I was loading up my old camper when a neighbor three doors down began yelling at her dog. It’s a lovely German Shepard which never gets a walk and barks incessantly from the confines of its back yard. The owner is a woman who has a loud penetrating smokers voice, full of gravel and venom. “Stoppit, STOPPIT!” It has occurred to me that she might be shouting at her husband. This barking/shouting routine has become neighborhood white noise through the years. It may even be missed when it ends, rather like a cancelled train.
Perhaps my presence may be missed when it ends as it does this morning. I’m leaving on my next adventure today. Ladysmith will have to struggle on without me. Yeah right! The clear sky brightens slowly with a dull pink then turns to a subtle gold. A heavy dew covers everything and this is near the moment when it may suddenly freeze. I fell into a deep sleep in front of the television last night. I awoke in the middle of a documentary about the work of Sebastiao Salgado, the renowned photojournalist. I was in a peculiar state, neither asleep nor fully awake and unable to move as a parade of stunning black and white images moved in front of me. Each shot was more dramatic and surreal, a thousand views of hell and the unspeakable cruelty and suffering of the human race. Those images are still racing in my brain this morning. I try to distract myself while I finish packing. Somewhere up the back alley more dogs bark. The dew freezes and all the roofs are suddenly white.
A first night sleeping in the camper just east of the town of Hope is followed by a drive through the mountains and over the passes into the interior. I miss the ocean dearly, both the smell and the idea of it. Enough said. The light of the rising sun draws me on into breathtaking vistas, over passes and into dark winding valleys. There are spectacular scenes of an entire winter’s snow lining ice-crusted clear streams but snow holds no fascination for me. I’ve had more than enough in my life time. Emerging into the high open country of the Similkameen I miss a stunning shot of eagles and ravens milling around the carcass of a road-killed elk. I double back but they are gone. In a few more miles there is a puff of dust high up on a rocky slide and a herd of Big Horn rams melee about like school boys at recess. It’s a glorious day and I amble onward, the truck with its full camper and overloaded trailer a sight from a ponderous odyssey.
After visiting with a friend in the South Okanogan for over a day I head eastward up the steep passes and down into the next valley beyond. I’m either burning up the truck’s motor with my heavy load or trying not to cook the brakes while racing down toward the next tight bend. There is deep crusted snow near each summit and sad little towns in each valley. I drive until past another ruin of a community named Yahk where I found a good place to park for the night. I sleep well.
On day four I arrive at my destination, Lake Koocanusa. If I can’t be by or on the ocean this is country I can love. Open grassy land with open forest of ponderosa or bull pine, tamarack also known as larch, and small fir. I find myself longing for a horse. Although I have not ridden for decades this is a broad wide valley leading southward which draws one’s heart onward. This lake is man made, the reservoir is behind Libby Dam on the Kootenay River in Montana, one hundred forty kilometers to the south. Incongruously the river then arches northward back into Canada where it joins the Columbia River near Castlegar. My first glimpse of it is a sailor’s nightmare. There are shallow sandbars everywhere and from my high vantage point I see only safe passage for tiny boats. Of course spring runoff has yet to begin when the lake’s surface will rise almost forty feet. In a seaman’s perspective these waters have only one annual tide with high water late in the summer and low slack right about now. The dam releases water as required to generate electricity and to offer some flood control, good things I know, but my heart aches for what this beautiful broad valley was like when it was untouched.
Judging by the copious amount of elk and deer droppings it would have been a treasure to first nations people and the early settlers. It was indeed a valley worth fighting for although there should have been plenty for everyone. But need and greed are very different notions. The miners have torn at the bowels of this rich country, the loggers have raped the timber clear to mountain tree lines in places, the ranchers have fenced nearly everywhere. Politicians and industrialists flooded and destroyed the rich river bottom. Yet this valley still holds a rare beauty and I in turn will exploit some of that grandeur while I am here.
The balmy winds of afternoon were pushed away by a wall of lowering grey cloud bearing down the valley from the Northwest. It brought a piercing cold and soon I sheltered in the camper. It was buffeted by pelting horizontal rain on one side and a while later the onslaught came on the opposite side. “Springtime in the Rockies” I abandoned my notion of sitting by the campfire to admire the sunset over my new kingdom.
Often, I find, it is the morning after arrival at a destination which reveals a first true impression of the place. Perhaps one absorbs some sort of local cosmic energy or maybe a night’s sleep allows one to fully open their eyes to their new environment. “Holy shit, I never noticed that yesterday!” This morning dawned clear and cold. The sky was wide and blue, the northwest wind was a gentle knife. The dried cow pies in this meadow all bore a glint of sparkling frost. I soon retreated back into the warmth of my little man box. I feel fine. If the plan uncoils as anticipated I start a new job here for the next half-year. So here I am. Sixty-nine years old and starting over once again. Fools and newcomers line up on the left, old farts on the right and all of the above in the middle. Haar!
A week after leaving Vancouver Island I find myself on a bleak, cold morning in the center of Alberta. I’m going to survey a boat this morning and yes, I feel a very long way from the ocean. I’m now behind by two or three blogs, there is no shortage of material. The blog goes on.