I went on road trip this summer. It was kind of devastating to me. But here's what I think it means to you ...
(this is from a personal facebook post, feel free to read the original here or listen to the audio story if you'd prefer. Part 2 is a reflection/commentary I wrote a couple days after this original posting.)
I just got back from a 2 week road trip vacation across BC and Alberta this summer. I’m sure you saw the pictures. I like sharing fun pictures of cool places, pictures of my family, the friends we connected with. I hope you enjoyed seeing them and connecting with me and my family.
But I also feel I have to write this post/article because I don’t want the feel-good photos to mask the reality of what was lurking in the background this whole vacation. It wasn’t all ‘feel good’, ‘be happy’.
We were haunted by smoke and forest fires the almost the whole time. And along with it, for me anyway, was this growing feeling of hopelessness, of a ‘new reality’ for my beloved province and country that, as it grew, and as the smoke followed us from hotel to hotel, from city to city, up BC, across Alberta, back down again, the feeling became more and more devastating.
I grew up in the BC interior. I remember camping, fishing, swimming, in and around our beautiful lakes and rivers. I remember my parents taking us on road trips to the Okanagan, to Alberta, to the coast and back, travelling the Fraser Valley, the Nicola Valley, the Yellowhead, the national parks. I know lots of people who grew up around oceans, but I was an Interior girl - I loved the lakes, the rivers, the trees, even the dry shrubs and the wide, wide expanses of Kamloops and its beautiful, desert-like hills.
I can’t honestly say I have any happier memories than floating on a lake, or jumping on an inner tube down a river as a child, just hanging out in those beautiful outdoor places with my brother and sisters and cousins and, later teenage friends. The open skies. The cold waters. You know those scenes you see in movies of a bunch of kids, laughing and screaming as they run down and leap into a cold lake in the summertime? That was us.
That was the idea I had for my boys. See the beauty of this country. Sure, do some touristy stuff, but also jump in and play in the lakes, hike, have picnics in beautiful spots, bike around, rent a boat, paddle boards, whatever.
I’d say in the entire two weeks, across over 2,500 km, there were 2 or 3 days of non-smoky skies. It miraculously cleared up over Canmore/Banff, where we visited a couple of friends and had a beautiful picnic by the Bow river. It was also cleared up for a bit the day we went to the Columbia ice fields between Banff and Jasper, and one nice day in Drumheller.
Everywhere else, it was hardly bearable to be outside for more than 15 mins. My eyes constantly watered. I felt a roughness in my throat. Just being outside and walking around felt like you were sitting around a campfire sucking in the smoke. As we drove through the Rockies, those heart-pounding, beautiful majestic mountains that on any other day would make me believe in God all over again, were barely visible behind the smoke. I kept trying to point them out to the boys “if you look, you can kind of see the outline of them, look how tall they are, they really are beautiful”.
But who was I kidding? They weren’t beautiful. Not that day. They were just barely-seen outlines against a cloud of red hazy smoke. I felt like I’d lost a friend.
And it went on and on. It felt like we were running from it, but there was no place to go. I kept thinking that when we finally got to Edmonton, to a big city, less forested and more prairie like, we would be free of it. But it was even there, sinking into the city, hulking over it like a bad Godzilla movie. When got to our ‘refuge’, the hotel was locked out and surrounded by fire trucks because the smoke drifting in from open windows had set off the fire alarms. We stayed inside.
It’s hard to describe the mood of it all. The hazy orange sky. The eerie feeling and uneasiness it brings with it. That ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’ feeling. Fire is danger. We must feel it at some deep, instinctual level of our brain, because despite watching the fire reports and knowing we weren’t in any real danger, it still had a psychological effect. People keep calling it an apocalyptic feeling, and that’s a good description. It felt wrong, scary, like creeping danger.
But like I said, there was nowhere to go. We kept driving and it kept following us. Kamloops, Valemount, Jasper, Banff, Edmonton, Drumheller, Revelstoke, Vernon, Kelowna, finally back home. It followed us, we followed it, it haunted us, the whole way.
All those beautiful places? The lakes, the swimming holes, the hikes, all my ideas of what I wanted to do with the boys, kind of went away with the smoke. Most evenings we stayed at the hotel and the boys just went swimming in the hotel pool. Thank God for indoor waterslides and air conditioned movie theatres.
Anyone know that drive from Vernon to Kelowna? That beautiful descent down that hill overlooking Kalamalka lake? The stunning vista of colour? I could have cried as we drove that highway a few days ago. You could barely see the side of the road let alone the lake. I’m not sure why that view is so stuck in my memory, but it is. We used to drive from Kamloops to Kelowna a lot when I was a kid, and that was the last little bit before we would stop in Kelowna, so I guess it was a relief to see that lake, to bask in how beautiful it was, to anticipate the fun we would be having, (remember, the laughing, and screaming, and running down to jump in a cold lake? That was what we did in the Okanagan valley back in the day).
“Look” I say to the boys. “Look at this lake? Can you see it? It is usually so beautiful”.
I don’t know what I really want to tell them as they barely see it through the smoke. That this used to be beautiful. It used to make me love God. I wanted them to know that it was the beauty of BC that made me a dreamer - that Kalamalka lake could take my breath away, even as a little girl, it made me feel something. It stayed with me my whole life. It was these lakes, these rivers, this beautiful, beautiful country, those moments with my family jumping into those lakes, riding down those rivers, they made me who I am. They made me a dreamer, a writer, a poet.
But I can’t say any of that. They can barely see the lake. They look out the window of the car and they see and feel this red, ominous, ugly haze and turn away.
That night we swim in the hotel pool. Eat dinner in an air conditioned restaurant.
We spent a couple of days in Kelowna, mostly inside. Visited with their cousins, and some good friends. Swam in the hotel pool. Managed to spend an hour or so in the lake, braving the watery eyes and scratchy throats.
Then we went home, a day early, defeated by the smoke.
Maybe some other day I’ll post something more upbeat and hopeful, maybe end with a ray of positivity, some sort of ‘hey we can change this’ kind of conclusion.
But for now, I just wanted to share our story. BC is burning. I feel the sadness deep down in my soul today and I have no idea what the future holds for us.
Click here for Part 2 of The Haunted Vacation, A Province Under Fire, and A Wake Up Call ... (ie. the ray of positivity I promised ... )
Diane Currie Sam has worked for over 25 years across multiple industries to help her clients to initiate massive growth in their businesses, secure millions of dollars in funding and sales contracts, and initiate change through the power of strategic storytelling. She is the founder/CEO of “Be a Better Story” business services, and contributing columnist for Inc. Magazine. She has a Bachelor's of Science degree from the University of BC and a Masters of Arts in psychology from Trinity Western University.
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