Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Teased by fireweed

The fireweed is taunting me. Everywhere I go I seem to miss the fireweed. In Churchill I left a few weeks before the spectacle of vast areas of flowering fireweed began. I did manage to spot one almost in flower. In Fernie they were just about to start flowering too. And at Cathedral lakes I spotted a few in flower yesterday (my last day) as I hiked the Diamond trail. Once again there were large patches of fireweed with the buds ready to flower in the next few days. I really would have loved to see the mass of pink flowers. But you can't see everything!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Mountain Goats et al.

For someone who was guaranteed a good day after seeing the goats on the train journey to college seeing mountain goats in the wild has been an exciting experience. I've spotted the mountain goats moaching around the campsite and grazing on the rim high above the lodge. On my last hike on the rim I saw about eighteen goats lounging on the snow high above Glacier lake. Seeing goats of course makes me amazingly happy. There is just something about goats that puts a big smile on my face.

Aside from goats and pikas the deer are still hanging out in the smoke cloud beside the cabin and looking picturesque. Then there are ptarmigan up on the rim, spruce grouse and chicks down here, spotted sandpipers and chicks, marmots, ground squirrels, chipmunks, mice running around the lodge, Clark's nutcrackers, grey jays and some other birds.

Cathedral Lakes Lodge cont.

My stay at Cathedral Lakes Lodge is coming to a close. I've been here for almost three weeks now making beds, stripping beds, cleaning surfaces, cleaning toilets, cleaning sinks, sweeping floors, mopping floors, hoovering floors, sorting washing, washing dishes and baking a few muffins, along with various other volunteers from France, Canada, Argentina, Holland and England. We're meant to work five hours a day with a day off every twenty hours. That for most of us has however has not really been the reality. Lucille and Florian from France have been acting as bakers in the kitchen and working up to thirteen hours a day.

Most days I try to go on a hike around the area although I often have to fight off the tiredness. Alternatively I go and pika watch or just up from our cabin is where they dump the food waste on the ground and the marmots, chipmunks, ground squirrels, ravens and other beasts gather.

I've been hiking on most of the trails, apart from up to Lakeview Mountain where you can view all of the lakes of the park. I've hiked up to the rim a few times where you can see for hundreds of miles and all the way to Mount Baker in the States (you can see it from Grouse Mountain too). And now I've been to all the lakes- Goat Lake, Glacier Lake, Lake of the Woods, Pyramid Lake and Quiniscoe Lake (that's right outside the lodge!).

Along with the other volunteers I've been having campfires, playing pictionary (when we didn't get told off by the lodge's owner for making too much noise...), reading the national geographic, gazing for shooting stars, canoeing, full moon canoeing and playing the piano. There are many canoes outside the lodge and we can just go paddling when we feel like it.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Deja vu

Throughout my travels places remind me of places I've been before. Although there are of course places that are nothing like anywhere I've been before (most of those in Asia, but there is more often than not something that seems familiar.

The tundra was quite unique, although I did think parts of it looked like the savannah (not that I've ever been there) and I could just imagine a giraffe walking in the vast plain on the ride into town. The rocks also reminded me of my visit to Tadoussac, Quebec, because that's where I first saw the trees and rocks of the Canadian shield. California reminded me of Mongolia, similar looking rocks. The highrises of Vancouver remind me of China and Korea, just like the highrises of Seoul reminded me of Vancouver...

White Spruce Farm reminded me of a lot of places. Living in the A-frame with a wood fire and candles burning while surrounded by gardens that were and buildings that have seen better days was very similar to where we spent our childhood Easter holidays. The garden of Carabas in Rockanje, Holland was one of the first stops on the journey to Canada.

Little things in Fernie reminded me of Churchill. The cafe in town where Kylie likes to buy a green soup like drink was called Mugshots bistro, her email address relates to wombles and she and Wacaiwa dance around the kitchen to Raffi tracks (he also sings Baby beluga, a Churchill favourite).

The scenes I saw out the window of the greyhound on my way to Osoyoos reminded me of both California (which therefore also reminded me of Mongolia) and the hills of Appenzellerland.

Cathedral Provincial Park reminds me in some areas of the lake district, but up on the rim is an area called Stone City I might be inclined to think I was back in Terelij, the national park we visited in Mongolia. And the work here, the certain element of disorganisation, and the bad treatment of the staff and volunteers well that reminds me of River Cottage.

More pikas!

So I've continued with the pika stalking on the rocks not far from the lodge. In the process I've managed to get myself looking like I've caught the measles. My neck is full of mosquito bites, but it's been worth the pain. I find the pikas really fascinating and I've started reading a book on them that I found here in the lodge. It had the potential to be a good book, but sadly it's really old and pretty longwinded (perhaps I should invest in a good one). Pikas seem to be quite common in Mongolia, but we never stumbled upon them there.

This is apparently a busy time of year for the pikas, when they're collecting up plants to make their hay for the winter. They certainly seem busy- dashing back and forth to their hay piles underneath rocks with grasses hanging out of their mouths. When they spot me they shriek and freeze before running onwards. There comes a point though when I can't watch them for any longer, because the longer I stay still the more bites I get!

Now that I can distinguish the call of the pika the mountains seem to be full of them, on the rocks near Scout Lake, on Red Mountain and at the end of Quinscoe lake (the lake the lodge sits on). There's also evidence of their activity on the trails, clusters of cut flowers and grasses just lying on the path (or maybe it's just reckless human activity).

Yesterday after hearing a pika shrieking I went to investigate and managed to get very close again and get some good pictures. They look so scared though when I get really close that it makes me feel somewhat guilty.

Thursday, 18 August 2011


Today I was 50cm from a pika, the camera wasn't ready but it's a memory I'll try and treasure forever. I've always wanted to see a pika after I saw them a few years ago- stuffed in the museum in Yosemite. They're little lagomorphs that collect up grass and make hay out of it. Yesterday I saw a few from a distance running around on rocks and today I heard their alarm calls and went to look for them. There were some frolicking around on the rocks and then I spotted some vegetation stuffed under a rock drying. I went to investigate and then I looked to my left and there was a pika right next to me with some vegetation hanging out of its mouth. Just like you see in photos. It stuffed its vegetation onto the hay pile and then made an extremely loud call.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Cathedral Provincial Park

Today I arrived at Cathedral Lakes Lodge in the similarly named provincial park where I'll be helpxing (helpx.net) out for the next three weeks. It prides itself on being the highest full service lodge in Canada. After an early morning horseride I was dropped off in Keremeos to be picked up, along with two other volunteers (from France) and taken up to the lodge. It was about half an hours drive to the 'base camp' where we then switched vehichles, loaded up with a few tourists and headed up the steep and bumpy road for an hour. The truck reminded me of Churchill and the road of Russia.

The lodge finds itself on the edge of a lake (funnily enough) and there are lots of cabins scattered around the area. I took a walk around the lake and have already taken far too many photos. Apparently the bears don't come this far up the mountain (because the blueberry plants don't produce fruit), but there are plenty of other animals. The most common being mosquitoes, sadly. Deer also seem to be common, or very clever, since the fawns and some does sit around outside my cabin where there is a fire to heat the resort's hot water. As I was raking up outside there was a chipmunk eating my rakings and diving into the compost bucket.

There are also many beautiful flowers such as paintbrush, tufted saxifrage, lupine, arnica, purple aster, many I am yet to identify and the shooting star, which is very rare.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Mariposa Organic Farm

For the past eleven days I've been at Mariposa Organic Farm in the Similkameen Valley, one valley west of the Okanagan and known as the organic farming capital of Canada. The farm is run by Karl and Sarah who live here with their two teenage children and their French farm manager Coco, with Karl's mum Lee living in a small house on the farm too. Mariposa was one of the first organic farms in the area and is now surrounded by organic farms and vineyards, as well as the desert's sagebrush scrub.

I start work usually at about 8.00a.m. (once at 6.00a.m.) before it gets really hot. My tasks have been picking courgettes (this I do most days), packing courgettes, wrapping cucumbers in cling-film, sticking labels on cucumbers, packing cucumbers in boxes, catching and cleaning squashes, packing squashes, picking spinach, picking chard, stuffing chard and spinach into bags, picking parsley, sorting rocks, sifting sand, raking sand on the driveway, being driven around on a tractor and often being told I work slowly (it's that INFJ personality...).

Here farming is all about speed. It takes me five times as long as anyone else to wrap a cucumber. Probably three or four times as long to pick the courgettes and perhaps twice as long to pick the Swiss chard. And although I'm told my picking is beautiful and my cucumber wrapping the best they've seen from a WWOOFer I can't help getting the feeling that I annoy them with my lack of pace. I'm beginning to think I can cross being a farmer off my list of possible occupations, I just can't do things so quickly. I'd much prefer to garden for pleasure, to have time to enjoy and marvel at the process as well as sustaining myself.

On the farm they have a greenhouse full of cucumbers with Swiss chard, spinach and herbs growing underneath them. Outside are the courgettes, yet more cucumbers, normal tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, several different varieties of squash, some maize, various kinds of pepper including jalapeƱos, chilli peppers and bell peppers, a few old peas, herbs such as the parsley, an area of clover (where they'll plant the crops next year), the four horses, two turkeys and some chickens. I have learnt that a green pepper is actually an unripe red or yellow pepper, I can't believe I've gone this far through life without knowing that. It makes sense now, because they're cheaper and don't taste as good! As well as the vegetables there are two small patches of raspberries and some apricot and peach trees. Everyday I eat cereal for breakfast with peach and apricot from the farm and when I wander in that direction I can pluck a few from the trees. This really makes me smile.

I'm staying in a little cabin above the river with two beds in it, internet access and lights. It doesn't have the same rustic charm as the A-frame at White Spruce Farm, but it serves its purpose and having internet access is great for staying in touch with the outside world and getting on with this blog. Next to it is the outhouse with an unobstructed panoramic view of the river below. I've dunked myself into the river a few times to cool off, but it scares me a bit as it has fast currents- Similkameen actually means treacherous waters. My glasses were swept away by the current and are currently making their way down the Similkameen river.

After stealing my glasses the river gave me something in return though. On my birthday I woke up, opened the birthday cards that Jenny, my granny and mum had sent me. The one from Jenny had a black bear on the front and inside it wishes that I would see a bear. I then looked out the window to see a black bear swimming across the river. Sighting my first black bear was the perfect birthday present. I wont have to lug it around in my backpack or worry about it having been made in a sweatshop in China.

Yesterday I went on a river 'float' with the family, Sarah's brother and his wife who are visiting the area (their little puppy Rosie is staying on the farm), and a whole troop of teenagers. We drove to a bridge further up the valley and then got in the river to float for about four hours on inflatable rings back down to the farm. It was really peaceful and enjoyable just to float down the river and the currents didn't seem so bad since the water level in the river is falling with the heat of the summer.

I've also been on a few walks into the hills above the farm and down the road here past the vineyards. I've spotted snakes, deer, mice, rat type things, a chipmunk and many birds, sniffed at the sagebrush which has wafts like English public toilets, had hummingbirds hover above my orange headscarf, admired flowers, perhaps got a little dehydrated, avoided the black widow spiders so far, and got impaled by a cactus. Overlooking the border with the US I admired the view and listened to recordings of the BBC's Costing the Earth. It suprises me that with all this abundant sunshine here no-one seems to have solar panels or photovoltaic cells on their roofs. The outhouse here has a solar powered light though and Sarah and Karl are building a new house on the hillside which will be off-grid.