postcard, the Nicola Valley


On a clear day, you can see forever. And this is what it looks like. Suede hills, aspens just turning,Ponderosa pines so particular and iconic that you could look at each one and never think you knew pines in general. The scent of sage. The sound of magpies. An osprey overlooking Stump Lake, the waters green and dusted with the hatch of some insect that had a few flyfishers excited as well as the fish themselves, mouthing the surface of the lake.

And did I say the other day that the road up through the Fraser Canyon was my favourite on earth? Today it’s 5A, from Kamloops to Merritt, winding by the lakes, the creeks, the roads leading off to remote ranches, the Lieutenant-Governor’s home ranch at the head of Nicola Lake in good shape despite her absence, the store at Quilchena as enticing as ever (and this time I had to resist tiny cowboy boots, two-tone, with sensible heels; though if a grandchild asked for a pair, I’d go back in a heartbeat…). So I’m fickle about roads. So I’m contradictory. I have as my model in this the wonderful Walt Whitman, a poet I always think of in the kingdom of grass (lines of his thread through my novel Sisters of Grass…):

The past and present wilt—I have fill'd them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day's work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?
Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

boots in winter

It’s no secret among my family and friends that I love boots. Not Uggs or slim high-heeled ones but, well, western boots. I have other boots too and enjoy wearing them. But cowboy boots? With dresses? That’s me, a style sense I learned early from Emmylou Harris, whose early albums feature her in boots. Gorgeous ones. The late Bronwen Wallace knew this and wrote so beautifully of Emmylou and her boots in Keep That Candle Burning Bright:

Another thing I like about Emmylou Harris is how

the boots she’s wearing on the album cover always fit

her songs: sleek and expensive on Elite Hotel, fringed

and slightly sleazy on Evangaline, white with sleek

black toes on White Shoes. And when she favours

pink, it’s not just any pink. The boots she’s wearing

on Angel Band are what I think of as old-fashioned,

spiritual pink, almost mauve, like those unspectacular,

but heavenly-scented roses country gardens used to

grow, while the ones on The Ballad of Sally Rose

shimmer with the surprising incandescence of Bob

Dylan’s hat when he walks in stage in The Last

Waltz or that split-second of sunset in early July, if

you catch it from a canoe, in the middle of a lake,

with a thermos of good coffee beside you.

And yes, is what I have to say to that. (And as a side-note, John watched The Last Waltz on New Year’s Eve while I slept off the last of the noro-virus visited upon our house over the holiday and he said it was as wonderful as ever.)

So no surprise that one of my Christmas gifts (from John) is a calendar featuring 18 months’ worth of boots. He hung it for me this morning by the porch door and I look forward to the months turning so I can laugh out loud at each new portrait of spectacular boots.

bootsI own one pair of three-toned brown cowboy boots from the Red Barn in Kamloops, bought with the honorarium for an essay in Lake, a journal published for a time at UBC-Okanagan. I happened to be in Kamloops when the acceptance email arrived in my box and so I knew exactly what I wanted to spend the money on. (I’d already tried on the boots and decided it would be frivolous to buy them. That is, until writing money happened my way…) And I have the most beautiful red roping boots, made of deerskin, which gave me the title of my first collection of essays: Red Laredo Boots. And again, I saw them, decided I couldn’t afford them, but returned to buy them when the essay I’d written with them as a centrepiece was sold for exactly what the boots cost. It was February, 1994 or 5, and we’d gone on a family road trip:

We drive out to Quilchena in the late afternoon. Nanci Griffith still sings, though the kids ask for something else. But this song suits me fine — Oh, I might be gone a long old time, and it’s only that I’m asking. Is there something I can send you to remember me by, to make your time more easy passing? By now a cold wind is blowing off the lake but the kids still want ice cream in the general store. And I want something, too, though I don’t know what it is. I buy an enamelled blue coffeepot because the copper one at home has lost its handle — and I lose my heart to boots. These are no ordinary boots but red Laredo boots, sitting on the shelf with the purple ones, the green ones, the regular browns and blacks. If there weren’t $175 I’d try them on in a minute, but as it is they are just a fancy. Oh I could do things in these boots, do anything, climb, dance, walk for miles. The lady who works in the store asks us where we’ve come from and seems surprised that we are so familiar with the area. We tell her we come very summer and we just wanted to see the country in winter. We talk about the changes over the years and then she asks me if I like Ian Tyson. Out of the blue.

      “He comes to Douglas Lake every summer, you know.”

      I assure her that I love Ian Tyson, particularly “And Stood There Amazed.”

      “Then I’ll give you the Douglas Lake number and you should phone early for tickets. The barn only holds eight hundred and the tickets go fast.”

      I thank her and we drive back to Merritt, two children asleep in the back and the other quiet. I am thinking of the boots. I could wear them to the Ian Tyson dance and maybe waltz in the arms of a cowboy.

I bought the boots but I never went to the dance. Never waltzed in the arms of a cowboy. Though now, in my kitchen, with the boots hanging on the wall, a new pair each month, it might be time.

red boots

the sleeping streets of Kamloops

It’s early and I’m in Kamloops, enroute home from a wonderful few days with my new granddaughter Kelly. We drove for 10 hours yesterday, along the Yellowhead trail, through Jasper where a single bull elk was posing like Fabio for tourists, turning his muscular shoulders this way and that, his magnificent antlers framing the mountains.

Kamloops is one of my favourite small cities. One thing I love about it is that you can see beyond it. This morning I was lying in my bed watching the sun rise over the eastern hills just beyond the city and even now I can smell the Thompson River through my open window. We’re staying at the Plaza Hotel, built in 1928. We like its slow old elevator and the pretty rooms.


The Plaza is right downtown and it’s good to walk along Victoria Street where it’s easy to imagine the earlier city. In my first novel, Sisters of Grass (Goose Lane, 2000), the protagonist Margaret Stuart comes to Kamloops with her family in the spring of 1906. I spent a lot of time looking at archival photographs to get a sense of what she would have seen, how the streets were, the route she would have taken to attend a concert by the famed soprano Emma Albani (which did take place here in May of 1906).

Victoria Street West 1902_edited PPPLast night we walked down to the Brownstone Restaurant where we’ve eaten several times in the past and never been disappointed. It’s housed in a gracious building which was the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, built in 1904.

brownstoneWe ate rabbit marbella and drank a luscious Argentine malbec in a room with high ceilings and deep red walls. Sometimes when we’ve been there, we’ve watched trains pass and heard the long whistle but not last night.

This morning we’ll drive home over the Coquihalla highway and through the Fraser Valley, all haunted by memories of earlier trips with our children. It’s all part of us — the tang of sage in the air as we drive up out of the city, the soft sky fringed with pines, the sultry air near Hope. At least twenty five years ago we pointed out the shale on the Coquihalla Summit to Kelly’s father, a little boy of four or five, and he exclaimed, “Shale! I wish I was the land!”

small stories on the Merritt-Kamloops road

We drove down Highway 5A from Kamloops to Merritt this morning. There was light snow and some fog. And some mysteries. How, for example, did this carcass (species unknown) get into the middle of frozen Trapp Lake? We wondered if it might be the way the highways crew deals with road-kill, dragging it to the centre of the lake so that birds could feed from it and then once the ice melts, the remains will simply sink to the bottom of the lake. But there were no marks of its having been dragged. So did a deer try to cross the frozen lake and then break through the ice, floundering until it died? The ravens were awfully happy, in any case, and there were eagles earlier when we drove down. (We took the photograph on our return.)


We noticed this perfectly shaped Ponderosa pine near Peter Hope Lake Road


and slowed to admire it. Then we saw a small brass plaque on it.


Who was Eleanore MacVicar and who was Mac?

This is a ranch I notice every time we drive this road. I’ve imagined myself into it, a hundred years ago, many times and realize now that Margaret Stuart would have ridden past it in my novel, Sisters of Grass. I love its plain beauty, its vistas.


And here’s a pair of swans, on ice, in Nicola Lake. The rest of the flock was swimming nearby but this pair wanted to ride a small section of ice.


There was nowhere to pull over when we saw the newborn calves at the Willow Ranch or I’d end this post with them — tiny, black, their ears already pierced with bright red tags. Instead, I’ll end it with a pinecone from Eleanore MacVicar’s tree.