redux: old postcards from Ruby Lake

In anticipation of a family visit later this month, I’m reposting this, from 2017. Some things change and some things never change. Thank goodness.

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We’ve lived near Ruby Lake since 1980. Well, that’s not quite right. We bought our property in 1980, began building our house in 1981, when Forrest was two weeks old (we lived in a tent while building…), and moved in on John’s birthday in 1982, just a month before Brendan was born. But I have to say the property and the lake have been our home territory since we first came to camp on a little bluff on Ruby Lake while looking at land with a real estate agent in early 1980, just a few months after we got married.

I loved swimming in the lake. The water is clean, though some summers the duck itch is irritating. So are the big boats, though the ones with (is it?) open-exhaust systems are not permitted; not permitted, but no one enforces it. And so young men (they are almost always young men) like to tear around the lake, pulling each other on skis and innertubes. The lake doesn’t have a lot of public access so the areas that are accessible are often very busy now. It didn’t used to be that way. When we first came to swim in Ruby Lake, there was a rough track down to the shore at the place where the Regional District has now made a family-friendly park. You walked through hardhack and ocean spray and entered the water amid drifts of wild mint.

To get around the busy nature of the park, where we often couldn’t find a space for our family, we’d take picnics out to one of the small islands in the boat we bought with an income tax return when the kids were small. I wrote about those picnics in “Love Song”, included in Mother Tongue Publishing’s The Summer Book:

Out in the boat with a picnic to eat on the island in the lake, the island we call White Pine for the little grove on its high point, or else “Going to Greece” for the scent of yarrow and dry grass. I spread out a bamboo mat on the spine of hill and brush ants from my legs while one child dives from the rocks and another swims underwater. The third is learning to start the boat motor, pulling the cord and adjusting the choke.

This morning I was looking for old photographs and came across a few that brought those summers vividly to mind:

postcard 2.jpg

You could sit on that grassy spine of the island and the world was as you wanted it.

postcard 1

There are manzanitas growing near the water and some scrubby pines on the rise and in spring, chocolate lilies and death camas. The scent of yarrow. Snakes, turtles.

For the past few summers, I haven’t done much swimming. By the time the sun is high and it’s hot, the lake is so busy. The prospect of finding a place among the others on the shore is daunting. John goes every day, late afternoon, and has a favourite place away from the beach. He swims off some rocks. But I like to ease into the water (I never learned to dive) and I’d rather stay home.

But last week I thought, Why not swim early? And why not? All winter we swam in the local pool, in part to deal with some side-effects of the health crisis I faced last fall (autoimmune stuff going on in one knee), and I loved being in the water again. Loved the buoyancy, the lightness of being, the opportunity for long meditative thinking as I swam lengths in the warm water. So after the first round of watering, after the tomato plants have been given their drink, and the roses too, we head down to the park. No more hardhack right at the shore. No more mint. But also a kind of blessed quiet. No self-respecting jet-boater is up before 9.  We enter the green water and listen to crows overhead. This morning there were a few people camping in the parking lot. A motorhome. A van. A small pick-up truck with a tent in the back. Two motorcycles with a pup tent between them. As we walked down to the beach, a guy was standing by the water. His entire body was tattooed. He told us how beautiful the lake was, that he was going to go swimming, and that he and his partner had arrived too late for the campsite at Klein Lake so they came back to the park and put their tent up by their bikes. I knew John was remembering his own first glimpse of Ruby Lake, in the early 1970s, with a girlfriend— they also arrived on motorbikes after dark and camped in a clearing off the highway. When they woke the next morning, they saw the lake below them. He never forgot its beauty. That’s why we’re here.

In a few weeks, some of the kids (and one grandson) will arrive for a week. They spend as much time in the water as they can. There will be towels everywhere, and the smell of wet hair. I can’t wait.

How long can a girl dive before her father accords her a perfect score, how many times can a boy circumnavigate the island with the throttle on low? Another practises the dead man’s float. Three years, or six. Drift on a raft under the low-growing spirea and bog laurel, count turtles on logs, crush a few leaves of wild mint in your hands while the years accumulate. Nine years, or twelve. ( from “Love Song”)

postcard 3.jpg

summer postcards, near Ruby Lake

morning swim

Our summer is still deciding. May was hot, June was unsettled, and today we are promised sun, warmth, and we’re still waiting. But it was lovely to begin the day with a swim and for a brief few minutes, the sun came out. Because the last few weeks were so cool and grey, we swam in the local pool. (Three weeks ago, we were swimming most mornings in the lake and thought that was how we’d continue.) I thought to myself this morning that my lake swims are a very qualitative experience. The light coming through the big trees, the swallows darting to the water’s surface for insects, the sound of ravens, the cold rush as I swim what must be an underground spring, the dense feel of the sand as I come out to find my towel.

In the pool, it’s about time and distance. I swim 50 lengths of the 20 meter pool. That’s a kilometer. It usually takes about 35 minutes (I’m no athlete) but sometimes a little less time and some mornings, maybe 38 minutes. The lifeguards play music and sometimes I like it. Sometimes I don’t get it. I know kids pee in the pool (and worse) so I try not to open my mouth. If I do, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

This morning I could smell newly-cut cedar. Last year’s extended drought meant that many young cedars died over the winter. We saw them lose fronds in late summer but didn’t realize how many had died until late spring. The Hydro guys came to our door a few weeks ago to say that they’d be coming in a month to cut down the ones that are close to the power lines. They identified 7. I know we have more that aren’t in the way of the lines and we’ll either figure out a safe way to cut them down or else leave them as wildlife trees. But at the lake, I guess the Parks crew have been cutting the dead trees. I could see one in sections by the shore. That’s what I was smelling. Another way in which the morning swim is qualitative. You stretch out your arms and move through the green water and you smell the incense of fresh cedar.

The other day John picked about half our gooseberries (we have the green ones) and because it’s still not sunny enough to be outside, I made a dozen jars of jam with a few blueberries added for colour and a lot of ginger. As I type, I can hear the jar lids snapping, one by one. Opening a jar in winter is like a postcard from summer, near Ruby Lake.

gooseberry

 

“Here again is the usual door.”

bucket list

A winter visit from my family, a run of mild days, and time by water: these are some of my favourite things to help with the dark days. These, and re-reading essays I’ve always loved, finding in them passages to serve as signposts for the years ahead.

Virginia Woolf’s “Street Haunting: A London Adventure”, for example, in which Woolf offers a kind of walking guide for exploring the evening streets.

How beautiful a London street is then, with its islands of light, and its long groves of darkness, and on one side of it perhaps some tree-sprinkled, grass-grown space where night is folding herself to sleep naturally and, as one passes the iron railing, one hears those little cracklings and stirrings of leaf and twig which seem to suppose the silence of fields all round them, an owl hooting, and far away the rattle of a train in the valley.

When the familiar, in other words, becomes something other, luminous and shimmering, because of a walker’s altered perspective.

Still as we approach our own doorstep again, it is comforting to feel the old possessions, the old prejudices, fold us round; and the self, which has been blown about at so many street corners, which has battered like a moth at the flame of so many inaccessible lanterns, sheltered and enclosed. Still as we approach our own doorstep again, it is comforting to feel the old possessions, the old prejudices, fold us round; and the self, which has been blown about at so many street corners, which has battered like a moth at the flame of so many inaccessible lanterns, sheltered and enclosed. Here again is the usual door; here the chair turned as we left it and the china bowl and the brown ring on the carpet.

We’ve been doing things we usually do in summer, walking to Francis Point to look at crabs,

francis point

and taking coffee and muffins down to Ruby Lake in the unexpected warmth of a January morning:

by water

And in winter, they are unexpectedly sweet for all that is contained of other seasons, other excursions to beloved places, for swimming and the sight of ducklings, for long sunsets and the evening calls of the common loons.

At bedtime last night I was reading Orwell’s wonderful “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad”, which I first read as a teenager, and which still feels true:

Is it wicked to take a pleasure in spring and other seasonal changes? To put it more precisely, is it politically reprehensible, while we are all groaning, or at any rate ought to be groaning, under the shackles of the capitalist system, to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird’s song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenon which does not cost money…

My grandson keeps me company when I’m at my desk and he opens the baskets I have all around me, the ones with feathers, with ancient notes to self, stones, the emptied egg case of a skate (or mermaid’s purse, we always called them), a bit of charred embossed tin ceiling panel from the old townsite of Granite Creek, a few fossils from the Great Salt Lake in Utah. He opens the baskets and each thing is new to him, and to me, who looks at it as a child looks at a stone or feather, curious and enthralled. After he leaves this weekend, I’ll hear his voice calling out in huge excitement as his father carefully overturned rocks to reveal the tiny crabs scuttling for cover, and his delight as he crept into a hollow in a huge cedar on one side of the trail down to the water. None of this cost us a penny, not for the light or the water or the sound of his voice in the surprising warm air. And when we drove* home in darkness, after a meal at the pub, there was moonlight on the driveway, a scattering of stars, smoke in the air from our fire. “Here again is the usual door; here the chair turned as we left it.

*ok, so we had to pay for gas….

 

 

 

 

old postcards from Ruby Lake

We’ve lived near Ruby Lake since 1980. Well, that’s not quite right. We bought our property in 1980, began building our house in 1981, when Forrest was two weeks old (we lived in a tent while building…), and moved in on John’s birthday in 1982, just a month before Brendan was born. But I have to say the property and the lake have been our home territory since we first came to camp on a little bluff on Ruby Lake while looking at land with a real estate agent in early 1980, just a few months after we got married.

I loved swimming in the lake. The water is clean, though some summers the duck itch is irritating. So are the big boats, though the ones with (is it?) open-exhaust systems are not permitted; not permitted, but no one enforces it. And so young men (they are almost always young men) like to tear around the lake, pulling each other on skis and innertubes. The lake doesn’t have a lot of public access so the areas that are accessible are often very busy now. It didn’t used to be that way. When we first came to swim in Ruby Lake, there was a rough track down to the shore at the place where the Regional District has now made a family-friendly park. You walked through hardhack and ocean spray and entered the water amid drifts of wild mint.

To get around the busy nature of the park, where we often couldn’t find a space for our family, we’d take picnics out to one of the small islands in the boat we bought with an income tax return when the kids were small. I wrote about those picnics in “Love Song”, included in Mother Tongue Publishing’s The Summer Book:

Out in the boat with a picnic to eat on the island in the lake, the island we call White Pine for the little grove on its high point, or else “Going to Greece” for the scent of yarrow and dry grass. I spread out a bamboo mat on the spine of hill and brush ants from my legs while one child dives from the rocks and another swims underwater. The third is learning to start the boat motor, pulling the cord and adjusting the choke.

This morning I was looking for old photographs and came across a few that brought those summers vividly to mind:

postcard 2.jpg

You could sit on that grassy spine of the island and the world was as you wanted it.

postcard 1

There are manzanitas growing near the water and some scrubby pines on the rise and in spring, chocolate lilies and death camas. The scent of yarrow. Snakes, turtles.

For the past few summers, I haven’t done much swimming. By the time the sun is high and it’s hot, the lake is so busy. The prospect of finding a place among the others on the shore is daunting. John goes every day, late afternoon, and has a favourite place away from the beach. He swims off some rocks. But I like to ease into the water (I never learned to dive) and I’d rather stay home.

But last week I thought, Why not swim early? And why not? All winter we swam in the local pool, in part to deal with some side-effects of the health crisis I faced last fall (autoimmune stuff going on in one knee), and I loved being in the water again. Loved the buoyancy, the lightness of being, the opportunity for long meditative thinking as I swam lengths in the warm water. So after the first round of watering, after the tomato plants have been given their drink, and the roses too, we head down to the park. No more hardhack right at the shore. No more mint. But also a kind of blessed quiet. No self-respecting jet-boater is up before 9.  We enter the green water and listen to crows overhead. This morning there were a few people camping in the parking lot. A motorhome. A van. A small pick-up truck with a tent in the back. Two motorcycles with a pup tent between them. As we walked down to the beach, a guy was standing by the water. His entire body was tattooed. He told us how beautiful the lake was, that he was going to go swimming, and that he and his partner had arrived too late for the campsite at Klein Lake so they came back to the park and put their tent up by their bikes. I knew John was remembering his own first glimpse of Ruby Lake, in the early 1970s, with a girlfriend— they also arrived on motorbikes after dark and camped in a clearing off the highway. When they woke the next morning, they saw the lake below them. He never forgot its beauty. That’s why we’re here.

In a few weeks, some of the kids (and one grandson) will arrive for a week. They spend as much time in the water as they can. There will be towels everywhere, and the smell of wet hair. I can’t wait.

How long can a girl dive before her father accords her a perfect score, how many times can a boy circumnavigate the island with the throttle on low? Another practises the dead man’s float. Three years, or six. Drift on a raft under the low-growing spirea and bog laurel, count turtles on logs, crush a few leaves of wild mint in your hands while the years accumulate. Nine years, or twelve. ( from “Love Song”)

postcard 3.jpg

at dinner

At dinner tonight — homemade pizza with various toppings (including pesto from my garden basil, arugula — ditto — kale — ditto –cream, prosciutto, Sicilian sausage with fennel, buffalo mozzarella from Fairburn Farm water buffalo on Vancouver Island, grana padano) — and lots of beer and light white wine (because it’s so hot!), I thought, looking around the table, that the people I love best of all those I’ve ever known on earth were there (though it made me lonesome too for my brothers and parents). A moment worth waiting for. A moment I’ve waited for all my life.

all of themEveryone else has gone down to Ruby Lake for a swim and I’m here listening for sounds from my grandbaby Kelly who is sleeping in the room which was originally two rooms — tiny ones where her father, his brother, and sister slept — and which was knocked into one larger room. And who dreamed, all those years ago, when teenagers filled the back of the house, that they would return with babies (one born, one due in October), and one with a gentle intelligent Persian boyfriend? Manon said that her baby kicked away the whole time she swam in the lake this afternoon and I thought, Of course he did. His father loved this lake from the same point in his own development! They’ll return soon for a blackberry crisp and ice cream and maybe a sundowner of Connemara single malt out on the deck while the bats fly low and bears walk the lower trail with their own offspring close behind them.