Monday, August 3, 2009

Holiday Monday in a Smoky Valley

Feels like a Sunday, mostly because it's so quiet and I'm here at the kitchen table typing to you. It is, of course, Monday but a holiday Monday. And it's so quiet because almost everyone has left town and is baking on a beach at the lake or floating on tubes down the Shuswap River. Or so it seems. I'm not complaining - it's mighty nice here today.

The heat hasn't abated at all, in fact got more intense in the past few days, 38C to 42C almost every day and no rain for four weeks excepting one evening. BC Premier Gordon Campbell issued a public announcement on Friday that was just short of an official proclamation of a state of emergency due to the extreme heat and dry conditions. The entire province, at least from Prince George south and including Vancouver Island, is tinderbox dry. One good lightning storm or careless (or malicious) human could send the whole region up in a giant POOF.

My publishing partner Val was out yesterday for a work day - I insisted we work here because her apartment in town is a sauna. It got to 42C but the house still remained relatively cool (I don't have A/C but lots of shade from fir trees). We were diligent little beavers, putting in a solid 4 hours of work in the morning, then a light lunch of salad and social time with tall glasses of iced tea. I brewed a batch of tea with lemon and mint that morning just for that purpose.

It hasn't been all work. I rode out to Kelowna Saturday to take in some of the weekend polo tournament. One of the women I work with told me about it; her husband is a polo player with the Kelowna/Vernon club. It's been over 25 years since I attended a polo match. There were teams from the four western clubs: Grande Prairie, Calgary, Kelowna and Victoria. Yes, they travel a long way for these meets.

Met some very interesting people, one couple in particular who don't have a horsey bone in their bodies but have friends who are - Joe and Cindy. He's a full time videographer (I think that's how you say it) making a living, if you can believe, posting his work on his own YouTube channel. When I find the link, I'll post it. And she is a professional artist/ photographer. Our game watching was intermingled with some very interesting conversation and hopefully a new friendship.

My life's journey seems to be one event of serendipity (or God's hand) after another. I never know where it's going to lead! You know the old saying: If you want to hear God laugh, tell Her your plans, or Life is what happens while you're making other plans. Just the idea that I might be in control of my life makes me laugh out loud.

It was blistering hot out there but Janice, Ray, I and my new friends found shady places to watch the games. And then between chukkas came the traditional, "Spectators, we invite you to walk the field" and out we'd go, icy cold beer in hand, barefoot in my case, replacing divots kicked up by hooves and pushing the turf back down with our feet. Not the dainty frock-hat-and-cocktail set, but this ain't England, honey.

It was a gorgeous day for biking, almost too hot actually even though I was in a sleeveless top, jeans, helmet and boots (who could even think of a jacket, let alone chaps, in this heat?). My late afternoon ride home required a Timmy's stop for iced coffee and a spell in an air conditioned environment, trying to cool down.

Been watering the garden and flower beds late in the evening and into the night, when it soaks in deep and does the most good. Neighbour Adrienne and I sat up late into the evening, listening to the rhythm of the sprinklers, drinking cold white wine while she talked about her son's wedding last weekend, and then everything under the sun as the level got lower in the bottle. Husband Ken just smiled and uncorked another one for us. I don't think they made it to their 6am tee time at the Armstrong golf course this morning!

Today our valley is heavy with smoke from the Terrace Mountain fire*. We had a good view of the smoke pillar from the polo grounds on Saturday, upwind from the fire. Around 3pm, Janice and I both commented that it looked like perhaps it had increase. I haven't looked on line nor listened to the radio for two days now, but did hear through the grapevine that Fintry was evacuated again.

One woman I was sitting beside at the polo grounds made a funny remark as we watched the smoke: "I though they said they had that fire contained!"

"Well, yes, but that doesn't mean it's out. It just means they've stopped it from travelling. (it had been moving at 30m per minute at the worst of it) It is a big fire (4500ha) so it's going to take a long time for it to run out of fuel."

She gave me the funniest look. To her, 'contained' meant out, done, finis. Oh lady, if you've seen a wildfire line, and I have, you'd have no doubt at all about how far the word 'contained' is from 'out'.

And if the heat was intense where we were, it must be almost unbearable for those slogging away at that fire, deep in mountain canyons where there's not a breath of cool air.

And yet sometimes I really miss going out to wildfires. I miss the crews - all Indians from Sturgeon Lake and sometimes Driftpile reserves. I miss the incident command team - Don, Owen, Eugene, Chad. And I really miss the helicopters. I adore helicopters.

Last summer on a visit back to Valleyview, one of the guys from Sturgeon Lake saw me walking along the sidewalk and came to say hello. "How come you don't drive for us anymore? We wantcha back. You were a good driver and a lot of fun!" Why thank you. That was nice to hear, and although I told him I now lived 1000km away, that wasn't a good enough excuse for him. My adoring fans!

I've had some real fun in my life. I was raised on a cattle ranch in southern Alberta. Got a college degree in agronomy (I'm a dirt specialist, at least on paper.) I milked dairy cows in New Zealand. I was a draftsman in Calgary, a land use planning researcher in Grande Prairie and highway development control officer in High Prairie. I had a homestead farm with my husband in the Northern Alberta bush, where we built a log house, raised beef cattle, meat goats, sheep and two kids. I drove silage truck for the neighbour during the summer, then school bus as a spare driver and contracts for wildfire fighters in the summer. I taught piano lessons. I played piano for church and weddings and funerals ("Where's your mom?" "Oh, she's in town doing a funeral.") I wrote articles for agriculture and forest industry publications, and then for the local newspaper. When we sold the farm, I got into newspaper production as well as writing. I wrote a book, and that project led to editing and publishing books for other people. I learned to ride a motorcycle, taught my kids how to drive and my husband to appreciate classical music. He taught me how to play - to take the afternoon off, to hell with the garden, and play with the kids in the river, bathing suits optional.

I can hardly wait to find out what's coming up next!

* Terrace Mtn Fire update, or why we're inundated with smoke:

Terrace Mountain (K50720)

Location: Terrace Mountain, 38k on Steward FS Road
See approximate location on a Mapquest map

Discovered: Saturday, July 18, 2009

Size: 7,025.0 ha (estimated)

Status: Active
• 30% contained
The Terrace Mountain Fire grew significantly yesterday due to wind; it is estimated to have grown 2500 hectares.

This aspect of the fire has been burning from a range of highly vigorous surface fire, with torching to extremely vigorous surface fire or active crown fire. The fire was not a result of the burning off activity; this fire burned over the fireguard that was built. Extremely dry fuels, wind speed, and wind direction all contributed to the fire’s vigorous growth.

Interface: Interface Interface Fire

Evacuation Order is in effect.

An evacuation order has been issued by the Regional District of Central Okanagan for approximately 2500 residents.


  1. So tell us (who don't know) about your book - title etc....


  2. How interesting!!!!!! Like Laura I would like to hear more about the book.

  3. We have three in the works, but only writing the manuscript for one. It's a corporate history for a local financial institution. We're putting a different twist on it - I hope - more 'family history' than dry business report. Can't say much more about it right now other than that I still have a long list of interviews to my 'spare' time.

    The other two are personal stories written by clients, and that, my friends, takes a delicate hand!

    The corporate history will be the second book I've written (co-written in this case), the fifth I've produced and the umpteenth I've copy proofed/edited.

  4. Oh. I'm reading again and think, Laura, that you mean the book I wrote. Heat's getting to me, man.

    It's called "Horses and Other Loves: the Life of Ivor Clarke" and I think I have about 20 copies left of the 1100 we printed. Ivor was an old time cowboy, he and his wife were good friends of ours. Ivor had an interesting life and I managed to get some of it on paper. It wasn't exactly the story I wanted to write but it was story he wanted to tell.

    If you want, I can send you a copy.

  5. Like Laura -- I want a copy too! Joy of my days, reading your prose, my adventurous friend. Hugs. Keep cool. Praying for rain!

  6. Your books are on the way, ladies.

    Hey Laura, do you ever hear news of Rita Buchanan? Is she still doing workshops? I had the privilege of taking a master class with her a loooong time ago in Fairview.

  7. I think she still is teaching, but I haven't heard much lately.

    Thanks for sending a book - I'll watch for it. :)