I couldn’t agree more:
Archive for the 'Britannia Beach' Category
Girl: There’s this boy in my class. He’s SUCH a jerk! All he talks about it how great it is in America and how lousy Canada is. He even said he was going to do a class report on how much better the USA is than Canada.
Me: He must have been joking about that part.
I guess so.
–Does he know you’re also Canadian?
–He’s just trying to get a rise out of you.
–Has he even been to the States?
Probably. Yeah, I think they went to Florida on vacation.
–Florida! They probably saw more Canadians there than Americans. They all come down to escape the winter.
–You know, when I was a kid in Britannia Beach we had American families living among us. The mine was owned by Americans. Some of their kids would brag to us all the time about how great it was down in the States. We used to roll our eyes every time and then talk about them later.
–Americans are always shooting their mouths off about something, but Canadians don’t like it when people brag. Actually, it used to be that way, but now I’m not so sure. Last time I was in British Columbia I noticed how they now put The Best Place on Earth as a slogan on their license plates. Canadians always used to be so modest, and now they’re trying to tell everyone that BC’s the best place on earth? I mean, when you know you’ve got something special, you don’t go around bragging about it. That’s the way we grew up, anyway.
“No,” I answered, inspecting the tiny red scratches, “just been berry-picking.”
The blackberries were beautiful this summer. They started to ripen during a long heat wave while I was away at some shin-dig late June in Toronto, a hot, sticky blanket that lingered over the north of Germany for another couple of weeks after I got back until the third week of July. Riding by my usual patches I’d always stop to inspect the crop, checking to make sure the bright green buds were on their way to red. Then, as the red ones at the apex of each bunch started to blacken, I knew my free time for the next couple of weeks would be filled with picking, baking pies and making jam.
I have three main patches to pick in rotation. One is a five-minute bike ride from the office, so after work I’d ride my bike into the thickest part, change into my old clothes and start filling the empty containers.
My main patch is a five-minute walk from home on a huge empty lot near the commuter rail line. A third is a little further out of the way and much smaller, but worth it because the bushes are up against a building that catches and intensifies the heat of the sun, making the berries especially sweet if you wait long enough before picking them. For the main patch near our place I’d carry a stepladder to throw over the bushes and gain access to the juiciest ones at the top that, without aid, always remain just too far out of reach.
Since I’ve been old enough to pick up a pail I’ve been heading off to pick blackberries, bringing them home so my mother could cook them up. To be able to carry on so many years later something that started behind our house in a little mountainside Pacific coast village in Canada gives me a connection not only to my earliest past, but with the place it all started.
I also like the calming, meditative effect of being focused on one task. In this age of continuous partial attention and constant interruption, having a couple of hours to concentrate on something as simple and timeless as gathering food for your family is quite rare. I took the little red-haired girl along one morning and noticed that after the first few minutes of chatting and joking about little things, she too became relaxed and quiet as we worked our way along.
In bringing her along I also think I’m showing her how important it is to seize the day, to do things when it’s time to do them, because if there’s one thing that won’t wait for the next day, it’s berries.
There is also a great satisfaction in serving up a warm blackberry pie for dessert while a stack of jam jars cools on the counter, knowing that when you go to open one the following January you’ll be able to enjoy something that truly is the fruit of your own labours, and which costs nothing but the time you spend on it. I go to markets and see trays of perfect berries selling for €8 a half-kilo and give a little inward smile. Of course it’s easier to just buy them, but the pain of a few thorns and scratches that go away in a few days are worth it to get a lot more than just the berries.
The road from Vancouver to our little village of Britannia Beach was punched through in the late 1950s. It finally ended a half-century of isolation, because until then the only way in or out was by a freighter that used to dock here:
But the trek seven miles further north to Squamish was little more than a glorified logging road until I was about 10 years old when they finally opened the new highway. This photo, taken from the top of the Stawamus Chief this past summer, looks south to Britannia at what they used to call Snake Hill – or as my mother used to laugh and call it: Reptile Incline. It’s a four-lane straight stretch now.
North of Squamish to Whistler the road was a treacherous dirt track full of potholes, throat-cracking dust, flying stones to form spider cracks on your windshield, and dips so sudden we lost our entire exhaust system once as the fully loaded car bottomed out on the way home. At one point you had to drive on a one-way lane over the lip of Daisy Lake dam. You can get a good look of the spillway on the right as you head north going over a bridge.
Our family has a story about that road I like to tell about Whistler whenever people start to brag about their investments.
It’s because it’s the anti-boast, the how-could-you-have-been-so-short-sighted scenario, and it goes like this:
Despite the crappy road we used to cram into the family car and head up to Whistler for picnics. One day we arrived at our usual spot and had a picnic under a huge sign: Future sight of Whistler Mountain Ski Area. Selling shares for $500.
At the time skiing had yet to catch on to the masses. It was still a sport for the very rich, those who could afford the expensive clothing, the gear, and of course the leisure time. Reading that sign after dodging a thousand potholes that day, they laughed and said, “Who the hell would ever want to take the trouble to drive up that damn road just to go skiing? It’s not even fit for a goat trail.”
My parents weren’t skiers, and to be fair to them they were too busy raising four kids on one income living in a rented home to even consider buying into a ski development, but they also had a good laugh for the same reason over the Lots For Sale signs.
As a two-year-old, too bad I didn’t have the wisdom or foresight to pipe up with the old adage: Gee Mom, real estate is like sex! Get lots when you’re young!
Photo credit sign: virtual museum.ca
What you are about to see is a road that no longer exists the way it’s shown here.
The skiing and Nordic events for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are going to take place 110 km up the road from the city at Whistler, so since this video was shot they’ve widened the road in most places and straightened out others.
Still, it is an amazing stretch of highway. Clinging to the side of a fjord, you are constantly rewarded with ever-changing views of ocean, mountain and sky. Hold on to your seat!
Sharp-eyed viewers will catch a glimpse of my mother, who after picking him up at the airport is driving her drowsy son to Squamish, half-way toWhistler during my trip home in 2007. Those who know the road will recognise the hair-pin turn we all used to call suicide corner, now bypassed and spread out to four lanes in the upgrade. It also shows a stretch along a sheer cliff at Porteau Cove that they couldn’t widen even to three because the old British Columbia Railway line – now Canadian National – runs alongside between the road and the ocean. When I was 4 years old in 1964 there was a huge landslide there that blocked the road for several days, once again cutting off our tiny village from the Big Smoke of Vancouver.
Unless something major gets in the way – like chronic procrastination – from now until the Winter Olympics are over I hope to post about this road. Every member of our family has had at least one near-death experience over the more than half-century we’ve been driving it.
I’d also like to post a couple of stories of skiing during the old days at Whistler, and anything else related to the Olympics that happens to cross my path. For the few who come across this blog I hope it will offer a personal historical supplement to the show-off glitz that’s overtaken the event.
But still heavily jet-lagged. A couple of photos from my hometown are about all I can muster right now.
Now taking bets as to when this old shed finally gives in:
And one from around Kamloops, where my mother went to school during the war:
In this summer without summer, a story from a winter without winter. I guess you could call this a prequel to my railway memoir series, which is slowly getting under way.
She looked across at me and started to cry.
Don’t cry, Jessie, I said. I LOVE you. I won’t let you down. We can make it through this together.
Saying I love you: As the words spilled out I felt my face flush, knew as I was saying it that it was a desperate move, out of place and out of time. I’d only kissed her for the first time three days before, but it was all I could think of saying to make her feel it was worth taking the risk she had to take.
I can’t do it, she moaned, shaking her head. I’m so scared I’ll slip.
She was less than six feet away, but between us lay a steep slash of ice, a creek frozen and dusted in snow we’d blundered upon with numb feet and trembling fingers. What had started out as a happy walk in the woods had turned into a dangerous mountaintop expedition, unplanned and ill-equipped.
Here, take my hand, I said, reaching out as far as I could while holding onto a shrub poking out through the snow.
I can’t reach it. You’re too far away.
You’re going to have to trust me, and you’re going to have to trust yourself, I said. I can go back and get you, but I can’t carry you across, so I’m going to stay here and help you over it. You have to jump and grab my hand. Then I’ll pull you the rest of the way.
She leaned into the snow, her head shaking.
Trust me, I said. We’ll be OK. Just aim for my hand.
Flecks of snow tumbled into the gap between us as she shifted her feet to a better position. They whispered down the icy trough like sand on glass, skitting the surface in streaks of turquoise.
Don’t look down. Just across at me. Look at me.
I felt shame as her eyes caught mine. This was all my fault.
It had been such a warm and dry winter, there’d be no snow to worry about even way up there, I’d said. I know a great place where we can go behind Britannia. We’ll take my old man’s car, we’ll drive up through the forest on a road I used to take when I was just a kid in the back of a truck, past a ghost town where we’ll stop and look at the old swimming pool, the tennis courts, the old baseball diamond, the foundations of workers’ houses, the rusting machinery strewn around the entrance to the mine. We’ll drive past a dam, up a road I took last summer to another dam, park the car and walk across its lip to the other side to the trailhead that leads to a cabin way up there. It’ll be so much fun.
Now we’d somehow lost the trail we’d stamped through the snow on the way up, snow I never expected to find. We could have turned back on the ascent, but I knew there was something to eat and a chance to warm up a bit in the hut if we just kept going a little higher. Rest our feet, too. The snow wasn’t deep, but the surface crust wouldn’t hold us. We kept breaking through, the hard jagged edge scraping our ankles with every step.
Suddenly she lunged forward, aiming for my outstretched hand.
I grasped her arm as she slipped below, then wrenched my body back to pull her over. She landed beside me, covered in snow and shaking, so I dusted her off and held her close.
As she melted into me with relief I could smell the earthy leather of the jacket she always wore, the scent like vapour in the cold, still air.
Let’s keep going, I said, pulling back. We’ve not a lot of time to reach the top dam before it’s dark.
We walked in silence, our feet throbbing.
As we slowly descended, the snow thinning out to heather and shrub again, I was no longer worried about us not getting home, 16-year-olds having to be rescued and then having to explain what we were doing in a restricted area, driving beyond all those No Trespassing signs, going on a jaunt in the middle of winter without telling anyone, up a trail I knew only from one hike in the glinting flash of summer.
I was thinking more about what I’d blurted out in my desperation. I love you. Something instinctive told me that even though that’s what we both were feeling, had felt since we first shut the door behind us to listen to records in her bedroom, I shouldn’t say it. Don’t be the first one to say it. Ever.
January 30, 1977 is often in my thoughts, and I still wonder what it meant to her.
Because about two years later, close to the wrenching end and long after we’d begun that slow unwinding of the bonds we’d sealed together that day, she insisted that she’d been the one to first say I love you. That night a couple of months later when we’d stopped at the lookout on the way home from Vancouver, a breathy whisper in the moment she lifted herself just enough so I could lower her jeans down past her knees, the doors locked, the windows dripping.
Nobody likes to do something for nothing at all for very long, so it’s no surprise that most blogs peter out and die after a while.
I started this blog exactly two years and nearly 250 posts ago on January 19, 2007. Back then I had vague ideas of writing posts as if they were the letters back to my family, something to replace the emails they’d for one reason or another stopped responding to over the years.
If you subscribe to this blog in a reader, by the way, that’s the sub-heading you’ll see.
Because I quickly realised how confining that would be, after about six weeks I dropped the letters and simply started writing about whatever I was doing, thinking about or had an urge to let loose on, occasionally indulging my wildest fantasies of being chief editor of The Onion and posting a photo or two to gussy it all up a bit.
So given the format change I suppose I should follow all the how-to sites out there and re-do everything, give it a punchy name and graphics and monetise my blog, but that whole thing just seems too much like work. I’d just rather concentrate on writing about what interests me and perhaps a few others out there.
The thought occurred to me only a couple of months ago, but in the process I hope to have built up something that one day my daughter will be able to read, so that she can learn about her old man in a way I never got to know mine.
Still, there are times when I ask myself why I keep doing this.
And, once in a while, the answer just lands like a bird on the balcony railing:
So Ian isn’t particularly hidden. But if you’re a fan of satire, irony, beautiful photography, a world-view wide as the horizon and occasional posts as poignant and touching as could be found, expat Ian in Hamburg’s point of view may be exactly what you’re looking for. His Desiderata for Bloggers, 20 Blogging Commandments and What If the Buddha Were Just Some Guy in His Mom’s Basement are as inspirational as a 2×4 to the head. Read him.
That comes from Linda, a most under-rated blogger who in the past nine months has not only rebuilt her life in the wake of Hurricane Ike, she’s kept her blog going and is now starting to get her writing published in “the real world.” Linda, it really touches me to know that my writing has been an influence on you, and I hope you keep at yours as far as you can take it.
In a comment a while back the author of Deutschland über Elvis needled me as usual: Now, 2009 is the year that both of us get published thanks to our heroic blogging efforts. What’s our plan?
Good question, HB8. We’re already getting published, aren’t we? Or did you mean for real?
One of the things that used to hold me back from starting a blog was the thought of having colleagues read it, slide on over to me and say, hey, you are one bizarre individual… Then one day I said what the hell, I’ll start a blog, and they can read it all they like. I just won’t reveal too much about me.
Now after a year or so of posting, I figure they know as much as you do, so here goes:
- See that photo at the top of this blog? Add a bunch of overhead cables and telephone wires, and that was our family’s view out of the front window when I was growing up.
- When I was born, I was driven home from hospital in a banana box placed on the floorboards of an old Austin.
- My elder brother wanted me to be a girl. I know because he wrote that in a letter to my mother right after I was born. I don’t hold it against him.
- Had I been born a girl, my name would be Fiona.
- I’m glad I’m not a girl.
- My earliest memory is of me standing up looking through the bars of the crib, that same brother coming in and saying, “there he is.”
- I don’t know if that was a dream or not, but I can see it clearly.
- I was only three years and eight months old when JFK was shot, but I remember where I was and what was going on around me.
- I’m the youngest of four children.
- My sister, the family’s first born, was killed in a level crossing accident when I was seven. She was 18. Damn that Canadian Pacific Railway anyway.
- They say she was like my second mother, constantly taking care of me as a baby.
- I have always missed her.
- Not for what might have been, because my memories of her are vague, but for what never could be.
- For the past six generations, my family has been afflicted with a hereditary skin condition called epidermolysis bullosa.
- I consider myself to be very lucky, because I don’t have it, nor can I pass it on.
- We didn’t have a television until I was nearly eight. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for holding out that long.
- I grew up during the Vietnam war.
- I’ve been fascinated with that country my whole life.
- I started delivering newspapers when I was eight. I’d often read ours before starting the route.
- The Canadian town I grew up in was a one-company mining town. Anaconda – an American company – owned it.
- I was skipped a grade. I did the first half of Grade 3, then was moved over to the other side of the room to do the second half of the year in Grade 4.
- School mates were angry at me because they thought I’d deserted the gang.
- I also had a terrible time adjusting, because all of a sudden I had to write with a pen, and didn’t know how.
- I was an overweight kid from the age of eight ’til 12, when I made a conscious effort to lose weight. It worked.
- Perhaps too well, because when I hit Grade 8, skinny and a year younger than the other boys, I was picked on.
- Don’t worry, I’m over it.
- I first went skiing when I was 10 years old, and hated it. I went another couple of times that year, and hated it even more.
Then the next year, I went skiing again, and was hooked.
- I am still absolutely nuts about skiing.
- Photo break:
- I wish we lived closer to the Alps.
- I have a deep scar on my chin from a skiing accident when I was 12. Back in the day, they used to have so-called safety straps attaching your ski to your ankle, so that when you fell and the skis released, the ski wouldn’t flit down the hill and impale someone. I fell badly and my ski whipped around, smashing an edge into my chin.
- That happened on the Harmony Bowl at Whistler, back when a lift ticket cost a kid like me all of four Canadian dollars.
- Blood everywhere, six stitches.
- I spent a year ski instructing at Cypress Bowl, one of the three areas close to Vancouver. The job’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
- We used to spend hours either playing street hockey, Canadian football, soccer or baseball until it was so dark, it was dangerous to play.
- My first real girlfriend had an identical twin. They were beautiful girls, always leaving me at a loss for words not only for that, but because I couldn’t tell them apart when they greeted me.
- Then on January 27, 1977 at precisely 4:20 pm Pacific time, I kissed one of them. After that, the difference was unmistakable.
- I learned to drive in a 1972 MGB, but I have fonder memories of a 4-door 1970 Plymouth Satellite.
- The first three years I had my driver’s license, I was in five accidents. I haven’t been in once since.
- If you don’t know what I mean by real girlfriend, then don’t ask.
- I used to run around in the BC coastal rainforest behind our house from the time I was old enough to be let loose out the back door.
- It was like a forest village, with a stream to catch frogs and make dams, great hiding places under old stumps and logs, a clearing to play little games of baseball, a hill for a lookout, and patches of huckleberry, salmonberry and blackberry to plunder as Spring slowly ripened to Summer.
- When I arrived back from my first long trip away from home – a year-long jaunt with a backpack through most of western Europe, Egypt, Israel and Turkey when I was 20 – I discovered they’d clear-cut my forest playground to put in a fucking trailer park.
- First day back from that trip, one of the first songs I heard was, “The Rodeo Song.” Its first line, “Well, it’s 40 below and I don’t give a fuck, got a heater in my truck and I’m off to the rodeo” didn’t make sense to me.
- It made me wonder if I was coming back to the right place.
- I miss Canada a lot, but I think it’s mostly nostalgia not for the place, but for the careless days of youth.
- I can speak French and German fluently. I prefer to play Scrabble in French, though I haven’t for a while.
- I sometimes dream in German.
- The first five words I learned in Cantonese were five, four, three, two and one in that order.
- I have an extremely good memory for places and dates. That skiing photo was taken in February, 1992 at Owl’s Head, Quebec.
- I can be very self-deprecating. That’s a good thing, because it puts me in some good company.
- I love learning new things, even if some of them are unpleasant.
- For example, I had to learn the hard way the meaning of narcissistic personality disorder.
- I don’t have narcissistic personality disorder.
- I dislike crowds intensely.
- I have no superstitions save one: I never write anything in red ink.
- I have climbed to the top of two of the three pyramids at Giza, Egypt. They say you’re not allowed to do that anymore.
- In the winter of 1980 – 81 worked as a ski patroller at Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, Israel.
- I paid my way through university and for that backpacking trip by working for the Canadian National Railway at a job that doesn’t exist anymore thanks to the fax machine, a device now overtaken by email.
- Thanks to that job, I know what it’s like to live in pretty well every town between Prince Rupert, BC and North Battleford, Saskatchewan.
- I used to work for Overwaitea Foods packing bags and stocking shelves. One day, the manager came up and asked me to start stocking the frozen food section. As I was doing the job he came up to me again and said, ”the reason I’ve asked you to do this is we’re serious about training you for management, and this is the job we give everyone who’s starting out in that direction.”
- Feeling horrified, I looked up at him with a bag of frozen peas in my hand and said, “Well, I’ve registered for university in the fall.” He looked disappointed, and two hours later, I was packing bags again.
- I was robbed in Nice, France in 1980. Two years later, I was robbed in Cannes. Watch your stuff when you’re on the Côte d’Azur.
- When I started scribbling things down for this, my goal was to have 100 entries in the list.
- I believe the secret to boring the crap out of everyone is to tell them them everything, so I’m going to stop here.
© 2008 lettershometoyou
I don’t often feel compelled to respond to these things, but this one might be fun.
Besides, it’s been one hell of a long time since I’ve set any records.
Nothing close to Guinness Book material, but back in high school I managed to overcome a chronic state of laziness and sloth to set school records in the 200- and 400-metre sprints, advancing to the BC provincial finals in the 400. The school had been around for a few decades by then, so I figure I’d done pretty well. That is, until the next year, when both records were shattered by twin brothers, coached by the same teacher who trained us so well the previous year. Thank you, Mr. Hotston.
I came in last in the provincial finals race down in Vancouver that year, but in true Canadian fashion, I can still claim some victory: I had to beat out several others in heats to qualify for the final, ran a personal best of just over 50 seconds, and the CBC broadcast it live, so everyone in my home town saw me on TV. That was fun.
But Blogging yourself into the Guinness Book of World Records? Let’s see.
- Deepest post. Submarines and oil platforms not permitted.
- Highest post. No hand-helds, must be on ground.
- Fastest post. Probably the space shuttle?
- Longest post in shortest length of time.
- Most posts in one 24-hour period. Minimum 500 words per post. Any language. No blogthings, no youtube, no plagiarism. One link minimum, one original photo per post.
- Most posts in one 24-hour period without using your fingers, toes or voice software.
- Greatest number of comments made in one 24-hour period.
- Blogging marathon. One five-minute break per hour. Last blogger to fall asleep wins. Tea and coffee permitted. No energy drinks.
- Greatest number of scrapers, sploggers and spammers kicked in the butt in one 24-hour period. That one I’d love to try.
- Longest time spent staring at a screen logged into WordPress with a milk bottle balanced on your head while enduring the psychotic warblings of Mr. Bungle.
Better stop there. Quite honestly, I’m sure this post won’t set any records either.
© 2008 lettershometoyou