Much to Franc’s disgust, I brought back more junk than I took up to Nelson. Lizbet’s church was having a garage sale on Saturday. If we helped put things in place, we could buy in advance of the crowd. I found a beautiful ceramic bowl and a one cup measure in the form of a cream jug with a rooster decoration. Very discrete, the rooster was. Lizbet found a rug in excellent condition which she needed to protect her newly finished floors.
I sorted out the books. Now there’s a dangerous thing to ask me to do, with my love of books. By the time I was finished, I had two tables full of books sorted mostly by size – paperbacks and hard cover – with a box or two of fashion magazines. The price was ridiculously low and I came home with two Atlases, one by Reader’s Digest, the other by the New York Times, some old text books on art and ceramics. Nonetheless, I needed two cardboard boxes to carry them all.
Lizbet knows my weakness for second hand and antique stores, garage sales and bazaars. She took me to Trail’s Sally Ann and down the street, a mostly furniture second hand store. I didn’t find anything in the first. In the second, there was a lot of new furniture in old styles made in Thailand, so most of it wasn’t too interesting. But the owner was unpacking some auction lots and I found some original silk screen prints that needed an art rescue. Franc grumbled and cursed under his breath as he was packing the car. After all, I was going to have to move soon. What was I doing accumulating more stuff.
“What do you need all this for? he snapped; but he knew better than to do more than that.
“I’ve learned that it’s her money and she can spend it where she wants.” he professed to Lizbet. Well spoken, I thought. After thirty years of our tempestuous relationship, he restrains his efforts to direct my every choice and guide my footsteps in his version of righteousness. Besides, he didn’t have an atlas, wanted one, and would be only be too happy to take one off my hands.
Car packed and ready, we drove away at seven thirty after a quick coffee. Knowing Franc’s driving history, I packed a pair of hard boiled eggs and a half bag of Hawkins’ cheezies. Franc doesn’t like to stop en route. We had a ten hour journey in front of us (if I was driving) that he could turn in to an eight hour one just because we didn’t stop. Add to that he believes that he was born to race the Formula One. There were stretches of road where his fear of authority was overridden by the vast number of trees standing guard instead of Royal Canadian Mounted Police. As a matter of principle, he always exceeded the speed limit by ten clicks an hour. Coming down mountain hills or racing past a loaded semi truck trailer, he could add another twenty, on occasion.
As we hit Paulson Pass just past the Trail connector, a fine hail rained upon the windshield with a hissing sound but it didn’t stay on the ground. As it lost force, the sky settled into a dull overcast cloud that did not quit us until Grand Forks. Here the willows were almost fluorescent yellow with the newly soaring sap. A steady wind stirred the branches. All the trees were sporting a tender new green.
Unlike the trip up, I was wide awake and our conversation flowed over the events of the past ten days, the successes in the domain of repair and renovation, the possibilities for the house, Lizbet’s and my excursions. The conversations was punctuated with Franc’s observations on the weather as the car’s digital reading of outside temperature vacillated from three to ten to fourteen to seven to seventeen to eleven Celsius as we drove up mountains and down and then into the Okanagan semi desert.
In Greenwood, we stopped at the bakery cafe. I bought a delicious and sinful cinnamon apple and pecan something aruther (how do you spell that?) and a virtuous whole grain loaf. Franc had a scone drizzled with icing. I just pecked at that sinful thing. We carried our coffees away and were back on the road within ten minutes.
“What happened to the philosophy you’ve been handing me lately that we are retired and there’s no need to hurry?” I asked. He grinned sheepishly as we pushed onwards at a speed that flirted the authorities. “That doesn’t apply to driving,” he said.
As we came down the steep slopes of Anarchist Mountain into the town of Osoyoos, we could see mountains across the valley still defined by the late spring snows. Camera at the ready, I snapped at the things through a rain spattered windshield that I would have liked to stop and photograph standing at the side of the road, or at least stopped, window rolled down. With some wheedling and cajoling, I convinced him that, if we were not going to stop for coffee in Osoyoos, we could at least stop at the first place that had an orchard fully in bloom so that I could take decent photos. We were just outside Cawston when we chose a good size roadside orchard. I know the limits of his patience and don’t take much time on these occasions. Luck was with me though. He had discovered a stand of dark coloured lilacs close by and had to go smell them. It gave me a full five minutes of clicking close ups of the blooms and distant shots down to the horizon of the orderly rows of apple trees.
I returned to the car with my digital trophies.
Franc called to me “Bring the car up here” which I did. “You drive for a while now” he added which I also did. When he got in the car, he was carrying three or four branches of lilac. I only felt slightly guilty. There was a whole wall of them, a hundred feet of frontage. They would not be missed.
We drove past Keremeos with it’s fruit stands, past our friends’ trailer park because they were down with flu and didn’t want visitors. At Hedley, I made a forced stop and chose a cafe rather than the gas station. I’m a nuisance to cafe owners. I’m allergic to caffeine.
As the young waitress brewed a new pot of decaf, she chatted. I asked her about the mines and she confessed she did not know much about Hedley. “This is only my second season and I’ve only been here two weeks this time. I’m a Seasonal Worker” she proclaimed, as if it were a badge of honour. She was a Native girl in her early twenties with a lovely, friendly nature and a soft warm coloured skin. She had an air of self possession and contentment.
Franc who had urged me to hurry so we could get going, waited outside, claiming not to want another coffee. But just as my coffee was ready, he came in saying, “Is that my coffee?” and we waited while she then brewed a new pot of regular for him. As we waited, our conversation turned to weather. It had been hot all day in Hedley. It was twenty degrees now. “I like the heat,” she said. “It’s part of what I come for. It can get pretty hot in summer time with the heat accumulating in the rock face up back.”
The interior of the whole cafe was walled in pine set on a forty-five degree angle, with an overlay of huge jigsaw-cut geometric patterns between the two big windows. On three of the large wall surfaces there were murals depicting mining life, equipment and the surrounding countryside. Up above the bar, there were recent paintings of Hedley by a Penticton based artist. “All for sale,” the waitress assured me. I dared not bring home another piece of art work. These were being well cared for and did not need rescue.
Before we got in the car, we stopped to admire the bizarre garden just next door to the cafe. A lady was poking about in it, weeding and hoeing. We congratulated her on her creativity and admired her decidedly western-looking inukchuks – balancing stones.
Like the temperature, we had watched the gasoline prices vacillate as we passed from town to town. It was a dollar seven in the Kootenays, a dollar twelve in Grand Forks, Osoyoos and Hedley.
Now, as we drove along the Similkameen River, it was full with early spring run off. I had rarely seen it full to the top of the banks. There was little snow left on any of the peaks along our route. It seemed to all be here in the river. On the occasional time we spotted a snow load, high up, I attempted to get a picture. The twelve times digital was a boon on the camera as was the graphic image stabilizer, but nothing could correct the motion of Franc’s fast driving nor the winter’s crop of potholes in the road.
Gas in Princeton was one dollar eight, but we passed on by. Just west of Princeton, up the top of the first long hill, just past the Sandman hotel, Franc had reconsidered. Gas at one twenty four in the Lower Mainland was a ridiculous price. Coming up, it had been a dollar nineteen in Hope. We’d fill up here and have some left for when we got home.
As we were filling up, I noticed an Asian family with an energetic girl about ten years old. She was pulling her father to see something and I followed her gesturing to see a tiny herd of four deer grazing about 50 metres away. I got out of the car to stretch my legs and followed the family, taking pictures of the deer all the while.
Now wild life is a different matter. Franc can be convinced to take his time where animals, especially wild ones, are concerned. We lingered quite a while as we watched these graceful deer move about, grazing. When they showed us their four white bottoms and brown tails in unison and sauntered off as if the presentation was now over, we, too, turned and went back to the car.
It’s a surprisingly long drive from Princeton to the East Gate of Manning park. Along this route, pine trees have been ravaged by the pine beetle. In an effort to control the spread of this damaging pest, huge stands of pine have been destroyed and rows and rows of very young fir trees have been planted in their place in neat rows. All snow was gone except on one stand of trees, high up. It was a curious that had snow on one side only of the fir trees, as if the snow had been applied by spray bomb.
It was on this stretch of road that we were stopped by the Accident Citizen Patrol. Two elderly gentlemen wearing fluorescent red with yellow cross vests guided a backlog of traffic past an eighteen wheeler that had beached on its side like a great whale. There wasn’t much more of the accident to see. It was impossible to tell if anyone had been hurt though the traffic moved slowly around the behemoth. It’s a perilous road for semi truck trailers.
A little river was raging beside an open stretch of road, undercutting the river banks. The brush beside and now in it, had turned red with sap, giving a warm relief from the ocher and tan monochrome of lately departed winter. We drove through Manning Park, passing heavily loaded transport trucks at a great rate. We were not here for the scenery. Rather, this was a great rally race and Franc had hopes of winning. At this elevation, the surroundings had lost the fresh white coat of winter, but the tender green of spring was yet to come. We were soon out of the park, destination Hope.
There is a lovely marshy area about thirty miles east of Hope called Sunshine Valley. On one side of the road, there is a broad, flat marshy lake; on the other, there are many ski cabins lining the highway. It looks quaint, but we’ve never stopped to explore. From this point onwards down to Hope, there were lots of freshly capped peaks to be seen.
Through a now bug-spattered windshield, I tried to take photos of these. Once, when I began to swear under my breath in words that should not be printed, Franc made a concession and slowed to ninety so that I could get a decent shot of a truly beautiful mountain top, but there were several, so in the end I just had to take lots of photos and
weed them out later.
We barreled past Hope, along the base of these giant volcanic Coastal mountains, past little rushing waterfalls at the road side, past Herrling Island which always visually pleases me with its almost consistant stand of deciduous trees – entirely ash, it looks like. It takes on a soft look, as if it were a large green pillow a giant could rest his head on.
From Bridal Falls, to Agassiz, to Chilliwack, the mountains are gradually left behind. The Fraser Valley spreads out flat, in some of the best farmland in the nation. It’s become a fully sunny day. There are brilliant clouds lumbering across the sky like mighty cotton elephants. Large shadows follow them below, on the ground. Everything is green. Fields are planted and growing. Fruit trees have flowered and the petals all gone. Vegetation is in full leaf. Farm houses, out buildings, and silos spot the fields at good distances from each other. On the right side of the highway far in the distance, Vancouver’s coast mountains rise out of the sea, looking like pale blue cut outs against a slightly lighter sky, set off with a luscious spring leaf green. Clouds, so habituated to gathering before them and making their offering of rain, today are gathered behind them like a backdrop in a theater.
On the left, the south side of the highway, there are corrals and fences, plowed fields and planted, of strawberries, blueberries, Christmas trees, cereals, hops.
Bridal Falls, Chilliwack, Sumas, Abbotsford, Clearbrook, Matsqui, Aldergrove, Langley, Cloverdale, Surrey: the huge farm buildings for mushrooms, pigs, poultry and dairy appear; there are industries and warehouses; housing complexes, shopping centres, hotels, car, truck and RV dealerships; golf ranges, overpasses. We are on the freeway now. The exits have flown by and we are home to Franc’s place in a record seven and a half hours complete with two coffee stops. We’re back in civilization now.
On the streets of Surrey, the cherry trees are past their flowering. Azaleas compete with them for attention in fiery bloom. There are traffic signals with pre-greens, buses, lamp standards, telephone and electrical lines, signs on everything. Cars everywhere. We are home.