We had beautiful weather for our trip from the rain shadow of the Columbia Mountains to the arid grasslands of the Okanagan. This time we headed more south than west through the lake country of Mara lake and the small farms and industries of the Enderby and Armstrong region.
By the time we reached Armstrong, the craigs had disappeared from the hills and the thick fir and cedar forests of the Sicamous region had turned to scattered pine, hardy grasses, and occasional sagebrush. By Vernon we saw signs of the other major change that has transformed the Okanagan region: population growth.
The last time I traveled through this region (over 30 years ago), Enderby, Armstrong, Vernon, and even Kelowna were clearly resource communities, weathered with the legacy of pioneers, and tentatively exploring the possibility of tourism. This time, from Vernon south, they are overwhelmingly residential - with housing developments and mansions expanding up the hills around Vernon, Kelowna, Summerland, and Penticton.
The hills themselves are remarkably different from those through which we traveled a few hours ago. The lack of moisture has transformed the natural vegetation and reconfigured agricultural production. Irrigation equipment appeared – in most cases the single waterpipe slung on a series of wheels that slowly moved it across the field. Hay fields turned to orchards and the first indications of the vineyards that supply the Okanagan wines for which this region has become famous.
We pulled in to Fernbrae Manor just before our appointed time for a visit with Pete and Jacquie. We spent an hour or so getting caught up and reminiscing about our childhood. For me, Pete is a storehouse of memories from my earliest years since he is two years older than I and therefore able to turn the ghosts in my recollections to specific people, events, and places. My earliest memories of skating, for example, were formed, it turns out, on a frozen pond just off Victoria Drive at 11th Avenue; and the comings and goings of neighbours were a result of bootlegging activities taking place next door.
The Manor is a spacious building, with all the accoutrements typically found in assisted living facilities. It is bright, pleasantly decorated, and busy with the comings and goings of lunch. We discovered, however, that it is missing one of the essential facilities for Pete: a workshop. All of the fixers and problem-solvers like him were left without the tools and space to make their contributions. There are plenty of activities for those who like to socialize - from cards and tours to yoga and crafts - but none for those whose lives were defined by working with wood, metal, machines, and tools. It is unclear to me whether this is an example of sexism at work, the heavy hand of insurance agencies, or an institutional oversight, but the consequences are devastating for the quality of life among a relatively large cohort of the elderly, I expect.
By the time we had a quick bite to eat and continued on our way to Penticton, the sun was already low in the sky and delighting us with a colour show over the malls of Peachland, Summerland, and Penticton. I was pleased to see the remnants of the campgrounds and parks along the shore road that had been part of my childhood travels and enjoyed trying to spot the lights of Naramata across the lake - from where Ernie and I had launched our rowboat so many years ago. This story is one of the many I have shared with Samantha in our letter-exchanges over the years (http://billreimer.ca/workshop/personal/documents/samletters/Naramata01.pdf).
It was a wonderful choice. After days of sitting in the van (or waiting for it to get fixed) a little dancing to stretch out our joints was a perfect antidote. It also gave us a chance to meet some of Jim and Jean's friends and get a taste of seniors' living in Penticton. From the sound of the activities they organized it seems very active and diverse: from language lessons to hikes and birdwatching.
We were ready for bed - but only after a lovely bowl of chocolate ice cream.