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A Brief Respite

July 16, 2012

In an effort to regenerate my body, mind and spirit, I decided to spend a few of my first days back in Canada away from phones and computers, and most people.  I opted to retreat into the wilderness of BC at a reasonably remote forestry campground on the east side of Mabel Lake.  I also hoped to find a bit of respite from the current Okanagan heatwave with temperatures higher  than when I left Haiti, in the coolness and quiet under the canopy of spruce and cedar.  There is something very primal, very spiritual, about cedar forest.

The area is beautiful, although much of the sandy beach has disappeared, as the lake is uncharacteristically high, gorged on the runoff from heavy spring rains and a late melt of the snow-pack.  White drifts of oxeye daisies punctuated with the rusty orange hawkweed border the gravel roads that wind among the campsites.  A narrow creek hurries as it threads its way down to the lake, burbling and splashing over polished rocks and fallen logs.  Its water is crystal clear, ice cold and sweet on my tongue.  The deep-pile carpet sponginess of moss caresses my bare feet as I forage for firewood among the litter on the forest floor.

Our campsite is spacious, quite private, amazingly level (important when camping in a motor home) and well appointed.  The cheery crackle and rich aroma of our fire overlaying clean, warm, cedar-scented air is a sensory delight.  A persistent chipmunk, its cautious but hardly fearful behaviour testifying to its familiarity  campers, darts around the fire-pit.  Finding our discarded corncobs, it joins us in our meal, dining on the few missed kernels.  The querulous squirrel who makes am appearance shortly afterward is not so hospitable; it loudly scolds us for our incursion into its territory. 

I am an early riser.  I enjoy the living silence of 5:30 AM, few others yet moving.  Lighting a fire to warm myself until the sun appears, I settle into a folding chair to enjoy a William Deverell novel.  A faint breeze, undecided as to its direction, swirls the smoke to all points of the compass.   Forest birds sing merrily as they go about their morning routine.  The first indication of other human life is the gentle eggbeater chatter of a trolling motor as an aluminum boat glides leisurely over the surface of the lake, the sparse conversation of the fishermen muffled in the morning mist that rises from the lake.

Later, as my camping companion rises, I am treated to a heavenly breakfast of pancakes with strawberries, bananas, and lingonberry sauce, something entirely new to me.  Making my way down the slope to the lake’s edge, I enjoy a quick dip in the surprisingly warm water.  At the invitation of my companion, I join her in a brisk walk down the road to check out some of the cottages.  We see plenty of evidence that the water had been considerably higher than it is.  An elderly gentleman out cutting his lawn with a grass whip asks us if we are out feeding the mosquitoes.  Happy to have someone to talk to, he confirms that the water was indeed quite high, flooding low lying properties, dropping a carpet of debris as it receded.

At 3 PM the sun breaks through the treetops, dappling the forest floor with light; very quickly the temperature rises perceptibly.  I have to keep shifting my position to follow the shifting shade.  A barely perceptible breeze brings a hint of delicious coolness.  A butterfly, a Lorquin’s Admiral I believe, wheels back and forth through our campsite, returning to settle on my foot several times, tongue flicking against my skin as if trying to determine what I am.

As the sun dips behind the dark green mountains of the opposite shore, shrouded in smoke-like haze, the sky remains bright, thin clouds washed with pale gold that is mirrored in the water.  The sky shifts through pinks and oranges mottled with blue.  The lake surface becomes corrugated copper.  The mountains deepen to near black; back-lit by the retreating sun, the trees on their spines are set aflame.  As the light fades, the lake proceeds through its metallic repertoire, turning silver.   A robin cheeriups enthusiastically from atop a towering spruce, squeezing the most out of the waning light.  The forest now lies in deep shadow, tree trunks glowing on their eastern sides, in full shadow on the west.  The greens of the undergrowth grow richer and more intense.

As the gathering darkness close around us, the embers of our campfire, burned low, pulsate with an orange luminosity. The fires on other campsites wink through the trees.  I catch fleeting glimpses of bats darting through the twilight among the trees in pursuit of mosquitoes and other insects of the night.  The first stars appear in the impossibly deep blue sky.

The haunting call of a loon assures me I am indeed back in Canada.

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