mixed messages

Sign posted as visitors enter Radium from Kootenay National Park.

The volume of tourists in the Windermere Valley over the Christmas holidays and continuing into January has been extraordinary and troubling. Extraordinary, because the resorts, ski hills and businesses are having a great season. Troubling, because there is a world wide pandemic and British Columbia, Alberta and the entire country have travel restrictions.

The vast majority of tourists who come here are from Alberta. They are second home owners and vacationers seeking the solitude and recreational opportunities this area offers.

The travel restrictions between provinces are only suggestions and can not be enforced. The Provincial governments of Alberta and British Columbia warn against nonessential travel, however what is that exactly?

When the pandemic started I tried to keep my thoughts on how our family can stay safe separate from my feelings of people who refuse to adhere to the suggestions of our top doctors. I haven’t worried about what other people are doing. Lisa and I take calculated risks. We have continued to work throughout the pandemic. I work directly with tourists and I am very careful. I don’t always do the things I am asked by tourists if I feel I may be in harms way.

Lisa looks after her elderly parents. Like many their age they have health concerns and it’s essential they are kept safe.

This Christmas our grown children stayed in Calgary due to the travel restrictions. We talked via FaceTime but it was a very quiet Christmas.

All the while the valley was teeming with tourists. Overflowing a matter of fact.

Alberta has had difficulty controlling the Covid virus with about twice as many daily cases as British Columbia. Alberta’s Premier, Jason Kenny, after ignoring the crisis for many months, implemented heavy restrictions. One of which was to not allow people from different households to gather in the same house. This was a good reason for many Albertans  to vacation in British Columbia where the restrictions are much more lax.

Our small town politicians and business leaders haven’t helped the situation. In short they have rolled out the welcome mat with little care for our elderly, medical staff and front line workers.

In the December 3rd edition of The Columbia Valley Pioneer, just as the second wave was starting, there were two articles of interest.

One was written by local physician, Gareth Mannheimer. Dr Mannheimer is Chief of Staff of Invermere District Hospital. He has been instrumental in keeping the area informed of the dangers of Covid.

In his article he warns the second wave is in the valley and spreading. His article is sobering.

The second article that caught my attention, was the lead article on Page 3, it was titled, Second Wave of Covid-19 Pandemic Looms Just as Winter Tourism Season Set to Begin, with the byline, Local Officials Urge Calm and Measure Approach, Highlight the Columbia Valley Made it Through Summer Tourist Season With Pandemic Going On.

Our Mayor and local businessman, Al Miller is quoted within the article, “There’s never been a better time to get out on the local ski hills or get out to the many other winter activities we have here. It will be good for your mental health, good for you physically, good for local business, good for keeping people at work, and good for community spirit and well-being.”

That’s a mouthful. And yes that’s our mayor and not the President of the Chamber of Commerce, although he held that position in the past. Perhaps he forgot what hat he was wearing.

Our Provincial MLA, Liberal, Doug Clovechok wasn’t much better. 

Clovechok pointed out that the travel advisory is a just that — an advisory — and not part of the actual provincial order (which is enforceable by RCMP), and said it’s important that people remember “that just because your license plate is a different colour doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong,” alluding to Columbia Valley second homeowners who happen to be from Alberta (and have red licences plates instead of the blue ones associated with B.C.). “In the summer months, there was travel going on, but there were no major spikes in COVID-19 in B.C, and almost no cases in the Columbia Valley. That’s because people were following protocols…I strongly suggest we continue to do what we did this summer, continue to take it seriously, and follow the rules that will keep us safe,” said Clovechok. “If you protect yourself individually, we’ll be okay collectively.”

The only person quoted in the article who showed good sense was Radium Mayor Clara Reinhart who said, “We’ll work on the economy when we get through this. We need to focus, primarily, on one thing at a time, and right now, that’s making sure everybody is healthy and safe.”

This is what it comes down to; the virus is spreading at a rate we haven’t seen since it started.  The vaccines are here, but could be many months before they make a difference to the spread.

The virus has mutated into several other varieties concerning health experts. These varieties have been detected in Canada. Finally, there are travel advisories warning against nonessential travel. Perhaps it’s time they are taken seriously.

It would be easy, and not necessary to be enforced by law enforcement. The first thing that has to happen is the mixed messages have to stop.

Let folks know when travelling to another province they must quarantine for fourteen days. Stipulate what is essential and nonessential travel, with bulletins posted on Provincial websites. For instance, vacationing in a second home is unnecessary, travelling for a medical appointment is necessary, travelling to another province to recreate (sking, snowmobiling, partying) is not essential.

Bonnie Henry and Deena Hinshaw, BC’s and Alberta’s top doctors respectively have said, staying at home saves lives. Does that mean the opposite is true, travelling unnecessarily costs lives?  

We are Canadians, we naturally want the best for other Canadians. Covid has tested our resolve. It’s time to get tough, if it means sacrificing for a while so be it. 

blue

Willow looking a little like a wild animal. I see her smiling. In fact she is chewing the stick she fetched between her paws.

It’s been a long time coming. First they built a road to explore mining, in the process, diverting the creek closer to the lake. Each year the creek flooded in high water diverting silt and filling the lake. This year was no different, however the accumulated sand allowed the creek to flow freely into the lake and fill it almost completely.

My brother and I used to fish for Cutthroat Trout in it’s bottomless blue when we were youngsters. In February my father would trim Water Cress. We pitched rocks from the banks above seeing who could make it to the middle.

This was when it was in walking distance. The roads beside turned it different. It’s taken awhile. The creek flows freely into it now. Still there is a pool that accommodates Kingfishers and Dippers. The fish are gone along with it’s brilliant blue.

Willow and I trudged the snow from the road. A short walk that seemed long enough in the world we live in now. Willow fetched sticks. Water Cress was starting on the outer edges I wasn’t sure it would be safe, a mine above and the stream flowing in, beaver dams doing their best, after all the fish are gone.

Willow fetches a stick in a world offering so much if you blink it could be missed.

The lake was spring fed. My father said it came from the corner of the lake that was now filled in. He knew this the way his bait moved and the fish pooled, I know that now. The spring confirmed it, a trickle carving a path towards the small lake remaining.

2021

A lone ice shack sits on Lake Windermere at dawn.

Lisa and I rang in the New Year in a rather low key manner. We enjoyed a nice dinner of steamed crab legs, vegetables, tapenade, crackers and hot pepper Oregon grape and rose hip jelly made by my good friend Dave. After dinner we watched an episode of The Crown on Netflix. The rest of the night was spent in front of the fire listening to fireworks. The fireworks started at 6 pm and continued throughout the night. There was no official fireworks this year due to Covid, so most were set off by individuals.

The Columbia River flows by cat tails after a chinook.

It goes without saying it has been a different year. Luckily our family has been spared from the personal heartbreak and financial hardship Covid has placed on so many families and individuals.

Lots of power outages lately. Probably not the moon’s fault, more likely wind, melt and freeze.

Nixon’s place from across the Columbia. To live under mountains is special.

Not being able to see our kids and grandkids has been difficult, especially during the Christmas season. It seems odd considering how many people are not adhering  to the Provincial and Federal safety protocols. However, as I like to point out to my children, and they understand, it is about how we conduct ourselves, considering we have elderly grandparents and recognizing many other families do as well. For us that’s what it comes down to.

A chinook turns Lake Windermere’s surface rutted and unskateable.

2021 we are looking forward to getting to know you.

The old part of town, built on a mudflat. You won’t see this in a tourism or Chamber of Commerce brochure and that’s okay with me.

Boxing Day

A quiet Christmas with all of our families staying within their households. The foot of snow a few days earlier helped the spirit.

Lisa and I had a small turkey. It provided plenty of leftovers and broth for soup. The woodpile is holding up. I mix tamarack and fir, pine and birch, keeping the pitchy stuff for kindling.

It is hard to know when we will all be together again. I try not to think about it much. Having plenty to do keeps my mind off it.

***

The cloud is crushingly low, the backroads are blocked leading to heights above the din.

***

There is plenty of tourists, most from Alberta, skiing, staying, travelling, snowmobiling, dining, partying, defying the no travel recommendations. I don’t worry about them. They can’t be taught or reasoned with. They’re the reason I have a job, thank God.

***

A couple more days off and I’m going to enjoy them.

Snow and a couple of giants

Bright Jupiter and Saturn make an appearance before dipping below the western ridge.

Over a foot of snow last night. It was heavy with a layer of water underneath. That’s what happens when snow starts falling when it’s above zero. To make it more challenging the wind was blowing so it drifted. I spent most of the day on a Bobcat switching back and forth from a blade to a bucket. Pushing and spinning, finally the task was at least good enough.

Once home, the shovel was waiting. Before long the driveway cleared, paths were made, including around the house with an extra wide one to the woodpile.

The weather has been cloudy. As I was finishing up clearing snow Jupiter and Saturn in their much anticipated conjunction appeared. I quickly grabbed the camera turned up the ISO, no time for a tripod, and snapped the above picture.

A very fine reward for a day of pushing snow.

a Coating

A couple of Bald Eagles consider the weather in the Valley bottom.

Woke up this morning before light. It looked like it was raining. +4°c the thermometer said. Next I looked it was snowing giant flakes. It was wet regardless.

Before testing outside I made a batch of Huckleberry Preserves. The berries were from this summer when Lisa and I wondered the mountain side. I tasted a few of the frozen berries and was instantly transported back in time picking the ripe berries, feeding a few to Willow to ward off thirst and watching Lisa’s red hair, flipping this way and that, bent down, dodging horseflies, picking only the plumpest and ripest.

Lisa gives a wave.

Up the pass the snow was deeper and not nearly as wet. Much more enjoyable. The clouds parted to show the long lost mountains, but only briefly, before filling in again obscuring the stars.

Still, the birds sang hidden like a soundtrack dedicated to earth in all it’s glory.

Very fine day.

Willow listens for mice under the snow.

some lights

All we had was cloud on the peak of the Geminids. Lisa and I tried to push through the cloud seeking a higher elevation. This can be tough; first, the roads are the shits, second, we’re committed to our first choice.

Sometimes it goes, sometimes it doesn’t.

On the way back into town we spotted this nicely decorated cabin. It was early, they’d either left the lights on all night or were delighting the folks off to work ahead of schedule.

round one

Pleiades, Taurus, Gemini, Orion and the hunter’s fierce dog Siris shining through the clouds. The mountain and landscape is illuminated from the valley’s man-made light bouncing off the clouds.

We headed out last night before the peak of the Geminid Meteor Shower to get the jump on the shooting stars. It was overcast so we pointed the camera towards any opening. Lisa saw several meteors. I saw one spectacular one, unfortunately our cameras were pointed elsewhere. That’s the way it goes.

We are planning to go back out tonight. The weather looks about the same. It’s only about -15°c but feels colder, not because of wind chill but because I’m getting old. I don’t think it phases Lisa though. I just try to keep up.

With luck we will spot some. Even if we don’t I’m damn lucky.

lisa

Lisa and I were out early, neither of us not sleeping worth a shit. We headed for the Palliser with a detour up Rock Creek to get red willow and cedar for a wreath. Lisa loves making wreaths. Unfortunately the deer eat the tender cedar right off the front door. It’s like we are feeding them and putting Willow in harms way.

We picked up a few sticks of firewood, looked for a Christmas tree, but resolved it was still too early to cut one. This year the tree will be extra small, like the turkey, considering it will only be a crowd of two.

The snow got deep in a hurry. Lisa gave me a look a few times when we pushed further. The new tires seemed to handle it well, still why push your luck? Lisa was happier when she was walking the road anyway.

We cut some branches and watched the tracks in the snow.

science and soul

The fog gives way to stars where the creek turns steep.

Pretty good days. The lake has frozen hard and clear. Without snow it is a skater’s dream. We headed out after work on Friday, tossing the puck around, stopping once and awhile to admire the fine day. We stayed until the stars started to appear.

Young Jake legs it, the puck in front of him as he dips west heading north on a pure breakaway.

This morning low cloud blanketed the valley. It always seems cold to me when this happens. This evening Willow and I headed for the mountains with hopes to push through the clouds into the stars.

We followed the creek we are used to. It took less climbing than I initially figured before the stars appeared in the treetops. The sky was warm, twisting in my mind, while long lost spirits flowed through me stealing my breath.

Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Scientists just discovered the sun and our solar system are moving 7km faster around the Milky Way’s central black hole than we previously thought. A reminder we are always moving and science is always evolving depending on the latest research. It’s the best we have to go by and should be trusted. Still I will have to recalibrate my instruments and amend my plans considering we are going to be swallowed by the centre of the galaxy sooner than expected.