Under the walnut tree

Walnut tree

The walnut tree

The dusk descended quite quickly, it was after all already Labour Day when we booted it out to the Okanagan for two nights camping. As the sun dipped low, the trees became silhouetted on the ridges of the nearby hills. We stood up from our chairs under the expansive walnut tree, where the sun had only a short time before filtered through the canopy of leaves overhead, to watch the darkening sky.

Setting sun

Setting sun

The sound of intermittent honks drifted across to us and we spotted long V formations of Sandhill Cranes emerge from the valley below. The migrating birds rose higher into the sky, headed south for the winter along their usual route over the White Lake area. As we watched, a murmuration of starlings, their chattering almost drowning out the honks and bugles of the cranes, flew as one from the nearby electricity pylons, to the riparian marsh down the hill and up again to a single tree, turning it’s spikey outline into a fluttering mass of wings, like so many waving handkerchiefs.

It’s amazing how much wildlife can thrive when given some space to do so. And how nourishing it is to just sit under a tree and listen and watch events unfold. We had a tent set up in a nearby campground but were visiting our friend who lived on a slight rise overlooking a small valley, and we sipped beer and wine as we caught up on news whilst a slight breeze rustled around us.

Hot during the day (a last blast of summer!) and still warm at night, we drove back after the sun had set to our campground. The chorus of crickets didn’t diminish until the early hours and sometime during the night I heard some howling and yipping – coyotes? – and what I think was probably a screech owl, and the nighthawks calling. It was the clear night I’d been looking for; out of the corner of my eye I saw two meteors and gazed at the hazy light of the Milky Way. Full of stars we finally crawled into the cosiness of our tiny tent, burrowing deep into the sleeping bags.

We woke to the curious ‘Chi-ca-go’ early morning call of the California Quail that bobbed and weaved through the campground, occasionally plumping down for a quick dust bath, and noted some small dusty footprints on the car windshield. Apparently some racoons had been playing around during the night. We sipped coffee and wandered over to the river behind our site and watched the whirl and eddies of water along the riverbank.

Okanagan River

River alongside the campground

Mount Kobau

Mount Kobau, and the remnants of wildfires.

It was too hot to ride, so we wandered off on a slow-paced exploration of Mount Kobau, part of the South Okanagan Grasslands Protected area, scoping it out for future mountain bike rides. We startled a large, glossy black bear that disappeared abruptly down a steep treed embankment with barely a rustle of leaves. Later, we swam in Skaha Lake, picking up a few odd pieces of garbage that we deposited in the garbage can, and from the campground in the afternoon watched as ominous clouds gathered over the hills. The promise of a change in the weather was fulfilled that night as great cracks of thunder sounded above us and flashes of lightning pierced the thin fabric of the tent, so bright that it seemed as if a torch was pointed straight at our eyes. Rain pounded down, and still the crickets chirped on.

We emerged from the tent the next morning to a freshly rinsed sky and tangy air, shafts of sunlight playing across the river where clouds of winged insects hovered just above the surface. Sipping on the last of our camp coffee (the best kind of java), we lingered as long as possible before packing up and heading home, stopping briefly by Mahoney Lake to walk in the woods and breathe in the pine-scented air, completing a short but full break from the city; a couple of days where nothing and everything happened.

Mahoney Lake

Mahoney Lake Ecological Reserve

Where the Wild Things Are

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Picture if you will a spout of water blown forcefully from the surface of the water in the distance, followed by the graceful arc of a dense, dark back and fin carving through chilly ocean.

Or an almost imperceptible rustle before a large black bear drops onto a path behind you barely twenty feet away and saunters off in the opposite direction, confidently turning its back but with one ear flicked back to track your progress, then just as quietly reaches up into a berry bush on a nearby slope and disappears.

The first encounter (barely a word you could use here) was of a distant view of whales, I’m not even sure if they were Humpbacks or orcas, from a ferry as we made our way to the Sunshine Coast, and the other of a bear, up close and personal, as we mountain biked in nearby Squamish. A minute later riding down a foot-wide board walk and we’d have bumped into our furry friend. I was almost tempted to take a photo as he ambled away, but I didn’t want to be that person, he/she knew we were there and he/she was making sure we didn’t hang around.

More prosaically, walking out of our apartment building one day, I stopped and stared, not sure if I was seeing what I was seeing. A marmot, equally frozen, staring back at me. A marmot, in Vancouver! Coyotes, yes, a significant variety of bird life, yes. Even a Humpback Whale in the Burrard Inlet (how magnificent and hopeful is that). But a marmot? Finally the furry critter took off before I could move, I can only hope he found his way to a less hostile environment (marmots have been known to hitch rides from the Okanagan in trucks and railway cars).

I love to be near where the wild things are, knowing they still have a chance, however depressingly slim, to survive and dare I say perhaps to thrive if we can get our act together.

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Distant shot of a bald eagle.