the station, rounded the corner and landed on the rising escalator, all in one fluid movement. Whew!

By the time I got to the bottom of the escalator, travelling on foot, he was more than halfway up. Feet pointing outward and knees slightly bent, he resembled a California surfer waiting for a wave. Positioned side to side, the board fit neatly on the stair.

"How on earth will he get off?" I wondered, as he approached the top.

The new choreography kicked in fast. As the rider redistributed his weight and applied the necessary pressure, one end lifted and then the whole board bounded forward. In seconds he was coasting onto the train car. Fortunately, it was pretty empty; he was still moving at speed.

I wonder how he manages his postmodern dance in rush hour.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Weekend Retreat -- Guide Camp with a Difference

The Women's Wellness Weekend retreat was led by EFT guru Sheryl Stanton. Camp Kanaka belongs to Girls Guides of Canada. Memories of my days as a Pathfinder Guider began to surface as soon as I drove through the gate with the trefoil sign.

Each bedroom at the lodge is designed to sleep up to eight Guides, Brownies or Pathfinders in four bunk beds. We women were expected to sleep only four to a room. Just as my girls used to do, I went immediately to check out my room assignment. "I call the window," I said, and plunked my bedding down.

I'd felt momentarily daunted by the thought of sleeping in the same room with three women I'd barely met; there were empty rooms across the hall. Then I remembered how some girls used to complain about who they had to bunk with, and I looked at the lovely view from the top bunk. "You can do this," I told myself.

Just as at Guide camp, we said grace before tucking into the nutritious home-cooked meals that were prepared for us. We worked in teams to decorate our doors and create skits to entertain the other teams. During the weekend we learned and practiced Emotional Freedom Technique, laughed, sang, danced and enjoyed ourselves.

While we had activities, it poured rain. When we had free time, the sun came out and we took walks in the quiet country atmosphere. One of the camp cooks had a four-month-old baby, a happy child who graciously allowed several women to hold her.

All the other times I attended group camps, I went as a Guider. This weekend, for the first time, I enjoyed the luxury of going as a girl.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Gauze Curtains Blowing

The painting on the wall is of an open window overlooking the sea. The gauze curtains blow over the sill -- they seem to be actually moving. The picture is positioned in such a way as to be lit by the late light from the window that looks west onto Burrard Street.

For me, this engrossing painting is the dominant feature of the Bio-energy Healing treatment room. The equipment is simple: a carpet, a stool and a folding chair. The amazing healer Michael D'Alton uses mind, breath and hands to gently remove blocks and allow the client's energy to flow again.

When Michael's ministrations were complete, I returned calm and energized from the magical meditative space of healing. As I walked toward the beach, I became conscious of a ravenous hunger.

I stopped at a tiny Thai Restaurant off Davie Street. There I enjoyed a celebratory feast of emerald broccoli and delectable chicken bits smothered with peanut sauce, fragrant rice and exquisite tea.

I am on the cusp of a new stage. Beginning with the roseate dawn this morning, seen through the arching cables of the Alex Fraser Bridge, every experience seems to presage something new. The final vestiges of the old chrysalis are dropping, allowing me to become...what?

Imagining the possibilities makes me shiver with anticipation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Folding Back his Sleeves

When he wears a short-sleeved shirt, my husband likes me to fold back the sleeves of the t-shirt he wears underneath. It's something I've done for him off and on though our married life.

He asked me to do it today. As I wondered aloud about folding the surplus material out or in, using double or single folds, he said, "Do it the way you always do it." The tiny trace of impatience in his voice made me smile; he thought I was fussing unduly.

But it had been a long time. Forgetful, I used only a single fold. We had been driving for just a few minutes when he said at a stop light, "It's coming undone," and held out his arm. "Can you reach it?"

By twisting around in my seat, I could. I folded the sleeve outward this time and doubled the fold. It felt right; I knew this was how I used to do it. The t-shirt sleeve would stay in place and wouldn't show. When we stopped and got out of the car, he held out the other arm wordlessly; I knew exactly what to do. As I finished, I could almost feel his relief and comfort, and I was content.

Doing this simple service for my dear husband brought me a moment of flooding joy as the bow of memory drew taut and launched me on an arrow that took me back to the first time I did this, more than twenty-five years ago. We were newly married then, just getting to know one another's peccadilloes, which are so familiar now.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ribstones near Viking, Alberta


Photos: the Viking Ribstones; below, a recent painting on stone, with offerings of tobacco and coins. A wonderful set of pictures of these can be found on the blog of Heidi Nikolaisen

A few months ago, I was daydreaming about a visit to the ancient cave paintings at Lascaux. Little did I know I was about to see some carvings almost half as old, quite nearby on the Canadian prairie.

Until the last week of August, when I took a trip to Viking, Alberta, I didn't know the ribstones existed. Overall, the prairie is pretty flat, but some places are a little higher, and it was to such a place a few kilometers out of town that I was taken by some local friends to see the Viking Ribstones.

These very old monuments are by no means the only ancient stone carvings in Alberta, though they are the only ones that remain in situ. They express the longstanding reverence of aboriginal peoples for the buffalo. Until quite recently, this animal provided the people of the plains with food, clothing and shelter.

We stopped by the highway to read the sign, and then approached the fenced monument from a tiny parking lot big enough for no more than half a dozen cars. From the rise, we could see in every direction.

The stones themselves are not large. Two remain where a family of three once lay. The smallest stone, representing the buffalo calf, was taken away some time ago. These bleached carvings, with the timothy growing around them, appear to have been created thousands of years ago to revere the spirit of the buffalo.

When we approached the stones, we noticed that a recently painted stone had been left, and people had placed offerings of tobacco and small change around the area. In the nearby grove of poplars, strips of colorful cloth were tied. In the past, offerings were left following a successful hunt; clearly, these places remain important to the Cree.

Until last month, I had no idea these intriguing stones existed. Sometimes we go to a lot of trouble and expense to travel to other continents to see wonderful things. Meanwhile, we may remain unaware of the marvels in our own back yards.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Delphiniums Blue...or Larkspur?

I was at the nursery yesterday, looking for autumn crocus to fill some gaps in the garden, and I bought them because of that very deep rich blue. It was the second pot I bought this year, but the first ones have already finished blooming. I thought their season was over.

Photo: courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

I felt I was falling into a sea of colour as the deep blue drew me in.
Larkspur. The name was almost as alluring as the colour.

One of the first Nancy Drew mysteries I ever read -- I was probably in Grade 5 -- was The Mystery of Larkspur Lane. On the cover picture, a cosy little cottage was tucked into a garden at the end of an avenue of heavenly blue flowers. Larkspur. The name sounded exotic.

The pot of flowers I bought yesterday looked identical to the one I planted out in July, but I was sure those had been labeled delphiniums. "Are they the same?" I asked the clerk. "Yes," she said. "They're also called delphiniums."

That word had its own magic, recalling to my mind a line remembered from A.A. Milne's poem, "The Doctor and the Dormouse." Until the nasty doctor intervenes with his yellow chrysanthemums, the dormouse enjoys "a wonderful view of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)."

I've got red geraniums growing by the door as well. Makes me wonder.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Basil the Austin Somerset Coupe de Ville

Austin A40 photo www.free-images.org.uk

When I was young, I went through a series of used cars. One was a Morris Minor, "Morris the Donkey." I grew fond of the hardworking little Morris, but he belonged to a friend. After a few months, I had to give him back.

For awhile, I had an Austin Cambridge. Now that had cachet. Cream exterior, red leather seats. A square solidly built car, and an automatic -- the first I'd ever owned. It drank more gas than a standard, but was elegant and smelled lovely inside, like old leather. Can't remember why I had to sell that one. Or did it break down?

I flirted a bit with American cars -- For $175 I picked up a Buick Special two-door hardtop. It was red with a white top and portholes along the sides. That one had a weird feature. You turned the key, then stomped the pedal to engage the starter located beneath it.

At the time I was living in Kitsilano, and when the power brakes started to fail, I was heading downhill on Arbutus toward Cornwall Avenue. I had a vision of tearing across the lines of thick traffic and plowing into the sand at the beach when the thing miraculously stopped just short of the intersection.

Then there was the green Mustang. A friend of a friend returning to France had to sell it fast. It was one of the later years, with a long heavy front and a short light back, which meant, I discovered, a horrible tendency to fishtail in snow. Ironically, it was the ski rack on the back, along with the stereo, that had convinced me to buy it.

My most perfect used car was a 1954 Austin Somerset Coupe de Ville, a bulbous little thing with a powder-blue body that resembled a London taxi. "Basil" had been one of a fleet of 20 blue coupes brought over from England for the 1954 Empire Games. The Empire Pool at UBC and the Empire Stadium at Exhibition Park were built for those games. That year Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile in under four minutes.

When I got Basil, he was 25 -- old enough for Vintage plates, though I never used them. For me, Basil was daily transport. The two-way convertible top could be pushed back half way (the de Ville position) at a stop light. At the next stop light, if the weather continued to improve, I could reach back and pull two rear handles that caused the top to drop straight into its well.

Basil caused a sensation wherever I went. "Do you want to sell it?" people would call as I drove by. I'd shake my head and smile. I rebuilt the four-cylinder engine, lovingly re-upholstered the front seats in new gray leather, and replaced the worn and faded soft top with a smart navy blue one.

But city traffic was speeding up. Soon I found I had to use the shoulder to drive up the Cut without causing a long line of cars to form behind my sedate steed. When I took Basil to Victoria and he quit on the road to the ferry with my mother in the seat beside me, I saw the writing on the wall.

I brought Mom a takeaway tea and we sat while I pondered. Then idely, I turned the key once more. Good old Basil started up again. When we reached the ferry compound without further incident, I relaxed. There was a slight slope down to the ship and I knew I could jump start him if I had to, to get on board, we'd be home free. Then if didn't start on the ship, the ferry workers would have to help me push him off on the other side.

Soon after that, I sold Basil to the car buff friend who had found him for me. At that stage in life,  I needed something that would cross water and go uphill. Later, he sold Basil on to someone in Ontario. A few years back I found out through the grapevine that the heirs of the man who originally collected Basil were trying to flog him for $10,000.

As I recall, Basil cost me $350 originally, plus the repairs, some of which I did myself. I enjoyed driving that delightful car for about five years.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Driving on the Shoulder of the Information Highway

The generations that were born on the side of the information highway ride that road easily. From the time they were toddlers watching the traffic, they have been observing and learning how it works. Now they travel effortlessly.

On the other hand, those of us born before that road was constructed sometimes have trouble changing lanes, negotiating the on and off ramps, and generally keeping out of the ditch. Like farmers driving tractors along main roads, we can't keep up with the rest of the traffic.

For those of us who remember traveling by railroad, searching for library material in large wooden cabinets full of record cards, answering only our own ring codes on party telephone lines, and listening to radios operated by large batteries, the astonishing speed of moving information can be quite a challenge at times.

Going from the transatlantic cable and Morse code to today's information highway in just a couple of generations has been a leap.

Ironically, it's the ease and speed with which information now flows that makes the system hard for the older generations to handle.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Paean to the PNE

Eyesplash Mikul photo: Vintage wooden coaster travels up to 45 mph

On Sunday, we took our annual family trip to the PNE. We bought some tickets on the show home, wandered along the midway and snack booths and lined up for some tasty fish and chips.

To share our hot and fragrant deep-fried dinner, we sat at a rather damp table under a tree that provided some shelter from the drizzle. When we rose, I asked, "Shall we look in on the horse show?"

"No," my daughter replied. "Let's not deviate from our usual routine. We have to get to the barns before they put the animals to bed."

Last year we missed seeing the large animals. This year, we saw a calf that had been born only a few hours earlier, and watched his early efforts at standing. We watched bees making honey, chicks hatching from eggs, and a team of huge brown and white Clydesdale horses being fitted with their glittering harnesses.

We've been coming to the PNE since Yasemin was a baby. We used to live within walking distance. One year, I remember my husband carried our tired girl home, while I carried the stuffed lion he won for her shooting hoops. It was bigger than she was.

When she was little, she enjoyed the kiddie rides. The pink and blue elephants and the small wave swinger were good. But the small coaster was best. "Welcome to the Dragon!" a voice would boom from a tinny speaker, startling the little people just at the moment they were ready to board.

In her teen years, our daughter went to the PNE with her friends, mostly to Playland. In recent years we've been going together as a family again. Our routine always includes the Showmart. There we watch a variety of sales demos. While some sculpt vegetables with ceramic knives, others wash the same bit of floor over and over to demonstrate a new type of mop.

This year we bought the cat brush we saw last year. Last year we bought the steam iron I'd seen a couple of years before that. My husband eyed the high-tech kitchen knives, but resisted the temptation to add to his collection.

A few years back, there was talk of moving the PNE, but it's still in the original location, and attendance is booming. What began as a country fair is a hundred years old. As Shelley Fralic said in yesterday's Vancouver Sun, the PNE is a special treasure, especially nowadays, when many city people have never been to a farm.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Jasper Station part of Canadian railroad history

Jasper Station: Vancouver 534.9 m (miles), Montreal 2408.8 m.

It was the last week of August. When I arrived in Jasper in the late afternoon, the Rocky Mountaineer had just pulled in. This train, which runs from April to October, carries tourists from the VIA station in Vancouver to enjoy spectacular daylight views of the Rockies.

In 1958, my family moved from central Alberta to northern BC, and I glimpsed my first mountains. We changed trains at Jasper. To my eight-year old eyes, that little train station, faced with smooth stones and flanked by views of the Rockies, was a vision of unearthly beauty.

The Athabasca valley was first explored by the great geographer David Thompson in 1810. The Northwest Company (rival of the Bay in fur trading) set up a supply depot. The settlement, known as Jasper House, remained until the fur trade declined.

Jasper Park was created in 1907, and by 1911 the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad (later the CNR) reached Jasper, part of a line that would cross the Yellowhead Pass and link Prince Rupert to the second more northerly trans-Canada rail route.

In the fifties, railroad travel was still the norm. Newfoundland, which had joined Canada only six years earlier, had major highway gaps, and so did mountainous British Columbia. In 1956, Parliament reached a cost-sharing arrangement with the provinces, formulating a plan to complete and pave the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) by the nation's Centennial in 1967.

Now, with the expansion of highways and air travel, for most Canadians, long rail journeys are no longer feasible; they are luxuries to be enjoyed by those with money and time.

Though I arrived in Jasper by car this time, I did explore the old station, one of my very special places. Apparently I'm not alone in loving the town. About three million tourists visit every year.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Simon Fraser and then the CPR and CNR

Explorer Simon Fraser's Historic Marker









Supports from original CN railroad bridge (1908)
and current bridge over the beginnings of the Fraser River, Yellowhead Highway

The CPR, Canada's first transcontinental railroad through the southern Rockies, was completed with the driving of the last spike in 1885 at Craigellachine. In Port Moody, this event is still commemorated annually.

Afterwards, the Grand Trunk Pacific, (later the CNR), built a second line through a more northerly route, crossing the Rocky Mountains through Yellowhead Pass.

This year is also the 125th anniversary of Banff National Park, which was created the same year the railroad was completed. It was the railroad that brought the first tourists to the Rockies. Canadian Pacific shares the same anniversary and this year Banff's Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is one of many Canadian museums to receive Legacy gifts from the company.

This past summer,the Empress 2826 Steam train and the Museum Car have been visiting various communities in western Canada to celebrate the nation-building legacy of the railroad.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Correction Line

Photo: County of Beaver Seed Cleaning Co-op, Holden, Alberta

It's a prairie term, and I hadn't heard it in years before I travelled to Saskatchewan in 2008 and visited a Canadian prairie farm similar to the one where I lived until I was nearly eight. The correction line evoked my early years on the prairies; I heard the words spoken inwardly, in my father's voice.

A correction line is a certain kind of prairie road. Land is laid out on parallels of latitude and longitude in square townships six by six miles, or thirty-six sections. Correction lines are additional east-west roads that correct for the curvature of the earth.

Our farm, a quarter section, was tiny by today's standards. As a veteran of the RCNVR, Dad took up farming after the war when he married and my parents started their family. Though the dirty thirties, Dad had "bummed around," as the saying went. During those years of drought and high unemployment, Dad ride rode the rails, worked in camps, and trapped in the far north.

He probably returned to farming because it was what he knew. His parents had emigrated from Scandinavia and met in the US. His mother, Hilda Haugdahl, was from Bergen, Norway and his Dad, Olaf Johnson, came from Skane, a wheat-growing province of Sweden. Around 1906, the couple and their seven children came to Alberta to homestead near Lindbrook. Following in their footsteps, Dad availed himself of a soldier settlement scheme to buy a farm near Ryley and raise wheat, rye and oats.

This summer in Alberta, re-visiting the area around Viking where the Norse first settled, I heard the words correction line again, and became aware of how it was from my father's voice speaking that I heard those words from my earliest years of language development.

An inner knowing that I can't explain tells me that one day I'm going to write a dynamite short story using that as a title; I can already feel it starting to formulate, beneath the level of my conscious mind.

The Fraser River Grows from Small Beginnings



Photo left: (by dovidende) Rider beside giant cables. The Alex Fraser bridge, suspended from two giant H shaped supports, crosses the Fraser Estuary between New Westminster and North Delta.




Above: This small stream arising in the Northern Rockies becomes the mighty Fraser.

Crossing the broad estuary of the Fraser River on one of the several bridges here near its mouth, we rarely think of how it all began. But seeing the narrow stream in the northern Rockies less than thirty miles from the headwaters really made me think.

When a small force begins, and others join and flow in the same direction, power accumulates. From small beginnings great and wondrous things can grow.

Remembering hay and harvesting

Photo: Baled hay stands in a field near Viking, Alberta. Late August

A couple of days ago, I returned from a road trip to Alberta, with its mountains, foothills, wheatlands and badlands. Since then I've had some persistent pictures in my head.

The prairie sky, for instance, with constantly changing cloud formations moving across the wide horizon. The whisper of the grass as it blows in the prairie wind. The black-and-white magpies on the road, picking tidbits dropped by trucks hauling grain, saucily waiting till the last minute to raise lazy wings to avoid the oncoming car.

Shadows stealing across the golden ripe wheat that waves beneath alternating bands of blue sky and thick gray cloud.

And hay. The roll-shaped bales are as tall as a man, and weigh seventeen hundred pounds, nearly an imperial ton. Winter fodder for animals when the prairie is covered by blowing snow.

"I see just the one swather," says a farmer in the coffee shop. It's 6:30 am and several men in caps and plaid shirts are discussing a neighbour who is haying.

"Yeah, they're only using the one," says another. Long pause.

"We never talked to him last night, so I don't know if he baled on Saturday or not. It was too wet on Friday. Wonder if it's gonna rain."

"It's raining in Medicine Hat." Another long pause.

"We're lucky it hasn't froze yet. If it clears off..."

These leisurely voices, discussing the weather and the crops, were the sound track of my early childhood, and the memories are stored deep in my bones.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Familar Roads Also Reflect Change

Photo: The stockyard in Tofield where cattle are auctioned.

It's good to be home after spending the past two days on the road. Driving familiar highways is always interesting; the road is never twice the same. After getting from Viking to Kelowna in a single day, and managing a lunch rendezvous at Tim Horton's in Cochrane with friends travelling in the other direction, I promised myself I'd make the last leg of the journey quick and easy. I would take the Okanagan connector and the Coquahalla Highway.

But after a visit with another friend and good night's sleep , I couldn't resist the temptation to drive along the lake. The sky was gray and rain was threatening, but it didn't fall until Oliver and Osoyoos -- the semi-arid grape-growing places in the far south of the Okanagan.

"Sorry the weather is bad today," apologized the proprietor of the fruit stand where I stopped in Osoyoos.

"Not your fault," I assured her. In truth I was rather taken by the gray skies and wet roads of a place that is almost always sunny and hot. Cool weather is nice for driving too. I kept the windows closed and the car smelled like an orchard.

"Fill the car with Okanagan fruit and vegetables," said my husband, and I took him literally. Peaches, cherries, tomatoes, three kinds of cucumbers, four kinds of peppers, new potatoes. A watermelon, a cantaloupe, four kinds of plums. Elephant plums were new to me. "We only have one tree," the orchard woman said, so of course I had to try some.

After lunch in Osoyoos, with a brilliant view of the lake, I was soon pulling up the long hill out of town. The "Great Wall of Tires" is still there, a few kilometers west, I noted with satisfaction. This is a corral built entirely of discarded tires, except for the gates.

What have I forgotten? I wondered as I drove into Keremeos and started passing fruit stands again. I had everything, and lots of it, but I still got some onions, both red and white, and some Mackintosh and Sunrise apples too. After my last fruit stand stop, I flew on past Bromley Rock on the Similkameen River, a favourite family swimming hole from trips long past.

Driving the Hope Princeton Road is the price I choose to pay for the joy of driving through the South Okanagan to enjoy driving past the fruit on the trees and the grapes on the vines. I always start that journey with a rest and snack in Princeton, followed by lashings of coffee. My old road stop cafe, the Belaire, has had a face lift, including the menu, which now includes a delicious curried chicken soup, perfect for the chilly evening.

The first few miles out of Princeton are steep and full of saddlebacks and S curves. It was mid-afternoon when I drove past the burned skeletons of trees on the hillsides where the forest fire closed the road a couple of years ago. Through Manning Park, the road continued narrow and winding, though it now has wide clear sections and plenty of passing lanes.

All through Manning and Hope and into the Fraser Valley, the road was lashed with a relentless rain that splashed off the pavement in a way that made driving seem like navigating a cloud. So little could be seen; nothing was visible but enough roadway to drive on and some shadowy trees on either side.

The last miles seem the longest on a car trip. But the reward is wonderful: a safe arrival to greet family, cat and home after an absence that makes them all the more dear.