Archive for January, 2010

A day trip in the Fraser Valley farmlands

January 24, 2010

I met my  friend Jacki on my first day of teaching. She was a new (but seasoned) secretary for the high school and I was a neophyte teacher.

I was expected to collect art fees and locker fees from each student and give them a receipt, but there were no receipts books to be had.   I parked my self at the counter just in front of her desk and demanded in a most frustrated manner to know, if there were no receipt books, when would they be coming in.

She had been equally frustrated by the beginning of school and, she tells me, muttered under her breath, “Bloody snotty bitch! Who does she think she is,” and then replied in her clipped English accent in a very pointedly, over-polite tone , “We don’t have them and we don’t know when they are coming in. I’ll let you know when we’ve got them.”

I thanked her in equally over-polite words and then turned on my heel saying just loudly enough for her to hear, “Bloody secretaries and janitors! They run the bloody  schools!”

Of course, this last statement is correct. They do. We couldn’t operate without them. Instead of being bitter about it as I was that day, I came to appreciate their services even more so than the principal’s.

At some time in the second year, I moved to Richmond where she, too, lived. Memory is dim, these forty years on. Somehow she offered to drive me home and I accepted. It became a regular thing. We became such good friends that we never stopped being friends.

Sometimes there would be years in between when we no longer saw each other, like when I studied in France for four years. But when we got back together, the conversation began and never ended.

She had my number quite early. I was an innocent dropped into a wicked world. I would walk into situations where no rational person would go and somehow would walk back out unscathed.  Over the years, like any youth, I became more worldly, but always there was this obliviousness to danger, and often I would get into scrapes. So OK, maybe I wasn’t unscathed.

Jacki was always there like a safety net. She was five years older and much like an wise sister.

It has been a while since last we saw each other, maybe six months, and the previous time before was two years. She’s a Realtor and when I bought this house, she was my first visitor. I hadn’t bought the house through her because it was outside of her area of expertise, but she wanted to make sure I had done well with my purchase and she wanted to know what the place looked like so she could imagine me here when she phoned me or sent an e-mail. These latter forms of communication, I must say, are also far and few between.

Last week, we finally set a date and yesterday was it. I left the  house at one o’clock and set out to find her in White Rock. I’ve been there once before but I”m not super on directions. I had them written down but I now find it harder than before. So much has changed.

I won’t bore you with the details.  I had a couple of chores to do en route – the bank, picking up a prepaid order of toner for my laser printer at Staples and then across the river to Langley via the new Golden Ears Bridge.

All that went fairly quickly, except that Staples did not have my order ready and they had “forgotten” to give me my rebate since they guarantee that they will have toner in stock and if they don’t they give you ten dollars off your bill. Thus, it was more like two o’clock when I got down to serious driving and I was twenty dollars plus richer than I had been half an hour before.

The Number Ten Highway is way down around the border – about seventy blocks away, in this grid system of ours, and I simply headed south and knew I would run into it.

Jacki lives between Sixty-fourth and Sixty-second streets way to the west in Surrey. I could simply take a cross street that went right through and get there, it seemed to me. I never did find the Number Ten Highway and so when I came to Sixty-fourth, I took it. It’s a main road in Surrey.

What I didn’t know is that it curves onto the highway. Well, this was good.

I was blithely driving along the highway but our system of marking streets, it seems to me, is not very clear. I had driven a few miles before I saw that the highway I was on was the Fraser Highway. Was it the same thing? There was nowhere to park at the side of the road and look. Traffic was going fast. There was construction going on and the cars were funneled into a single lane with a jolly looking young woman in fluorescent yellow crisscrossed with neon red waving drivers along. I couldn’t stop.

I must have driven about ten miles before I was able to catch a few signs showing that I have arrived at Ninety-eighth Street.  It meant that the Fraser Highway was not the Number Ten and that I had begun to head north on a diagonal. I was driving away from my destination! But finally, I was in territory I knew.  I got on a westward axis and headed for Scott Road then turned due south again. This time I had thirty blocks to go. I was tired and frustrated.

“It is what it is. Jacki will understand.” I muttered to myself. There was nothing I could do about it. I hadn’t brought my cell phone. The battery needs replacement. It won’t hold a charge.

By the time I arrived, I had been driving for an hour and a half. Although I had given myself lots of lead time, I was over an hour late.  To add to my driving misery, I should have turned at Boundary Gate Road, but the  sign for that street said Sunshine Gate Road and I missed it, only recognizing just after it was too late to turn, and I had this fellow behind me tail-gaiting.   Still heading south, not half a block later, I saw Highway Ten. It would have brought me within a block of Jacki’s house, had I found it at the beginning of the trip. I was there now, though,  and past it, going in the wrong direction!

I’m dense but not that dense. I realized that if I turned to “go around the block” to get myself back to Jacki’s I would be on the highway again without means of going back for a couple of miles. Instead, I went south and eventually found a way to do a U-turn.

She lives in a gated community with several monster houses divided up in to town homes. Her door is hidden behind a garage structure. The signage there is dreadful as well.  It was impossible to tell if I had arrived at the  right place. I saw a neighbour and got out of the car.

Fortunately, everyone knows everyone else in this enclave. He walked down to where I could park the car (also super-discreetly marked so as to be virtually unnoticable) and then pointed out Jacki’s home.

I had arrived.

My pent up frustrations would have made me a terrible guest. I was feeling very surly and out of sorts. I grabbed onto a suggestion she had made the day before as we planned our visit and asked if we could start by going for a walk.

There is a little lake nearby.  Really little. A pond, in normal parlance, but since Real Estate complexes laud their best features, this has become known as “the lake” – not even a half a kilometer in circumference.

There are a few ducks and a swan floating serenely on the glassy  surface. Some of the birds gather at the fence-line hoping for hand-outs. I had my camera and shot  a few pictures of them.

Jacki and I walked around twice before going back to her place.  It did me good.  The pent up frustration melted away. We chatted as we walked and shared our news and tribulations. We both have a few at  the moment.

Back at her home, we collected the address for my next destination from the car and, like a mother hen, she found the map, showed me where I would be going, walked me through it step by step.I would be going back by Highway Ten. It goes, after all, in a straight line from West to East.   I now knew where to find it!

“Do you remember, ” I asked, ” that when you came out last time, you came this route and you were so excited by the drive through the farmlands?”
She nodded.

“Well, I’m sure that the Number Ten is much better than the Fraser Highway. I couldn’t believe it! There are developments lining it – strip development – covering over almost every bit of farm land!”

“How did they get away with it?” I continued. “We are supposed to have laws about taking land out of the Agricultural Reserve. I was appalled by the sheer size and extent of it. There is hardly any farm land left! The apartment blocks are massive! What do we need five story apartment blocks here for? It’s all built on spec. I bet they are hoping to sell a lot of it during the Olympics and then the investors will go away and leave the units empty. ”
“But it is so far away from anything – from shops, from services – and to go anywhere, you have to have a car! We’re trying to phase out cars, and here we are spreading out, making people captive to their “rural” setting. And for that matter, as soon as you have a five story  walk up, you no longer have rural!”

I was ranting. Was there no stop to this? Were we going to eventually pave over every bit of earth in Canada. It is so sad!!!!

Jacki joined the kvetching. She agreed. It was so ugly, and we were destroying so much of the environment that we should be leaving as protected nature.

I had to cut a lot out of this picture to bring it to you as if it were natural:

And this next one shows how those monster houses are encroaching on the grasslands. I couldn’t stop to take photos on the highway, but I wouldn’t have wanted to show you the monster apartment blocks. They are simply dehumanizing in scale. I’ve been in ones like these.  There are  miles and miles of new ones being built. The interior corridors are long, long tunnels with fire doors dividing up the length.  No one stays in the hallway, they are so depressing. There is no natural light. And there are doors, one after the other, like prison cells.

After that rant, we  had a lovely visit and talked about everything and anything. Just before I had to go she put together sandwiches so that I could eat before I went to my evening meeting. She had made home made bread, sliced it thin and spread it with a chicken salad mixture she had chopped up herself. There was a Greek salad too, done only as Jacki would, with the ingredients chopped so much finer than what one would find in a restaurant. Hers was done to aesthetic perfection with yellow and red peppers, a crumbly feta cheese and small morsels of tomatoes. It was served up in a fine china bowl.

It was dark when I left. I drove out to the Number Ten and headed back east. If I had any illusions that this other route would be any better, I was disabused of the idea very quickly.  On this route, there are automobile dealerships fit for the princes of Arabia. The buildings are glass-fronted and shinywith catherdral-high ceilings. At night, the kilowatt hours are pumping through there ina  contest of brilliance with each other. One hardly has need of car lights, it’s so illuminated – and the lots are full of shiny new cars. It goes on and on and on for miles. And all for the almighty car! The polluter of the planet. I shake my head.

Can no politician say no to development – this kind of development? Can we not build up instead of out? Do we need to have acres and acres of cars? Do we need to light up the night and make it into day? Isn’t anyone in government getting the message?

I found my evening meeting place without too much difficulty. The meeting went smoothly – my first as a new member of the artists’ cooperative. I only had one glitch in my drive home. I finally made it into my own driveway by ten-thirty and I was rarely so glad to see it. It’s eighty-six years old, sturdily built and still full of charm.

And so, when I tell you that bit by big bit, the developers are covering over the farmlands, they are making themselves rich; but we the residents, we are poorer for all that. Once the outcropping of concrete has been established in the fields, there is no going back. Malls will become obsolete. They will be abandoned, like they are in my town; and then instead of tearing down an old building down to rebuild on the spot, they simply go and build a new one on deaccessioned Agricultural reserve.

Which makes the title of this post quite ironic. Much of the farmland is gone now. And the covering over continues apace. Much of can never be restored.