From Wildfires to Bears

For Mother’s Day we visited Kamloops, where my husband grew up. He lived on a ranch when little, and the town and surrounding areas are quite beautiful. Kamloops in the winter often has snow and cold, yet the past few years have been much milder. In the summer it is hot and semi-arid, with coastal mountain ranges and ranches and ski areas nestling the valley. It is a smallish town, though it has expanded quite a bit since my husband lived there. Driving there is always so beautiful, once we get out of Vancouver traffic. We pass the vast farmlands of Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, and Hope and then climb the mountainous highway to the Coquihalla Summit, and edge back up and down to sagebrush hilly horse country. The mountains even in the heat of May have snow if high enough; we actually saw snow on the ground at the summit. But back down in the semi-arid Kamloops valley are distant mountains and ski summits. I just love the area, though appreciate the green of the lower mainland when coming home.

Though I got to talk with my mother a little on Mother’s Day (we had a longer conversation a few days before–and I got her a pretty journal in hopes she begins to write about her past), and heard from my own children, the weekend’s main focus this time around was on my husband Morgan’s grandmother, Lilian (Lil), who celebrated her 100th birthday. I am constantly amazed to know a person who has been alive since 1916. She is still fairly independent, gets around with the help of a cane–and sometimes without it–and has a persistent and witty memory. Yesterday morning we listened to her funny stories of growing up in Lilooet (she was born in London, however). Her mind is fantastic, with such great and precise memories, and she is so humorous naturally. I just love her. Going to Kamloops is also a great time because Morgan’s family is freaking huge. Where my own family, the ones who maintain loving relationships, is dwindling in terms of the older ones passing on and some of us nowhere near the others geographically, the family originating from Kamloops consists of Morgan’s mom and her two sisters and their kids, grandchildren, and further on down. Though my husband only has one sister, he has so many cousins and aunts and uncles, it’s incredulous to visit. I really enjoyed Saturday, the big 100th birthday party at a nearby church, and then the afternoon lounging in 90 degree weather in the backyard grass under breezy trees, drinking wine and visiting with Morgan’s big family and a couple dogs that his sister brought to visit. That night a great wind blew in, beckoning a cool front, and it was so refreshing and wonderful.

When I was younger, when Dad was alive, we had similar huge reunions, usually at Cherokee Park in Louisville for my dad’s side or eastern Kentucky for my mother’s side. My current family is so spread out that we only get to see each other once or twice a year. Also, not everyone keeps in touch anymore, so it’s just a handful of us usually. I had hoped to carry on Dad’s nostalgic memories of big family reunions–but our family is not all that big anymore. Who knows where all those people are from when I was a kid and those big reunions were well-attended; I guess many of them are long-gone. I truly feel Dad’s excitement with the large family that Morgan’s side is capable of getting together. A 100th birthday was truly a Big Deal, with family coming from both coasts. Everyone is genuinely so friendly and loving and outgoing that it feels good to be a part of that family.

Morgan’s mom got me some bear spray and a bell for Mother’s day, which I thought was pretty hilarious. But it is that time of year that I feel extra cautious when running on the trail. Friday, for instance, I went over to the Deer Lake trails again, but ran along the western trails, which are closer to campus. I didn’t see another soul when out there, and I started removing one headphone now and then to listen for sounds. I would also occasionally cough to warn any wildlife. It is definitely bear season, and also a cougar has been sighted in Deer Lake. I’m probably more afraid of cougars–but I used to hike in southern California by myself where cougars were more abundant, and they are usually out at dusk or dawn moreso than the middle of the day. But it’s good to be aware of wildlife. We have lots of bear sightings here. The other night, in PoCo, a bear was sleeping on someone’s lawn and when the woman got home from grocery shopping it fake charged her. Because we have so many blackberries around us, and live fairly close to parks where the bears hang out, it would not be that surprising for a bear to be around our house.

Deer Lake trail, western end

So, I don’t want to end this post without mentioning the wildfires in Fort McMurray. Most certainly affiliated with climate change, this is the largest wildfire ever in Alberta–home of the oil sands, ironically a bigger contributor to climate change than lighter weight oil and which many have protested as large swaths of Boreal forest were removed for oil mining and suggested pipeline shipping includes through the wetlands of the US and also through the Great Bear Rainforest. (While some think it’s insensitive to mention the oil sands and climate change during this time–to me it seems important to talk about it now in order to mitigate similar fate in the future.) The New Yorker has a great article about this.

The fires are ongoing, and nearly 90,000 were evacuated from the city of Fort McMurray starting on May 1st when a state of emergency was declared, before the fires began also moving south to First Nations and smaller communities. So far this is a 9 billion dollar fire, with over 1,600 buildings destroyed. The fire is still raging and is expecting to burn for months. What helped to fuel this fire (though its exact source is still unknown) are hotter than usual temperatures, 91F in the area, 45mph wind gusts, and a dryer winter than usual with less snowpack. Mega-fires like this are probably going to be the norm now, and it’s scary.

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