The Adventure of Visiting Parents

We are halfway home again this morning and I am still thinking about how wonderful it was to get a good visit with both of my parents. It is not easy to catch them in the same photograph as they tend to be like bees and busy working away on their separate tasks until mealtime or if one or the other needs help with something. But this morning I caught them having a brief conference about something or other that needed doing. This is mom (Nell) and dad (Jack) who are now in their early 80’s and still farming with a large garden, hay fields and 40 head of beef cattle in rural north central British Columbia. They were getting a bit pained with my snapping at this point as I had already taken a few with my big camera.

Dad got the last of the hay turned and baled in the field before the rain settled in. We had our first feed of corn without the frost getting it. The car is loaded with a large bag of potatoes, a few beets, carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers for snacks. We also ate farm beef and more vegetables from the garden while we were there and even a few peas and raspberries that were hanging on. But it is definitely fall. I couldn’t help but be able to imagine the fields full of snow and the warmth of the wood stove keeping the cold out.

Dad turning the last of the hay in the field closet to the river. There was still a small amount right by the house to finish up when we left. But he has to wait for another chance to get it, if he gets it. The fall rains, heavy dew and fog sometimes have a different idea.

Mom is puttering as she calls it, watering her various flower containers. Everything is reused including this old car and many other items that I will do a separate post about in the next few days.

The view from the top field looking back down to the farm house and buildings by the river is always a pleasure. I had bear spray on my camera belt (just in case) and kept singing and making noise (which is a practice we had as kids as we had no bear spray).

The next day, we looked back up in the field and a beautiful big black bear was standing right where I am now taking this photograph. I think it was the same one we saw at the top of the hill on our way out as well but they do live there and it always something to keep in mind when out hiking or poking around. Mostly, they are shy and will scoot off when they see you. But just in case they don’t, well, mom suggested I take the bear spray.

The greenhouse my cousin did for my mom and dad now has the old windows from the house in it. There is tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers eggplant and a few other things in there with more herbs in the the old watering troughs at the back.

These beauties are the large brandy wine and small chocolate tomatoes on a platter ready to go to the house for supper.

This morning, I make my own coffee, instead of dad handing me a cup, and I tuck into my own daybed, instead of curling up under a blanket on my parent’s couch or at the end of their bed. I am home again. My Mayne Island home. But this childhood home, a full 900 km away, is not far from my thoughts as I gather together images to see if I can give you a wee taste of what it is like go the last 10 km or so before I get to the river.

The last half of the 40 km from Vanderhoof is a well cared for gravel road that can get mucky after a rain (Red Rosie can tell that story this morning) as it has that stuff on it to keep the dust down. There are farms and rural homes on the way out. But, once we are this far, they are set way back off the main road. I always think when I make it to here – not long now!

And it isn’t long at all before we are heading down a narrow track of a road for another 3 km and a bit. This is where we saw a black bear on our way out at the end of our visit. We thought it might have been the same one we saw in the field a couple of days earlier. No photos. The bear ran away as all bears should when they hear you coming.

We keep going down the sand hill and up the pipeline hill until we get to the beginning of the property.

I can smell the over-ripe high bush cranberries in the stand of poplar. I ask my husband David if he can smell them. He says – no. I am a bit puzzled because the aroma was strong. Then I realized he didn’t know what he was smelling. So I tell him that they smelled a little like a wet dog (my mother corrected me later and said more like a wet bear ;). David says – then yes, I can smell them!

We cross the big fields I showed you above.

I pay little mind to the haystack as we pass by.

I pay no attention to the tractor either and pull up to the house, watching for mom and dad to come out to greet us and help carry things in. There are hugs all round first of course!

I hardly glance at the large garden and save it for exploring later. Now that I have said hello to my parents, I have one thing in mind.

We head for the house with our bags and up the steps.

Past the onions drying for winter.

I drop my bag in what I still think of as “my bedroom” though I am sure my baby sister feels the same way. We shared this southwest bright bedroom for a few years after she was born while I was still at home. After that, she had it to herself until she left home. There is a solar light beside the tissue box and a regular flashlight on the windowsill. There is no electricity on the farm but, things are so well set up, one hardly notices.

Then, as soon as things are quiet enough, I gather my camera and head back out the door. I squeeze through a gap in the fence, just beyond the apple trees, and take the last few steps to the banks of the river. It is what one might anticipate from a landscape painter I suppose.

This is the Stuart River and this is Sturgeon Point Farm. The point is visible on almost any map if you know where to look. Two days of driving and, halfway up the province of British Columbia, this spot seems to settle the gritty edges of travel immediately!

Now back at the beginning of my journey, I shall go for a long hike with a friend this afternoon and do this same kind of “settling practice” here on Mayne Island.

This annual trip is like stitching up holes in a favourite well-used sweater of my life. There are still likely a lot of good years left in it yet, if I take care of it! Life is like that isn’t it? We never know its length but the richness of its depth is ours to deepen and to discover the mysteries in each day, from the time we open our eyes until we close them again.

May you have an ordinary day filled with small discoveries that remind you of just what a special miracle you are in this beautiful world we live in!


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Morning walk along the Stuart River – a tribute to my grandfather

It has been more than ten days since you have heard from me here on Creative Potager. There is a good reason for this. My grandfather passed away and I have again just returned from Vanderhoof.  Though this post is a tribute to my grandfather it is really not about him much at all. Sometimes the best way to honour a person’s life is to do what they taught you and what they most loved to do. So this is what we are about to do – take a long walk along the Stuart River on my parents’ farm with my mother leading the way.

It was a gorgeous early fall morning. The sun was just catching the old cabin near the cow pasture that is now used for storage.

Thick fog is still clinging to the river.

The night before it had frozen. We had arrived home to the farm shortly after dark with clear skies and a temperature that was just above freezing. Like a family raccoons we headed to the garden and greenhouse to pick corn, cucumbers, tomatoes and melons. The only difference was we had headlamps and flashlights.

Before it got so warm that the foliage wilted, I wanted to catch a few of the beauties still blooming in the garden. This is one of the prize sunflowers with its face up to the September dawn.

Then there were the smokey rose gladiolus…

And the Joe Pie plant…

To be very honest with you, my grandfather appeared to care less about flowers and I can be fairly certain if he was walking with us he would have headed out without so much as a pause in front of these cultivated beauties. But I like them.

How we got started on this adventure was because I wanted to take some reference images of the tall lean poplar trees for painting when I get back to the studio. My sister asked if it would be okay if she tagged along. Of course it would be and then I asked mom if she wanted to bring her camera too and join us. My daughter looked from one to other of us and slipped into a pair of my mother’s rubber boots and we headed out.

I got my reference shot.

As you can see, it is nothing special. I just wanted the structural bones of the tree. I announced with satisfaction that all I had intended was accomplished and I was happy to follow along with whatever everyone else wanted to do. My mother got that thoughtful look – the one I have seen on her face for all of her almost 75 years. It means she is mulling something over but that it has already been decided.

The morning is stunning. With a slight shrug she turns and heads out across the top of the pasture towards the river on the far side.

I am pretty sure at this point that we are headed out around Sturgeon Point which is about a mile of river frontage on the home place. It is a beautiful walk but on years such as this that the river floods it is unusable during the summer. Also parts of the banks are sometimes  washed away and there is a fair bit of brush that will cover the trail. As mom looks up river to see what she can see, I am certain that, if the trail is dry enough we are taking it.

I look down at my waterproof garden clogs sensing their inadequate though comfortable structure. I should have grabbed the other pair of rubber boots – too late. If one is to dawdle it is to find yourself following glimpse of the others through the underbrush.

Several times I pack my camera back into the backpack camera bag as I poke it through the brush in front of me or slide through a mucky spot along the river-bottom land. My sister looks back as if to say – are you coming?

Mom points of things along the trail such as wild mint that we should pick if we want it for tea later. She scans her way along the area keeping an eye out for moose, bear or maybe a beaver or muskrat on the water. She warns us to follow her footsteps so we stay on reasonably solid ground.

As usual I at one point do not heed this warning and end up with my clog stuck in the mud. I step back in my sock foot pick it up then scrape out the mud and wipe my sock foot on the grass, reunite the pair and continue on.

My sister spots some mist rising on the creek across the river.

While she is changing lenses I take this and it is a good thing because the mist is gone by the time she is ready.

I coax my daughter into standing for a moment in the warmth of the morning sun.

“Baby Too” is due in the third week of November.

With my pockets stuffed with wet wild mint leaves we are almost around the point and ready to head back along the old trail. However the water is still a bit high in the draw so mom takes us out to continue along the riverbank trail instead. I get her to hold up while I capture the natural riverbank on the far shore.

And another photograph of Fishing Creek.

We are wet and muddy almost to our knees.

But happy.

We can hear the tractor running as dad sorts cattle. Mom comments that her trail is now well packed for the fall. Above all, we know we have done the most important thing we needed to do this morning.

I take one more photograph of the poplar trees that I had come out to capture.

All is right in the world for another day.

My grandfather, Charlie Baxter Davidson, was born May 29th in 1916 weighing 3.5 pounds. His twin did not survive. During these fragile first days of his life his mother kept him in one of her shoe boxes inside the warming oven of her wood cook stove feeding him with an eye dropper. He was so small that her wedding band fit around his wrist. With such a strong heart and will to live, it is not really surprising that he was 96 years old when he passed away on September 9, 2012.

He arrived on the Stuart River with his parents to homestead when he was five years old. This is where he lived until he was ninety-one years old making a living as a guide to hunters, trapping furs, raising cattle and doing seasonal work such as hand falling trees. His children, step-children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren have had the good fortune to inherit through the generations an appreciation and respect for the outdoors. This walk I share with you today may even seem familiar in some ways for those of you who have been taking walks with me in the southern gulf islands over past few years. Walking in the woods or along the water is a strong thread in my life which has its roots with this man and his daughter – my mother.

The photographer for the photograph I share with you of my grandfather is unknown but my aunt, Anne Davidson, has taken the time to scan many of the old photographs in recent years. My thanks go to her for printing me a copy of this one which I have rendered as a black and white digital image.

SPROUT: If you were to give a tribute to a family member who has greatly influenced your life, who would it be?

P.S. I know this post is long but it seems to me necessary. I hope you have enjoyed the adventure…. My mud-soaked garden clog was dried out in front of the wood stove and is as good as new.

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