Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Over the Meadow and Through the Snow....

Ironically a winter memory comes to mind whenever I hear the opening lyric of Nat King Cole's "That Sunday That Summer". It begins...If I had to choose just one day, to live my whole life through…For me, it would surely be that snowy winter’s eve in 1977, when I was 15 years old.

That Saturday I planned to spend the evening at the home of my best friend who lived on the other side of town. I shoved my feet into my sorrels, shrugged into my duffle coat and looked out the kitchen window. Fluffy snowflakes as big as quarters floated down from the sky, settling gently onto the unblemished drifts that covered our backyard. 

On tiptoe, I rummaged through the front closet shelf and found what I needed.  With a scarf looped around my neck, my toque pulled firmly over my ears, and mitten cuffs tucked into my coat sleeves I was ready to face mother nature.

I stepped out of the house, filled my lungs with prickling winter air and headed towards my goal at a brisk pace.  Along the hard pack on the roadside, snow squeaked in protest with each crenelated boot print I left in my wake.  The surrounding neighbourhood was silent and few cars drove past.  As I neared the bright and noisy downtown, I realized I didn’t want to spoil the peace and quiet. I decided to detour across the railway lines that ran parallel to Front Street. On the other side of the tracks lay a large open area, a little bigger than a football field. Beyond that, a gentle slope led to a smattering of houses, one of which belonged to my friend.

I crossed the tracks and slipped into the darkness, my breath fogging the air in front of me. Guided by moonlight, I wadded ankle deep through the white expanse. All was quiet save the swish of loose powder around my ankles and the crunch of my boots compressing the snow beneath me. I alternated between feeling the frosty air on my face, to snuggling my cheeks and chin into my scarf where my warm breath formed and then melt tiny crystals in the damp wool.

When I came to the middle of the field, I stopped and took off  my mittens.  My heated hands welcomed the cool air while I closed my eyes and turned my face heavenward. Thick flakes melted on my cheeks and tickled my eyelashes. I couldn’t resist and opened my mouth, chasing snowflakes onto my tongue. Over my shoulder I could see the narrow trail I had made, leading back into the darkness. It was the only thing marring the pristine swath of white behind me and I felt like I was the only one on earth. A feeling of immense joy and serenity  seeped into my soul. I continued on, a smile on my face and warmth in my heart.

All too soon I was standing in front of Cindy’s door. I looked down at my jeans, now true bell bottoms, stiff with the snow that had first melted, then froze along the trek. Heat radiated out the neck of my coat as I began unraveling my scarf. I raised my hand to knock, and hesitated, fearing my rapping knuckles would break the spell. Catching sight of my rosy cheeked reflection in the window, I smiled. There was still the walk back home.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Froggie Courtin'

I stepped through the doorway of the log cabin we were renting in beautiful Belleisle Bay, New Brunswick. I wiggled into dew dampened sneakers that had spent the night on the deck. Hitching my camera over my shoulder, I grabbed my travel mug off the railing and walked into the bush, following a well worn path through the crowd of ferns. Silver clouds blocked the sun and the patter of rainfall surrounded me. Looking more closely into the glossy green forest revealed the source was not rain falling, but condensed fog cascading from leaf to leaf. I remained gratefully dry other than my sneakers, which were now quite saturated with the morning dew.

As I approached the pond I was thrilled to see it calm and blanketed by mist. It was literally picture perfect, but I worried the fog wouldn't show in the photos. The morning before, I had taken some shots with my small digital camera and from what I could see on the screen, the fog was invisible. I eased myself into a weathered Adirondack chair on the sandy shore and sipped my coffee, content within the peaceful scene. I was fascinated and mesmerized by the action on the pond’s surface. Even though a climatology course had taught me the scientific explanation for fog, I was still drawn into the illusion that it was a separate entity skimming across the smooth water. The wind forced the mist in front of it, pushing it around the pond in whispy vapours that swirled and skated across the glassy surface like a swarm of ghosts, all joined in a rousing game of crack the whip in the frosty hereafter. Silly old wind, trying with all his might to blow it all away. Whether an overcoat, or a coat of mist, the sun would win once more.

Suddenly, a loud, drawn out breeee-DEEEEP echoed across the stillness. A moment later the response came from my side of the pond; a brief and comical boy-yoing! as though a bass guitar string had let go under the strain of someone slowly winding, winding… it’s almost right …but… snap! ....oops, too much. A few minutes later it sounded again - breee-DEEEEP … two…three…four… boy-yoing! I continued to sip and stare at the dancing fog, hypnotic as a campfire. The frogs carried on with their mating song. It wasn’t a constant tune, more of a call and response, an occasional "You there?" followed by "yup!".
A couple of canoes and two small kayaks lay bottoms up on the beach. I flipped the yellow kayak upright, retrieved a paddle from a nearby shack, hung my camera carefully around my neck and launched myself onto the water. The surface was so still and perfectly reflective, I hated the thought of marring the pristine glass with my tiny wake. Yet it had its own beauty too; silky, undulating waves, fracturing and gently warping the reflections, sending its ever shrinking echoes across the pond.

My goal was to find “King Henry” as I had named him.. My image of Henry the Eighth did not jive at all with “The Tudors” TV lead, all buff and attractive. Some painting in my memory showed a more bloated version dressed in a brown spotted tunic with pleated sleeves and a russet cape. I inched my way slowly and carefully, camera at the ready, paddle angling in the drink, trying to slow the boat's progress and not disturb anything. I spied his Lordship ensconced comfortably at the edge of the pond surrounded by grasses and half submerged, all round and large and brown and glistening. His supple chin bubbled in and out as he blinked lazily at me, his gaze filled with distain. I tried to slow the boat's momentum without startling him, reading my camera, slowly getting closer..... closer.... now? no, not yet, closer....closer...not....doh! Too close! He dove quickly under water. Chastising myself for missing a great shot, I decided I'd be less stingy with my next attempts and crossed the pond to see if I could find Miss Boleyn.I found the photography much more satisfying on the other side and took extra shots in the effort to keep from missing a good one. These frogs were mostly green and typically, frog looking where as Henry was more brown and spotted, appearing very much like the bloated lord and master that I had recalled. I decided to do a little frog canvas and slowly paddled around the pond. I thought I might come up with 17 altogether, but as it turned out there was 24 at my count. King Henry had many options it seemed and in the froggy world, I would imagined he would be something to lose your head over.

Across from the beach I snuck up on one beautiful specimen who looked as though he'd been plated in brass. After capturing a good shot I turned back towards the last spot I had seen his Lordship. I discovered I only had one picture left and thought I’d try one more time. I looked towards the beach, surprised to see that my husband had arrived on little cat feet, sitting quietly in the chair beside the one I had occupied earlier.

"You're very stealthy." I called out, feeling a welcome rush of pleasure that he was there, yet somewhat embarrassed to be observed with my guard down.

"Well, you looked like you were being very stealthy yourself." he called back.

All thoughts of photographing King Henry left my mind. My kayak turned toward the beach drawn by an undeniable force of nature. I dipped my paddle in the water once more and set out for the shore, intent on capturing my own frog prince.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sun-Oka Beach

At the south end of Summerland, across the highway from the Ornamental Gardens, you’ll find a Provincial Park with a beach that Mike and I have claimed as our favourite. Despite this fact, it’s the first time we’ve visited Sun-Oka Provincial Park since we stumbled up on it two years ago. There is something very appealing about this family beach that keeps it in my mind despite the fact that it's a good 45 minute drive away. Sarson beach, Gyro, Rotary and Strathcona are all within ten minutes of our house but I think that can be a disadvantage in a way. You sit on the beach for a few minutes then run into the water to cool down. If it’s a bit too hot or crowded, it’s easy to take off back home again where all those chores await, rather than letting your impatient brain wind down until those splashing kids are amusing rather than annoying and if you wait just a bit longer, perhaps a you can grab a shady spot when another group leaves.

It ended up taking us an hour to get to our destination on Sunday, mostly due to the fact that we came to a long stretch through the construction zone where people had slowed down to a snail’s pace. At one point were driving 10 km/hr. Not because there was ongoing construction, but because there was a 50 foot section of gravel that had everyone fearful of rock chips I guess. The heat had render us rather disorganized earlier on in the day, so the red light on the dash had me in a bit of a panic as we crawled along with no knowledge of how long this woul
d last. After the stop for gas, we visited a fruit stand where ripe apricots bowed the tree branches and tumbled down the hillside, into the parking lot. We bought some sweet cherries to munch on at the beach and I purchased my first field tomatoes of the season.

When we finally arrived, I was disappointed to see how full the parking lot was. Between the lot and the beach a crowded green and shady area was filled with families sitting on picnic tables and blankets, rummaging in coolers and giant potato chip bags, looking cool and contented. Our parking spot was near the busy entrance so we lugged our chairs, beach bags, camera and cooler towards the far end of the beach. Despite the initial crowded appearance, it was easy to find a spot on the sand, but still under the shade of a tree. People were far enough away that we couldn’t easily hear their conversations.

I sat in my chair reading my book without much focus, observing the bobbing children and ducks, breathing in the smell of wet sand and sunscreen while I tried to figure out how someone so determined to avoid crowds had been drawn to this popular spot. Perhaps it was the cozy comfort I felt while looking out at the water, contemplating the stunning view down the lake towards Penticton. 

To the east a sandy point curves out into the lake. Behind you trees shelter you from the highway noise and to the west the waterfront curves around to where the highway hugs tall bluffs. I feel Mother earth envelop me in a protective hug as tension unspools between my shoulder blades.  I fight my natural tendencies to analyze everything. It’s time to just be.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wind vs Sun

The wind blew through here like mad yesterday. It knocked our power out for a few hours and spread pine leaves and loose branches everywhere. Castanet says there were 70 incidents reported in a two hour period - trees fell on houses, cars and electrical lines. Two fires started by fallen wires were quickly put out up the hill from us. There was a deluge of rain, which I think helped dampen the fires. The Terrace fire is now 50% contained and some of the evacuated have been allowed back.

This afternoon we will drive past the scorched earth of Glenrosa for the first time since the fires and I wonder how that will feel. We'll head down to what we call our favourite beach despite the fact we've only been to once. It's in a Provincial Park called Sun-Oka just south of Summerland. We stumbled upon it two years ago and fell in love. Used mostly by the people camping in their trailers in the park, I think Sunday afternoons are fairly quiet on the beach. It's just a little too far to pop down to for a couple of hours, so we have to make a concerted effort to go. Today we are.
Ribs are marinating in lemon, oregano, olive oil and garlic as I type and I will barbecue them shortly as part of our dinner picnic. Hennie's famous potato salad is also in progress...with new red potatoes, green apples and green onions, sweet Vidalia onions, crunchy celery, and feathery dill. We'll stop at the side of the road for some fresh cherries, peaches and tomatoes along the way.

I'm looking forward to sitting on the beach, reading my book. I will wear by bathing suit (but NOT my bikini!) and remove my cover up at least. I may even end up putting a toe in the water... or not, time will tell. Relaxation is difficult for me to achieve some times but I recall it wasn't a problem on our last visit and I was able to keep myself from checking my watch for more than an hour. If I get restless I can always walk up and down the beach and take some photos. Pop by in a day or two and see what I saw...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Now and Zen

I’m wilting on the steps of Kelowna’s Rotary Centre for the Arts, in the heat of a cloudless July afternoon. My thoughts turn north towards Tugboat Beach …yes, that’s what I need, the beach where’s there’s water and cool breezes and a lounge chair with my name on it. Where there’s people…lots and lots of people. And children, noisy children… and girls in bikinis….flaunting bodies that have yet to succumb to the affects of gravity and childbirth. Ah… the beach. I do not need the beach. My mind and body do a quick 180 (surprisingly quick in this sluggish heat) pointing me in the direction of what I truly need….the tranquility and peace of Kasugai Gardens.

At the south end of the Cultural District, on the shady east side of City Hall, weathered pine doors are propped open, welcoming me into a beautifully tended sanctuary named for Kelowna’s Japanese sister city. Even as I step through the doorway of Kasugai Gardens, the din of the busy transit centre on the Queensway is muffled to dull background noise and I’m struck by contrasting sights and textures integral to traditional Japanese gardening. Pathways of crushed stone draw me past beds of pale pachysandra, into mini forests in shady corners, and around lush tama-mono pruned in a way that puts me in mind of a green mogul field.

A traditional Japanese bridge crosses the reflecting pond in a graceful curve. This is the garden’s centerpiece where spotted koi nibble on lily pads, jostling waxy pink blossoms. Through a veil of weeping birch leaves I spy a small turtle basking in the sunlight, while three crows strut along the river rock on the opposite shore.

Benches are scattered throughout in both public and secluded areas. Seating myself in a shady spot, I feel the tension drain away. Once the mental distractions are gone, I soon discover that peaceful does not mean without sound. Water spills from a bamboo spout and splashes into a shallow basin near the garden entrance while gentle birdsong wafts through the air. From under a bridge at the back of the garden, water rushes over large stones into the reflecting pond. Human generated noise is minimal as most people seem to arrive on their own, and those in pairs or groups speak in hushed tones, instinctively protecting the serenity.

With a sigh I wiggle my feet out of my sandals, close my eyes and take a deep breath. My nose is filled with the scents of green plants, damp earth and sunshine and I feel more carefree with each passing moment. A little more time in this sanctuary and I may even visit the beach this afternoon, sporting my vacation bikini. Who knows, I might even dare to remove the cover-up.