Communing with nature

Cyril walks along a path along the valley floor in Fossli Provincial Park.

Cyril walks along a path along the valley floor in Fossli Provincial Park.

There are so many hidden gems on Vancouver Island, and particularly the Alberni Valley that I have yet to discover. One of them was Fossli Provincial Park.
After a friend posted some photos on Facebook from the park, I decided it was time to find it.
Cyril and I set out on a Sunday morning to find the trailhead. Fossli is not one of those provincial parks with a nice paved road and huge signage. It’s a 52-hectare pocket of west coast rainforest, accessible by boat or logging road on the back side of Sproat Lake (the north side of Stirling Arm).
Pioneer Alfred Dennis Faber settled 1,270 acres of property when he came to the Sproat Lake area, fellow Alberni Valley pioneer George Bird wrote in his book, Tse-ees-tah: One Man in a Boat. Fossli Park lies in a smaller tract of land he acquired about half a mile away from his property; he cleared about 10 acres and grew hay and potatoes.
Faber liked this tract of land because of the small waterfall found further inland. He named it Fossli, which means “waterfall in the valley” in his native Norwegian (Faber came from the Eidfjord region of Norway).

The waterfall in Fossli Park can be seen over my right shoulder.

The waterfall in Fossli Park can be seen over my right shoulder.

Eventually, Armour and Helen Ford owned the property. In 1973 they donated the property to the Province of British Columbia to be used as a park. At the end of the trail the terrain opens onto a beach on Stirling Arm, but we didn’t make it that far. Sandy McRuer, a retired Port Alberni outdoor adventure tour operator, wrote in a post about Fossli in 2008 that the foundations to the Fords’ home are still visible just above the beach, and a plaque commemorating their donation of land to the government is located there too.

The drive to find the trailhead was just as much an adventure as hiking the 2.5-kilometre trail was. The “trailhead” is a wooden post with “Fossli Trail” carved vertically into the post, located just past the 4 km signpost on Stirling Arm Main. The potholes on the road were legendary, leading Cyril to mutter, “It’s just like driving the streets of Montreal.”

This post is the trailhead, just past the 4 km mark on Stirling Arm Main.

This post is the trailhead, just past the 4 km mark on Stirling Arm Main.

The trail is well defined, and well marked. We parked at the top and walked down the rocky road to a suspension bridge, which BC Parks rebuilt in 2008 after many complaints, including those from Sandy McRuer. The bridge crosses St. Andrew’s Creek, which feeds into Stirling Arm.

The other side of the suspension bridge at Fossli Park. No trolls under this bridge — just rushing water from St. Andrew's Creek.

The other side of the suspension bridge at Fossli Park. No trolls under this bridge — just rushing water from St. Andrew’s Creek.

Once we crossed the bridge, we descended into the river valley. We took one path that ended with several trees over it, and we weren’t sure where it went so we turned back. If we had continued past the trees we would have come out at the beach.

We followed the sound of the water until we came out on the rocky shore of the creek.

A visual reward. The trail opens up into a view of the creek bed.

A visual reward. The trail opens up into a view of the creek bed.

Green moss and a longer exposure give a softness to the water that rushes over the rocks in St. Andrew's Creek.

Green moss and a longer exposure give a softness to the water that rushes over the rocks in St. Andrew’s Creek.

After that kind of a pause, the trip back up the slope wasn’t so bad. Really. And there were some amusing parts to our trip, too. Like the colourful butterfly, species unknown, that alighted on the gravel in front of me as we started our hike.

Can anyone tell me what kind of butterfly or moth this is?

Can anyone tell me what kind of butterfly or moth this is?

And this was an unforgettable discovery, too!

Someone was having some fun (it's not mine, honest)!

Someone was having some fun (it’s not mine, honest)!

I’m glad I can now add Fossli Provincial Park to my ever-growing list of experiences. Truly a gem, not hidden anymore.

A great experience with a patient partner. He waits for the slowpoke with the camera.

A great experience with a patient partner. He waits for the slowpoke with the camera.

If you’re interested in going, here is a link to the park from the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (you can download a brochure with directions and a map): http://www.acrd.bc.ca/cms.asp?wpID=221

And here is a link to Sandy McRuer’s blog post about the park from 2008: http://vancouverislandnaturetours.com/fossli-provincial-park-a-forgotten-jewel.php

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A glass half full kind of gal

My 2013 jar is chock-full of positivity. How about yours?

My 2013 jar is chock-full of positivity. How about yours?

Sometime in December I saw a post going around Facebook that really resonated with me. There was a photo of a mason jar full of scraps of paper; the caption said: “This January, why not start the year with an empty jar and fill it with notes about good things that happen. Then, on New Year’s Eve, empty it and see what awesome stuff happened that year.”
After a couple of decades in the newspaper business I tend to be cynical and skeptical about a lot of things. I am lousy at keeping a journal, even on a holiday, and I don’t subscribe to New Year’s resolutions.
I thought starting a “positive thoughts” jar would be a stellar way to greet 2013. My goal was to write a positive thought per day, but not beat myself up if I missed a day. Or three.
I grabbed a mason jar from my bookshelf that I had been saving for sand collected from various trips. I decided not to decorate it, but leave the glass clear so I could see the jar filling with notes as inspiration. I cut up small pieces of blank paper and placed them with a pen beside the jar, and have left it on my kitchen table in plain view. No excuses for “forgetting” to write a positive thought, because it’s right there.
(I appreciate my husband’s tolerance of my jar of positive thoughts on the kitchen table; I am a piler, and he puts up with a lot.)
I found another post (gotta love Facebook for inspiration) that says “think positive & positive things will happen”; I printed it, cut it out and glued it to the top of my jar as a reminder. I have another, as well: “Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day.”
How true. Take, for instance, the day that started when I stepped in cat feces, tracking it halfway across the upstairs hallway before realizing what it was.
That was just before the second migraine in two days set in, behind my eyeballs, with a heavy workload to look forward to.
The final straw was discovering, after an extremely long shift, that a page I had designed a week earlier had been accidentally overwritten. I really thought I’d had my first day without finding one positive, redeeming thing happening.

I dragged myself into bed, first picking up a random magazine so I could read for a few minutes and relax before turning off the light. There, in big pink letters on the front cover, were the words, “Make today happier”.

I laughed and laughed! Suddenly, cat poop, headaches and missing pages seemed so inconsequential. I had found my silver lining.

I’m not sure where this project will take me over the next few months, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m already learning something: I’m finding my happiest most positive moments outside of the office. It’s helping to underline something I so easily forget in the throes of deadlines, that while my career is still fulfilling after all these years, work isn’t everything.

I will leave you with another Facebook post, this one from my sister Lori’s wall:

“Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.

Keep your words positive, because your words become your behaviour.

Keep your behaviour positive, because your behaviour becomes your habits.

Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values.

Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve already added this saying to my jar of positive thoughts.

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The wild blue yonder

What better way to celebrate a birthday/ Thanksgiving weekend than with a flight in a small plane?

We’ve enjoyed a prolonged summer here on the left coast, and that precipitated Cyril saying on Saturday that we should book the flying club plane and go for a flight.

Although I earned my private pilot’s licence in 1999 and my commercial licence in 2001, I haven’t done much flying in the past few years. Life, work, finances and sometimes weather have gotten in the way.

We joined the local flying club this year (thank you, Gina), and purchased a block of time on the club plane. Cyril flies every day in his job as a flight instructor, but doesn’t often fly for pleasure. On Oct. 7 we booked the plane, called Gina and asked if she wanted to come with us, and I became reacquainted with a Cessna 172.

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I admit I was extremely rusty. But it’s kind of like riding a bicycle: you never really forget. During flight training you repeat things over and over again, until they become automatic. Things like the pre-flight walk-around, or the downwind check. Setting up the plane for takeoff or landing.

I’m extremely fortunate to have a husband who is a flight instructor, and also a check pilot for the flying club!

We took off from CBS8 (Port Alberni Regional Airport) and flew toward Comox Glacier, to the northwest. We were high enough, and the clouds were non-existent, that we could see Tofino to the west, and Powell River to the east, all the way to the Coast Mountain Range on B.C.’s mainland coast. We landed at CAH3, the Courtenay Airpark, for a visit before returning home.

It is a feeling like to no other when the wheels leave the runway and the plane becomes airborne. The higher you go, the more you look down upon a live map: mountains and rivers leap off the navigational paper, cities are no longer a dot on the map but have homes and roads and farms and schools and shopping centres.

ImageComox Glacier from about 7,500 feet.

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Mount Washington Alpine Resort, without a lick of snow.

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Comox Peninsula, with Goose Spit and HMCS Quadra sea cadet training facility in the foreground.

I remember one of the first flights I took following my solo, I looked down and saw the wheel of the plane. It wasn’t moving. When you have spent many years driving on a road, it’s a disconcerting feeling at first. Then you think of the freedom.

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Wheels over Royston, BC.

Yes, it was a blue sky day over Vancouver Island. One for the memory books.

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Halfway to 90 and loving it

When I was a kid, I loved the a.a. milne poem, Now We Are Six:
When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever.

This week I turned 45—as my good friend LIsa said, I’m halfway to 90 now. And while I’ve grown up a little since I was six, I like to think I’m not finished yet.
I heard American actor Ben Affleck say in a talk show interview that he turned 40 this year and is “halfway to death”. I prefer to think of it as midway through life.
I have always approached my milestone birthdays with happiness, never with trepidation. It’s the same with this birthday.
I have always believed that life is what you make of it. Are there some decisions I have made that I’d like to take back? Perhaps. Have I made mistakes? Definitely. But I chalk them up to learning experiences and move on.

Enjoying dinner with my husband Cyril at The Breakwater restaurant at the Kingfisher Oceanside Inn, Royston, BC

While the body bruises a little easier and heals a little slower now, I am still having as much fun as I was in my 20s. I have accomplished a lot and done things that not many others can say, such as flying with the Snowbirds, flying in a CF-18 fighter jet, jumping out of an airplane at 10,000 feet (with a Canadian Forces Skyhawk strapped firmly to my back!), earning my pilot’s licence after spending so much time in the passenger seat of various aircraft, and more.

At 43, I learned to play hockey.

Following a “learn to play hockey” session at the AV Multiplex in 2011.

At 44, I helped write a book (a historical “then and now” book celebrating Port Alberni’s centennial)…

My one and only book signing at the Capitol Theatre. Thanks to Charmead Schella for the photo.

…and learned how to knit (for the second time).

Current project on the needles: a dishcloth.

What’s in store for me now that I’m 45? I haven’t a clue. But I’m looking forward to finding out!

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The 19th hole: look up, look way up

The moon rises over Mt. Arrowsmith, as seen from one of the fairways at The Hollies Golf Club.

I golfed nine holes for the first time in 13 or 14 years. It was an invitation from the Wednesday night ladies at The Hollies Golf Club in Port Alberni, and it was one I couldn’t refuse.
Fortunately, they’re good sports. They partnered me up with another journalist who had minimal golfing experience as well. We shared our shots and managed to get around the course before dark. It was good fun and good exercise.

Walking into the clubhouse, things got really interesting. I glanced up at something fluttering, and discovered the ceiling was covered in scorecards and five-dollar bills.

The ceiing at The Hollies, covered in scorecards and fivers, is a conversation piece.

Here’s the story: Hollies owner Patrick Little was golfing in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories last summer on a dream trip his wife Jackie Little had bought for him. Yellowknife Golf Club was pretty much the only place in Canada Patrick had not golfed.

The golf course is unique in that it has sand fairways and artificial turf greens. Golfers are given a small piece of carpet for teeing off, Patrick related. And the clubhouse is covered in golfers’ names: the ceiling, walls, other surfaces.

Patrick said he walked into that clubhouse and thought, “wow, this is something I want to have at The Hollies.”

Someone suggested to him that he pin money to his ceiling, not just autographs. He laughed. But some of his regular golfers took him seriously when he returned home and told them about the Yellowknife clubhouse.

Gail Bridge was the first one to pin her scorecard and a fiver on the ceiling. The second, says Patrick, was Mick Jagger’s bodyguard, who apparently played a week’s worth of golf at The Hollies.

It took off from there. Names in black are male golfers, names in red are ladies and names in blue are businesses (the Golf Channel is up there too). There are scorecards signed by visitors from Barcelona, Spain, Hobart, Tasmania, New Zealand, Newcastle, UK, Whitehorse, Yukon, Invermere, BC and many from hometown golfers. The odd foreign bill is tacked around the ceiling fan as well.

The ceiling fivers are more than a social gimmick: Patrick Little offers people the opportunity to post their scorecard on the ceiling when they buy their green fees. He also offers them a free round for the fiver.

It’s a win-win, he says: it’s a conversation starter and golfers often bring a friend when they redeem their free round.

He’s not sure what he’ll do with the money, but he’s certainly having fun collecting scorecards and swapping stories.

Incidentally, I don’t know what happened to my scorecard. But I’m thinking of going back, if only to see if Mick Jagger’s bodyguard returns.

The golf course backs onto a farm, so we had a single fan in the gallery. My golf mates looked for an apple tree to give the horse a treat while I looked for my shot in the rough.

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Storm warning

Something I never got used to when I lived and worked southern Alberta were the storms.
In the winter, we’d get a snowstorm followed by a warm chinook wind; the temperature could range 20 degrees in one day. I didn’t mind the snow or the warmth separately, but when the temperature rose that much it melted everything, then flash-froze it later that night, creating a slick skating rink in the puddles. I don’t know how many times I slid right through the stop sign at the end of the parking lot access at the Medicine Hat News the first winter I lived in Medicine Hat.
Sitting in the press box at Athletic Park and covering the Hat Blue Jays was interesting during hailstorms. The roof on the press box was tin, and the hail made a horrendous noise.

The roof over the press box at Athletic Park was tin and made a heck of a noise during a hailstorm. Despite a new coat of paint, the press box (left, with windows shuttered) and scorekeepers’ booth look the same as they did 20 years ago.

The worst storm I ever saw pass through, I watched approach the city as I was pitching during a women’s slo-pitch game. I didn’t normally pitch, but we weren’t exactly a premier team, and had exhausted our other resources so the task fell to me.
I watched the sky behind the backstop turn various colours, like a bruise forming over the horizon. The wind picked up. When the hail started falling, I didn’t even wait for the umpire to call time, I made a run for the dugout.

When I was in Calgary for the Va’a World Outrigger Sprint Championships in August, I was crossing my fingers that we wouldn’t get hit with one of the rain and hailstorms the region was famous for. We avoided a big storm early in the week, although highway overpass signs were blowing away in the strong winds in Red Deer.
But our luck ran out the second-to-last afternoon. The clouds started forming over Glenmore Reservoir; the wind picked up. It began spitting a little bit of rain. Paddlers put on jackets and sat underneath trees, as those who were waiting for their races to begin hoped that they would be able to finish before the storm broke.

Ominous storm clouds gather over the Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary.

Judy, Erin and Sheila find a tree for shelter when the rain starts. Then decide with the thunder and lightning, it’s probably not a good idea to stay under the tree!

Suddenly, it got really dark despite being 3 p.m. The wind kicked up so hard people were having a hard time standing upright. There was lightning, and a couple of cracks of thunder. The sky opened and the rain pounded the pavement, running in a river down the hill toward the reservoir.

It rained so hard the water was running down the pavement in little rivers.

There was a race on the water and the storm gave paddlers extra incentive to finish up. Volunteers raced to secure tents, restore power and help people take cover. The doors to the boat shed were opened to allow people huddled under the building’s overhang to take refuge.

Members of the men’s team from Petaluma, Calif., take refuge in the boat shed after their race was cancelled.

The wind blew all the course markers askew, forcing organizers to cancel the event for the day with just three events left (including that of the men from Petaluma, Calif., who some of the Canadian women had befriended).

Within an hour the temperature had dropped from 23 degrees Celsius at the Calgary International Airport (where official temperatures are recorded) to 11 degrees. Soon enough, the wind blew the clouds further east, and sucker holes of blue sky peeked through the rain.

Ninety minutes later, except for the deserted race site, you’d never have known a storm had blown through.

Yep, a typical prairie storm. Thought I’d left them behind.

(Stay tuned for more blog posts from the Va’a World Outrigger Sprint championships, including more video of Mom’s races and the much-anticipated post from Rapa Nui’s cultural night performance!)

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A poignant farewell

After so many days of highs for the Va’a Outrigger World Sprint Championships in Calgary, the final day of the event at the Glenmore Reservoir would serve as a reminder of how tight-knit the paddling community is.

The day dawned gray and cold, but gave way to blue skies and sunshine by noon. Half an hour later, time stopped. A member of one of Hawaii’s masters 70s men’s team collapsed in his boat during a race. Although his teammates quickly powered to the dock, and the man sitting in front of him gave the man immediate medical attention, he did not survive.

Hawaii’s team members sang a beautiful send-off song as they gathered around a tree close to the secure paddlers’ check-in, above the docks, where the emergency vehicles were parked. Then another member asked paddlers from other countries to line the access road leading up from the docks and hoist their paddles in the air when the vehicle carrying the man’s body went by. For more than an hour, nearly 1,300 paddlers lined the road waiting for the moment. And all that time, the site was silent.

A woman from Team Hawaii addressed the crowd, confirming that a teammate had died, and sharing some of his background with everyone. She said his family and teammates would want the event to continue, in the spirit of the sport that the man love.

Charles Villierme, president of the International Va’a Federation (IVF), make a tearful speech, expressing his condolences and assuring the masters-70 racers, or kupunas, that their new category would continue at future Va’a world championships.

Paddlers from Rapa Nui performed their own send-off for their fallen paddling comrade. The teams from Aotearoa in New Zealand performed a haka as their tribute.

When the van carrying the man’s body finally left the site, every paddler lined the access road and hoisted their paddles. First Nations drummers sang as Team Hawaii followed the van through Glenmore Reservoir’s park. A lone bagpiper played Amazing Grace, and tears flowed.

It was a most beautiful send-off for a man who died doing what he loved.

After a three-hour delay, the racing resumed at the wishes of the man’s family. The medal ceremony was carried out in the dark, and the va’a torch was passed to Brazil, who will host the world sprints in 2014.

Nearly 1,300 paddlers, including those from New Zealand performing a ceremonial haka, line the access road waiting for the van carrying a fallen comrade’s body to leave the dock at Glenmore Reservoir. The man died of a heart attack in the middle of a masters-70 men’s race.

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