August 31, 2010

How Much Do I Love Camping?

I believe I am now completely thawed after camping for five days on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island with a complete campfire ban in effect.  We are experienced coastal campers but nothing could have prepared me for camping in damp windy conditions without the benefit of a fire in the evenings.  I wore all the wool I brought and went for many walks on the beaches dressed like it was January.

My husband and children didn't seem to feel the cold nearly as much as I did.  They dressed warmly, but were not desperate about it.  One day found me walking around our campsite with a wool blanket tied around my waist like a sarong.  My husband took to calling me 'Nanuk', but by the end of the week, even he said next time we camp at French Beach we should come earlier in the summer, when the possibility of a campfire ban has not yet taken effect.   The forest floor of the campground was littered in gold and brown leaves from the overnight fall-like temperatures, but we were mercifully cozy in our tents and sleeping bags at night, and slept well, looking forward to hot chocolate and coffee made on the Coleman stove in the morning.  We had glorious days on the beaches, hunting for tidal life, scanning the horizon for dolphins (we saw a group of three) and whales (we were blessed with a visit by a grey whale feeding in the kelp beds just off shore at Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew), and warming up on the sunbaked stones littering French Beach and China Beach.  At one point I sat on French Beach, picking up warm stone after warm stone to hold in my frigid hands.

We played round after round of badminton and tossed the football, and no one complained about taking their turn to do the dishes after every meal in a pan of hot water.  We were gratefully distracted from the wind on our second afternoon with a visit from my brother, his family and a couple of nephews, and enjoyed showing them around China Beach - a long stretch of fine sandy beach accessible only by a short hike through a forest of huge arrow-straight Sitka Spruce trees once used for masts on tallships  - which they thought was truly beautiful.  We had brought a gas lamp with us and after we found it emitted a generous amount of heat we joked about it being our impromptu campfire, placed it on the fire grate and gathered around it every evening just to stay warm while we sat and talked about the day and shared stories and favourite scenes from well-loved comedy programs.

The last day we hiked into Mystic Beach and enjoyed the sheltered bay there.  We lingered in the warmth, exploring the caves created in the cliffs by the tide, and visited the waterfalls.  I was clicking away with my camera when a fellow hiker offered to take a family photo, and I think it will make a great Christmas card this year.  Soon after, our daughter Emma stood on a rock near the shore.  The tide was coming in then and my boys thoroughly enjoyed watching their sister get soaked by a large rogue wave that hit her at chest height.  Good thing I had packed an extra jacket.

The last evening after supper was cleared away we walked on French Beach and remarked on the darkness of the clouds heading toward us.  We decided to string up a tarp over the picnic table in case of rain, so at least we would have somewhere dry to cook and eat in the morning.  We were so glad we thought of it, because it rained fairly hard all night long.  We packed up the wet tents cheerfully, anticipating the dry warmth we would return to here at home. 

Do I love camping?  Not necessarily in the aforesaid conditions.  But what I do appreciate about camping is the unobstructed family time, the simplicity of choosing meals suitable for cooking over a two burner camp stove,  the 24/7 outdoor living by the briny fresh sea, the inaccessibility of technological gadgets, my husband being well out of cell phone range so he can't be bothered with work, and the appreciation it gives me for the simple things of everyday life - like a hot bath and a solid roof.

The painting above of the large piece of driftwood on French Beach is called 'West Coast Wanderer' by Victoria, B.C. artist Jeffrey J. Boron.  More of his work can be found here.  

August 19, 2010

Monica and the Flower Thief

I was reading the front page of one of our local rags, when I was reminded of a time a few years ago when my eldest sister Monica impressed me once again.

The newspaper article was illustrated with a photo of a pregnant woman smiling in front of a few of the potted plants she has placed around her community of Yarrow's downtown.  "After two summers, the mother of two (soon to be three) estimates she has spent almost $2000 on plants, soil, pots, rocks and other materials to get some much-needed greenery into the town's three block downtown core," stated the article.  "(Her) efforts began as her own pet project, but community members have jumped on board, watering and caring for the plants placed in pots outside their businesses."  A week ago, four containers disappeared, and on the weekend, sixteen more were stolen. 

I'm not surprised.  Apparently some green thumbs are accompanied by a set of light fingers.  Yes, I know  gardening is big business and that plants and their containers can be quite expensive, especially if one wants to achieve that instant full garden look, but stealing other people's plants already carefully and lovingly potted, or plants from public spaces meant to be enjoyed by the community overall?  Very low indeed. 

A couple of years ago in April, my sister, Monica came down to stay with me and we attended an arts council conference in a nearby city.  The conference was held at a brand new fine arts high school with lush landscaping.  The weather was lovely so we ate our lunch outside in the courtyard and my sister and I took every chance to get off our chair-worn bottoms and go for walks around the grounds.  After the final day's last session, Monica and I were preparing to leave when we noticed a woman with a black SUV, with the back open, digging up very newly planted bedding plants and placing them in boxes in the back of her vehicle.  Now, I am a bit slow on the uptake and don't generally assume people are doing something they aren't supposed to be doing.  Something about the woman's hurried manner, however, made me pause and say a decided, "hmmmm".  Monica, experienced newspaper reporter and savvy sleuth merely exclaimed, "I think she's stealing those plants!"

After consulting a nearby couple who agreed that, yes, the woman certainly appeared to be helping herself to the plants, my sister began to approach the woman, while calling out "Are you stealing those plants?"  The woman said nothing, but closed her tailgate and drove off in a hurry.  I think it safe to say from her response, that yes, she was in fact a flower thief.

So what kind of person steals bedding plants or potted plants?  What kind of mindset thinks it okay to take beauty and colour from a public place and transplant it for their own enjoyment only?  Did the woman in the SUV think that because a microscopic portion of her tax dollars went to funding the high school's bedding plants, that they were somehow hers to take?  I mean, I know a few people who will take a small snip off a shrub in the park and then propogate it at home to plant in their gardens, but they would draw the line at helping themselves to the entire rosebush, roots and all.  I suppose it is the same mindset as the person who steals the bathrobe or towels from the hotel, or the person who helps herself to office supplies and toilet paper from the supply closet at work, and takes them home.  When many of us were children caught with an unpaid for pack of gum from the corner store, we were marched back to shopkeeper, made to apologize, and pay for the stolen goods (in more ways than one), but we are meant to learn from that experience and grow up to respect the property of others.  That must be it, then.  Perhaps the woman in the SUV stealing bedding plants, and the people who stole the 20 potted plants from downtown Yarrow never were marched down to the corner store to face the music, or maybe they have forgotten what it's like to be caught, accused, tried, and punished for their crimes.  Hopefully, my sister's bravery awakened the woman in the SUV just a little to the fact that, even if she is okay with taking what is not rightfully hers, that others certainly are not.

The photo above is from an article from entitled, "Flower Thieves Terrorize NYC Neighborhood."  The article suggests weighing down potted plants to make them heavier to lift and anchoring baby trees and shrubs to make them harder to steal.  As one of the commenters on this website said in response to these suggestions, "Oy!  What is the world coming to?"

August 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Galen Paul!

Youth Symphony Concertmaster Galen

Sixteen years ago today, I was lying in a recovery room in the Kootenay Lake District Hospital with my second son swaddled close to me in a receiving blanket, waiting for his dad to arrive.  At that time we were living in Cranbrook, but had been staying at Blue Lake children's camp way up a mountain road for the last few months with my husband, who was the camp's director.  As my due date grew nearer, I found myself concerned about being so far from the Cranbrook hospital, but neither did I want to be alone with my eldest son, Ian, only fifteen months old himself, when I went into labour. 

As it happened, my eldest sister Monica invited Ian and I for a two week stay with her in Nelson at the beginning of August.  I readily accepted, and although my baby was not due until the 24th of August, I secretly hoped to have him in Nelson in the hospital where I was born and surrounded by family.  I got my wish, and went into labour early in the morning of the 10th. I called my husband on his radio phone after breakfast to give him the news.

"You're in labour?  Really?  Are you sure?"  he asked.

"Yes, of course I'm sure.  I wouldn't call if it weren't happening."

"Okay.  I've got to get things organized before I can leave camp for a few days.  When do you think the baby will be born?,"

"How would I know a thing like that?" I laughed.

"Okay, okay.  I'll come as soon as I can.  Sh**."

"Don't worry, Monica is here for me.  Just get here when you can."

 My sister, a mother of four by that time, took me to the hospital emergency room and coached me through an extremely quick delivery.  My tiny blonde baby boy was six pounds, two ounces, with fine features.  "Keep him close to you," said the nurse, the mother of someone I went to high school with.  "He's a little cold."   

My husband arrived sometime in the afternoon and held his son.  "What should we name him?"

We took a while to decide.  Everyone at my sister's house wanted us to name the baby Jeremy.  My husband and I decided on two names to choose between:  Caleb Matthew or Galen Paul.  We chose Galen Paul. Perhaps we should have chosen Caleb Matthew - we failed to realize the name Galen might be shortened to 'Gay' years later by his persistent classmates, which it was. 

Galen remained tiny in stature, but plump in cheek, and I could carry him through the cold winter in a front carrier under one of my husband's coats.  By this time we had moved, with the help of my sister Clare to Kimberly, a little ski town that we had found ourselves escaping to at every opportunity when living in Cranbrook.  My husband had use of a company vehicle and the commute was an easy twenty minutes to work.  For a year and a half, the four of us lived in a small, but sweet rented house, in a beautiful little town with quaint shops and delicious cafes. The boys and I frequented the German bakery where we bought honey whole wheat donuts and deliously chewy fresh pretzels, and we (I) worked off the calories by walking down the long hill to the park and then back again, pushing a double stroller or pulling a sled, depending on the weather.  My husband could drive to the ski hill in five minutes and cross country ski by lamplight in the evenings.  He bought me a pair of skis, too and I found a pair of boots at the second hand store.  I was looking forward to the next winter when I could begin.  My husband was promoted at work, and we started looking at properties to buy.  We could almost afford one there.

Then he was transferred.  To Vancouver Island. 

The boys and I began to pack up the house and say our goodbyes to Kimberly.  We said goodbye to the Rocky mountains in the distance and to the hills closer to home.  We said goodbye to the shops and cafes, to the bakery and the park down the hill.  We also said goodbye to our many new friends. We didn't want to leave, but we had to follow the work where it was to take us.  And we were an adventurous young family at the time, restless for new experiences.

Galen loved the Island.  He loved the ocean, and on one of our first excursions on an absurdly warm day in January, he walked right into the water in his rain suit and rubber boots.  He loved watching the workings of the lumber mill across the Puntledge River where we walked almost daily, and scanning the water for seals, but the non profit organization my husband worked for lost their funding and closed the Island office.  We moved again to a lodge northwest of where we had been living, and stayed for five years.  It was the perfect setting for my growing boys, who by then had a little sister. Galen loved climbing:  trees - the higher the better, walls, the fish netting strung around the volleyball court that kept the ball from landing in the lake, and mountains.  When Galen was about seven years old he heard his friend Neil play the violin, and he decided he wanted to play the violin, too.  He began to take lessons with the gifted fourteen year old son of a local teacher, while he waited for a spot on her long list of students.

Then his dad got a new job on the mainland and we had to move again.  "When can I take violin lessons again? " asked Galen after several months in our new home. Galen is now on his fourth violin teacher and is down at the church, as I write this, practising a Hadyn song with a cellist and a pianist to play at a wedding this weekend.  He has not found all the transitions in his life easy - he is much like his mother in that way.  Looking at him now, tall, handsome and quite distinguished in his glasses, with a ready sense of humour and an equally ready disdain for foolishness, he is, for all intents and purposes a philosopher.  Life has given him cause to complain, but it has also given him so many gifts and talents on which to focus.  And I am very proud of him.

August 6, 2010

Little Bugs and Little Women

After a few days of recovering from our recent nine day road trip, I decided it was high time I made a fresh blueberry pie - a family favourite. I opened the second drawer of my trusty kitchen island, the drawer where I keep all the baking supplies like baking powder, salt, sugar, etc, only to discover that the drawer had been invaded, conquered and colonized by teeny tiny grain weevils - billions of them. Not only were they happily munching away and breeding in all the various bags of things I had neglected to transfer to sealed containers, they were crawling all over the plastic storage containers in the drawer below, and making their way into the other drawers full of non food items. Blech!

Fortunately, earlier this year I had overhauled the pantry and put everything in sealed containers due to an invasion of silver moths in there, and the weevils had not yet expanded their territory beyond the kitchen island. Still, their presence in my kitchen at all was enough of a 'casus belli '* - (an event or act used to justify a war) on my kitchen. I can handle an untidy house. With six people and all their stuff, I have to. What I cannot abide is insects in my food. That kind of thing sends me straight up the wall. For the past week I was treading a fine line between a 'this too shall pass' attitude and a homicidal obsession with cleaning my cupboards. While well aware of the hundreds of thousands of people left homeless and grieving in Pakistan after the terrible flooding there washed away their homes and killed fifteen hundred of their countrymen, and closer to home, the four hundred forest fires currently burning in British Columbia causing a Los Angeles-like haze to settle over the southern half of my province, it was all I could do to keep my little problem in perspective. By yesterday afternoon, however, my kitchen island was bleached beyond belief, placed in the garage on suspension (I was still seeing a few bugs which had escaped my manic scrubbing by hiding in the crevices, and though the local expert told me the weevils could not live more than two days without a food source, I couldn't stand the idea of any, even dying ones, in the kitchen) and replaced by a large table, and my kitchen was cleaner than I'm sure it has been in years, the only evidence of the war between woman and wee tiny beastie so recently waged. I could have sent a victory flag - one with a picture of a half-crazed woman brandishing a can of Raid in her rubber-gloved hand - up the flagpole.

Needless to say, I was ready for some diversion last night by way of celebration and was glad my friend and I had made plans to take our youngest girls to see Little Women: the Musical, put on by a brand new theatre company in our nearby city. I have read the book and seen the excellent movie with Winona Ryder as Jo March, but never the musical. I would say it was a pretty ambitious production for a young theatre to start its career with, and I don't wish to criticize any of the people who worked so hard to put on this musical, because overall they did a very good job. BUT. I don't know what the set designer was thinking. Granted, this particular stage can be a difficult one for a set designer - the theatre was specifically designed for Shakespeare plays and has a round stage with seats on both sides, so this limitation in size makes it difficult to change sets. An attic plays an important role in Little Women, but I am sure there was a way to design an attic less alarmingly dangerous than the one we cringed at last night. It was so high off the ground with three little levels and only one wimpy looking railing only at the top, and a lot of action was played out on that precarious platform by characters in long Civil War era dresses. A few wardrobe malfunctions occured as dresses, designed too long for such a set full of ladders and steep stairways, were tripped on. At one point, the main character, Jo, played and sung superbly by a young local actress, almost lost her skirt entirely!

There was no denying the talent of the actors who play the four March sisters. They certainly could all sing very well, and act well, too, making the long production of three and a half hours quite tolerable. Everyone cried when Beth dies, and everyone laughed when aspiring writer Jo acts out her 'blud and guts' stories for the family. It was the opening night of the first production of a brand new theatre company after all. I'm sure they'll work out the bugs for the next performance - if only they would put that dangerous attic platform away and replace it with something much less distracting for the poor audience!

*thanks to Paul from 365 Word Quest for this great word