Lessons of the Mountain

A mountain has officially and unequivocally kicked my butt!

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The day of the butt-kicking began at 8am, with my friend Sam picking me up at the corner Starbucks. We hit the road; chatting, sipping lattes and making plans to be home by 5pm at the latest.

Things, however, did not go as planned…

The road  to our destination, the trail head at Mount Cheam, was narrow, windy and somewhat treacherous. Partially submerged in water and littered with rocks, it forced us to weave from side to side and move forward at a snail’s pace. Every so often Sam had to stop to throw a large rock out of our path so we could continue and keep his vehicle in one piece. As we bumped and jerked along, I knew I was in for a challenge. I have a bit of an anxious personality and a fear of heights. A really awesome combination. Especially on a hike like this.

We saw two accidents along our journey on the road from hell. The first was a man sitting forlornly by the side of the road with a busted oil tank leaking a black stream from his vehicle. The next one was a full on collision where a truck lost its traction and smashed, full-force into the truck following behind it. Hmmm, should we turn around? Since I didn’t actually voice that question, we kept on going. I made the mistake of looking out the passenger window, about halfway up. What I saw was a sheer drop down the side of the mountain, a mere few feet away. My stomach flipped, my hands immediately became soaking wet and I felt the dizziness of vertigo coming on. All I could think about was Grace Kelly and Princess Stephanie careening off that cliff in Monaco. I wasn’t sure who I was praying to but I started to pray, hard!

One and a half hours later, we finally made it to the trail head and started our trek up to the mountain peak. The hike itself was breathtakingly beautiful with an ever-changing terrain. The view from the peak, with the Fraser Valley sparkling in the sunlight below, was awe-inspiring. Pretty pink, purple and yellow wildflowers dotted the meadows and I felt a little like an extra in The Sound of Music. I found myself happily humming “the hills are alive…” as I journeyed along.

My day, however was a comedy of errors and here I am spending the day after at home recuperating (and blogging). I made some classic hiking mistakes involving a lack of food, water and clothing as our 9 hour day turned into a 13.5 hour day. The trail also had no tree cover, just blazing sun. Today my face has a cherry red stripe across it and my shoulders do too. My eyes are sunken. I’m so, so thirsty and my skin is burning. I was going to take a picture of my face but didn’t because, trust me, it would have scared you. I have thrown up twice and am exhausted. Sunstroke, I’m sure. Poor, poor me!

Now, to make sure this will never happen to you, I have compiled a list of tips. Applicable to everyone, but especially to novice hikers and hikers who think they’re invincible (like moi):

  • Always bring enough water. Enough meaning more than you think you’ll need. You never know where the day will take you.
  • Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen! Keep applying ’cause you’re sweating it all off as you climb.
  • Bring extra food and quick energy, sugary snacks. Again, you never know what twists and turns lay ahead of you.
  • Bring a jacket. No matter how hot and steamy the day may be. It’s always cold at the top of a mountain.
  • If you are hiking in an area with little tree cover, always wear a hat.
  • Know your limits. If you’re used to an hour-long walk in the woods. Don’t attempt a 6 hour trek up a mountain like it’s no big deal. It’s a big deal!
  • Last but not least. Even when the hike isn’t going the way you had hoped and you’re in a bit (or a lot) of discomfort, still stop, look and be grateful. Not everyone gets to see the raw beauty of  Nature up close. It is truly a spectacular thing!

So, those are my little nuggets of wisdom that I’ve learned, yet again, the hard way. Nobody says it better, though than those hiking and camping geniuses, the Boy Scouts. Their motto is simple, timeless and wise…

“Be prepared”

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ps. My dog had the time of his life!

Honey Bee Haven

Summertime. The sun is shining, gardens are growing and it’s the perfect season for a culinary adventure.

I scoured the internet for an unusual, gardening/food experience and guess what I found? A rooftop garden of herbs, veggies and edible flowers growing at the Fairmont Waterfront. There is also a bee colony on the rooftop that is home to approximately 200,000 honey bees! If you’ve read my last few posts, you’ll know that gardening has become a great love and perhaps even an obsession this year. This was my perfect destination.

The hotel gives guided tours of the garden and hives every weekday at 3pm so I signed myself up, grabbed my camera and off I went.

The honey bee experience started with the Hive Tea at  Herons West Coast Kitchen.

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Hive Tea is a proper afternoon tea that incorporates herbs, flowers and honey from the rooftop garden. I settled into my window seat and got ready to indulge.

The experience started with a presentation of 16 different teas to choose from. Black, herbal, citrus, floral. The options seemed endless. After much deliberation, I picked the chai. It arrived in a large glass pot and was spicy, milky and drizzled with honey from the hotel’s hives. Sweet and soothing.

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Next came rich, earthy blue cheese from Moonstruck dairy. Served on a bed of sautéed mushrooms, atop smouldering cedar, it was beyond words. So delicious I wanted to lick the plate…but refrained (sort of).

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The gorgeous dessert tray, included bannock, a First Nations specialty, covered in edible flower petals, and accompanied by honey and wild berry preserves. All from the rooftop garden. Bannock is one of my favourite treats and was an exquisite ending to this West Coast dining experience.

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Happily satiated, I rode the elevator to the roof deck and found my idea of paradise waiting there for me.

First we walked through the Fairmont’s gorgeous pool area…

Then, onto the herb garden and honey bee haven.

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There awaited an expanse of lush green gardens, alive with the buzzing of bees. What a contrast to the urban high rises right behind us. This was a little garden of Eden in the middle of the city.

Our tour guide, Tara, gave us a ton of information about the honey bee. Did you know that one third of the food we eat relies in some way on pollination by a bee? One third. These are amazing creatures that we should be doing our utmost to protect. If we realize that they are being jeopardized by rampant use of certain pesticides, then ban the pesticides. It’s as simple as that. A substantial amount of our food supply depends on them and we can’t afford to watch helplessly as they become extinct.

We stood by the hives that contained 200,000 buzzing bees as Tara described their habits, their awesome intelligence and most importantly…their enemies. Certain pesticides are bee enemy number one and are endangering their very existence. These unbelievably intelligent creatures are integral in the pollination of a large percentage of our food supply and definitely need to be protected. I love that the Fairmont is helping to keep our eco-system in balance by caring for these hives. It’s an unbelievably important undertaking. We’re so close to doing irreparable damage to our creature companions in this world and we all need to pull together and make some serious changes.

After the tour was over, I stood and watched the bees for a long, long time. Busily dancing and buzzing around the hives, they seemed so vulnerable. Their survival is utterly dependant on us becoming better environmental stewards. It made me desperately want humans to realize that we need to take greater care of this earth. Hurt one species and you hurt us all. We are all deeply connected.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life.  We are but one thread within it.  Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect.”  – Chief Seattle

This was a beautiful and moving experience at the Fairmont today. Kudos to the hotel for doing their share in creating a better, sustainable world.

I only hope more corporations follow in their footsteps.

Beach Yoga

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Sunday at 5:45 pm, like clockwork, I walk my familiar route along Kits Beach to the grassy knoll on the hill. There I find my favourite summer ritual.

I unroll my mat and settle in among a colourful group of yogis and yoginis, stretching, meditating and preparing to practice vinyasas by the ocean.

As our class begins, various passersby stop and smile, snap photos or just stare with an incredulous look. You can tell it’s not every day they see 60 people downward dogging, in unison, at the beach.

An ocean breeze washes over me and blades of cool, green grass soften the ground beneath my feet. I situate myself under the shelter of a big grandfather of a tree and every time I raise my arms or legs, my limbs are tickled by its leaves. Yoga + Nature = Bliss.

Surrounded by soothing waves and the big, blue sky, I breathe it all in and let the feelings of peace and happiness flow through me. In this one beautiful moment, life is uncomplicated and good. Very, very good.

“Let it come, let it go, let it flow.” – Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche

Back to the Garden

Imagine a huge organic garden, self-sufficient and completely run by volunteers. Then imagine that the garden’s endless bounty is available, free of charge, to anyone and everyone who stops by to pick it up.

This is the concept of Seattle’s Food Forest and I am completely mesmerized by it. What an amazing way for low income and inner city families (and everyone else) to have access to fresh, healthy fruit and veggies. People will have a chance to actually work with the earth and grow their own food. Add to this a sense of community, the peace and healing that comes with being close to nature and this food forest will transform lives.

I so hope Vancouver follows in Seattle’s footsteps soon. Really, really soon. In the meantime though, we have Kitsilano Community Gardens. Three blocks filled with flowers and food. It’s not a free forest but the rule is that anything growing over the fence is up for grabs. Happily, I’ve eaten a ton of raspberries under that rule.

The garden is my zen place to enjoy a berry snack, then relax and watch the world go by. It takes me right back to my best memories of a childhood in the country, surrounded by nature. I grab my dog and a good book and walk barefoot along the grass until I find a perfect spot to sit, usually right beside a bed of flowers. Lots of gardeners and their canine companions stop to chat. Bumblebees and butterflies come to visit and the scent of the garden’s blooms surround everything.

Gardeners who have an abundance of produce usually like to share with you if you’re in the right place at the right time. A friend of mine was given several bags of fresh rhubarb last season and still has a freezer full of yummy preserves.

Okay, so we don’t have our own food forest yet, but this is a pretty amazing spot to hang out in while we’re waiting and I’m very grateful that it’s growing in my backyard.

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Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. – May Sarton

My Little Garden

I inquired about getting a plot in my neighborhood community garden and was told that the waiting list was approximately three years. I declined.

Sadly, I inquired four years ago. Sigh, looks like I blew that one. So, I decided to finally make my first foray into food gardening this summer, on my little, east-facing balcony.

First, I found a pretty aqua coloured pot at work that nobody wanted and brought it home. Next I went back to the Market and checked out food plants that appealed to me. When I found a bunch that I liked and was told that they were “not fussy” about their growing conditions, into my bag they went. A mix of lettuces, greens and herbs.

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And here I proudly present my first happy, hopeful experiment in growing my own food.

A first step in the right direction.

Simple Summer Salad

The sun has been shining for days and there is a feeling that summer has finally arrived, full-blast, in our lovely, rainforest city. On a weekend like this I plan to stay out of the kitchen and at the beach as much as possible. So, this morning I hit the Farmer’s Market to see what easy, local, organic-ness I could bring home for tonight’s dinner. And this is what I found:

A huge bag full of sweet, baby peppers and a big bunch of baby kale, only $5.00 each. Both locally grown, organic. The farmer who sold me the peppers told me she started using ladybugs a few years ago as living, natural pesticides. I’m always so impressed when farmers work in sync with nature like that. Ladybugs as pesticides? Apparently they do an amazing job of killing aphids and other problem insects.

Tonight’s menu: A salad that’s cool and simple on a hot, summer night.

I added avocado, walnuts, dried blueberries and red onion to the ingredients above. Then pan fried a piece of wild, BC salmon and drizzled everything with a home-made dressing of olive oil, balsamic and yummy, Canadian maple syrup. This salad is lovely with blue or goat’s cheese crumbled on top too.

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An almost effortless dinner that’s refreshing and full of antioxidants. Eat al fresco if possible and enjoy the sweet, lazy, summer evening ahead of you.