Saturday morning we repaired (by schoolbus) to the beautiful spaces at Okanagan College, where the luckiest presenters spoke in the curvy pod at the top of the stairs, but really everything was lovely there, including a fine breakfast of fresh muffins (featuring Okanagan apricots) and lots of fruit.
The best overall session of the conference for me was one called Looking Away, Looking In, Looking Under: Perspectives on the Okanagan on Saturday morning, which featured a lively talk by Kelowna’s own George Grinnell on Patrick Lane’s novel Red Dog, Red Dog which is set in the Okanagan; followed by an entertaining if depressing look at development by another local speaker, Daniel Keyes (White + Green Space Invader: The Rhetoric of Development in the Okanagan) – check out the toe-curling promotional video. Poet, blogger and essayist Harold Rhenisch finished things off with Caraway & Pippins, a luscious essay that circled around the Newtown Apple (each “a tiny earth, a green planet”) as an emblem of the cultural and agrarian changes wrought by commerce and industrialization on the Okanagan.
The Saturday junket to the farmers market was a brilliant idea, but much too short a visit. No sooner had I downed my black bean-chickpea quesadilla than I was sprinting up and down the aisles, power-shopping for produce – a giant fennel bulb, a jar of local salsa, a box of sweet yellow cherry tomatoes – the latter from Curtis Stone, who had mentored another SPIN farmer at the market, Janice Elliott – and trying to find an organic peach grower.
I had come to the Okanagan with a mission: organic peaches were on my mind. As you may know, dear reader, peaches are right near the top of the Dirty Dozen, a couple of fruits below apples, and so one of the best places to put your money when buying organic produce. I’d been warned that I might have to make a side trip to Cawston or Keremeos to find organic growers, as most of the Okanagan fruit in the Kelowna area is chemically produced. At the 11th hour (12:58 in fact, since the stallholders start packing up at 1pm) I was pointed to the Fruit Guy, Michael Welsh, who grows without pesticides and sold me a 20lb case of beauties (he also writes very fine poetry, according to Nancy Holmes, but I didn’t know that at the time.) The catch was I had to drag it back on the bus and get it back to our residence so I could pack it into the car for the morrow’s trip back to Victoria.
Mission accomplished, fruit in hand, grateful to be back in the cool of the building, I settled into an easy chair in the pod for the last Saturday session, Unmemoried Heights? Thinking In/With the Rockies, starring Gyorgyi Voros who took us on an excellent adventure: Wallace Stevens‘ hunting trip to BC; Tempest Emery who talked about landscape and memory in Sid Marty‘s work; and Benedict Fullalove who invoked a host of odd characters, from Rupert Brooke to Viscount Milton & WB Cheadle and Howard O’Hagan before the clock ran out on his Unmemoried Heights: Historicizing the Rockies.
Sunday morning began with probably the best yoga session I’ve ever attended, at 7am on a sunny, dewy lawn overlooking the valley. After that, temperatures already starting to climb, came a blur of packing and vacating and hanging about waiting for the most welcome coffee, fruit and pastries which arrived mid-session: our saintly panel chair released us to seek refreshment mid-panel, while being entertained on the subject of Generation A by Richard Pickard, Cate Sandilands and Jenny Kerber.
I had to depart after that session in order to get to the ferry with reasonable confidence of getting home before midnight; the traffic was horrendous, stop and go for an hour or two on the baking highway beyond Hope, until I got nearer Tsawwassen and those welcome sea breezes. Ironically, given the last session of the conference, the saddest news awaiting me when I returned to my garden later that night was the death of my bumblebee colony. My local entomologist can’t be sure what the cause was, just disease of some kind he thinks.