Last days of August

Returning to a beloved landscape is always risky. For nearly thirty years, my family has been drawn to the Nicola Valley. We camped at Monck Park on Nicola Lake every summer and often in the fall, too, occasionally in the company of my parents. One memorable evening, my parents stayed with our children in the campsite, helping them to toast marshmallows and then putting them to bed in our tent, while John and I went over to the Quilchena Hotel for dinner. I remember delicious beef and a bottle of sinewy Australian cabernet sauvignon. Always there were stars, the sky storied with them. We’d wake to Clark’s nutcrackers kraaaa-ing in the fragrant Ponderosa pines around the tent and everything we’d brought was golden with pollen.

We go back to that country as often as possible. It’s haunted. Old buildings, dry and weathered, provide small echoes of the past, and the kikuli pits on Nicola Lake have their own story of winters in the shadow of the volcanic hill above. Even when we don’t see them, there are always horses.

This time of year, the rabbit brush is in bloom and everywhere fields are ridged with new-cut hay, raked and waiting to be bailed. We spent three nights at the Quilchena Hotel with Forrest and Manon, driving the road to Douglas Lake, to Nicola Lake, to Lundbom Lake, watching for bears (we saw one near Marquart Lake), coyotes, and hoping for the creak of sandhill cranes as they move south for the winter, scribbling the sky with their elegant farewell.

Forrest, Manon, and I went riding one morning, Sarah the wrangler taking us up the hill behind the hotel to see the old cabins near the copper mine, and pointing out the new golf course, the housing development on the other side of Nicola Lake, the cluster of new houses below the highway leading to Kamloops. How the heart resists change! I squinted my eyes in order to see the vista I’d always known –- lake-shore fringed with wild roses, hills soft with sage.

On our last night, we drove up the Pennask Lake road to watch the sun set. It happened so quickly that we were caught in darkness on a grassy slope some distance from the car. But this moon helped us find out way back and best of all, there were three small owls on the road, maybe flammulated owls, eating grasshoppers on the warm pavement.