Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Francois Lake Memories

We are camped at a rec site on the north shore of Francois Lake. Francois Lake is a long narrow lake lake in northwestern BC south of Highway 16 that is oriented west to east. It stretches from south of Houston to south of Fraser Lake. Coming here has reminded me of a time that my family camped here when I was a child. That memory is very vivid. 

We came to Francois Lake in mid to late August. My birthday is in the Fall, and I was just about to turn 8. The oldest of my brothers was just about to turn 7, my middle brother was almost 4, and my youngest brother had just turned 2. I think my parents had just bought the tent that we would use on many subsequent family summer holidays, and that this was our first use of it. It was a large green and khaki coloured canvas six-person tent. My parents had canvas cots to sleep on and we slept in cotton sleeping bags on air mattresses. I remember that the weather was chilly and damp, and we were cold at night. 

We camped at a fishing resort that seemed like a wonderful magical place to us. Our tent was in a large grassy area back from the lake. In front of us to the right was a stand of huge evergreens, fallen trees, and big old stumps. For us, the stumps became forts and castles, and the fallen trees a playground climbing apparatus. We soon had other children at the campsite engaged in play, gathering rocks to make pretend fire pit rings, and pine cones were the fish that we caught and cooked. 

Even the pit toilet holds a memory for me. On the wall of the outhouse there was a sign with a simple cartoon. It read, "Gentlemen, we aim to please. You aim too, please." In the interest of equality, there was another sign: "Ladies, please remain seated until operation is complete." I suppose even at the age of eight, I was enamoured of language as I can remember these puns more than fifty years later. 

While we were at the resort, my Dad rented a boat and we went out for a day of fishing. We trolled two lines from the boat, from my Dad's rod and a second rod that we children took turns with. I was always lucky fishing as a child, and I remember that I caught two or three fish, one quite large. Of course, what really happened was that when I got a bite, my Dad probably took the rod from me and played the fish and brought it in. My oldest brother was aggrieved that I was catching fish and he had not, so demanded an extra long turn, which I deeply resented. 

While we were fishing, my middle brother had to pee. We were a long way from shore, and my Dad did not want to go to shore, and in any case, there was no easy place to beach the boat. So he told my brother to pee over the side of the boat. He was horrified at the idea and refused. He was then convinced to pee into a pink melamine cup that Mom provided out of the picnic supplies. That cup remained in the picnic supplies for years, and even though it had been scalded and scrubbed in soapy water, I always refused to drink out of that cup. 

At lunch time, we beached on an island that we "discovered." It was a steep-sided island with lots of trees, but it had a gravel beach in a little cove that was covered with agates. There were also gulls wheeling and screeching overhead, hoping for fish and picnic leftovers, I guess. I imagined that we were the first to have discovered the island, and like explorers, I thought we should name it. There was a great debate, with some members of the family wanting to name it "Gull Island" and others wanting to name it "Agate Island." In the end, we settled on "Gull Agate Island." Fifty years later, I am still searching for agates on every gravel beach. 

Our new sweatshirts are another vivid memory about that trip. When we first arrived at the resort, my parents presented each of us with a new sweatshirt. Our family was not well to do at that time, so getting new clothes was something very special. My oldest brother and I each received a grey cotton sweatshirt with a hood. It was my first "hoodie." They were much too big for us and the sleeves had to be rolled up multiple times. My middle brother received a red hooded sweatshirt, and my baby brother a white one. 

Later in October, those sweatshirts served double duty as Halloween costumes. With the addition of masks and tails, my brother and I wore our grey sweatshirts with hoods and were cats. My middle brother had red face paint, horns, and a tail and was a devil. My little brother had floppy ears, a pink nose, and a cotton ball tail, and was a bunny rabbit. Before supper on Halloween, We put him in the wagon and pulled him around to a few house nearby to trick or treat. He made a very cute bunny. 

Yesterday afternoon, we came to the same resort which is still there, thinking we might camp there. As we started to pull into the access road, I could see that it was nothing like the place I remember from childhood. The trailers and RVs were packed in like sardines, so we decided not to stay. Instead we camped at a rec site a little ways down the road. Last night we watched a golden eagle eating his dinner in a tree beside our campsite and then we sat at a picnic table and watched the sunset as the waves rolled in. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Grandma and Grandpa Come for a Visit

One of the frustrating things about where we live right now is that we are far away from our kids and grandkids. Between the two of us, we have five kids, Rob's daughter and son, and my two daughters and son. All five of them are adults now, and they all live in various parts of British Columbia. 

We are also fortunate to have four grandchildren, two little boys from my eldest daughter and husband, and a little boy and girl from Rob's daughter and her husband. The grandchildren are all close in age, ranging from 15 months to 4 years old. 

From where we live, it is a 2 to 3 day trip by car to visit any of them. Flying is expensive, and usually requires 2 or 3 connections. We have been further hindered by my crazy work schedule. We have managed to visit each set of grandchildren a few times each year, but often the visits have been quite short. We feel that we never have enough time with them. 

So one of the important goals of our epic camper trip was to visit the kids, grandkids, and other family and friends. We spent a few days in Prince George after the ArtsWells Festival, and both families of grandchildren were there, and we all got together for dinner. The kids had a wonderful time playing. Then following our trip to Bella Coola, we made our way back to Prince George, and spent a week there with Rob's daughter and her family. In fact, as their daycare was closed for summer break, we looked after the two children while their parents were at work that week. It was a wonderful chance to spend some time with the kids and really get to know them. 

A Ride on the Miniature Railway

It was also a chance to do some grandparent-type things with the kids. Every day we went on an excursion. We went to the water park, to various playgrounds, and for a ride on the miniature railway. We had ice cream and stories and cuddles. On the weekend, we went with the kids and their parents to the fair, and took a million pictures of our grandson going on the rides, fishing for prizes, and racing through the obstacle course/climbing apparatus over and over again. 

Eating Chocolate Ice Cream

We felt so lucky to have had this time with the grandkids and also a good visit with Rob's daughter and our son in law. We were sad to leave. We are now heading further west to visit my Mom and some other family members. My daughter is going to fly in with her two kids, so soon we will have another visit with our other set of grandchildren. We are so happy to be grandparents!

This week in Prince George has given me some insight into what the grandparenting role might be like if we lived close-by. It also has given me a little kick in the pants in the direction of retiring. After all, kids grow up fast. 

One dilemma is where to relocate to. Our four oldest grown kids each live in a different city, and the youngest is still moving around, having decided to go back to school this fall. We can't live in four places at once. If we decide to settle near one set of grandchildren or the other, there is no guarantee that they will stay in that community, as both couples have busy careers that could take them elsewhere. So we will need to choose a place that we will be happy in over the long term, whatever our kids do. 

But one thing for sure is that once I have retired, I will have lots more time. We can travel to visit the grandkids more often and stay longer. If we settle just about anywhere in BC, we will be closer to all the kids, grandkids, and other family and friends. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Rainbow Trout

Bluff Lake

I grew up in northern British Columbia in a village that incorporated to become a small town when I was a child. My father's family moved to the valley in the early 1900's and homesteaded and farmed. Our family was one of the first settler families in the area. 

Although our little town had all the amenities -- a paved Main Street, power, water, and sewer, and even one television channel beginning in 1963, a pioneer lifestyle still was the norm in much of the surrounding wilderness area. During the 60's and 70's, many young people from across Canada and the United States were attracted to the area because of the chance to live a back-to-the land lifestyle, and they brought cultural richness in the form of diverse ideas, music, and the visual arts. Many have remained in the area and raised their families. 

When I was growing up, we did lots of hiking, skiing, and exploring old back roads as a family. We also gathered the riches of the land. For example, in the Fall, we picked huckleberries and blueberries, which my Mom canned or froze. My parents had a large vegetable garden, berry bushes, and fruit trees. In my younger years, my father hunted for moose, deer, and grouse. My Dad made wine out of native plants, such as choke cherries and dandelions. A typical Sunday afternoon activity for the family in the Fall was cruising the back roads with a 22 rifle or a shotgun, looking to get a couple of grouse for dinner. 

And, of course, we went fishing. My Dad was an avid fly fisherman, and one of my earliest memories is of picnicking at Driftwood Creek and hunting for fossils while my Dad fished the creek for rainbow and cut throat trout. As he was a skilled fly fisher, we often came home with trout for dinner. We also fished for salmon, steelhead, and Dolly Varden in the rivers, and rainbow trout, lake trout, and Kokanee in the many lakes in the area. My Dad (who was not a naturally patient man) took the time to teach my three brothers and me how to fish, although as we had to take turns with the rod, it never seemed to me that I had enough fishing time. 

When I grew up and went to the city for university, and then later married and lived in one city after another, I missed the hiking and skiing that I had grown up with, so I strived to make opportunities for these two pastimes that I loved. However, I hadn't realized that I would also miss the gathering and eating of wild foods, and that I would miss fishing so much. These were two things that I seldom had the opportunity to do.

After my first husband passed away, I raised my three children as a single mom for many years. During visits to my childhood home, my Dad and my brothers sometimes took my kids (and especially my youngest son) fishing. When I moved back to northwestern BC, my dear friends sometimes included us on fishing trips, and one of my closest friends, who is a renowned fly fisherman offered my son and me some fishing instruction. 

Fly fishing is not a skill that can be picked up after a few tries. It is something that takes years of dedication and practice to master. I did not have my own fishing equipment or the time to practice. But I still yearned to fish. My friends and family surprised me with a big birthday party when I turned 50, and gave me waders, wading boots, and a fishing rod. I few years later when I met and married my second husband, who loves to fish, he took me under his wing, and began teaching me both how to spin cast for salmon and dollies in the rivers, and how to fly fish. I absolutely love fishing, especially fly fishing (even though I am still not good at it at all). There is something so peaceful about standing out in a wild river casting the fly line and sometimes catching one.

However, for the last four years, we have been living on the prairies, far away from any good fishing rivers. The few rivers closest to us are so crowded with fishermen that it does not seem sporting at all. 

We presently are on a camping trip in the West Chilcotin area of British Columbia. We spent three days at a great little fishing lake, and went out fishing in our belly boats every day. We have been fly fishing: dry fly, wet fly, and sink tip. Two days ago, Rob caught a twelve inch rainbow trout, and we fried it up for lunch and ate it with the potato salad I had made the day before. It was delectable! 

Finally, yesterday, I managed to actually land a fish that I hooked. I had just started to feel quite discouraged, then I managed to catch a beautiful twelve-inch rainbow trout. I caught another small one and released it. I hooked another good sized one and brought it up to the boat then lost it. Meanwhile, Rob caught and kept four smaller pansized rainbows. (He also caught and released several). So we had another amazing feast of rainbow trout. It has been many years since I have eaten trout. (I refuse to buy the dull, sad looking fish that the grocery store sells as "fresh trout.") The rainbow trout was delicious, and it took me right back to my childhood, fishing with my family. This has truly been a wonderful holiday.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Perfect Lake

We are presently camped at a beautiful little lake, the name of which must remain unwritten, as Rob is certain that if I mention it on my blog, hoards of people will suddenly descend on this remote location in the West Chilcotin area of British Columbia. We are staying at a BC Recreation Site. There are four campsites at this rec site, and each one is large, open, private, and with easy access to the lake. Each one has a picnic table and a fire pit, and there is a relatively clean pit toilet. 

We discovered "Nameless Lake" on our way to Bella Coola. We arrived in mid-afternoon and found that we were the only ones at the rec site. The lake was glassy calm, and there were fish rising and jumping in every direction. We quickly set up the camper, and then got ready for fishing: sunscreen, bug dope, hats, inner layer, waders, fishing rods and flies, fins, and belly boats. Soon we were out in the lake fishing and it was lovely. There is an island about three hundred meters out across from the rec site, and another smaller island to the east. 

At first we both fished just offshore in front of the rec site. I was fly fishing with a sinking tip with a timberline emerger, and casting, trolling a bit, and then casting again. As I gained confidence with the boat, I began to make my way towards a narrows between a point and the western tip of the island. I was drawn to that location because I could see a lot of fish rising there. Sure enough, I began getting bites. I hooked an 8-9 inch (est.) but lost it. Then I caught a bigger one, and played it up to the side of the belly boat. It was big enough to keep, and I suddenly realized that I didn't know how to land it in the belly boat, and also I had nothing to bonk it with. As I messed around with my rod and the line, the fish managed to shake itself off. 

While all this was going on, some big clouds were forming in the west. I noticed them, and started to slowly fish my way back across the lake toward the rec site. All of a sudden, a brisk wind came up, blowing from west to east. Waves were slapping against the boat. I quickly reeled in and began to kick my way across the lake as fast as I could. I hadn't realized how far I had gone. Belly boats do not move very fast, and I got a real workout trying to cut diagonally across the wind. I was worried that I would be blown onto the island and not be able to get back across the lake. I was also worried that the wind would blow up into a thunder and lightening storm, in which case it would be very dangerous to be out on the water. 

Sensible Rob was fishing near shore, just west of the rec site. He called to me to come back across, not able to see by my slow progress that I was giving it all my effort. I did manage to make it across the lake to shore. By the time we beached our boats, there were whitecaps on the crests of the waves, and the waves were pounding on the shore. We tied our belly boats to a tree so they wouldn't blow away. Later during dinner, we saw lightening strikes in the distance, and in the night there was a huge thunder and lightening storm. It was still raining in the morning, so we moved on. 

We are now on the return trip from Bella Coola, and have come back to Nameless Lake. A couple from Courtenay that we had met at another campsite a few nights ago is camped at the site one over from us. A young couple with a van and a blue tarp stretched out over their table is camped on a huge grassy spot beside the lake. They have set up a camera on a tripod to take pictures of the meteor showers that are supposed to happen tonight. And a person with a BC government truck is camped in the fourth site. 

Fish Tales

We fished in the belly boats when we arrived yesterday evening, and again this morning. Today was a gloriously sunny day. The fish were biting this morning. I had many strikes, and reeled in three. One I released, and the other two shook themselves off as I brought them up to the boat. I am still not sure how to actually land one. 

This afternoon, I set up my easel and painted a small plein air scene of trees with long shadows and the little rutted track winding down to the rec site. Meanwhile, Rob chopped some firewood and then went out fishing again, but it was quite windy and not very pleasant. We had a bonfire this evening and roasted weiners. Also, I made potato salad. A fine evening, which concluded with a hair wash and shower. Oh, the luxury of the camper. If Rob had his druthers, we would stay here for weeks!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Belly Boats

At the end of July, we set off on an epic camping trip across northern British Columbia. We have a pickup truck with a camper on the back. I call it "epic" because we are going to be on the road for seven weeks, staying in the camper. Much of that time we will be in places that have no Internet service. 

I love our camper. It is a very cozy little home on wheels. Although space is limited (how much can you fit in the bed of a pickup truck?), there still seems to be room for everything we need. We have a comfortable bed, clothes, dishes, food, and a small bathroom with a shower. The camper has a furnace to take the chill off on cold nights (it is a three season camper). On this trip we have brought along with us fishing equipment, my plein air painting supplies, some books, cameras, iPads, crib board, and our mountain bikes. 

Our first destination was the ArtsWells Festival in Wells, BC. Wells is a tiny village (population 250) in the interior of BC, east of Quesnel. This area was settled in the late 1800's during the gold rush. There are still mining claims in the area that are being actively worked. Nearby Barkerville has been restored and is a popular tourist destination. Fifty years ago, Wells nearly became a ghost town. However, a number of artists moved into the community and restored many of the old buildings. They lobbied to keep the school open. 

Wells is now the home of Island Mountain Arts. As well as the four-day ArtsWells Festival on the August long weekend, which is mostly music, but also theatre, literary events, and visual arts, the community also hosts visual and performing arts workshops and courses throughout the year. Some of my favourite music events of the weekend were Ken Hamm, Aurora Jane, Carole Pope, Coco Love Alcorn,  Jenny Ritter, Kym Gouchie, Scarlett Jane, and Quique Escamilla. 

We had a great camping spot behind the Jack O' Clubs Pub, near the river. One of the days that we were there, we rode our bikes to Barkerville and had lunch and spent the afternoon there (and took in a Ken Hamm concert in the Methodist church), then rode back. Another morning, we hiked some of the trails along the Willow River and Williams Creek. As the whole area has been so extensively mined, these watercourses, Jack O' Clubs Lake, and the village of Wells itself are built upon and surrounded by old mine tailings. We also went and visited with Claire Kujundzic and Bill Horne, two of our favourite artists who run the Amazing Space art studio and gallery.

And what does all this have to do with belly boats? Well, as we were travelling over the Interlakes highway between Little Fort and 100 Mile House, we camped one night at a little fishing lake. This whole area is a world class fishing destination. We, however, are only set up for fly fishing in rivers, not for lake fishing. So we stood on the shore looking out at the pretty little lake, and watched the fish jumping and rising in every direction. We knew that later in our trip we would be travelling through another area with many fishing lakes. 

So, when we pulled into 100 Mile House, we went to a fishing store and bought ourselves early birthday presents. Belly boats. These are essentially inflated truck inner tubes for fishermen to sit in while floating out in lakes. They wear waders with flippers on their feet to propel themselves through the water.

Our belly boats at Puntzi Lake

Yesterday we got to try out our belly boats. We are at Puntzi Lake, a famous fishing lake along the route to Bella Coola. What fun! It was lovely to be out in the lake with the loons and the gulls. Apparently the rare white pelican is nesting at this lake this year, so maybe we will see one. We got a couple of bites, but didn't catch anything. 

Rob fishing

When it started to rain, we finished up and went back to our campsite and had dinner. There was a tremendous thunder and lightening storm in the evening, but we were warm and cozy in our camper.