As 2023 draws to a close it is hard to ignore the ways the weather and the climate are changing. This past year was the hottest one on record, if the current science is to be believed. Spring came early with above average temperatures. Summer was another heat and fire fest. Fall is still here with no signs of snow or below zero thermometer readings. There are buds on some of the trees. Parsley and spinach are flourishing in the garden. Mother nature is by-passing Winter, going instead directly to Spring. Sounds good, eh?! But we bought ski passes for the season. WTF? What if there’s no snow this year? I guess if there’s no snow there’ll be bigger problems than boo hoo I can’t ski. And, in fact, it does snow at higher elevations and we have a couple of good days on the hill before Christmas.
Not that there is much we can do about it anyway. No amount of composting, recycling, driving hybrid and electric vehicles, and flying less is going to make much of a difference. We pat ourselves on the backs for trying anyway.
But, notwithstanding the climate catastrophes happening around us, it’s been a good year. The house is mostly finished, the garden flourished and provided so much produce that our freezer and pantry are full of preserved veggies. We continue to thank our lucky stars to be living in the Okanagan. OK, for sure, the fires and smoke are worrisome intrusions into an otherwise idyllic existence … we hold out hope that we are getting better at preventing them. And containing them. Our new metal roof now seems a good investment.
We do a lot of dog sitting. For a week in the Spring we have three overlapping gigs. Soda, Stella, & Nixon all at the same time. Nixon & Soda become regulars as Brian & Renee and Ron & Donna travel. Even if, or maybe especially if, we can’t be wandering the globe ourselves, we love that our dog sitting stints allow others to travel.
The three dogs instantly stake out their own spaces. They are happy to walk together and ride in the car together but they don’t want to hang around together otherwise. Not surprisingly, they feature frequently in our photos. I eventually give up trying to get them all to look at the camera at the same time. It’s like herding cats.
Friends from Vancouver visit. We meet more of our neighbours. We garden, hike, bike, paddle, swim, and dog-walk. Spend time at the cottage, especially when it gets hottest. The smoke is an ugly and unhealthy portent of what future summers could be like. Thankfully it is only very bad for a few days in our part of the valley.
Craig builds a roof over the west side of the cabana and a green house, aka potting shed, garden hut, nursery. It gives him a head start with his veggie seedlings.
To stave off becoming bored with small city (feels more like small town) life, in June we fly Vancouver to Toronto, spend a week, Via rail to Montreal, spend a week, train back to Toronto and fly back to Vancouver. Even though we enjoy all three cities, we happily return to the small city we now call home. Still seems weird to say that.
Big Chill. What can I say? It lives on. Sans Ferris family this year. Saturday night sees 15 for dinner. We make it happen. Shelley & Sydney are formidable competition in the kitchen. Their meal is by far the best. I serve undercooked fish. We caper around town for a few days.
In September we take two weeks to explore Vancouver Island, ending with a few fabulous days in Victoria and then tagging on two days at N’kmip in the South Okanagan. Another great trip. Close to home. No flying involved. I can’t help feeling guilty about flying now that it is readily apparent that we are on the frightening brink of climate disaster.
My 70th birthday looms. I fret about it. Become melancholic. Revisit the past.
I’m told November 29, 1953 was cold and snowy in a small town in eastern Saskatchewan. Around six in the evening that day, I apparently burst out of my mother’s womb, in a hurry to get started. Two short, almost painless hours of labour and, pop, a lusty cry, and there I was. My mom complained that my untimely arrival meant that she’d missed her mom’s Sunday dinner. It didn’t help that I cried much of the time and was covered in dark hair. You looked like a monkey, she used to say.
Born just as our part of the planet went dark and cold for six months. Perfect conditions for becoming an introvert. Nurturing a darker side.
From that beginning my life has mostly been an amalgam of decent genetics, happy coincidences, good timing, and a lot of the luck of being a baby boomer.
And yet, the lead-up to the big day is unpleasant, mostly because of an unavoidable focus on ageing. What the number means. What’s coming. Questions about the past too. Places not seen, things not done. Paths not taken. Regrets. I wish I’d started yoga earlier in life. Wish I’d had less sun and fewer cocktails. Learned how to slow down sooner.
Once the day passes and I finally turned 70, my thinking shifts. From dread to gratitude – just to be here – to elation at having 10 years – a decade! – until the next big number. Yes, 80 looms, but it is oh so far away right now. Ten long years down the road. I immediately cheer at the thought.
A Vancouver dinner party is planned for mid-November for fellow Villa People turning 70. Ron, in England with Julie, is missing. Marilyn, Bev, Larry & Brian fete their good fate at Al Porto in Gastown. The evening is reminiscent of Sharon’s 60th birthday in Perugia. The night of too much food, followed by doggie bag horror. A serenading duo. Or was it a trio? Too much limoncello with dessert. A midnight swim. Doggie bag breakfast. So many happy memories. So few bad.
Craig & I stay the week in Vancouver. The Best Western Sands by the Sea, right at the corner of Denman & Davie, in the heart of the west end, a stone’s throw from the beach, is our crash pad. Craig works and I play. Walk. Take photos. We see family in the evening. By week’s end the city is feeling crowded and frenetic and it’s time to leave. Again, back to the small city that does’t quite feel like home yet. I wonder, did Vancouver? Maybe I’m meant to live liminally, never fully settled.
In early December, a Town Theatre fundraiser brings 10 guests to our house for a chef-catered 5-course dinner. Because it is at our home, we are spurred to do more seasonal decorating than usual, and to do it sooner. Craig digs a spindly fir and its roots (well, some roots, but not many, and it’s doubtful the tree will survive transplantation, but we are going to try anyway) from a ditch at the lake for a potted Christmas tree. Its trunk is crooked, there are two big bare spots, and the branches are sparsely needled, but everyone loves it. In a Charlie Brown kind of way I think.
Later in the month family begin to gather for Christmas. Jaclyn, then Scott, come early and we have some time together before the crowd arrives. Mackenzie & Eric are next in from Kamloops. Then Heather, Brent & Kirsten after two days driving from Saskatchewan. Curtis & Wendy are a day later. The house is full. Full of all the things it was built for: people and parties and laughter and debate and food and wine and love.
Donna & Ron join us for Dec 25th turkey dinner. Soda, their schnauzer, is the eighth dog in. Yes, you heard it right, eight of the hair and dirt delivery systems stomp and slobber and make other messes that shall remain unnamed. The word mayhem gets a new meaning.
The dogs mostly get along but it takes a few days for them to work out the hierarchy, the dynamics, the territory, the boundaries. Eventually they all relax. Group walks in large dog parks are beneficial. Overfeeding them turkey helps too.
The weather is too perfect. It’s not just a green Christmas, it is a warm one. Mild, no wind, high cloud, occasional sun. Balmy by Okanagan winter standards and norms. The selfish part of me knows that if this is the “new normal” … hmmmmmm … I might not complain too much. As long as one doesn’t think about the bigger picture, it is very pleasant, especially for December. As long as one can ignore the reason for the warm, dry winter we’ll be fine. Just don’t look up. Try to not concern ourselves with the dry bit, now being called a 4 year drought. Try not to worry about food becoming scarce. I said I was born in a dark season.
We watch a netflix movie called Leave the World Behind, an apocalyptic take on a future fraught with peril. The film uses deer to relay some kind of warning to the anxious humans. I’m unnerved watching. Twice in the past week I’d been followed by a group of deer. Stared at and then stalked. One group of three actually ran after me. Seems like too great a coincidence. I start paying more attention to them, trying to figure out the message.
More cheerfully, Christmas Day’s turkey feast gets to the table by way of the symphonically coordinated efforts of numerous people. Wendy & Heather stuff and roast the bird and make the gravy. Curtis rices the potatoes while I toss in cubes of butter. Wendy’s cabbage rolls and Baba’s store-bought peroghies are just as we remember from childhood. Wendy’s mother’s stuffing recipe deserves special mention … the flavours define the meal. Brent requests, or should I say demands, canned corn. It burns at the bottom of the pot and tastes smoked. Lots of butter, a spritz of lime juice and it passes for a Mexican dish. There are steamed broccoli spears that get forgotten in the microwave. The gravy is sublime. It’s a silky, perfectly salted, mahogany coloured, umami flavoured drippings sauce that makes the entire meal not just cohere, but sing.
Much moaning and groaning and sighing accompany the food. More than simply tasty, it evokes home. For many of us that means long-ago prairie Christmases: snow, cousins, presents, food. Card games, Christmas movies on TV, new books. A drunk uncle maybe. A boring and long-winded elderly aunt. A scratchy new sweater. The year you stop believing because you find the Santa gifts at the back of the basement store room. Coming home from university on the train, arriving late at night, tired from writing exams.
We linger over the table long enough for a few to get second helpings. I pick at the dark meat platter. The dogs’ pleading looks are rewarded with juicy morsels, surreptitiously, under the table. Pico gets a plate of tender breast meat. Wine and water glasses are refilled as we move to more comfortable chairs.
The younger amongst us clean up and load the dishwasher. Coffee is made and Brent’s luscious baking handed round on trays. Donna brings out an ever more luscious dessert. And a board game. Junior hockey is on TV. A dog walk is organized. Tired ones go to bed early. Heather first, then me. As I’m falling asleep I can hear the low murmuring noises of those still up. My last waking thoughts are about how very blessed we all are.
To have lived these past years on this wondrous planet, during the last days of the anthropocene. To have lived those years so fully. OMG I’m getting maudlin. What I really want to say is continued good fortune and happiness to you in the new year. Of course, it is impossible to know what will happen to us, to our environment, our air, our oceans, other species, the future, etc, …. so carpe this damn diem!!