Wednesday, August 25, 2010

making a habit of it

Habits are hard to establish, but once they've worked their way in, they are hard to break. They might be good habits, in which case it's great to be a creature of habit. If the habits are bad, which is a judgment call, then really, you need to find a new habit to replace them with.

For instance, I had a habit of drinking wine with my dinner just about every night, which was quite pleasant really. But it became a very bad habit as my (faulty) judgment called out for more. But early this year I decided that this was going to have to stop. It was surprisingly difficult for about a week, and then it was fine. Now I have water with my dinner and usually some tea after. I judge this to be a good habit so I'll keep it. I also deduce there were a lot of calories in wine, because I've lost a few pounds. I'm not against having a glass now and then with friends, but no longer at home. That just seems wise. Being wise also seems a good habit to get into.

Interestingly, it was no more difficult giving up wine than it was to let sugar go, as I did several years ago. I was in the bad habit of putting sugar or honey in my tea and coffee. I had a bad coffee habit too, so there was a lot of sugar pouring in. It was especially difficult to drink unsweetened coffee without much grimacing, but after a week the stuff started to taste good again. And interestingly, candy and chocolate bars became disgustingly sweet, and the taste of fruit became wonderful. So sweet!

Lately I have the habit of going to the Grouse Grind. This is a good habit (or an obsession, but I'm not ready to deal with my OCD just yet) as it is helping me to be healthy. But it's maybe a bad habit in that it takes up a lot of time, and I let other things slip. This I'll have to work out. There are other things I need to do as well.

I've been trying to get into the habit of writing regularly. I have read that this is essential to any writing practice. I habitually read lots, but forget to shake the cobwebs off my pen. Writing is very hard to make habitual, because it requires work. Drinking coffee without sugar doesn't require work, and drinking water and tea instead of wine doesn't really require work either (less, really, as water is much cheaper than wine). The Grind takes work, but the thing is once your in it, it's hard to stop. After a certain point going down is quite painful, so you just have to finish.

I think maybe writing is much like the Grind. I feel very good when I'm in the middle of both. (People might not believe me about the Grind, but it's true.) And I feel very virtuous, like I've done something useful, when I get to the end of an hour and some of hiking. Writing too. They are different, but similar.

Last week I took a class at SFU to try and ease myself into a habit of writing every day. Creative writing, actual generation of stories. It's hard work. Fixing the stuff once it's printed out in a heap of paper is easier. But it's getting a story down onto paper that's the challenge. (Onto a computer screen a well, as my erratic entries here indicate, but that's another habit I'm working on.)

I always know where I am when I'm on the Grind; you'd think that would be true of writing too, but there lies a big difference. You never know whether the story you think you are writing is the one that's going to come out of you. And you might think there'd be more excitement on the Grind (forest, potential bears, mountainside) but really it's quite routine. More like climbing stairs, albeit with a nicer view. Discovering characters hiding around corners, or popping out of cars, can be exciting too, and this happened last week at SFU, when I was sitting in a room with other people, and couldn't do anything else except keep slogging with my hand holding a pen. Uphill, but then this kid slipped out of my pen and onto the page...

The problem with writing, unfortunately, is that you can usually get up and walk away without falling off anything or wrecking your knees. So the habit is peculiarly more difficult to establish. Last week was a good, if pricey start, but not sustainable. I'm going to have to go it alone, and find some way of establishing, for myself, a duration of time I can't walk away from.

I think this will be a good habit to have. I just need to work at it. Because I do have a story to tell. I mean, it might end up in a bottom drawer, the way I hear first novels often do, but so what. I'll feel so virtuous, having made it to the end.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

rambling roads

I've lived my whole life in BC, yet don't know it well. So in the last week, my partner and I went driving. We tried to go down roads we'd not been on, if not ever, then at least not for a long time. Mostly we were successful. We started out last Monday heading north on highway 99, instead of east, the usual route, which I have driven oodles of times. The road north is beautiful instantly. It takes you past Brandywine Falls, where we stopped, goes through Whistler, past Nairn Falls, where we stopped, and then Pemberton, where we had lunch. Then we took the Duffy Lake Road, through the mountains into Lillooet. Until a few years back, I don't think it was paved all the way, but it is now. It's the slow road, lots of twists and turns, but so beautiful!

Duffy Lake
More Duffy Lake
You get my point about beauty. This is BC. It may not actually be the absolute best place on earth, as BC's slogan brags, but it sure has some staggeringly beautiful sights.

We found a motel in Lillooet that had a balcony overlooking the Fraser River. A view can make up for a lot in a motel, and so it was a fine place to stay.

Lillooet is in the interior of BC, and BC is burning. We watched a helicopter fly in to fill up its bucket with water, then head out to dump it on a nearby wildfire. It looks so woefully inadequate, one little chopper and one little bucket against massive tracts of fire. And the fire's still burning.

From Lillooet, Mile 0 for the Gold Rush Trail, we headed for highway 97, the road north. Just before the junction we came upon Historic Hat Creek Ranch. We neglected to tour the ranch, but our brunch was good. Most places seem to owe their existence to the gold rush. We stopped at a fire tower just before 100 Mile House, and climbed up to look at the view. The Cariboo would seem to be a flattish plateau, and trees. There don't seem to be a lot of people. Just trees, and a lot of them are dead, thanks to the pine beetle. Things have progressed past the first-year, nicely reddish-coloured trees, to scraggly black ghosts of trees. The whole forest looks like tinder, and that's just what it is. The air is not clear.

It was hot driving, though we had the air-con going, so we stopped in at Lac La Hache for a swim. Whew. That was great.

Barkerville cabin.
The plan, newly formed, was to stop in Quesnel for two days, and make the side trip into ghost town territory, Barkerville. This way we wouldn't have to move house twice. Road trips that are unplanned don't get packed for very well, I've discovered. We had everything with us we might need, except bowls for our morning cereal. The motel in Quesnel had bowls. How could we not stay?

Barkerville is more interesting than I expected. It's a tourist spot, yes, but low key. I feared it'd have more of a circus atmosphere. It does have stage coach rides, but then the setting fits. The town is prettier than in gold rush days, as the forest has grown back around it. At the time, the hills around were logged, and the place was pretty grim. Of course, we were looking at it in sunshine and summer. Not rain and mud. The town has actors playing townspeople. They hold to character pretty well. We sat in for a court session, by an actor doing a credible Irish accent, regaling us with tales of frontier justice. Not an easy life for anyone, back then. Which was just yesterday, really.

Lots of abandoned wagons and machinery.
From Quesnel you either carry on, or go back, so we carried on. Our new plan was Jasper, and the Icefields parkway. This meant a drive up to Prince George, and then we could turn eastward, to get through or around the Cariboo mountains. Prince George has around 71,000 people. A metropolis in the north. (Quesnel is around 6,000, which is a big burg too, judging by what we saw.) We drove up to Connaught Hill park and walked around it to get the panorama of the city. Marvelled at an ant hill that I swear had more residents than Prince George.

From there, it's highway 16, which going west would take us to Prince Rupert, but east took us to Jasper. The next town after Prince George was McBride, population 745. Between them, trees, and signs promising moose, elk, deer. We did see some deer.

The drive after McBride is through the Robson Valley, between the Cariboo Mountains and the Rockies. Interestingly it looks much like the Fraser Valley, minus the hordes. Lush and bucolic and beautiful. And the river is the Fraser. It turns out we had pretty much been following the Fraser to its source. I must have know that once, that the Fraser begins in the Rockies. I'm sure I coloured in a map when I was in elementary school. Fifty years ago? I guess that's a good excuse for forgetting.

An elk at the side of the road.
The road heads into the Rockies past Mt. Robson, which is one of those massive hunks of rock that just make your jaw drop. Promise of much more to come. Mt. Robson is still BC, but soon we crossed the line into Alberta. We did see an elk finally, whoo hoo! Might have missed him, but there were of course a bunch of cars pulled over to have a look. I can't remember whether he was a British Columbian, or an Albertan. It was maybe an hour before we got to Jasper.

The elk stepped into the woods, illustrating why we saw no others; a metre more into the woods, and he was gone from sight.

Jasper is a nice little tourist town. It's like Banff, only quieter. We had dinner on an upstairs balcony at an Italian restaurant. The food wasn't great, but the spot was gorgeous. A narrow balcony and tons of greenery and flowers, so it felt very private and cozy. Yum, even though the food wasn't yum; sometimes you can only have one. Good food or ambience. We had managed to get a room in a 'heritage' hotel, even though this was day one of the long weekend. It was just fine, except no air-con, so we left the window open. Foolish, as there was lots of noise from the street. But we slept, finally, until someone started up a motorcycle early in the morning. Slow to learn, but we closed the window, and slept in some more.

The thing about an unplanned road trip is that you're not in a hurry. Checkout time most places was 11, and we would be ready to go around that time, but not always. My partner had brought along his espresso machine, and once armed with a latte, what's the rush? No worries, we were on the road by noon. I have to tell you, that Jasper, and the Icefields Parkway, and Banff too, are all in Alberta. So while BC may be the best place on earth, I can't help but feel that somehow Alberta has managed some pretty good stuff too.

We set out for a two and a half-hour drive that took us about six, because we had to stop so often to gawk at the views, and to walk in to have a look at things. First place we went was Horseshoe Lake, on the recommendation of the hotel clerk. She said people jumped in from the cliffs, and sure enough, that's what they were doing. Next stop Athabasca Falls, yet another mind-blowing example of the power of water.

Athabasca Falls

And after that of course we stopped at the glacier that feeds the Falls. There was a hike up to the tip of the glacier, with many signs warning of the danger of walking on it, because it is receding, and there is a lake developing underneath it's front edge. A hundred years from now, it'll be gone. Which should make the Falls less awe-inspiring. Everyone who doubts global warming, should come have a look.
Athabasca Glacier: the marker shows where the glacier reached in the year 2000. The valley behind me has markers stretching back through the years. 
This melting thing has been going on for awhile.

 After awhile, all these mountains and glaciers and deep canyons get kind of ho-hum. Seen one, seen 'em all, eh? But we walked up the pathway to the Bow Lake outlook. This was from the highest point on the parkway. How many times can you say wow?

Bow Lake

But then we saw a bunny, so it was okay. Bunnies are cute, but you don't get knocked over with awe. Elk now, that's different. That stops traffic.

A week is not long enough for rambling around BC (and a bit of Alberta), so when we got to Lake Louise we decided to head for Golden, and then to Kamloops, with the thought we could hang out there a couple days, and then make a quick run home.

The Trans-Canada highway is awful. It's crowded and busy and everyone drives like they're in the middle of rush hour. But I've never driven into Golden before. I've always been one of those goofs flying by. It's a nice little town! We had a good dinner, food and ambience, at a restaurant on the Kicking Horse River! And we slept all right in a cheap and cheerful motel on the highway. Next day, the most gruelling of our drives, because of Hwy. 1, taking us to Kamloops. We staggered off the highway, headed downtown, and checked into the Plaza Heritage hotel. What a treat! And we went for a walk, and then found ourselves outside a beautiful restaurant, where again, the food was great, and the place was lovely. Then we went for a walk, listened to some music in the park, and looked out at the sunset over the Thompson River.

It was the long weekend, which meant we couldn't stay on at our hotel. But we were completely refreshed by Kamloops, so decided to take the slow road home. The Trans-Canada used to be the major road, but it's become the secondary route since the Coquihalla Hwy blasted it's way over the mountains. If you've the time, I'd sure recommend it. It made it feel like we were still exploring, winding our way along the Thompson River. The countryside is beautiful in a different way from all those mountain crags we'd been oohing at. It's dry and varied, and I'm sorry I didn't take any pictures to put in here, but we couldn't really see far, because of all the smoke. And I see on the news tonight that there are more than 400 fires burning in the province, lots of them new ones, in the places we drove through. All that pine beetle tinder.

Just before Lytton we spotted some rafters. There were at least four rafts that we watched come down the river. I don't think any of them were going forward. Amateurs.

We could hear screaming from up on the highway...
Then we were back with the Fraser River. Just outside Lytton, we saw helicopters again, hauling water, probably to the site where a plane went down the day before. Fighting fires is extraordinarily dangerous.

So it's all these contrasts, travelling on the holdiays. I love the drive down the Fraser Canyon. Twists and turns and tunnels. I loved the drive all over the province. And then I see on the news that people died on some of the roads we took. And fires are burning everywhere. But we had a good time!

Our last stop was at Hell's Gate, so-named because Simon Fraser didn't enjoy himself there. Lucky for him, as he was discovering(?) the Fraser, that the Thompson Indians (the Nlaka'pamux, or Thompson Salish, or just Thompson people) had built some ladders and (scary) bridges along the sides of the canyon. And the river wasn't as narrow then. It's worse now because a huge pile of rubble fell into the river when the railroad was being built. The salmon haven't recovered yet.

We of course rode the gondola down. I noticed that there's a trail, which suggests to me that you could skip the fee for the gondola if you wanted. Much less of a hike than the Grouse Grind, too. But I only noticed this when we were at the bottom, and had already paid. Ah well, my partner's not as keen about slogging up hills as I am.

From Hell's Gate, it's a quick ride down to Hope, and then onto the Lougheed Hwy through Agassiz, skipping the freeway, then Mission, Haney (Maple Ridge, to all you recent residents) and, then, sigh, onto the freeway but then, hurray, home, where the kitty was waiting. Speaking of wildlife.

Courtyard Kitty