Some things don’t change and some do. When we drove into the Nicola Valley on Tuesday afternoon, I couldn’t wait to slip into the lake for a cool swim. The pines were still grand on the way in and the way out. A Clark’s nutcracker scolded up by the parking area. When I came out of the water, the warm dry dried my skin in about 3 minutes, leaving it the way it felt in the old days when I’d have to brush pollen off my arms when I got into my bed in the tent. I’d sleep with the scent of sage on my hands.
There was one woman in a chair at the very edge of the water and a child’s bucket left in the sand. It wasn’t until we’d driven back to Highway 5A to head north to Kamloops that I noticed the changes. More recreational vehicles parked in a field near Quilchena — and at Quilchena itself, the old hotel (a bathroom on every floor! When we stayed there, I’d peek out from the door of my room to make sure the hall was empty before I tiptoed to the bathroom in my nightdress) closed with a sign saying it was available for lease. The golf course was gone back to rushes and tall grass, nothing left of the groomed greens, the golfers pulling their gear behind them under the slope of hill.
What happens? Times change. No one wants to come to a hotel in the middle of sage-scented hills to ride horses and drink cold beer in the pub with a bullet hole in the bar? We didn’t come because there was a pandemic, though we tried to contact the Nicola Ranch a few times to see if we could still book the Courthouse for a family gathering. We looked forward to a few nights at Quilchena again or at the very least, lunch at the pub as we drove north to Kamloops. We didn’t care about golf but we were sure others did. To see the course abandoned was strange.
We didn’t drive up the Pennask Lake road to look for flammulated owls (we once saw 5 or 6 on the gravel road, feeding on moths at dusk) or to commune with horses. The landscape was as beautiful as ever but our own opportunities felt diminished. We stayed on the highway, intent on seeing everything again, everything that was left. It was never ours anyway, though we loved it. Love it still, the suede hills, the pines, the view going on forever, a few sumacs red on the gravel shoulders. My own shoulders remembered the dry air as I came out of the lake and a little sprig of sage on the rear-view mirror filled the car with the old familiar scent.
At the edge of heaven, tatters of autumn
Cloud. After ten thousand miles of clear
Lovely morning, the west wind arrives. Here,
Long rains haven’t slowed farmers.
–Du Fu (translated by David Hinton)