bears, butterflies and buds

As I sit in this vegetarian bistro and eat some stuff indiscernible in its curries and beans, I am surrounded by a tropical forest of oversized houseplants. Orange and green quadruple-tiered paper lanterns swing from the ceiling and I am unexpectedly lulled into considering a healthier lifestyle, a meat-free lifestyle. Or at least once a week I will venture into vegetarian cuisine, via someone else’s hands.

Rather, I’ll settle for a healthier lifestyle in our family’s recent pursuit of outdoorsiness–canoeing and hiking. The wide blue sky and towering Selkirk mountains, oars clanking and clanging and splashing on knees and faces. “Mom, he’s not putting the oar in at the same time as me”. “Mom, she’s soaking me”. “Can we just go back already?” (it’s just ten minutes in). It’s all so peaceful.

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When once I marveled at my grandfather’s fascination with winged creatures, curious why he’d spend any time watching hummingbirds hovering outside his kitchen window, I now study these creatures as they enjoy the trumpet-flowered shrubs outside my living room window. Ospreys are abundant in my neighbourhood—they enjoy the fishing potential of the local lake as much as the local villagers do. Their distinct caws are now familiar, though once I might have mistook them for eagles. I have more robins in my garden than Frances Hodgson-Burnett wrote into her charming kids’ classic, The Secret Garden. Is it that I live slower that I now notice the taken-for-granted life surrounding me?

Hiking and canoeing are the low-impact way to commune with nature, enjoying a smaller ecological recreational footprint. Easy shoulder injuries occur, though, when attempting to avoid that southwestern warm front with its hazy mist heading our way. Everyone is equipped with a suitably sized oar though, so each must get busy. If one ever wondered at the level of family harmony, it would be quickly discernable when paddling in a canoe—are we heading up the creek without a paddle or paddling in unison with speed? I’ll leave that picture to your imagination. You would be right though: sometimes quite quickly, sometimes with ample complaining. Nothing like six family members in a canoe to teach family unity….mwahahaha.

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We’ve not seen black or grizzly bears yet (I think we make too much noise). Who needs a bear whistle?  We’ve only heard that cougars exist in these hills—they’re presently occupied pursuing elk. Common gartersnakes are abundant though, and not appreciated. No flip flops in the backyard. It’s the bugs that get the most attention though—the black widow spiders (which we’ve only seen on Google), the ants, the flying ants, yellow jackets and bumble bees.

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I can sometimes convince my Madelyn to take interest in botany—learning the names of the belly dancing Trembling Aspen, using bark from paper birch to create secret notes, and snipping bits of plants from our hikes to determine their names and foraging usefulness. There may be more poisonous houseplants than most outdoor varieties. We may very well be wasting money purchasing mixed greens, when we could pull dandelions and plantain leaves from the front lawn or cattails and shepherd’s purse from the marsh to make our own meals. Common horsetail is abrasive enough to be used by natives as sandpaper—silica crystals in their stems. The skunk cabbage abundantly arising from the creek outside the dining room window was new to me—they produce enough heat through cellular respiration to melt nearby snow and ice. When once I thought I would purchase lupine bulbs, I can find them free—their purple and pink blooms decorating the subalpine slopes like Monet’s water lillies in Giverney.

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I have yet to pluck thimbleberries from their roadside, backyard, parking lot locations to make jams and chutneys, but I’ve bought the canning jars!

I’ve got plenty of life left to live indoors when I’m ninety five mindlessly flirting with the orderlies and watching reruns of the Price is Right. At ninety five, no matter how Rachel tries to convince me to enjoy  the great outdoors, she probably won’t get me out of that wheelchair without my bingo dobber and cheesies in hand.

So in the meantime, move over David Suzuki, I’ve got plants to discover and rivers to conquer!