Category Archives: Blog

A Nagging Wish for the Divine

Jack Logie on horseback
Jack Logie on horseback

Local history intersects with world history, resulting in entanglements. As a resident of our small town of Summerland, I was casually aware of the family surname Logie, as in Logie Road, which winds through an industrial area and some adjacent vineyards. But then I stumbled on to mention of one Jack Logie, and his highly alliterative “Summerland Social Issues Summer School” from the 1920’s. This School, apparently, taught a melange of mysticism, arts and crafts, trade-unionism, and socialism.  Wow! Right here? In my bucolic, sleepy, politically conservative small town, which was a mere village in the 1920’s? 

Of course I was hooked, and dove right in.

Helena Blavatsky
Helena Blavatsky

Ok, be patient as we virtually transport to southern Russia, 1831, as Helena Blavatsky is born. Blavatsky masters several languages, travels to India and England, writes prolifically and pioneers a new religious movement called Theosophy. This new Theosophical torch then gets handed off to an Englishwoman, Annie Besant (1847-1933), also a prolific writer, traveller to India, adoptive mother of Krishnamurti, supporter of women’s rights and of various independence movements. Besant gives a lecture in New York, triggering the formation of the American Theosophical movement. Shortly after that, a Canadian chapter is born.

Theosophy is very difficult to pin down, as it ranges from the rational to the occult, with many levels in between. The three Declared Objects of the Theosophical Society are: 

  • To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color.
  • To encourage the comparative study of religion, philosophy, and science.
  • To investigate unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in humanity.

Theosophy was simultaneously able to juggle some very diverse ideas: karma, trade unionism, the Sixth Root Race, social activism, Shambala and the Astral Plane. Gee, and I thought we invented karma in the Sixties, and I was sure that Shambala was a suburb of the hippie community of Nelson!

Our story now moves back to Jack Logie, born in Manitoba in 1881, trains as a pharmacist, moves to Summerland and opens a pharmacy. Diminutive, with one bad leg as a result of a childhood illness, Logie dives into community affairs with amazing energy. A talented musician, he forms the Summerland Brass and Reed Band. He is a Noble Grand of the local Odd Fellows, he reads poetry, leads young people on hikes into the mountains, and studies local Indigenous culture. 

As the Great Depression sets in, Logie becomes concerned about working people, and is influenced by the rising tide of socialist and Marxist thought. In response he starts a local handicraft group to create pottery, wood carvings and basketry for sale. He builds a log cabin adjacent to the main road, where the crafters can work and sell their wares. Theosophy is in the air at the time, and it is a natural for Logie. He signs up.

Now for an aside, where local events again intersect with national ones. As Logie embraces Theosophy, so do Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley and Lawren Harris, they of Group of Seven fame. In turn, Lawren Harris introduces British Columbia painter Emily Carr to Theosophy. 

Jiddu Krishnamurti was chosen to become the Theosophist’s guru, but he eventually breaks away from all organized religions, becoming a powerful and thoughtful force on his own.

But back to Logie. In 1922, Jack starts his School at the log cabin, which runs for ten days each summer. Tents and cots are made available to out-of-towners, and speakers come from all over Canada.  Topics range from arts, music and economics, to Marxism, poetry, theater and pottery. A prominent visiting speaker is Reverend. J.S. Woodsworth, the iconic Canadian social activist and founder of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) the progenitor of the NDP.  

Meanwhile a group of Theosophists on Vancouver Island create an Aquarian Foundation and build a retreat near Nanaimo. The Foundation transforms into a toxic cult, led by the infamous Brother XII (Edward Wilson), who eventually absconds with a fortune donated by wealthy devotees. 

Logie leaves Summerland in 1927. This may have been due to the local press and business leaders, who were of course not thrilled with Jack’s brand of politics, but he definitely left his mark. Jack Logie’s log cabin still stands. I pass it every time I drive from our home down to Okanagan Lake, and it reminds me synthesis is possible: arts and politics, philosophy and crafts can mix to mutual benefit. 

Putting aside all the occultist Vedic/Astral/Sixth Race woo-woo bullshit, Theosophy does offer something to this lifelong but pining atheist: the notion of a Secular Divine. That God is actually humans and nature, together. 

Theosophists do believe in a secular heaven. Coincidentally, it is called Summerland.

American Tragedy, Canadian Mandate

Trump/Mussolini

Events surrounding the recent American presidential election prompt a number of adjectives– despicable, ludicrous, pathological and so on. But the word that comes to my mind, as one who spent the first 28 years of his life in that country, is tragic.

I do have to remind myself that Donald Trump is merely the visible tip of an iceberg, one that we didn’t see coming. To understand why a third of adult Americans buy in to fake news and crazed conspiracy theories, one has to back up twenty years or so, and question schools, teachers, parents and the society in general that allowed this third to lose its grip on both facts and ethics.  That loss is what paved the way for Trump, and Mussolini, and Hitler. Pathological personalities come to power partly on their own accord, but mostly because the public allows them, either passively standing by or by active welcome.  

One of the observations emerging from the Trump/Biden election is the totally bizarre and arcane mechanics of American presidential elections. Surprisingly, this is the first time the machine, which makes Rube Goldberg’s Self-operating Napkin look simple in comparison, has nearly broken down.

Self-operating napkin – Rube Goldberg

Many of us Canadians have been watching American presidential election news obsessively. Certainly it is hard not to, but beyond that it is almost second nature for us, and for our news media, to closely follow US news. As one wag said, “Americans are woefully ignorant about Canada; Canadians are sinfully knowledgeable about the USA.” But it is important to remember that their political systems are not the same as ours, and their social ethics are not the same as ours: in fact they are poles apart.

It is time we begin making clear US/Canadian distinctions: honoring our system of government, celebrating our multi-party system, re-engaging in politics from local through to federal levels, standing up for multiculturalism, and guarding against the northward seepage of conspiracy theories across our southern border. In short, being proud Canadians instead of surrogate Americans. I say this particularly to my fellow dual citizens and ex-Americans living in Canada. There is a fine line between ho-hum laissez-faire patriotism and toxic super-patriotism. We can find that line.

The United States has always thought of itself as the beacon of democracy to the rest of the world. Their example is now severely dimmed and tarnished. It is time for us Canadians to proudly raise our beacon, and the world will thank us for it.  

Shimano-600

Derailleuring

My history with bicycles goes back to about 1954, beginning with a Schwinn pedal-brake one-speed, fat-tired bomber. My next iteration, a few years after that, was a road bike with the amazing Sturmey-Archer 3-speed shifter, which sat right up on the handlebars. That was indeed revolutionary: I distinctly remember the satisfying click the shifter made as I moved effortlessly between all three (count them!) gears.

Bicycles do accumulate, as they are hard to part with. I believe I have seven (excluding the little ones for visiting grandchildren). My inventory includes a Moser, a Bianchi, and a beautiful carbon-fiber Trek from my friend Dave. Recently I pulled out an old Nishiki 12-speed from the back shed, to clean it up and put it on an indoor bike trainer for winter exercise. In the process of going over the Nishiki, I was struck by its lovely derailleur, a Shimano 600, which I had never really paid any attention to before. 

Started by the 26-year old Shozaburo Shimano in Japan in 1921, the Shimano company celebrates its hundredth anniversary in 2021. Shimano started off producing bicycle freewheels, the sprocket that delivers power to the rear wheel but which also allows you to stop pedalling without being instantly launched off your bike.

The modern bicycle derailleur—a fancy term for a gear shifter–is a paragon of mechanical ingenuity. It has to move forwards and backwards, inwards and outwards, all the while maintaining the appropriate tension on a continuously moving bicycle drive chain. When downshifting, the derailleur must adroitly deliver the chain from the smallest sprocket to the next bigger one. Depending on the number of speeds your bike has, it must do this same delivery five, six or seven times, and then back down again when you upshift.  

My Shimano 600 is probably the final state of the art of the “find and grind” style of derailleur, which was soon overtaken by SIS, the index shifting revolution, which Shimano introduced in the 1980s. SIS shifting automatically centers the chain over the appropriate sprocket. 

The delicate filigrees on my 600 suggests that Shimano may have been influenced by their Italian competitor Campagnolo, who built high-end derailleurs that were not only perfectly functional, but elegant as well. What a wonderful notion, to incorporate a bit of art into one of the most relentlessly mechanical devices we humans have ever invented.

Shimano-600
Two highway campaign signs were defaced with graffiti near our home

Democracy, Defacement and Domestic Terrorism

During our recent Provincial election, two highway campaign signs were defaced with graffiti near our home. I am not averse to public protest: if this were Belarus, I might tolerate or even approve of defacing Mr. Lukashenko’s billboards. But this is contemporary British Columbia, where a centre-right party is politely duking it out against a centre-left party, and individual democratic rights are not at stake. Defacing a political campaign sign here in BC is a craven act of cowardice and stupidity.

Far more disturbing than the defacement itself was the actual graffiti on the signs: An “A” superimposed over an “O,” the symbol for anarchy, one of the many extremist political symbols currently on view in the troubled streets of the United States.

The origin of the symbol, dating back to the 1800s, is interesting: the word for anarchy starts with the letter A in many languages, and the O symbolizes order, meaning that with anarchy, there is perfect social order. Good luck with that.

At this moment in time, just before the American election, most of us Canadians are fully absorbed in the high-stakes drama playing out to the south of us. But we must daily remind ourselves: that is them, not us. We are Canadians, we reject political extremism and threats of violence of any stripe, right or left. We are comfortable with three, four or even five political parties in any given jurisdiction, and we don’t engage in the incredibly toxic binary political separation that currently rends the very fabric of American life.

Don’t let this American political extremism seep northward across our border. Be vigilant, and when any evidence of this toxic seepage is seen, move quickly, firmly, and most of all politely, to root it out.   

The Opposite of Racism

Brennan King (far right), night game, Seattle, 1964.

The opposite of racism is not tolerance or passive acceptance. I was given an example of this as an adolescent, even though it was years later that it became clear to me.

Junior High School, Fullerton, California, 1959. A packed classroom, of thirty students. There are a dozen of us white kids, and we all sit in the front of the classroom. Behind us sit all the Latino kids, recently arrived from Mexico. Many of their fathers work at the Hunt’s Ketchup factory at the edge of town. The Latino kids are respectful, quiet and attentive. But from the teacher’s perspective, they are invisible. Her attention is all to the white dozen in the front, and the rest are ignored. The Latino kids never raise their hands to ask a question, and are never called upon to answer one. 

As a keen seventh-grader I thrived on that extra attention, and this bizarre racial arrangement barely registered in my consciousness.  Now fast-forward to Seattle, Washington in 1963, when both I and America were waking up to the issues of race. My high school, in Seattle’s South End, hosted an eclectic population of white, black, Japanese, Filipino and Jewish students, so the issues of race and ethnic differences were front and center. I played football, and our team was mostly composed of black kids. Our team’s locker room became a fascinating social laboratory, where traditional roles were reversed: we white kids got the shittiest lockers, had to wait until the black kids had finished showering before we got to, and we were the butt of (mostly mild) taunts and jokes. 

This was a totally new experience for both groups. In the midst of the chaotic and fast-paced lives of seventeen-year olds, this locker room lab offered three invaluable life lessons. The black kids saw how they could play a more dominant role in American social life. We white kids got a small taste of what racism is like, even though it was mostly in jest.  And all of us saw that we could work, and play, together. 

Our head football coach, a white guy, was merely a cipher. We all respected and followed Brennan King, the affable black assistant coach. After winning an important playoff game, Brennan invited us dozen or so varsity players to supper at his favorite haunt, a popular jazz restaurant in Seattle’s black neighborhood on Jackson Street.  We had no idea what to expect as we filed in to the spacious basement venue. As soon as the last of us got in the door, the entire restaurant crowd stood up and applauded. 

The current website of that same highschool in Seattle offers text in five different languages.

When we moved to Canada, one of the jobs I had was with the Saskatchewan Indian Agriculture Program. Three of us worked out of a small rural office in Fort Qu’Appelle; a Cree, an Egyptian, and myself, the honky.   We took great pleasure in gently upsetting everyone’s established racial stereotypes. 

The opposite of racism is not passive acceptance. It is reaching out. It is active engagement.  

Biodiversity Ranch

(Note: this is the text of a letter sent to The Nature Trust of British Columbia, by myself and colleague Fred Marshall, in regards to livestock management in the White Lake Basin, an important ecological area in the South Okanagan.)

In a recent visit (May 8, 2020) to the Nature Trust’s White Lake Biodiversity Ranch, we noted some issues that disturbed us as Agrologists and as range managers. We would like to bring these to your attention.

Livestock Rotations

On May 8 we observed livestock in three different pastures: Observatory, Lower Parker and Welsh Lake. According to the 2014 Grazing Management Strategy for the White Lake Basin Biodiversity Ranch, the “even year” (2020) rotations are as follows:

  • Observatory: Sept. 11-Oct. 20
  • Lower Parker: Apr 20-May 31 & July 6-July 10
  • Welsh Lake: June 21-July 20

We are aware that rotations need to be adjusted from time to time, but we do question why two out of the three pastures are currently out of rotation.

Modern range management strategies emphasize larger herds grazing for shorter periods of time in a given pasture, with longer rest periods in between. This encourages non-selective grazing and adequate rest periods, allowing our slow-growing native grasses to recover. This is essential in the spring, a period when native grasses are particularly sensitive to defoliation. We do not see this strategy reflected in the Biodiversity ranch rotation schedule.

Invasives

The White Lake Basin has a long history of invasives, many pre-dating the Biodiversity Ranch. However, we are concerned that the current grazing practices are encouraging existing and new invasives. Observatory Pasture is one striking example. Diffuse Knapweed (Centaurea diffusa) populations are collapsing right across the southern Interior, due to successful biocontrol. Yet Diffuse Knapweed is extremely common in Observatory Pasture. Sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta), a relatively new invasive, is now well established in the Basin.

Riparian Grazing Management

We were particularly distressed by the condition of lower Park Rill Creek (designated as “Riparian env” on the pasture map). Cattle have total access to this portion of the Creek, and they have destroyed all the riparian vegetation. As a result the Creek has downcut some two to three meters below the soil surface. This is inexcusable at the best of times, but even more so given the number of riparian and wetland-dependent species at risk in the White Lake Basin.

Observatory Pasture, May 8, 2020. Vegetation is dominated by invasives, and non-palatable Wyoming Big Sage (Artemisia tridentata).
Observatory Pasture, May 8 2020. Dense carpet of Diffuse Knapweed rosettes.
Looking SSW to Park Rill Creek: loss of riparian vegetation. Cattle in Welsh Lake Pasture in the distance.
Park Rill Creek. Riparian vegetation grazed out, loss of bank stability from roots, and subsequent streambank downcutting.
Cattle in Park Rill Creek, adjacent to Observatory entrance. This destructive riparian grazing could be easily eliminated with some fencing and an off-site watering facility.

We do hope these issues will be attended to, and that the White Lake Biodiversity Ranch will someday live up to its name.

Sincerely,

Fred Marshall, RPF, P.Ag
Box 2, Midway, BC V0H 1M0

Don Gayton, M.Sc, P.Ag(ret).
Box 851, Summerland, BC V0H 1Z0

Wolfgang Von Goethe and Bee Balm

Monarda image

This wooden bench sits under the shade of a sumac, part of a native plant garden bordering the sidewalk at our town’s library. I am sitting here, preparing to follow the instructions of Wolfgang Von Goethe. The auto parts store is next to the library, and as I dither, I begin to recognize a pattern in the cars that park in front of me. Big, late model pickup trucks for the auto parts store, small, older SUVs and sedans for the library. But all this keen observation is simply postponing my assignment, given to us by Dr. Nancy Holmes, poet and professor of English, in a nature writing seminar at the library. She has given us instructions on the five steps of the Goethean Method of nature observation, which has nothing to do with the relation between lifestyle and automobile choice.

The first step is to choose a natural object for observation. I cast my glance around and fix on a group of anonymous tall-stemmed ornamental plants near my bench. They are still in flower but rather scruffy looking, since it is late August. This garden is nothing like wilderness or even nature, but I can conveniently practice the Method on these plants from the comfort of my shady bench. Okay, Goethe says to firmly put aside all foreknowledge—particularly the scientific–of the natural object and just observe it as is, where is, but do so passionately. Which is odd since Goethe was also a scientist. I do that: in this case observational rigor is simple since there isn’t much to see. A group of tall stems with occasional, slightly withered leaves. Round, kind of spiky inflorescences with a few remaining pinkish flowers that a bumblebee visits. Is this one of the 356 native bumblebees of the Okanagan? Firmly, I snap a bracket around that diversionary scientific rabbithole, and proceed. My passionate observation of the plants is going well but something, some vague sense of familiarity, begins hovering out in the suburbs of consciousness. As an ecologist, I am acutely aware of this uncontrollable plant identification motor that runs in my head whenever I am outside, but for the Goethean exercise I have shut it down. As I lean in for a closer observation of the plants, something rips through the thin fabric of bracketed observation: square stems. The stems of these plants are square in cross section. I can’t help it; the autonomous motor re-starts. Square stems equals mint family. I pluck a leaf to sniff it; not quite mint, not quite lemon and pungent, like thyme or oregano. Immediately another motor starts up, that of memory. Of midsummer Saskatchewan prairie grasslands, of redolent pink flowers amongst a sea of native grass. That unique, unmistakable scent. Ignoring Goethe, the plant ID motor fires again: Monarda. Monarda fistulosa. Bee balm, or Wild Bergamot.

What a lovely plant, named in honor of Nicholas Monardes (1493-1588), a Spanish doctor who wrote about herbal medicines brought back from the recently discovered New World. There are some twenty species within the Monarda genus, all of which are North American natives, found pretty much everywhere, but only rarely in British Columbia. Ironically it was the Europeans that made them into popular ornamentals, which this one is. The name Bee Balm comes from the leaf’s reputed ability to soothe bee stings, and the Wild Bergamot name from its scent similarity to the true citrus Bergamot, a component of Earl Grey tea. Monarda flowers with their long funnels and hanging lower lips are hugely popular with insect pollinators, but the leaves not. In fact First Nations used a Monarda leaf concoction to keep their meat from spoiling. Reviewing contemporary wildcrafting literature, Bergamot oil seems to be a cure for pretty much everything from warts to menstrual cramps, making the skeptical reader a bit suspicious. Monarda was traditionally wild-harvested on the Canadian prairies and sold to perfume makers, who used the essential oil as an ingredient in their products. That cottage industry disappeared when chemists were able to synthesize a laboratory replacement for the oil.

Okay, enough of all that. Bracket all that historical, economic and scientific stuff and put it to one side. Stop telling this plant what it is, and give it a chance to explain itself to you; to your rational mind, your senses, and your imagination. Turn off your woo-woo shit detector, trust Goethe, and seek new organs of perception. Definitely a challenge for me, but well worth the effort.

Eocene Walk

Metasequoia

A short walk through a tony Kelowna neighborhood has particular meaning for me. This walk is one taken by our fellowship of Cancer Center patients too cheap to pay parkade fees, and who don’t mind the three-block walk for free neighborhood parking.  I have another personally meaningful walk in the White Lake Basin, an hour or so by car south of Kelowna. These two walks are joined by a tree, and separated by 50 million years. 

During the Eocene Epoch the White Lake Basin supported lush semi-tropical vegetation. The signature tree species of that Epoch was Metasequoia, the Dawn Redwood, a deciduous conifer with lovely pinnate leaves. Fossilized bits and pieces of those delicate leaves can be found in the Basin, encased in sandstone. A few small samples I have collected are on display in our living room.  

I was dimly aware of the history of Metasequoia, thought to be extinct until a single grove of it was found in China in the 1940’s, but I had no idea it had become a landscape tree, until I discovered one on my Kelowna cancer walk. There it was, big as life, in someone’s front yard. The tree’s unique foliage, a kind of hybrid cross between needles and leaves, provided instant recognition. I nipped off a single leaflet from the suburban Metasequoia, took it home and laid it alongside my fossil specimens from White Lake. They were absolutely identical.

I’m not altogether sure what meaning I should draw from this 50 million-year personal coincidence. How could I have not known Metasequoia is now a relatively common landscape tree? Should I marvel at the amazing durability of nature? Or the humbling of human history by fossil trees? 

When I do the cancer walk, starting from free parking, past the Metasequoia and down the three blocks to the Sindi Ahluwalia Hawkins Cancer Centre, I am part of an unspoken community. We are all heading there for diagnosis, radiation, chemo or consultation. I am also keenly aware of my trivial membership in this community, an old man with low grade prostate cancer. That is forcefully driven home to me whenever I pass a middle-aged woman wearing a headscarf. But like the Metasequoia, we all soldier on.

Naming the Nameless

The object caught my attention immediately. It sat on a shelf in the “men’s section” of our local Thrift Shop, along with the usual old trowels, jars of rusty bolts and random door hinges. Made of strong gray and black plastic, the thing consisted of two interacting screw clamps mounted atop fluted cylinders, with a hole underneath. No markings, no manufacturer’s name. As I turned it over and over in my hands, fascinated, I discovered a label that a Thrift Shop volunteer had affixed to it. Evidently the volunteer was as baffled as I, since the label said:

Retrospasmodic Farbulator.

Price $1

retrospasmodic farbulator

Before going into more detail I need to pause momentarily, to provide background information on our Thrift Shop. Hugely popular, its official name is the Summerland Hospital Auxiliary, although if you use that name you often get blank stares. The Shop generates hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for our hospital, by selling donated items at 50 cents or a dollar, with the odd rare item going for as much as $20. Stuff is dropped off in the alley behind the Shop, sorted and priced by the volunteers, and then sold. Clothing, dishware, toys, DVDs, books, puzzles, you name it, chances are you can find it at the Thrift Shop. Originally, senior downsizing provided most of the Shop’s inventory, as our town’s old folks transitioned from family homes to apartment condos. But now, recycling of used items has caught on with the entire community. Many women I know do all their clothes shopping there. Used booksellers pillage the book section. Outgrown children’s skis and boots are donated, purchased, used for a year by the next youngster, and then returned to the Thrift Shop for the next cycle.

The Thrift Shop opens Tuesday to Saturday, 1pm to 4pm. On a typical Tuesday, a crowd begins to gather in front of the doors at about 12:30. They are nervous with excitement, knowing that two whole days of new donations have accumulated since the previous Saturday afternoon’s closing. Canny Thrift Shop volunteers place a few choice new items in the display window over the Sunday-Monday restocking period, thus titillating the crowd even further. Wednesday is also a big day, since the depleted shelves from the Tuesday onslaught are restocked Wednesday morning, from the famous private inner sanctum known as the “Staff Only Area.” Sometimes on April weekends, when half the town is engaged in spring cleaning, the Thrift Shop has to put a sign in the alley behind the store, begging for folks to hold off on their donations for a few days, due to capacity issues.

Nearly everyone in our small town has a Thrift Shop story: the incredible find, the one that got away, the thing you would surely find some use for, the donation followed by the buy-back, and so on.

But I have digressed from the Farbulator, which of course I bought. Its name brought to mind those words you use when you don’t know–or can’t remember—the actual name of the object in question. The Whatzit, the Doohickey, the Doofer, the Denksbumpf, the Schmilblick. I think a thoroughly researched investigation of this incredibly creative genre is worthy of an MA in English Lit. The thesis would of course be dedicated to the individual that came up with Retrospasmodic Farbulator.

PS: I welcome any contributions to the genre.

A Canadian Adventure

A major rockslide recently blocked Highway 97, just north of where we live. This 97, the longest highway in North America, starts in Weed, California and ends somewhere in the Yukon, no one knows exactly where. In this, British Columbia’s steep and narrow Okanagan Valley, the 97 is the only viable north-south travel corridor. The February rockslide started from a high promontory favored by mountain goats. Witnesses said the loosened rocks started out house size, but were then reduced to van size when they hit the pavement. There was instant commuter consternation, since commuting is our lifeblood here in the Okanagan, and there were no obvious alternate routes. No way to get to and from Kelowna, the Big Box city. At first we all assumed the closure would be a matter of a day or two–this simply could not be a repeat of that horrendous prolonged rockslide closure of 2008. But the commuterless, shopperless days dragged on. Adventurous young bucks in F-350’s began exploring various sketchy and unmarked bush roads to get around the blockage. Even more adventurous tow truck drivers began raking in big cash by towing the bucks out. A rumor circulated that a lovely young woman in a party dress arrived at one end of the rockslide and convinced an adoring Mountie to escort her on foot over the rocks, to meet her partner on the other side.

Finally the Ministry of Transportation got involved, and established a signed and graded detour of 200 kilometers, following Forest Service Mains up the east side of the valley. Then a few days later they announced a shorter detour of only 90 kilometers, on the handier west side of the valley. My wife needed to catch the Vancouver-bound bus, which stops on Highway 97 just a short drive north our home, but on the far side of the rockslide. So we girded our loins, packed up toques and mittens, checked tires and gassed up, ready to take on the shorter detour.

The Ministry’s map of the “alternate route” showed a crude and wobbly V laid on it’s side. One end of the V started at our home town of Summerland; the other end touched down at Peachland, twenty kilometers away up 97, with the rockslide in between. The vertex of the V was near a community far out in the bush called Mazama.

Pavement switched to gravel just a few kilometers out of Summerland, but we soon discovered that frozen graded gravel, with skiffs of ice here and there, provided pretty good traction for our aging Honda CRV.  So off into the forest we went, the road continuously winding, angling mostly upward and occasionally downward. The very odd straight stretch of a few hundred meters was usually followed by a hairpin and then a one-lane bridge. This was clearcut country, the vast and seldom visited Southern Interior warehouse of lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir, mines, powerlines and reservoirs.

We passed occasional convoys of commuters coming the other way, and they slowed down respectfully as we passed. There was a sense that we were all in this together, and if anyone needed help, several cars would pull over to offer it. When we finally reached our turning point at the end of the V, I realized the community of Mazama consisted of one bush ranch and nothing else. It got dark as we started the long descent toward Peachland, and dry, flaky snow started falling. Fortunately visibility was improved by the bright, continuous meter-high barrier of recently plowed snow on either side of the road.

To help pass the time, we reminisced about that first 97 rockslide, which happened right in the same area. We were returning from Vancouver when it occurred, and we were the first car to be stopped by the lone flagman a few kilometers north of the slide. “How long do you think it will be?” we asked. “Dunno, but you can wait if you like.” We chose not to, and headed back to Kelowna, seeking the alternate eastside route to get home to Summerland. The directions we got were pretty vague, but we set out, winding through the suburbs of south Kelowna, blithely assuming there would be signage. We soon realized we were lead car in a small convoy of fellow commuters who were relieved, assuming they were following someone who knew the road.

Several kilometers later we finally stopped on what had morphed into a glorified, muddy goat trail, full of ruts, rocks and roots. Adventurous young bucks in Ford F-350’s and camo gear were stunned by our surprise arrival at their 4WD playground. They gave us to understand our little six-car convoy was definitely on the wrong road. In fact, not a road at all, and that we best turn around. The car behind us, a Dodge Caliber containing four nurses returning from a convention, needed help. The young bucks provided instant assistance to get them turned around.

We did, finally, make it home, and Highway 97 reopened—19 days later. As challenging as the detour was, we were glad we didn’t decide to “wait.”

But enough reminiscing about the last rockslide and back to the present. Even though we were on the descent to Peachland, we were still way, way out in the bush. I had reset the trip meter at Mazama, and I checked it again when we finally re-emerged on to Highway 97. Forty-six kilometers out, forty-four back: a fearful symmetry.  

We arrived at the bus stop in time to get Judy on the bus for her seven-hour trip over the Coquihalla, to Vancouver. It was a true Canadian adventure.