This post is a sort of a collage: at first glance, the photos appear to have nothing to do with the substance of the text, but in fact they have everything to do with it. As you know, if you follow my blog, my father has been confined to a hospital bed for the past four months after suffering a major stroke following heart surgery. I live 500 kilometres away, and I’ve driven the length of Highway 3 from Greenwood to Hope, and then the Trans Canada to North Vancouver, several times over those four months to be with him and with my Mum. Here are some photos taken from the car, my dear husband at the wheel, on our latest trip to the coast about ten days ago. In between photos, I want to tell you a bit about my Dad, particularly the incredible grace and courage with which he has accepted his new reality. Those of you who travel this highway regularly will know where these shots are taken: I want to talk about Dad, not about the scenery, so I’m not going to enlighten the rest of you about landscape locations, not in this post anyway.
Most recently I spent two of the last three weeks on the coast, over two different visits, helping with the seemingly endless tasks to do with my father’s continuing stay on the neurology ward at the local hospital and his sudden move to hospice last weekend. As with every other visit over the past three months since his heart surgery and stroke, this one was, of course, coloured by sadness at his lot (not that I need to be with him to feel this sadness, of course). Mostly I don’t allow myself to think about the cruel turn of fate that has landed him where he is, because I’m afraid that if I let myself look at it squarely I’ll be entirely overcome. But these visits, as with most of the others, have had many moments of light and laughter and insight and powerful connection between us and I’m deeply grateful that this same turn of fate has given us the opportunity to spend hours in long, intense, deeply meaningful conversation, having the kind of talk that we’ve rarely had occasion for in the past.
One day a couple of weeks ago I finally worked up the courage to ask him how he sees his life now: imagine my amazement when he told me that he was a happy man. Or that he would be if only a few procedures he endures every day weren’t part of his life. We got to the bottom of those and talked them through, and the upshot is that we, his family, directed the hospital to stop those procedures in order to improve his quality of life. It is hard for us civilians (people outside the medical system) to remember that we have the legal right to refuse treatment. And for someone in my father’s position, where recovery is not an option, it’s important to remind the medical folks, much as we respect and are grateful to them, that they don’t necessarily know what’s best for the whole person, the person for whom a medical condition is just one aspect of life. It seemed to me that we owed it to my father to eliminate as much as we could of the qualifications and exceptions to his happiness, and we’ve done our best. As of today, he may be beyond the ability to assess his own quality of mind and mood, so I’m going to refer to his happiness in the past tense: he may still be happy, in whatever state of consciousness he’s in, but I will speak only about the time in which I knew he was indeed happy.
Think of it: then, as now, he was paralyzed completely on one side, unable to move without assistance, unable to perform for himself any of the ordinary tasks that we take for granted day in and day out. And yet, he was happy. In contemplating this huge statement of acceptance and even pleasure in such a physically limited life, I feel as if I’m gazing into the heart of a great mystery. I have always been aware of the power of my father’s character and his integrity, as well as his ability to accept life as it comes and to see the positive in whatever life throws at him or at the people he loves. But Dad has also been someone who is accustomed to being in positions of authority, directing not only his own life but those of many other people, including the teachers and children under his care when he was a principal and an assistant school district superintendent and when sitting on the many boards and committees he belonged to over a long life of service. Since his stroke, by contrast, he’s had to hand over to others all control over the most personal aspects of his own life, mostly to strangers. But for him, that was okay. He had, he told me that day a few weeks ago, long since given up any attempt to hang on to his dignity: he’d let it go, and he was fine with that.
I think that what he has most valued, both before his stroke and after, is human connection, starting with his close relationships with my Mum and my sister and me, but extending through all the rest of his family, particularly his brothers, his brother-in-law and sisters-in-law, his sons-in-law, his grandchildren, his grand-daughter-in-law, his nieces, and his first great-grandchild. And then there are his friendships, some stretching back many decades, even as far as his boyhood. And the many, many friends he’s made through his working life and his church life. And the generations of children whose lives he touched both personally and by making changes in schools that made their lives better. When Mum and I asked him the following day how he would describe his personality, the first thing he said was “people-oriented.” And I think that people have, indeed, been the overwhelming focus of his life. In that sense, the stroke changed nothing.
That day a couple of weeks ago, my mother and I (my sister couldn’t be with us—how I wish she could have been, and I know she wishes it too) spent hours at Dad’s bedside, talking with him about his personality and his life and the things that he’s most enjoyed. We roamed with him through eight decades of memories and experiences, good and bad, reminding one another of parts of his history and his interests, remembering things that even Dad himself had forgotten. The upshot was that I was reminded, again, what a rich life he has had, and how much of that richness is due to his own curiosity and compassion and his energetic and generous impulse to connect with others. A couple of months ago, my uncle, my Dad’s youngest brother, used the word “remarkable” to describe my father. During one of my phone calls home recently to check in with my dear husband, dh used exactly the same word for Dad, specifically when we were talking about the fact that Dad described himself as happy, despite everything.
My sister and I are proud daughters. He’s a lot to live up to. We do our best and are grateful for the example he’s set all our lives. How I wish he could travel this highway again, Mum at his side, to visit us and our animals and our beautiful corner of the world, a place he loved to be.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may have noticed that it’s been months since you've seen anything of my quilts or my studio or much of anything about art. Since my father’s open-heart surgery on July 15th, closely followed by a massive stroke a few days later, much of my attention and energy has been focussed on him and on my family’s attempts to navigate the health care system and hospital bureaucracies. And when I haven’t been doing that I’ve been either trying to do my day job or in the throes of or recovering from health problems of my own. The last quarter year has been one of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced, and I think the same could be said for all of us who care about my dad.
This past week, I decided I wanted to look forward. Writing blog posts and creating and editing photographs for them has been just about my only creative outlet during this time, and for that reason this little corner of the blogosphere has become even more important to me than it used to be. The fact that you are out there reading my posts helps me feel connected to the rest of the world and is enormously comforting and encouraging. Whether you’ve visited once or twice or have read every post since I started two and a half years ago, I thank you for joining me here. And if you’ve actually given me some feedback, either in person or by email or by leaving a comment, I’m ten times as grateful.
So blogging has been my way of “making’” for the past few months. But if I put my mind to it, I can come up with other ways that things have been made here at home over the past few months.
As the foliage falls from the trees, the evidence of avian making has been revealed in the yard. I spotted nests in the lilac beside the front porch and in one of the Siberian cherries beside my studio. We see birds around the yard all spring, of course, but it’s beguiling that they make their homes in the midst of our lives and we’re totally unaware of those homes until months later, when the concealing leaves have fallen and when the babies are all grown and flown.
And when my dear husband saw me photographing those nests, he pointed out another one that I’ve been walking past day after day on my walks and had never noticed. It's perched on a peg on the woodshed from which dh hangs the chokers he uses for logging.
And across the driveway I found another one, tucked under the roof of one of our disintegrating sheds.
Aren’t birds amazing? I wish I knew enough about nests to be able to identify which species made these little homes but your guess is as good as mine.
But here’s a nest I CAN identify, because when I spotted it last spring, the parents were hard at work feeding babies. The nest is in the other lilac, the one on the other side of the porch. And these parents, cedar waxwings, aren’t what you’d call shy and retiring when it comes to their appearance. Put that gorgeous breast and tail plumage together with the crest at the back of the head and you’ve got one stunning bird. Or rather two, in this case. (But only one in the photo.) This first shot shows how close the nest is to the house; the second showcases the bird.
As for dh, he spent the last few days of summer building these folding doors for his new shop, and I helped him hang them on the very last day of my summer vacation.
We had spent quite a few evenings at the kitchen table scratching out designs for these doors and discussing ways to solve technical problems posed by having such a wide space to bridge between the centre post and the two corner posts. Dh is pretty proud of how well our efforts turned out and I think he should be. He does well with the figure-it-out-as-you-go school of making things, while I’m more of a have-it-all-worked-out-before-you-start kind of person. Sure, I’ll innovate and follow crazy ideas when I’m making a quilt, but something structural? something involving wood and hardware that can’t be fixed with a seam ripper and a sewing machine? Not so much.
Here’s the other thing dh has been making recently (since last spring). It doesn’t look like much, does it? In fact, it’s beer.
Perhaps one might call it a nano brewery, orders of magnitude smaller than a micro brewery. You can see that dh uses a repurposed beer keg as his brewing pot, and a tiger torch hooked up to a propane tank as his heat source. I think this is a pretty elegant setup in its simplicity and frugality. The beer that emerges at the other end of the process is finally (after many sub-standard batches) reaching the quality that dh has been aiming for: a rich, hoppy, not too sweet or fizzy beer, something like a Guinness but not as viscous. Not being much of a beer drinker (or a drinker of anything alcoholic for that matter), I have only a loving wife’s interest in this project, but I admire the DIY initiative behind it and can applaud dh’s success when a batch turns out well.
As for me, I haven’t sewn a stitch, on a quilt at least, since early August. I have sewn belt loops on fishing waders, patches on a fishing vest, and webbing on a fishing fanny pack. Guess who was going steelhead fishing? As it turned out, my dh got only two weeks of fishing in northern BC this year, not the month he’d planned on. He came home early, bless him, to spring me from hospital and help me recuperate. You perhaps don’t remember that this is what I was working on when last you saw anything of my design wall.
This is the fiddliest and most complicated piecing I’ve ever done, and I have no one to blame but myself. I dreamt it up, and the detailed and complex piecing is necessary if this piece is going to match the vision I had in my head when I began. As you can see below, each of the curved seams requires a multitude of pins in order to keep everything lined up properly. I feel that the jury is out on whether this design is actually going to work. If it doesn’t, oh well. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve certainly pushed a long way outside my comfort zone, which I suppose makes it a success of sorts no matter the end result.
Today, however, I took it down off the design wall. This piece had occupied that real estate for so long (four months) that it was starting to feel like a permanent fixture and every time I looked at it I felt more blocked than the time before. Much of the design is sewn, so it was a matter only of half an hour or so to take down each sewn section and pin it in place on a sheet so that the composition would be preserved. Now it’s all rolled up in its sheet and the design wall, free for fifteen minutes or so of any quilt in progress, is now sporting another project, one that has been incubating for a long time. Years, in fact. Somehow something has shifted in my brain and I think I know what step to take next. I’ll keep you posted.
How lovely it is to be back at work in my studio, even though the sewing machine is still silent.
On Friday I had an appointment with my dental hygienist over in Osoyoos, and my dh drove me so that we could make a day of it in the Okanagan. The orchards and vineyards are at their peak of glorious autumn colour right now: we kept telling each other we were driving through painting after painting. If only a person had the leisure to stop and paint each one of these vistas: dh took his painting gear but as it happened, we didn’t have time for him to set up and produce a plein air landscape. And I didn’t get the little point-and-shoot camera out of its velvet bag until we were north of Penticton, making our way up the east side of the lake to Naramata on the old, winding, narrow road. We stretched our legs in the lakeside park in the old centre of town.
It was a lovely light, but a cold breeze off the lake discouraged hanging around taking pictures.
Finally, here is another of those equine dances where the horses seem to arrange themselves specifically to allow themselves to be photographed. The dogs and I were coming back from the pond after one of our walks recently when I suddenly spotted Oscar standing amidst a grove of fir and pines.
It’s unusual to see one of the horses on its own, but I couldn’t see any of the others until I’d taken a few more steps. Then the profile of Tuffy’s front quarters appeared in the distance.
And Ivy, who in the photo above is a dim light shape above Oscar’s back, ambled forward to check us out. Or perhaps just to check out Django. Isn’t it cool, the way the horses lined themselves up in alternately facing profiles, one behind the other? Java must have been there somewhere, but I didn’t see him.
Clever horses, to make themselves so photogenic.
And a last few moments of looking back at summer. These bizarre shapes are seed pods of the dogwood in Dad’s garden, after the flowers have bloomed and the petals withered and dropped.
And this one is a random shot of tuberous begonias, one of the stars of the garden. I love the way the waxy, translucent stems glow when backlit by the sun.
And here's one more more work of art, made by one of my least favourite creatures, whose skill I can’t help but admire. I treat spiders with respect and kindness, but I’ll never warm to them.
if you’re a creative person, I hope that you are getting lots of opportunities to scratch the itch to create.
Perhaps you think that by now I ought to have autumn colour out of my system. But this past week the colours that I’d already thought pretty intense became even more saturated and dramatic. I don’t expect we’ll have this colour a week from now, so a couple of days ago I took the opportunity to scout out more of it on our property. I began even before breakfast after catching sight of the light streaming into the yard from the east. After firing off a couple of shots with the camera, the dogs appeared. They are both enjoying the windfall apples they find under our two apple trees. Sass treats an apple as a fun-filled toy, picking it up in her mouth and worrying at it, tossing it up in the air, and looking amazed when it lands near her. She's slowing down now, being twelve years old, but something about apples brings out her inner puppy.
Here she’s gearing up for the toss . . .
and can you see the airborne apple she’s looking at in the shot below?
Django is more pragmatic. He believes apples are for eating, pure and simple. He’s a pretty ferocious sight when he’s in mid-crunch.
But here is the day’s main event: the spectacular larches I encountered on my morning walk with the dogs.
At this time of year, they look likw the essence of sunlight, which I suppose is what larches—like all other plant matter—really are: as a result of the miracle of photosynthesis, sunlight turns into trees. The larches at this time of the year simply remind me of that fact.
As for other glowing things, check out this lichen on a favourite old stump. The squirrels have been busy collecting seeds from the cones they liberate from the tree branches above the stump.
The morning light poured through the trees as Django and I made our way up the trail (Sass had declined to accompany us this time).
This strawberry runner also seems to glow, its colour is so intense.
We had a few cold days last week, cold enough to leave shards of ice on the surface of the pond.
As we came across the field, I could dimly see horses under the trees. Ivy was easy to spot, as was Java, silhouetted against her white coat.
Actually her coat was blue rather than white: like the ice in the pond, she dramatically reflected that intense blue sky overhead. At this distance, vague outlines of the other horses began to emerge.
And there they are, finally revealed once I was close enough to them that the light from grasses in the field didn’t throw them into deep shadow by contrast. Oscar is on the left, and you can just see Tuffy’s nose behind Ivy’s rump.
I'm glad I took advantage of that brilliant clear weather, because now the rain is back, giving photography a misty and mysterious quality in contrast to the crisp definition of the bright, clear days above.
The rogue cherry trees beside the fence make a huge punch of colour at the moment, my reward for standing at the sink doing the dishes, since I can look out the kitchen window and feast my eyes on this.
And on a sunny day? The same trees (really bushes, since they never get very high), backlit by the sun, give me another, equally beautifully, version of the same view.
I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with all this photographic evidence of how autumn is advancing here at home. I’m mindful that after the next big storm, we’ll lose most of this loveliness, and it will be months before we have more colour than blue sky to contemplate. I hope you’ve had the chance to stop and enjoy the ways that autumn has touched your own home landscape.
Once again, I’ve missed a post: what a lot of regular Monday posts I’ve dropped over the past few months! Admittedly, however, these have not been normal times. And the past two weeks have thrown me yet another curve ball, in the form of sudden illness that landed me in hospital for five days. I’ve been home for a week and am gradually feeling better and therefore feel I have much to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Monday. I started a bit of a mental gratitude list last week as I sipped my morning tea in bed (brought to me by my dh) and I came up with dozens and dozens of things I’m grateful for, big things and small, before I just had to get up and get some breakfast because I was so hungry. (Right now, hunger is itself something to be grateful for: hospital food tends to diminish one’s interest in eating, as do illness and some prescription drugs.)
In the midst of uncertainty and apprehension, it’s been a tonic to watch the autumn unfold here at home. One day last week, the dogs and I headed out for our usually daily walk through the fields and forest on our place. It was a beautiful day, muted and grey, quiet and still, and I snagged my camera on the way out the door.
The impulse to grab the camera came from what I could see as I stepped off the porch, flames and smoke up in the barnyard. Fortunately, I knew exactly what was going on: as a result of his fencing project during the summer, my dear husband took down a number of trees, which left a lot of tops and branches after the logs were skidded and trucked out. He had a lot of debris left from fence rails too. He’d stacked up all this woody matter in burn piles and this was the perfect day to fire the piles because it had rained for a day or two earlier (meaning that the fires wouldn’t spread but were still dry enough to burn). The flames made a spectacular, vivid image on this dark morning.
This small pile had the appearance of a cheery campfire.
I took a lot more photos of the flaming piles but decided to delete them from the camera. I used to enjoy this part of the annual cycle, eagerly helping to reshape piles to make sure they burned completely. But since last August, when my dh’s son and his family came unbelievably close to losing their house to a forest fire and when the subsequent week was filled with anxiety of waiting and watching as the fire crept closer to our home place, my enthusiasm for pyrotechnics on any scale larger than a campfire has disappeared. Have a look here, here, and here, if you want to see what that week was like. I’ve seen too much now of fire’s unwelcome effects, and those effects on family, friends, and acquaintances are still apparent a year later. Kids in my high school lost their homes, their parents and sometimes their teachers have struggled to restore their lives to something approaching normalcy, and even those who had insurance (house insurance isn’t common here, given that most of us live a long way from the volunteer fire halls we rely on for fire-fighting), have had their lives overturned.
So I turned my attention to less dramatic subjects, such as Oscar below us in the field, framed by trees, with Ivy just visible to the left of the pine branches. The blue of the smoke intensified the misty atmosphere of cloud hanging in the valley. You can see, too, that the neighbours have turned cows out into the field across the road.
Not flames, but certainly bright and dramatic, these larches shone against the blue haze.
I love the ghost trees just barely visible through the cloud in this shot. It seemed as if the clouds were rising out of the trees themselves and drifting slowly up to the ridge.
Over by the creek, where the standing timber is dense and reaches in spindly fashion to the light above, the large branches look like yellow arrows amidst the dark trunks.
Down at ground level, the light was murky. The dogs led the way through the woods.
As I walked I kept an eye out for small compositions on the forest floor. I included the toe of my boot in the photo of the new carpet of yellow pine needles to give a sense of the graceful length of these needles.
As we came out of the woods by the creek, I was struck by this solitary larch against the deep green of its Douglas fir companion.
Sass made her way to the pond for a drink.
We could really use more rain to bring up the water level in the pond, but to have this much water available for horses and wildlife at this time of the year is wonderful. As you can see by the churned-up mud at the water’s edge, the horses have been making good use of it. We often see signs of deer and coyotes having used it too, and every now and again we surprise a few ducks making themselves at home on the water.
The colours of the grasses in the field are entrancing right now. In my last post, I mentioned that the beauties of the individual grasses deserve their own post, and they certainly do. But what struck me this day was the effect of the massed grasses, in all their variety and subtle variations of colour.
The colour of the grasses changes enormously depending on the light and on the direction in which I point the camera. These next two were taken in virtually the same spot, but with the camera pointed in different directions.
Yes, all the horses are accounted for: in order, from right to left, are Oscar, Ivy, and Tuff, and Java is pretending to be a tree trunk underneath the pine on the far left. A different shot from the gate shows how they arranged themselves. They’ve been keeping the flat, irrigated part of the field well shorn. Sass is at times just a small black blob as she trots through grasses as tall as she is.
I wish you could see the effect of even a slight breeze on the hues and movement of the grass. It’s like surf: mesmerizing.
I noticed that the house wrens used this birdhouse out in the field this year: in the past, it’s been home to bluebirds, swallows, and starlings. Thanks again, Judy, for alerting me to the fact that house wrens stuff a birdhouse to the brim with twigs, using a small space at the back for their nest.
And finally, one last shot summing up the glory of the day, particularly the tranquil mood. This ridge rises behind the house, and at this time of year I love the lines of aspen and larch that stripe its flanks.
So you see, despite my father’s continuing post-stroke difficulties, and despite ups and downs with my own health, I have much to be thankful for. A loving spouse and family are top of the list, but it’s a very long list, and I try to remember to be thankful for, amongst all the other blessings in my life, the lovely things, vast and small, I see on my walks.
I hope that you too have much to be thankful for this year.
I don’t know what’s the matter with me.
Okay, that was just throat-clearing. I do know what’s wrong with me. After an intensely stressful but absorbing couple of months due to my Dad’s health crises, I’m back at home (for the moment at least) because he’s more or less stable and I had to go back to work. After being so focussed on him for so long, I don’t quite know what to do with myself as I try to re-adjust to normal life. I still think about him hourly, mulling over the current clutch of challenges he’s facing, trying to come up with some solutions, but I’m also trying to get some perspective, trying to remind myself that I have a life separate from my parents’ lives.
And because I’m home, I’m also no longer in the intense worlds of hospitals and the city, both of which I enjoyed (despite the horribleness my Dad has been going through), due to the intelligent and interesting and almost invariably kind and generous and thoughtful people I met there. And the whole medical system I find both bizarre and fascinating as I try to figure out how things work. And the city itself is stimulating and exciting because I’ve lived away from it now for a decade and a half and I’ve grown used to a much slower pace and smaller range of distractions.
At home, I have animals. And peace and quiet. And many, many acres of our own woods and pastures with which to reacquaint myself. So that’s what I’ve been doing, readjusting my rhythms and my focus to the small, quiet things, trying to be present and pay attention. (Yes, I’ve been meditating, so mindfulness is high on my list of priorities.)
After weeks of being aware of the deepening beauty of Vancouver and North Vancouver as summer merges with autumn, I’m letting go of my wistfulness at leaving the ocean and mountains and the incredible variety of scenery. Instead, I’m turning my attention to the comparatively nondescript landscape of home.
When I went out for a walk with the dogs yesterday morning, I set myself a challenge. I took my camera, with the thought that I would try to shift my focus to the small things. You may recall that I did this months ago (you can see those posts here and here) and decided to try it again yesterday. And what follows is what I found.
I have a particular fondness for plants with blue-green foliage, like this little specimen growing in the driveway between the house and the barnyard. I have no idea what it is, but I admire its texture and colour.
Here’s another one, a little less blue, but with a broad lobe at the toward the end of the leaf that ends in a crisp, curved point that I find charming. It looks a little like the invasive weed hoary alyssum, which I’ve been removing from this ranch for the past decade, but it’s a different plant. I have no idea what it is, though, any more than the one above.
And here’s another blue-green specimen, a juniper with a good show of berries.
One of the things I love about roaming the fields and woods at this time of the year is that the spent and drying plants that flowered earlier in the season reveal such beauty in their golden tones and the feathery perfection of the leftover flower structures. This one is pearly everlasting, a plant I knew well as a child summering in the Gulf Islands. It has a wonderful name, don’t you think?
And the sweet clover in the meadow also has a feathery quality to its tiny, delicate remnants of blossom.
And all the grasses have their own allure. As I walked, I decided that I would leave the bulk of the grasses for another time, since in their variety of colour and habit they deserve more attention than I wanted to give them today.
We don’t get the rich autumnal reds and oranges of the eastern side of the continent here, not in the leaves of native trees. But they do appear, every now and again, in tiny splashes of colour on the forest floor. This one is St. John’s Wort, which I confess I don’t remember ever having seen turn this vibrant red.
And have you ever seen a strawberry leaf this colour? Wild strawberries grow all over our land.
Other shots of red shine out of dim corners of the forest: Oregon grape, some vacciniums, some of the snowberry leaves, and something I don’t recognize that has an unusual magenta tint. That deep pink really shouts out because of the rich huge of the wintergreen foliage around it.
Almost nothing is in bloom now, but I did find this solitary clover blossom in the shade of the pines, the dew still clinging to its petals. Don’t you love those little spikes of orange and rust among the acid greens of the moss under the clover?
And over at the pond I found a few daisies, the last blooms mingling with the desiccated petals of earlier blooms and the dried seed heads of blooms that faded even earlier in the summer. To me, a patch like this is far more interesting at this time of the year than in the spring and summer, precisely because of this range of specimens across the stages of each flower’s life.
The deciduous trees and bushes in our woods have, of course, begun to change colour, but the changes are less intense here than in other regions. I love the dew pooling on this one.
And Sass seems to be taking note of this larch twig, which probably parted company from its parent tree in the windstorm we had a few days ago. You can see that the needles have turned from deep coniferous green to acid green and yellow and soon they'll drop off the branch entirely.
I enjoy the huge variety in the ways the autumn leaves begin to deteriorate: each has its own pattern of damage and variegation, quite different from the uniformity and perfection of the early leaves in the spring.
This birch caught my eye because of the contrast between the black strands of witches’ hair amidst the glowing gold of the leaves.
Over by the pond, I found the remains of the lupine patch, the seed pods of which have turned a velvety silver. You can see the shapes of the seeds inside the pods. Don’t the pods look like caterpillars? or cocoons? What a peculiar plant.
As well as all this plant life, I found a few other interesting things, such as the entrance to someone’s home, at the base of a tree. I’d love to know who lives there.
And I like the way the sun fills the clearing at the top of this slope: it looked so inviting that the dogs and I actually went that way yesterday.
And can you see how nicely my dear husband’s skid trails are greening up, now that we’ve had some rain? He always seeds down the skid trails and landings after he finishes logging, and it’s amazing how much the grass turns what looks like a raw scar into something much more natural-looking. I love Django’s helicopter ears in this photo.
I have lots more to show you, but I think that’s enough for one post, don’t you? Thanks for coming along on this walk with me and the dogs. I wish everyone had a bit of woods and field to walk in every day: I think the world would be a better place for it. I try always to be mindful of and grateful for the fact that all this beauty not only lies right outside our front door but also belongs to us. We don’t even have to share it with the bank, since we paid off the mortgage last spring. You can’t smell the fresh air, laced with the scent of trees and dying leaves and drying grasses, or feel the breeze on your face, or hear the birds, but you can still share the visual experience of this walk. And I’d like to think that seeing these images might give you a bit of a break from your day,. Happy equinox.
Three weeks since my last post! Gulp. That’s the longest stretch ever, and it’s a reflection of just how intense life has been over those weeks. As well as travelling through the twists and turns of my father’s continuing post-stroke journey, I’ve been navigating a challenging beginning to the new school year, and there hasn’t been much time or energy or room in my brain left over for composing blog posts. (And how is my father doing, you ask? Well, it’s been up and down. But he’s holding his own and we’re hopeful, the hospital staff is hopeful, and Dad is stoic and hopeful by turns, depending on how he’s feeling that particular day. And so we continue.)
I wanted to make an appearance here today to wave hello to you, metaphorically speaking. I drove back to Greenwood from Vancouver yesterday and in the five days I was away, autumn tinged the trees and the light with its golden glow. In Manning Park the aspens are in full blazing yellow glory, and in the Similkameen valley the intensely deep red foliage on the sumac looks like embers amidst the pale gold grasses and the pale blue-green sagebrush. Quite a sight, I assure you. No pictures, alas, because I was so eager to get home that I didn’t want to stop for photography. I regret that now. Oh well. Instead, I have some photos from the summer that didn’t make it into a post.
First a few shots of how summer is melting into autumn around our home place.
Can you see the stiff breeze turning these cherry leaves into tiny streaming banners?
A couple of weeks I had the chance to visit my uncles in their Vancouver apartment (as opposed to their San Francisco apartment), and fell in love with the view from their corner suite, particularly this vista south toward English Bay. That’s the Sylvia Hotel in the background, a venerable Vancouver landmark, covered in the ivy that a month from now will be a rich mix of burgundy, red, and green. This shot reminds me of how blessed Vancouver is in its canopy of trees.
One of the reasons for the reason was my being able to see the quilt my uncles commissioned me to make for them in pride of place over the head of the bed. The indirect light from the east windows gave the quilt a lovely glow in the late afternoon.
And speaking of family, in my last post I promised that I would give you a better look at the reprint of the original photograph that my Mum gave my Dad for their 60th anniversary last month. Aren’t they a gorgeous couple?
My father tears up every time he looks at this image because, he says, my mother looks so incredibly happy. Mum doesn’t enjoy being photographed and is always very self-conscious about having her picture taken, so it’s hard to take a picture of her in which she looks both relaxed and joyous: this one does both. This photograph came with Dad from Vancouver General Hospital to Lions Gate Hospital, and all he needs to do is turn his head a bit to the right to see it taped up on the wall beside his bed. It’s next to his favourite photo of his great-grandson, in which he’s holding the baby who’s looking with deep solemnity into the camera. I’ll try to take a photo of that one when I’m next at Dad’s hospital bed.
Next, I thought you’d like to see the painted, final result of my Adirondack chair project from woodworking at school last June. You may remember that I solicited opinions about what colour to paint this chair in a blog post at the beginning of the summer: I was thinking of a deep red. But Myrna suggested deep purple instead, and after checking out paint samples at the hardware, I agreed with her. My dear husband thought it would be crazy for me to attempt this project with a paintbrush, because of all the nooks and crannies, so he did it for me using a paint sprayer.
I’m pretty stoked with how it turned out. It makes a statement, don’t you think? It’s hard to get an accurate photograph of the colour because it changes drastically with the light, but this first photo is closest to what it looks like. Intense!
In terms of projects started, completed, or worked on, the summer was pretty much a bust this year, which is only to be expected considering Dad’s hospital adventures. But in spare moments while he was napping, and in a bit of a more concentrated way while my dh and I were on our camping trip, I did complete some swatches of lace knitting in fine wool yarns. I’ve included a pencil in the snaps so you can get a sense of the scale at which I’m working on these samples.
I knitted these in the order in which they appear, and I started with the idea that I was making a striped pullover. The lace stitch turned plain stripes into nicely undulating waves, which I thought was a good thing. But look at the left edge of the swatch: can you see that it gradually becomes wider? I was so rattled by my father’s stroke that this sample, on which I was working at the time, has a major defect, in the form of an extra increase on the left every other row. It was’t until I had the swatch off the needles that I actually saw the mistake. That’s what a distracted mind will do.
As I look at these four samples and analyze why I chose the particular lace patterns I did to experiment with, I realize that as usual I chose to make life difficult for myself. Each pattern includes a bit of a curvy line, which I really like in a lace stitch. And each one requires quite a bit of concentration to get the yarn overs and the various kinds of decreases in the right places. The second swatch is kind of cool, to my eye, because it looks like entrelac but unlike entrelac it’s knitted straight across rather than turned and turned and turned again. It seems like magic to me that knitting straight across, with this combination of knit, purl, knit behind, and purl behind stitches, produces this wonderfully undulating fabric. The third swatch is a well-known leaf pattern, and I love the spray effect in either direction as the eye travels up the swatch. I’m not that keen on the very obvious line between each section of leaf fabric, though, so I’ve put this swatch on the back burner, along with the previous two. The last one is the one I'm going to work with. More on that in my next post.
And finally, some critter candids for you. As she grows older, Sass has become adept at finding low places in the lawn and turning them into nests for herself, flattening the grass and squirming her way into the depression to make it a bit deeper. She now has three or four of these places on the front lawn, which makes it a bit challenging to mow. I tried to get a photo of her curled up and peacefully asleep but she sense my presence and uncurled herself before I could snap the picture.
And there seems to be a new dynamic between Django and Winston. I’ve shown you photos of Winston’s demonstrations of love for Django several times, but in the past month or so I’ve noticed that the tables are turning a bit, and now Django follows Winston around.
Sometimes they can take or leave one another.
Winston looks thoughtful as Django yawns and shows off his enormous teeth.
But a little later, it’s Django following Winston around again. Though from the curve of his tail, I deduce that Winston’s loving the attention.
Since returning from our river trip (which you can read about here and here), I was home long enough to do laundry and to come down with an infection that delayed my departure for Vancouver. But I'm better now, and have been here on the coast for several days. Last post, I promised to give you an update on my father's condition, and that's what I'm going to do.
My father is now seven weeks past his stroke diagnosis, and doing amazingly well. You may recall that after his stroke, he lost the ability to speak or open his eyes or swallow and was completely paralyzed on his left side. Some parts of his left side are still without sensation, such as the left side of his mouth, and he has apparently lost all of his left field of vision in both eyes. But he has made enormous gains in other areas. He is now speaking quite clearly, and because he's talking a lot, we're aware that the confusion that worried us so much earlier has now virtually disappeared. He is mentally as sharp as ever (and that's pretty darn sharp) and his sense of humour is abundant. (The good-natured staff at VGH come in for a fair amount of teasing from Dad, but they seem fond of him nonetheless.) Those two things--speech and cognition--were at the top of our wish list for abilities that Dad might regain, so we are mighty pleased on both fronts.
Even if that were all Dad had regained, we'd be grateful, but he has progressed elsewhere as well. He passed his swallow test last week and thus was able to get rid of the loathsome feeding tube. He still needs to have fluids thickened but we're hopeful that he'll get past that stage as well. His left arm and leg have substantially regained not only sensation but movement and he gets a little bit more range of motion and a little more strength every day. He can slowly close his hand over mine, though his grip isn't strong, and lift his elbow, and bring his hand to his left shoulder. His left leg is doing much better than his arm: he can lift his left knee quite high when he's sitting in his wheelchair and can kick it out vigorously. He can even hold his straightened leg in the air for a few seconds.
But the most exciting thing this week is that his standing practice is strong enough that he has been labelled "pre-ambulatory" by the physiotherapists. With the aid of equipment and phsyiotherapists Dad can support his own weight while standing for two minutes at a time, and today he was feeling ambitious enough to stand six times during his physio session. He's getting impatient and gaining a bit of confidence: more than once he flung himself into the standing apparatus without warning, making the physiotherapists scramble to support him. Ever the independent soul, my dad. Together with the fact that his cognition has been fully restored to him, it would appear, and that his speech is now understandable, this movement in the direction of a possible return to being able to walk has us overflowing with gratitude.
In his journey back to health Dad has passed many milestones though, of course, he still has many in front of him before he's anywhere close to the independence he had before his heart surgery. Oh right, the heart surgery. Remember that? Six bypasses and a valve replacement? It seems ironic now that we were so worried about the heart surgery, given what's happened since then. Dad has healed up beautifully from his surgery, and the cardiac team is pleased with his heart's performance. There are times when we forget that he ever had that surgery, because we're so focussed on his stroke. But back to the milestones. We are fully aware that Dad's recovery will slow as time goes on and that he may never regain much independence: we'll cope with the long-term picture when we're further on. In the meantime, however, we've celebrated a huge milestone in Dad's life and in my mother's as well. Ready?
Thursday August 25, 2016 marked their SIXTIETH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY! The big six zero.
As a family we deliberately didn't make any plans for this day because we knew the heart surgery was looming but didn't know exactly when it would happen. We certainly didn't anticipate celebrating this day in the hospital, however, and it was a bit of a head scratcher to know what to do. In the end, it all worked out beautifully.
When Mum and I got to the hospital, Dad said rather plaintively that he'd been waiting all morning for something to happen and nothing had. Except he did say that the staff had been visiting and offering their congratulations AND one of them had made a poster of congratulations on behalf of the whole staff on the floor. I was really impressed: yay, VGH staff, particularly the staff on CP 10A/B. Perhaps Dad was expecting a marching band? fireworks?
We had brought with us a beautiful orchid that Mum had spotted and which we thought would make a great gift for Dad from Mum's sister, who had asked us to find him something he would enjoy.
Isn't my Mum gorgeous? I can only hope to be half so beautiful at 81.
I had secret errands to do, so I left the hospital and hoofed it to the places I needed to visit. Meanwhile, Mum got Dad started on a sheaf of anniversary cards sent by friends and family, nearly all of which moved him profoundly. By the time I got back to the hospital bearing my loot, Mum was ready for her lunch so I sent her off to her favourite spot in the hospital, a place where she can sit in comfort and people-watch as she eats. Dad's lunch arrived and I made the mistake of telling him that his reward for absorbing as much tuna sandwich and cuban bean soup as he could would be the chocolate ganache cake I'd bought him at Meinhardt, the local upscale deli/food store on Granville. I'd bought it because I knew that he was expecting chocolate cake but hadn't gotten it straight whether anyone else was providing it. Needless to say, he ate virtually no lunch because he "wanted to leave room for the cake."
I picnicked in Dad's room while he ate, and when Mum came back we all three had a bit of cake. A sliver was as much as anyone could manage: this cake is packed with flavour and chocolate and general richness.
I'd just cleaned off the knife when I ran into Patti, the nurse practitioner who's made us so welcome, and she asked, excitedly, whether we could manage a bit more cake. Who am I to refuse chocolate cake? So I said we'd love it. A few minutes later, into Dad's room processed Patti with the cake accompanied by what must have been every staff member on the floor at the time. It's a tiny room, so people were spilling out into the hall and they all made a cheerful huzzah! in honour of this anniversary.
Here's the cake.
Dad said a few words after Patti presented the cake, with his usual eloquence and wit, and the crowd responded.
Oh, what a happy moment that was. After Dad had been feeling rather flat all morning, the staff came up trumps after lunch and made a huge big deal of this celebration. I can't thank them enough for making the day special for Mum and Dad.
And we had more cake, which we then asked to have distributed to the staff.
Let me just say that this is NOT normal protocol for a hospital and that we are deeply, enthusiastically grateful for this big step outside the ordinary experience of a hospital patient. Honestly, I can't say enough about these marvellous people.
This was more like it! Dad was charmed, as he should have been.
Once all the excitement had died down, I decided to bring out the project that my sister and I decided to give my parents. I don't know where this idea came from, but it occurred to me to make a poster-sized anniversary card on bristol board. So when I was in Opus Framing (that was a whole different story, about which I'll tell you some other time), I bought black bristol board and giant metallic paint pens in silver and gold. And this is what I made.
The reaction from both parents was extremely gratifying: I think Dad's head actually snapped back with the force of his amazement. I asked, "Is it too much? Would you rather I didn't put it up on the wall?" "NO, NO, NO!" was the response. "Of course it must go up on the wall!" So it did.
There are two parts to this card, but before I could get to the second part, we had an unexpected visitor: the music therapist from the burn unit. One of the heart surgeons (not Dad's, not, in fact, a person we've ever met) had heard about this anniversary and had asked the music therapist to make a special visit to Dad's room on this day to help us celebrate.
You may not perhaps know that music is supremely important in my immediate family. Mum is a retired church organist and choir leader, and Dad has sung all his life, starting as a boy chorister in the choir at Reading Cathedral in England. And for decades my sister taught elementary school music and she led the Kamloops Children's Choir (to great acclaim) for years. So to have the gift of music on this day was stupendous.
Caroline began by playing, on her electronic keyboard, Bach's Prelude Number 1 in C Major, a piece very familiar to my parents and one I used to play and, truth be told, the only piece I can still play from start to finish. I sat quietly, resting my head against the wall behind me, eyes closed, and happily wept a bit with the joy of hearing that piece again. Then Dad asked Caroline to sing something she enjoys and she sang an Ella Fitzgerald love song, accompanying herself on a guitar. Then Mum asked for some sacred music, and Caroline gave us a gorgeous arrangement of Amazing Grace. Can you imagine the tears pouring down my face as my Dad began to sing? We all three joined in, actually, since we all know the words.
Oh my goodness. What an enormous gift that was. I would say that this moment, the music, was the absolute high moment of the day. And to get a laugh like this out of my Mum, what a bonus. I can't remember who said what to get this wonderful reaction from her, but it was that kind of a day.
After Caroline had left, amid many expressions of mutual regard, I brought out the second half of the giant card.
And the very cool thing about THAT moment was that neither Mum nor I said a word (normally we would have read it to him) and Dad was able to read the whole thing. Reading is not easy when you've lost all of your left field of vision and when you are starting out with vision problems to begin with.
Then Mum and Dad went back to reading anniversary cards, handing them to me to tape up on the wall with the get well cards as they finished each card in turn.
And my sister called from Kamloops, and both my parents talked to her. So here's her part in the celebrations.
At this point, Dad confessed that he was exhausted, so we asked the staff to get him out of the wheelchair and into bed, though of course there was no way he was ready to do something so mundane as take a nap.
There were, after all, my parents' gifts to each other to contemplate. I'd snuck out early to get both the cake and a bouquet for Dad to give Mum.
And Mum had had Dad's favourite photograph of the two of them reproduced and laminated, and I found an appropriate matt for it. Unfortunately, I somehow didn't get a picture of it without the plastic cover: for that you'll have to wait till next week, and then I'll tell you why it's Dad's favourite photograph of my Mum.
He was profoundly moved by this gift, and I put it up on the wall in pride of place above the poster from the cardiac floor staff.
I stuck the purple bow onto his hand just for fun and he wore it cheerfully for quite a long time. Mum's other gift to Dad was light-hearted.
And inside? Those of you who know that Dad's favourite food in the entire world is ice cream will get it.
He got it.
And again, he was able to read it for himself. If it hadn't been such an exciting day already, we might have paid more attention to the fact that he was able to read not just something large such as my poster, or boldly coloured, such as the ice cream plaque, but the fine and fairly faint typeface in the card my mother gave him.
I have a few more candids for you, such as this shot of the wall opposite Dad's bed, midway through my putting up all the mementoes of the day.
And Dad craning around my Mum in order to see the posters from my sister and me.
And this last shot that represents to me the quiet steadfastness of their years together.
We left Dad tucked up for a nap, clearly exhausted but just as clearly exhilarated by the events of the day. His remark to Mum was, "It couldn't have been nicer."
Mum and I rounded off the day by heading off to dinner with my uncles, my Dad's youngest brother and his husband, which was a treat given to us by my Mum's sister, who alas couldn't be with us (she's in St. John's, not exactly dropping-in distance from Vancouver). We had a good meal, lovely conversation and many reminiscences. And then we came home and collapsed. But collapsed in a good way, full of memories of the day and the satisfaction of plans carried out and the surprise and delight of unexpected extras from others, particularly the staff at Vancouver General Hospital. Have I mentioned what treasures these people are?
We have had many occasions to remark upon silver linings in the last seven weeks, and I would have to say that one of the brightest silver linings is getting to know the staff on CP10A/B. A more sterling collection of folks I can't imagine. We feel blessed that Dad is in their hands. Thank you, all of you.
In my last post, I gloried in showing you some photographs of the camping trip my dear husband and I took last week to one of his favourite fly fishing rivers. Here is the rest of what I have to show you. Here’s the shot I ended with last week, showing dh walking upriver from our campsite on the first morning of the trip. (He's quite far away and thus very small, at the top of the gravel beach under the bridge.)
One morning I went with him, wading through the river, at about a third of his speed. I had on my wading sandals (not specifically made for the purpose, but designated thus by me), which tend to slip and slide on the river rocks. He, however, was in his purpose-made wading boots, which have felt soles specifically designed for walking on river rocks. As you can see here, he was able to keep up a good pace, walking as easily as if he were on a city sidewalk, while I inched and wavered and searched for footing.
This was where I left him, since I was far too chicken to wade through water that came up to his thighs in the middle of the (fast-moving) channel, especially with my camera around my neck. And off he went across the next ford as well. (Again, he's nearly invisible walking in the second channel of the river.)
After this point, I turned back and concentrated on the variations of colour in the river offered by changes in light and angle.
Isn’t it AMAZING? I could sit and watch the water for hours. To me it’s like surf, moving endlessly and in infinite variation but at the same time always the same. Utterly soothing and a wonderful inducement to unhitching one’s mind from its usual preoccupations. I found myself in a state of meditation several times during our holiday as I sat or stood by the river as it flowed by. And when I got home, even a day or two later I found that when I closed my eyes I still had an afterimage of water moving from right to left (since I was usually on the north side of the river, which flows east).
On our last morning, we went on a joint adventure, driving up one of the logging roads to a point where the road came close to the river, and then bushwhacking our way upstream a hundred metres or so to a point where we could reach the point at which dh wanted to fish. This bushwhacking was intense: the bush grows to the edge of the river in most places and is incredibly dense, consisting of a tangle of willow, red-osier dogwood, alder, cottonwood, and some more prickly species, particularly roses, nettles, thistles, and devil’s club. What began as a path soon evaporated, leaving us trapped waist-high in a kind of nest of branches. Sometimes we could push through, sometimes we had to go under, sometimes over, and sometimes we simply had to backtrack and try to find an easier route. We both ended up with epic scratches and punctures on our legs (we wore shorts, not knowing what we were facing). Dh took a particularly nasty puncture when he fell over beaver-gnawed stumps of willow and alder and twisted his body to avoid falling on me, standing below him. But we made it. And for dh, the rewards were ample for the sacrifice.
He was thrilled when he got what he’d been waiting for, a hit from a cutthroat. He made his way back across the river to me so that I could take a picture of the fish, but just as he got close enough, the fish broke free. Such disappointment! Not that he was intent on a trophy photograph: he wanted me to see how beautiful these fish are and record that beauty with the camera.
I was not willing to wait in the broiling sun for the next strike, so I left him to it and made my way back through the scrub and onto the road, from where I had an easy walk of a couple of kilometres back to camp.
The previous afternoon, the afternoon of the adventure I recounted in last week’s post, dh set off downriver before I did in his pontoon boat (known to fly-fishing folk as a toon boat). He put the boat in the water on the gravel beach just below the trailer. And drifted away.
He was gone all day and absolutely wiped out after he’d walked most of the way back up the road from his takeout spot. I saved him the last half kilometre by bravely getting into the tank-like Dodge pickup and driving off to the rescue.
Another day, he simply walked across the bridge and waded into the river just downstream from the trailer. I found a spot across the river from which I could stand beside the cedars on the river bank and take photographs of his success (moderate, that time).
Dh was able to indulge his other passion as well, even though here as usual he bumped up against the fact that the best times for painting (early morning and evening) are the best times for fishing too. Still, he got two paintings done this trip.
So much for our activities. I’ll leave you with some candids of other moments that had nothing to do with anything other than the beauty of the place.
What a place. How I wish my dad could see it.
Which reminds me. These last two posts have been all about me and dh, of course, while the previous two were all about my beloved father and his huge effort to come back from a stroke that he suffered after major heart surgery last month. I haven’t seen him now for two and a half weeks, but my sister tells me I’ll see a lot of improvement in his condition when I do. I hope to be back on the coast with him and my mother in the next day or so, and will report at that point on how he’s doing. In the meantime, thank you very much, all of you who have asked about him and wished him well.
Two years ago, I published a post entitled “River,” about a camping trip that my dear husband and I took to one of his favourite fly-fishing rivers. Last week we did it again, which is why I didn’t publish a blog post last week.
After a few weeks of my father’s medical saga and the shock of his diagnosis and seeing him in the grip of the initial effects of the stroke, I was something of a wreck. Everyone in the family was shocked, of course, but the hours in the hospital with my Mum and the effort of trying to find a way for him to communicate and of trying to advocate for him and coping with our own grief at what has happened to him left me far too stressed for good health. So when my sister arrived in Vancouver and we overlapped for several days so that she could get into the rhythm of our new normal, I went home to try to regroup. After a week I wasn’t much better in terms of regaining health and equilibrium, but my clever husband had suggested that we leave everything behind for a few days and get out into the bush and so we did that.
And I’m so glad we did. I came home a new woman.
I don’t have any before and after pictures, which is probably just as well, but I can share with you some of the beauty I drank in over the days we spent on the river. We arrived at our usual spot in the evening, and we were able to snag one of the better campsites. These are not designated, you understand: this isn’t a campground, or even a rec site. Unregulated in any way, it's just a conveniently wide flat bit of ground at a bend in the river. My dh likes to speculate that people have probably been camping here for hundreds of years if not longer. There is enough room for a dozen outfits to set up camp, but the one we chose is relatively private and it has the advantage of proximity to one of the two outhouses someone built years ago. This first photo, taken through the window of the trailer, shows how close we are to the river. Well within spitting distance.
One disappointment, which I’ll get out of the way right at the start, is that the area around the campsite has been heavily logged on both sides of the river since we were last here. This bank is across the road from our campsite. The havoc of industrial logging is no surprise to anyone who spends time in the back country in BC, but accustomed as I am to dh’s gentle selective logging, this kind of thing irritates me no end.
There, I’ve got that out of my system. On to lovelier things. We concentrated on the view in front of the trailer, not behind it.
One morning, while dh was off doing his thing (flycasting for cutthroat trout), I decided to go off on an adventure of my own. I walked across the bridge by the campsite and took this shot of the pool just downstream.
I scrambled down the bank from the bridge and through the scrub onto the gravel beach, then walked and waded my way around the bend you see on the right above, working my way downriver.
I had worn wading shoes so that I’d be able to explore more thoroughly than if I had to stick to dry land, and this was my first destination, a long island of rocks, gravel, and sand in the middle of the river. I carefully made my way through the riffle on the left side of the photo, placing my feet with maximum attention to the slipperiness of the rocks and their likelihood of shifting when I put my weight on them. Tense, but exciting, and I made it to the other side.
I found a superb swimming hole in a side channel between an island and the west bank of the river. Dh reckons it must be five or six feet deep. Look at that gorgeous colour and that miraculously clear water: doesn’t it look inviting? It was a very hot day, and I was somewhat tempted, I’ll admit, to plunge in, but having waded to this point, I knew that the river is freezing cold. It’s a mountain river, after all. But the colour, oh my.
I had hoped that as I walked down the long gravel island to which I’d waded I’d find a place where I could easily wade across to the other bank, from which I knew I’d have plenty of scope for more exploring because the river takes a wide oxbow curve there, leaving a mud flat and gravel bar of several acres that I’d walked on the day before.
But at the far end of the island, I came to these standing waves, ample indication that any attempt to cross here would not end well.
So I backtracked, still looking for a crossing place. I waded further across the river to another small island. Can you see how tantalizingly close it comes to the river bank on the right?
But this is what I found at the top end: a tangle of logs and a very deep, fast channel that was far too challenging for me.
So I took this photo instead: I have no idea what this flower is. Does anyone recognize it? It’s a low plant, perhaps four or five inches tall, and I don’t think I saw it anywhere else.
At this point I had a decision to make: retrace my steps and go back across the river the way I’d come, a sensible thought since I knew that if I’d made it in one direction I’d be able to get back. I decided to be brave and attempt the much longer crossing through water I could see was deeper than what I’d encountered so far. It probably took me a good ten minutes but I made it! This photo is taken from the safety of the river bank: on the other side, in the top centre of the photo, you can see the root wad in the picture two above.
And yes, the water was deeper: my shorts got wet, as you can see. From the river bank, this whole stretch of water looks utterly benign, and to a seasoned fisher person that’s exactly what it is. But for someone not used to rivers and their ways, it’s a surprise to discover that not only does the river run a lot more quickly than it appears, it’s also deeper than it seems to be. The force of the water rushing against one’s legs is thought-provoking, though not really frightening, not at least at the depths at which I was wading. But I’m grateful that this is just a clear, practically transparent river, because it’s easy to see exactly where one is putting one’s feet. I was never really worried. Falling in wouldn’t have been an issue, since I’m sure I could have gotten my feet under me again, but I really didn’t want to give my camera a bath.
As I walked and waded back up the gravel shoreline, I stopped to take this shot of a spot I returned to every day we were in camp. In front of the largest tree on the left is a bit of a promontory from which one has an excellent view straight down into the water. I kept coming back because this was a great place to watch fish. I saw some kind of bottom fish (dh tells me they are mountain whitefish) lazily meandering back and forth in the shallows, picking at feed in the silt on the river bottom, fins outstretched, shiny dots like sequins along their backs, which were no colour at all. Every now and again I’d also see small cutthroat, perhaps six or eight inches long, darting with intent through the water and often zooming up to the surface to feed. It was amusing to see the differences between the two kinds of fish (the cutthroat are much more streamlined, have more colour, and move much more quickly than the whitefish). I tried to get photographs but had no luck at all. The camera wanted to focus on the surface of the water, not on the fish a few feet further down.
Back in camp after my adventure, I had a lazy afternoon with knitting and reading. I’ve been swatching up lace patterns for a couple of weeks now, using a fine but strong wool from my stash, and it turns out that this kind of brain work makes a great diversion while camping. And the book? I actually took nine books with me, and read three, this Susan Isaacs being the last I finished. I like everything she’s written, but her books might not appeal to everyone: I enjoy a novel that features snappy dialogue among comfortably-off New Yorkers, and Isaacs has this sub-genre nailed. Other authors in the same vein that I read and reread are Laurie Colwin and Elinor Lipman, in case you too have a yen for this kind of thing. Perhaps it’s the contrast with my own life that makes these books so appealing to me: it’s like reading about people who belong to a completely different civilization than mine.
I also took the time to hike from the trailer the hundred metres or so to the fish-watching spot so I could attempt a watercolour sketch. It wasn’t a total success, which is not surprising given that it’s the first watercolour I’ve done in years and I was never very adept at that medium, but I was happy just to have made the attempt, and I’ll always remember the occasion when I look at the sketch. The jeans drying on the hood of the truck are the souvenirs from the previous day’s sketch: I had nothing to sit on while painting so had to park my behind on a hillock of wet sand, after which I was pretty well soaked. Still, what’s a river holiday if you don’t get your clothes wet?
What else did I do? Took walks along the logging roads, investigated shallow watery places, explored the forest, and gave my camera a good workout.
And what was my dh doing while I was busy with all these happy camp activities? See him? Under the bridge, walking upstream in his fishing vest? Following his bliss.
I haven’t finished with the subject of the river and have other gorgeous nooks and crannies along its banks to show you next week. By that time, I’ll be back in Vancouver, back with my family, cheering on my Dad as he navigates the arduous road back from his stroke. And that’s where I want to be. But I’m so grateful that I had these few days out of time in which to recharge my batteries and fortify myself for whatever comes next. Smart husband.