Glacier National Park

“It’s as impressive as Jasper,” he told me. As a proud Canadian sceptical of the beauty Montana had to offer, I wasn’t so sure about my husband’s statement.

We bought our tickets at West Glacier and entered Glacier National Park, taking our time to drive the scenic 80 km Going-to-the-Sun-Road that traverses the park from west to east. It crosses the Continental Divide through Logan Pass at 2026 metres, the highest point on the road. For those who don’t know, Glacier is the American side of Waterton Lakes National Park (and much, much larger).

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I believe it was after looking at this view that I told my husband, “Okay, this is amazing.”

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Full of (receding) glaciers, lakes, and argillite mountains, Glacier National Park is known as a hiker’s paradise. While you can certainly enjoy the beauty from the road, most of the park’s treasures lie further in. We stayed three days and did two hikes. While there are plenty of trails, the majority of the hikes are actually overnight backpacking trips. Given how many bear warnings there are, I was glad we weren’t doing any of those.

Hidden Lake Trail

Hidden Lake Trail is one of the shortest and most accessible trails to hike, with a long boardwalk section at the beginning to protect the ancient alpine meadow. The trail starts behind the Visitor Centre at Logan Pass.

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Hiking to the overlook only takes an hour and a half or so. You could continue all the way down to the lake, but we figured the view was better from here and we wanted to save our legs from all those switchbacks. We stayed at the top for a while where we more than entertained by a family of mountain goats.

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This mother and kid couldn’t have walked by in a more perfect spot with the lake below and the magnificent Bearhat Mountain towering in the background. My husband joked the park paid the goats to do that. Although you’re told to stay about twenty metres from wildlife, these goats came right up to us! Very docile creatures, though check out those muscles!

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Just in case you think I’m partial to mountain goats, I also captured some other wildlife we saw on the trail, though these guys weren’t quite as exciting.

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Upper Two Medicine Lake

This hike is more remote. My hands were practically clapping the whole time to scare off potential bears. (As an aside, we did this hike first and so the next day when we are about to step onto the populated boardwalk for Hidden Lake Trail, my husband turns to me, “By the way, you don’t need to clap here.”) He looked very relieved when I agreed.

Upper Two Medicine Lake isn’t hard terrain but it’s a full-day hike, walking along the long edge of Lower Medicine Lake until you climb through forest and meadow to reach the second lake. There are two waterfalls partway up called Twin Falls (though you can only see one in this pic).

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It was a cloudier day so the idea of swimming in the lake wasn’t as appealing when we got there but I waded up to my knees and the Artist fished.

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We could have easily stayed a week in this park. Fortunately, we were camping in East Glacier that wasn’t affected by the devastating Howe Ridge Fire, which ignited due to a thunderstorm the night before we left and is still going. It’s tragic as this is such a beautiful place that I hope others will get to and continue to enjoy.

Here are some of my other favourite views in the park:

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And that’s a wrap on our camping trip of 2018!

Catch of the Day

On our kitchen wall hangs a fly fishing calendar (you can guess who purchased that). The quote accompanying the month of August is: “This love of fly fishing takes me to places I otherwise wouldn’t go.”

In thinking about our recent camping trip to Idaho and Montana, I think my version of the quote is: “This love of my spouse takes me to places I otherwise wouldn’t go.”

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Husband fishing in Glacier National Park

Ever since we were dating, I knew fly fishing was one of my husband’s passions. Whenever he gets the chance, he ditches the city and drives out to the Squamish or Skagit River and spends a day casting rod into water. It’s a quiet, meditative act for him and I don’t deny it looks poetic. A River Runs Through It is one of his favourite books/movies and so we watched it together while we were dating. I surprisingly enjoyed it.

A river runs through it

My husband’s love of fly fishing has increased throughout the years, probably because it’s harder for him to get away from the city. Not enough to simply fish, he now ties his own flies and has taken over a section of our kitchen table for this endeavour which I like to tease is his male version of a sewing station. I’ve even written a poem trying to fathom this hobby and the hilarity of seeing my husband’s large hands intricately tying threads and feathers around a thumbnail-sized hook clamped into a vice.

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I guess the joke’s on me.

On our holiday, we did a full-day guided fly fishing trip down the Salmon River in Stanley, Idaho, a belated birthday gift for my husband. I told him he could go by himself. No, he wanted me along, he said, and you pay for two people anyway.

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Small mountain town of Stanley with a population of approximately 63 people. Sawtooth Range in the background.

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The Salmon River, Idaho.

Seeing that I have only fly fished one other time, I was content to go for the ride and take pictures of the scenery along the way. But a rod was immediately put into my hand when we got into the boat and I found myself fishing for six hours and even liking it!

It helps when you have a good teacher and Robert of White Cloud Rafting Adventures was exactly that. Humorous, helpful, and patient, he taught me how to cast, mend, and “commit” to my set as I often hesitated on what to do when I actually had a fish. It was fun to see him as excited as we were when we caught one. He’d scoop it up in his net so he could unhook it, snap a picture for us, and release the fish back into the river.

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Here’s one of my first little guys.

If I hadn’t caught any fish, I would probably be writing a different story but seeing that I caught at least ten, I felt like I was really rocking it as a beginner. I even challenged my husband to see who could catch more, and while he won in that category, I caught the biggest catch of the day at around 18 inches with this cutthroat trout. What a way to finish!

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Let’s just say I like catching them more than I like holding them. So that’s Robert holding my fish.

For comparison’s sake, here’s my husband with his biggest catch. I think it’s clear who’s the winner, right?

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Fly fishing continued to be a theme of our trip. Around campfires at night (yes, they were allowed in the places we stayed), my husband would read from his ultimate favourite fly fishing novel: The River Why. I can’t say I’m as big a fan but we’ve come so far we have to finish it now.

About halfway through our eight days of tenting, we took a break from nature to enjoy some culture in Missoula, Montana. In addition to wandering downtown and popping into art galleries, we enjoyed their lunch hour food truck scene and jazz music in Caras Park and drove to the church commemorating Reverend John Maclean who was the real-life inspiration for his son’s book A River Runs Through It.

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It’s funny to think of the activities you never thought you’d try if it weren’t for a friend or a spouse. What’s something you never thought you’d try but did? And did you like it?

 

 

Aimless in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is extremely photogenic. If it’s not the onion-ring canals, it’s the assortment of gables on gingerbread houses, a delight for any architecture lover.

My neck was a little sore after three days, craning to look up from cobblestone streets.

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From left, every other house: bell gable, neck gable, pointed gable

I can only imagine how steep the staircases inside must be. Hotel Museumzicht gave us a good indication. This lodging was a great spot to watch tourists come and go from the Rijksmuseum and play on the iconic I Amsterdam letters as we ate breakfast and planned our wanderings for the day.

 

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We walked by poems waiting to be finished.

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Old buildings with sun-kissed bricks.

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Tulips like lipstick shades.

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Bicycles everywhere: parked, ridden, dodged. Apparently there are about 600 000 bikes in Amsterdam on a given day. We didn’t dare bike in the city but we took a lovely excursion to the country which I’ll write about later.

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The holy and the profane keep company mere steps from each other. We walked towards the Oude Kirk (city’s oldest church, built in 1213) in broad daylight to stumble upon women in windows scantily clad, a red light emanating above the glass. Hello Red Light District.

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Oude Kirk

Whereas the Red Light District is easy to find, the Anne Frank House (turned into a museum) is remarkably camouflaged. The tour guide on our nighttime canal boat tour pointed it out and I would be hard pressed to find it again. No distinct gable or sign. The only giveaway is the often long line. Visiting the house is a sobering, moving experience well worth the wait. I had reread Anne’s diary upon arriving in Amsterdam and many of the quotes from it were projected on the walls. You get to walk behind the moveable bookcase into the cramped quarters of the Secret Annex where the Franks, along with four other Jews, hid for two years before being anonymously betrayed to the Nazis. I reflected in my journal afterwards that it was heavy but also hopeful. The haunting words of a thirteen-year-old girl have left their mark on the world.

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Anne Frank’s House is the one right in the middle with the straight roof and tree in front.

Right around the corner, near the Westerkerk (West Church) is a sight with a very different mood. Irreverent Dutch humour at its best.

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Frites stand parodying Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel

Amsterdam closed out our trip to Europe, and it was a great place to end. People were friendly, food was delicious, art was incredible, and the city was easily walkable. I’m obviously not featuring the cities we visited in order because Nice and Venice are still to come, but hopefully you enjoyed some snapshots of the fascinating place that is Amsterdam.

F is for Fremlin

What’s the name again?
Fremlin, I repeat. Like gremlin, but with an F.

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That’s how I introduce the street I live on. People seem to understand the name better when it has a reference point.

How does one know a place? I figure you pay attention. In the five years I’ve lived in Marpole, I can’t say I know it well, but I can say with confidence that I know one section of a street well.

Fremlin doesn’t have anything noteworthy from an outsiders’ point of view. Tucked east of Oak and west of Cambie, it sits like a middle child in the centre of the neighbourhood, enjoying a different rhythm. Maybe that’s why I notice it, apart from the fact that it’s home. I’m a middle child and like attracts like. Stick with me and I’ll take you for a walk.

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Fremlin runs north from Southwest Marine Drive, climbing until it reaches 59th Avenue where it forms the vertical line of a T-stop. That’s where I stop too. Fremlin has a trick up its sleeve. After disappearing for a while, it reconvenes from 54th until 43rd Avenues, but I’m not familiar with this northern leg. The heart of Marpole is so far south; I measure everything starting at the Fraser River. A city is a larger version of high school and Marpole is not one of the popular kids. Some people in other parts of Vancouver don’t even know it exists. A friend visiting me from Mount Pleasant once remarked how driving to Marpole felt like going to the suburbs. I had just left real suburbia for city life and was rather offended.

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My favourite part of Fremlin is the beginning where all the apartment buildings are. European hornbeams flank the street, forming a magnificent, dense arch with leaves rustling in the wind, playing hide and seek with the light like a coy lover. I walk under the boughs like Anne of Green Gables passing through the White Way of Delight. Countless birds flitter through the trees. I’ve seen crows, western tanagers, robins, and chickadees. They’ve made a birdwatcher out of me.

Not a single business stands on Fremlin. The street is quiet except where it meets its rowdy cousin—70th Avenue. The intersection is marked by a pedestrian activated traffic signal, the only light along its route. Honks, curses, screech of tires, and the two-toned beep of the walk signal merge into a rush hour cacophony. The road narrows from here, causing a bottleneck when cars are parked on both sides.

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But this stretch wins the prize for most beautiful when March and April arrive. The canopy of cherry blossoms extends for blocks, a long procession up a petal-sprinkled sidewalk like the nave of a cathedral dressed for a wedding. It’s impossible not to be swept away. I wonder if the people in the nearby houses wake up to each year’s bloom like a child on Christmas, the surprise never getting old even though the return is expected.

One of these people has an apple tree in her front lawn. I stopped to admire it on a summer walk and the woman told her husband to go back up the ladder to give me a bagful. She insisted. I had never received apples from someone’s tree before and I took several pictures of their red skin and leafy stems arranged in a glass bowl on my table. Unfortunately the apples looked better than they tasted but that didn’t matter.

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When you reach the house with the vegetable garden in the front yard so big it could feed the community, you’re at the base of Oak Park whose eastern edge borders Fremlin.

For the longest time I didn’t know the name of this park. It was just the big park up the hill I chose to run around when I exercised. Trees line the perimeter and I still jog there even though I’ve been the target of a couple of crow dives.

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There’s a tree that marks the end of the street, hidden in the northeast corner of the park. I always tap it with my right hand to signal the end of my run. It’s a ritual of connecting with what’s around me. No song on an iPod tells me I’m done. It’s the touch of flesh on bark, a greeting to an old friend.

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When you move to a neighbourhood, you look for signs that welcome you, that say you belong. Mine were literally spelled out. First it was a building west of Oak Street named Charlene Apartments. Then it was my dad’s name carved into the sidewalk on Fremlin Street near the park. How many people are named Larry? I chuckled aloud.

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The route down Fremlin is especially fun on a bike. Only a few stop signs to watch out for, gravity propels you back where you started. But the journey is never the same twice. Streets are like rivers. The other day, I noticed more for sale signs cropping up on lawns and wondered which people raking leaves or stroking their cat I won’t see anymore, and which new faces I’ll encounter.

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When I moved to Marpole, my brother and cousin carried my 200-pound bookcase up three flights of stairs, almost putting their backs out. My brother wiped the sweat from his forehead and said, “Charlene, you’re never moving again.”

He doesn’t need to worry. I have no intention to.

 


I’m pleased to announce this piece won Vancouver Public Library‘s Marpole Writing Contest July 2018.

Hiking the Cinque Terre

This summer weather has got me reminiscing about the summer temperatures we experienced in Italy last October.

The place we soaked up the sun the most was in the ineffable Cinque Terre: five tiny towns built into cliffs along the Italian Riviera, connected by hiking trails and trains.

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Vernazza harbour

We made our home base Vernazza (about 500 residents), the second town from the north. We visited all five towns and agreed with Rick Steves that Vernazza “is the jewel of the Cinque Terre.” My next favourite is Manarola.

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The trail towards Monterosso

From Vernazza, we left before 10am to hit the coastal trail in the Cinque Terre National Park to the largest and northernmost Cinque Terre town, Monterosso. My tip: leave before 10am to avoid all the (mainly senior) hiking groups that come through with walking sticks, and go from Vernazza to Monterosso if possible. There are a lot of steep steps getting out of Monterosso and we were glad we were going downhill rather than uphill for those.

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Looking back at Vernazza

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I could do breakfast with this view every day

It’s a beautiful walk that took about an hour and a half. We timed it to arrive there for lunch and have a swim in the Mediterranean. I loved looking back at Vernazza and picking out where we had enjoyed our breakfast made by our lovely Airbnb host on her balcony below the castle.

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Approaching Monterosso

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A jeweller had hauled this table with all his supplied up the trail to tempt tourists like myself to buy something along the way. Guilty!

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Enjoying the Mediterranean. That’s my hubby all the way out on those rocks.

To make the most of our limited two days in the region, we hopped on a train to Corniglia  to hike back to Vernazza so we didn’t spend any time retracing a route we already walked. You can also take a boat from Monterosso to the other towns but the one town it doesn’t stop in is Corniglia because there’s no harbour there, so that’s why we opted for the train. (At the time we went, the coastal trail between Riomaggiore-Manarola and Manarola-Corniglia was closed).

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It’s a similar one and a half hour walk from Corniglia to Vernazza. Since we did this section in the late afternoon/early evening as the sun was setting, it afforded amazing photo opportunities, and it’s like we had the path to ourselves.

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Corniglia behind me

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Apart from Nice, we spent the least amount of time in the Cinque Terre and yet it was one of our most memorable experiences. My husband and I both talk about going back there in a heartbeat. After the busyness of Paris trying to cram in all the museums and historic sites,  it was a literal breath of fresh air to be outside in the sun, slow down, and enjoy the magic of these crayon-coloured towns.

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Another shot of Vernazza from the castle

 

Our Souls at Night

Some might call it boring. “It’s just two old people talking in the dark,” as one character says.

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I call Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf a quiet book that sneaks up on you with its loveliness.

Two lonely people in their seventies—Addie and Louis—(both widowed) decide to sleep together at night. Addie clarifies her intentions to Louis, her neighbour down the street in their small Colorado town:

No, not sex. I’m not looking at it that way. I think I’ve lost any sexual impulse a long time ago. I’m talking about getting through the night. And lying warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst. Don’t you think?

As you read it, you realize it’s about a lot more than two old people talking in the dark. It’s about ordinary, flawed people reflecting on the past and taking a risk to make the most of the present.

Addie and Louis are two characters who make me look forward to growing old. They’ve lived long enough to stop caring what other people will think or say about them, but they each have a child and live in a town who doesn’t share their way of looking at things, which brings tension into their story.

Their simple, routine lives are attractive. They work in their gardens, drive elderly neighbours to the grocery store, go on outings occasionally. Haruf doesn’t cut these ordinary elements out of his fiction. For example, one chapter starts:

The next day he worked in the yard in the morning and mowed the lawn and ate lunch and took a short nap and then went down to the bakery and drank coffee with a group of men he met with every other week.

The way the author tells the story is cinematic, a movie camera following the characters around their small town, paying close attention to the little things brought to life with such love. Waiting at a stoplight. Cooking sloppy joes over a camp stove. Walking a dog. Similar to a scene in the film Lady Bird where a character talks about love as paying attention; paying attention as love.

Haruf’s style of prose mimics his subject matter. The writing is poetic in its spareness. Rhythmic in its brevity. There are no quotation marks around the dialogue, and it would look cumbersome if there were because so much of the novel is dialogue and, for the most part, it’s clear who’s speaking when.

The only other book I could compare it it to is Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, a similarly brief yet eloquent portrait of two people exploring the landscape of marriage (with a more devastating tone though).

Our Souls at Night was the author’s last book before he died in 2014 at 71, a similar age to his characters. He based it on his and his wife’s story, two people who found each other later in life. Knowing this makes the reading experience that much more tender. What a gift to leave the world.

In a literary market where the protagonists are typically young, larger than life, and the plot full of action and surprise, this novel landed in my lap like a letter from another world. It was refreshing to know a book like this could be published, and with acclaim! And not just published, but deemed interesting enough to make into a movie, which I think I will watch tonight.