Weather stories: Haida Gwaii, Revelstoke, Rutland
How did weather affect your early years and the way that you and your family spent time?
I love weather! I also love sleeping outside, no matter how windy and rainy it is. I believe this goes back to my earliest days. I was less than a month old when I returned from my summer-holidays birthplace in warm, sunny Summerland BC to our home in the blustery, misty isles of Haida Gwaii (or Queen Charlotte Islands, as we called them then). Perhaps it was because we lived in half of a very small duplex (so small we had to share the tiny bathroom with the folks on the other side!), not to mention the fact that apparently I was an awfully squally young lady for the first 3 months or so of my life; at any rate, my mom immediately began setting me outside on the porch in my buggy for my afternoon naps. Now this was no doubt comfortable in August and September, but when October arrives, south-easters begin to whip up, bringing many days of wind and rain. In Masset, our Haida Gwaii community, winter winds are often above 100 kilometers per hour, and even days which are considered to be light breezes have gusts of 50 or 60. Not only that, but a single day in Masset can easily (and often does) bring multiple changes in weather, from calm to furiously windy, sunny blue skies to mist to fog to downpours to sunshine streaming through it all, hail, snow, glorious rainbows, and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I happily slept through it all!
Furthermore, our little house was a one-minute walk from Masset Inlet, which empties close-by into the Pacific Ocean within sight of the Alaska Panhandle! This, then, was my introduction to weather. Every day, year-round, I would have my naps out on the porch, sometimes accompanied by the local free-range cows who often wandered into yards and up onto porches!
Not only did I sleep outside in the daytime, but my parents had quickly developed the habit of going for a late-afternoon walk nearly every day, as this was the time of day when the weather was most likely to let the sun poke through the clouds, resulting in beautiful sunsets. Now these weren’t short walks around the block. We would often walk down to Old Massett, 2 or 3 miles to the north, or out to the military post on Tow Hill Road, or even to Limberlost for a picnic, a good 2 or 3 miles to the southeast. We did not have a car, so walking was our way of getting around, and we did a lot of it! In snowy times, I would be pulled on a sled; the rest of the time I traveled in my buggy, and as I got a little older, often walked as well.
To get to Tow Hill Road, we had to cross the bridge, off which were the local fishing docks. Of course, I was a tiny tyke at the time, and as I walked across the bridge, my viewpoint of the world was slightly above the lower rail of the bridge side-rails. Many years later, when I returned to Masset to teach in the same school my parents had taught in, I walked out onto the bridge one day, and sat down beside the rails, dangling my feet over the edge, and my arms and chin resting on the lower rail. As I gazed out over Delkatla slough, my viewpoint at the same level as when I was a toddler, I had a sudden and very unexpected flash of memory, extremely clear and detailed, of the slough as it was when I was a child. It remains imprinted in my mind’s eye to this day!
When I was two years old, we moved from Masset to Revelstoke. Revelstoke is a gateway to the Rocky Mountains and Rogers Pass, and is famous for its snowfalls. We lived in an old, high-ceilinged two-story house, on the upper floor. To get to our upstairs apartment, one had to climb a long, dark, steep outdoors stairwell. Every morning in the winter, my dad would get ready to head to the school to teach, but most mornings, he would have to first grab the shovel, and dig his way out to the road, where snowplows were also clearing a path.
It wasn’t long before the roads and our sidewalk were deep channels in the snowbanks which grew higher day by day. This wasn’t such a great thing for my dad; by the time he got out to the road, his arms would feel like limp spagetti! One day, after he got to school, at the very beginning of the day, a student behaved in a way which in those days warranted the strap, so my dad sent him to the office. Unfortunately, the principal was absent that day, so the secretary came and got dad, and told him he would have to administer the punishment himself. The student dutifully held out his hand, and dad took the strap, lifted his arm, and brought down the strap onto the outstretched palm with a resounding – plop! He tried again, and the same thing happened. By this time the felon, the school secretary, and several other passers-by were struggling desperately not to crack up. Realizing that his limp-spagetti-arm was not going to do the job, my dad quickly hung the strap up on its nail, and beat a hasty retreat to his classroom, as rolls of laughter echoed down the hall behind him!
For us kids, though, the snow was wonderful. Every day we would go outside, clamber up the steep banks, and slide down, whoosh!, on the backsides of our slippery snowsuits, or, if dad was home, he’d load us on the toboggan, and we’d go for an even faster ride. The snow would eventually get so deep that the people who lived downstairs could see nothing out their window but snow. At those times, my parents were grateful that we lived upstairs with a great view and winter sunshine streaming in the windows, despite the long haul up and down the outside stairwell every day. Of course, in the spring, all that snow melted, and one of my few clear memories of Revelstoke was my mom rushing around the house looking for my brother, and, not finding him there, running out onto the top of the stairwell, with me close at her heels. I remember so clearly gazing down that long, dark, steep passage, to see my little brother happily sitting in the spring sunshine, waist-deep in a great puddle of snow-melt, splashing and laughing to his heart’s content!
When I was five, we moved to Rutland (now part of Kelowna)in the sunny Okanagan, near my birthplace of Summerland. While we did have snow in winter, sometimes even a couple feet, and heaps of snow in the mountains where ski hills like Big White operate successfully, the valley itself is especially known for its beautiful blue lakes, it’s semi-desert climate, and of course its long, hot, generally dry summers. Before irrigation, trees were only found along creeks and lakeshores. But the soil is generally very fertile, and it wasn’t long before the Okanagan became an agricultural center, especially for orchards (and more recently, vineyards).
However, above the orchard levels, there were still many barren hillsides, and in the winters we would drive as far as the roads would take us, then climb up the long slopes, and come flying down on our toboggans. When I was about 14, our family took up skiing, and we spent nearly every weekend of the winter months on the local ski-hills.
In the summer, we went to the beach nearly every day for a swim, and many days, my siblings, my friends, and myself, would stick a peanut-butter and jam sandwich in our pockets, and head for the hills. As long as we were in a group, nobody worried about us, and we’d often be gone for many hours. When we got hot and thirsty, we’d take a dip – and a drink – in an irrigation ditch or flume! Many Sunday afternoons, from early spring to late fall, our dad would load the whole family in the car, and we’d literally head for the hills, where he’d drive along narrow, twisting, treacherous dirt roads, and trails too unmarked to even be called roads! We’d hike, wade in mountain creeks, explore abandoned old trapper’s cabins – all thanks to the dependable and pleasant Okanagan weather.
The Okanagan is often referred to as a “four season playground” and so it is. I have never been able to say that I prefer one season over another, for growing up in the Okanagan, each season was distinct. Fall features cool nights, but with pleasant “Indian summer” days, and glorious displays of autumn colours. Winter is cold enough for snow, off and on, but not bitterly cold, except for the very odd winter when a two or three week cold snap might occasionally freeze the lakes. Spring blows in with chilly March breezes, but April brings rapidly warming weather, and the wonderful scents of new green growing things in healthy damp soil. And summer is wonderfully warm, sometimes quite hot, and because it is rarely humid, the sunny Okanagan doubles it population with tourists in the summer months, most of whom head directly for the beautiful blue lakes. Although the days are hot and sunny, sometimes in the evenings there are wonderful displays of thunder and lightning, with cool gusts (and sometimes huge blows, usually short-lived) of wind, and sudden downpours which create great puddles and then disappear as quickly as they arrived, leaving behind a wonderful fresh scent, replacing the dusty dry-pine scent which builds up in the long hot days, and never fails to bring to mind my favorite childhood memories.
Since I have grown up, I have lived in the coastal climate of Vancouver, the north-coastal climate of Haida Gwaii yet again, and the arctic climate of Inuvik. Today I live back in the sunny Okanagan, but my heart is longing once again for the ocean, with its salty sea-breezes, winter storms, and frequent changes in weather that I have always loved.
Posted: Aug 22, 2008