what I want

single pine

Yesterday we went into Vancouver to see an opera, Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, based (of course) on Shakespeare’s play. It was interesting, not quite successful, I thought, in scope and production (the sets were disappointing, I could hardly hear Oberon), though Puck was magnificent, and honestly it was lovely to be actually present, at a performance again, after years of isolation.

On the ferry to Horseshoe Bay, I had glimmers of the old feelings about travel, how that ferry trip was so often the prelude to something wonderful. In late September we drove to Edmonton, along Highway 5A enroute to Kamloops for the first night, stopping at Nicola Lake for a swim. We were the only ones on the beach and the water was cold. I was filled with joy as I swam under the enormous sky in the company of the pine you can see in the photograph. This was where we camped every summer for maybe 15 years, where I first felt the possibilities of allowing my sentences to grow into essays, the ones that wouldn’t work as lines of verse, the place where I felt the shimmer of a novel settle on my shoulders like the pollen that dusted our tent and our Coleman stove in that dry air. We’d walk the Nicola River, either before it entered Nicola Lake, or after, and it was one of the veins of water I felt in my own body, then, and later, after an experience with a blood clot that became an embolism. I wrote about it in “How Rivers Break Away and Meet Again”, realizing as I wrote that somehow the rivers and lakes I’d loved for so long were a means of returning to my origins.

The river came down through marshlands, entering Barton Lake, then Old Dave Lake, received its tributaries (Beak Creek and Frank Ward Creek), before flowing into Douglas Lake, then out again to run and riffle its way to Nicola Lake. A river of dry beautiful grasslands and the Spaxomin Reserve with its tumble of cabins and irrigation wheels turning through the hayfields on summer days. A river that leaves Nicola Lake, is controlled by a small dam at the south end, and passes the remnants of a sawmill (on Mill Creek, another small tributary) and a grist mill, on the river itself, and then meanders through ranchlands and brushy lowlands near Merritt, a series of oxbows making measurements difficult.

(Do leg veins oxbow, do they leave their established course and meander, in reaction to a blood clot? Do the femoral canals, the adductor canals, do they break down and allow various routes to collapse into a single moving blood flow to the lungs? Femoral to popliteal, veins and arteries going in their respective directions. I run my hands up and down my legs, wondering at their own strange rivers, their riparian zones, the floods or the droughts ahead.)

I have heard yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds singing in the tule groves on the edges of the Nicola River where it leaves the lake on its way to the Thompson, taking in the Coldwater and Spius, the bodies of drowned cattle, a canoe left untethered as the river rose, and I have seen sandhill cranes flying overhead, the sound of them like creaking wagon wheels, and I’ve walked along the river’s edge at dusk, behind the Upper Nicola townsite, once when we stayed in the old Banker’s House and watched coho salmon swimming strongly towards the lake, so far from the ocean.

I have heard the blackbirds.

After the swim, we continued on to Kamloops, passing the lakes that I’ve always loved. We kept stopping because the light was so beautiful and every shore was mirrored in the surface of the water.


I made notes (of course) and maybe something will come of it but mostly I just let the landscape and the water settle back after an absence. We drove that day, and two more, until we reached Edmonton, and then we had some adventures there, exploring the Victoria Settlement and trail near Smoky Lake, before driving home again through Radium and Cranbrook and along the Hope-Princeton Highway through dense smoke.

What I want is to take the ferry again and drive to my favourite places, to Lillooet, over Pavilion Mountain, down across the Thompson River to Walhachin, up to Brookmere, to Tulameen, along the Bridesville-Rock Creek Road while bluebirds pause on the fenceposts and wildflowers crowd the shoulders of the road. I want to drive from Spences Bridge to Merritt along a highway that doesn’t really exist any longer, huge sections of it lost to the river in the floods of 2021, though once we stopped on the side of the road because big horn sheep were courting on the hill.


2 thoughts on “what I want”

  1. Love your landscape experiences reminiscences, particularly about the dry centre of BC which has always appealed to me too. I remember first seeing Wallachin, and thinking of the challenge of settling there.
    Coincidental with your mentioning of ferries. I just did the Guardian crossword and the answer to the clue “ferry” was “crossing,” Got me thinking about the idea of crossing. Crossing what? from what to what? From one time to another, one experience to another. Of course, coming from near Liverpool, the ferry cross the Mersey came to mind. An experience in itself, with suited commuters walking around the deck to get exercise before sitting in an office.

    1. I wonder if Charon was the proto-ferryman, John, taking souls across the river from the land of the living to the land of the dead? But yes, so many crossings. Although I live on a peninsula, not an island, it’s only accessible by ferry so I think about the notion of crossing a fair bit.
      Walhachin has a fascinating history. When my novel The Age of Water Lilies was published, I was invited to an event at the hall in Walhachin, in part because the first part of the novel is set there. The woman who hosted me lived in her grandparents’ house — they were part of the 2nd wave of settlers, in the 1930s, and they ran the post office which was turned into a little guest house. I loved sleeping there. No plumbing so I went out to pee under the most starry night (March) with coyotes singing very near. I remember we looked a little piece of property for sale because we were so charmed by being there. When I was a teenager, there was a man on our street who’d built the bungalows at Walhachin for the first wave of settlement, and I wish I’d known that then. (I found his name when I was researching and I was astonished to learn that the man who’d come out when I was riding my horse and stop me to talk about horses was the man who’d built those houses.)

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