“October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins. O autumn! O teakettle! O grace!”
1.Where the Universe Aligns
For a fleeting time every June, around the time of the summer solstice, the setting sun lines up to shine its dying rays through the Kettle Valley Railway’s Little Tunnel, above the Village of Naramata. Photogenic on any day of the year, this tunnel engineered by Andrew McCulloch more than 100 years was blasted out of a rock cliff that hangs dramatically over the Okanagan Lake.
The summer solstice, June 21st, is the longest days of the year for anyone living north of the equator and marks the beginning of summer. If pagan rituals are your thing, how cool would hiking up (or driving) to the tunnel to mark the occasion be?
No one really knows why Stonehenge was built some 5,000 years ago. But one possibility is that it was used to mark solstices and equinoxes. That’s because during the summer solstice, the sun rises just over the structure’s Heel Stone and hits the Altar Stone dead centre. I wonder if McCulloch knew about the solstice magic he created? Bring your camera. Preserved Light‘s Caillum Smith often offers photography workshops at Little Tunnel during the solstice. If you go, don’t touch the tunnel walls when the sun’s rays pierce through it as you will likely be transported through the stone and back in time and find yourself in the middle of the Battle of Culloden. Right?
2. We Love our Public Art
Although I don’t want to reveal the exact location of this amazing art to help preserve it, Naramata has some very special rocks. Some of the most intriguing images of Canadian rock art or pictographs are painted on cliffs in interior British Columbia. The Okanagan Valley of British Columbia is the traditional territory of the Interior Salish peoples, hunters and gatherers who followed a seasonal migration. Their material culture was simple and easily transportable, and they had very little impact on their environment. They did leave behind one sign of their presence however – their paintings on stone, or pictographs.
Painted in red ochres, iron oxides mixed with clay, the designs were applied with fingers or sticks and were thought to be painted by teenagers as part of their puberty rituals or by adults painting images from dreams.
3. We Aren’t Afraid of the Dark
A big part of the appeal of Naramata is what we don’t have such as no fast-food outlets, no traffic lights, no industrial development and very few streetlights. It’s dark at night, inky black in some spots and this is rare today and valuable.
Star gazing, Northern Lights watching and awareness of the phases of the moon are a special part of life here and should not be undervalued according to Elizabeth Griffin, Visiting Astronomer at the NRC, and also Member of the Light Pollution Committee, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada – Victoria Centre. “Light pollution affects astronomy in a big way. Stars are faint and distant and the scattered light from our cities makes them hard to see. Observation now requires costly equipment in remote locations,” she says. “All this light is bad for us as well. We don’t sleep as well when its not dark meaning we have less melatonin that we need to repair our bodies. Light pollution damages sensitive eco-systems like those of insects and birds, and eventually damages the whole bio-system upon which we depend for food.”
(This helps explain why our guests from urban areas talk about how well they sleep here…)
Dr. Griffin tells me a story passed on by the director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. “There was a significant earthquake in 1980 in the LA area and it disrupted electrical cables plunging LA into darkness. The switchboard at the observatory became jammed with calls by people reporting that they had seen something unusual. It turns out that they were able to see the Milky Way for the first time. There is something so sad about that.”
We can see the Milky Way here and many other constellations and planets by lying on our backs on our lawn and gazing up. “You are lucky,” says Dr. Griffin. “Municipalities are doing quite a lot like ensuring street lights are angled down and shutting off sport’s field lights at night but there are no laws regulating the use of domestic lights. All we can do is try to educate people that all this light is damaging and unnecessary and that they are missing out on something special.
“The Okanagan is good for star watching,” adds Dr. Griffin. “You are relatively sparsely populated there and there are a lot of pockets behind the mountains where you are quite well shielded from lights.”
Along with embracing the darkness, Naramatians are also treated to quiet that allows us to hear birds and wildlife. My current favourite thing is opening my deck door early in the morning to listen to a pair of owls talking to each other. Also part and parcel of life in our Village are the wonderful scents of sage and pine that are released in summer evenings on hot days.
4. We Let it All Slip Slide Away
There is a little-known spot on Naramata Creek where a waterfall has some chutes and pools suitable for a little sliding. Tucked away up Arawana, an old forest service road, and along a trail, these rock slides provide a bit of cool fun.
5. We are Internationally Recognized for our Slow Pace of Life
Naramata is one of only three Canadian communities with a special status as a “slow city” bestowed on us by Cittaslow, an international organization formed in Orvieto Italy in 1999. We join Cowichan Bay and Wolfville as places where the pace of life is a bit more human.
To quote from the charmingly translated Italian on the Cittaslow website, “A Cittaslow place is motivated by curious people of a recovered time, where man is still protagonist of the slow and healthy succession of seasons, respectful of citizens’ health, the authenticity of products and good food, rich of fascinating craft traditions, of valuable works of art, squares, theatres, shops, cafes and restaurants. These are places of the spirit and unspoiled landscapes characterized by spontaneity of religious rites and respect the traditions of the joy of slow and quiet living.”
As a way of celebrating our Cittaslow status, Naramata holds a harvest dinner in the fall. One of the organizers of the dinner, Miranda Halladay, said, “ Naramatians have an encyclopedia of reasons why they feel lucky enough to call this place home, covering the spectrum from peacocks (a secret for another day…we have resident peacocks that wander around in our Village) to people. The Cittaslow designation prompts us to think and to talk about these aspects of our community, to protect and foster these elements that are integral to living NaramataSlow.
“Creating and sharing a meal focused on the immense and delicious bounty our community produces with friends, neighbours and visitors alike feels like a natural tradition in the making, and the right way to foster conversation.”
Thanks to Preserved Light for collaborating with me on this post!
Lingering over dinner at Poplar Grove’s Vanilla Pod restaurant during a warm smoky summer sunset is one of those memories to be teased out on a grey January day.
Thinking of all the evacuees worrying about their houses and their land and the hard working fire crews and wishing for a good soaking rain…
Literally at the end of the road lies one of the most unexpectedly delightful places in the world. The temptation is to keep the discovery a secret. Fortunately Naramatians are too sociable and ardent about their home not to share and bloggers can’t keep any secret at all.
A trip along Naramata Road toward the Village is a sensory experience whose end result is an extraordinary sense of well-being. The scientists have gone to work and come up with a formula for scenery that most appeals to people (they study everything right?) and the Naramata Benchlands ticks all the boxes. It’s to do with the proportion of sky, the straight lines of the vineyards and orchards and the expanse of the blue lake grounding it all.
Travelling through a winescape of row upon row of trellised grapevines dotted with sympathetically designed winery architecture and guest accommodation, the road twists and turns to reveal new vistas. Scientists tells us that we like making discoveries and the “I wonder what’s around the next corner?” feeling we get when heading from Penticton to Naramata fits the bill. The vines and orderly orchards advance across rolling hills that all lead down to the shores of Okanagan Lake and the elevation of Naramata Road lets us appreciate it all.
Once lured in by the scenery it’s what Naramatians have produced from this naturally gifted growing region moderated by the lake that adds the next layer to our pleasure. Naramata’s artisanal products are lovingly produced by people whose lives are devoted to their craft whether it be wine, spirits, fruits and vegetables, pottery or painting and they revel in sharing this passion. Wine and culinary experiences are top-notch and varied but all share a similar philosophy. Skill and a light touch are used to let the ultra-premium, local, in-season ingredients shine.
The village itself has lost all track of time. No traffic lights, no chain stores, few streetlights to blot out the stars, Naramata is made up of quiet streets with a mix of cottages and modest houses with well-kept gardens. A little church with bells that ring at noon, a general store shaded by elms, artisans and shops sprinkled here and there, cozy restaurants, the world’s best pizza place, a welcoming coffee shop, busy pub… Anchoring the Village, the perfectly in-keeping Heritage Inn sits and the end of the main street, as it has for more than a century.
Naramata’s quality and human pace of life is internationally recognized. We have been given the designation as a Cittaslow town. Cittaslow towns celebrate life in the slow lane, locally grown products and the slow food movement, in places where people care for the land and for each other.
Based in the Tuscany region of Italy, the Cittaslow network and accredited communities have a mandate to improve the quality of life. It’s karma that we have this Italian designation. Our town’s founder, John Moore Robinson produced a brochure in 1907 calling Naramata, with its wonderful climate, the Italy of Canada.
As part of the Cittaslow philosophy, I’m working to bring local chefs into the Village to teach us how to use all the lovely produce (like the raspberries from our Carpe Diem berry farm) to bake and cook for our friends, families and the many guests who have come to love our secret place.
The first guest Chef, Dana Ewart of Joy Road Catering is an Okanagan superstar. She is going to show us why we need brioche in our lives. CC Orchards will be providing sweet dried cherries for use as one of our brioche ingredients.
Tickets to the December 10 class are half sold and I’m thrilled with the response from the Village about the new venture. Here’s the link to join in Naramata Blend Cooking Class Series Brioche! A second class on eclairs and profiteroles is in the works for February…
Anthropomorphism? I don’t think so. Dudley the pig is definitely smiling in the sun on this spring-like day at Andy’s Animal Acres on the Naramata Bench.
I don’t blame them. If I was a critter I would want to live on Andréa Buyan’s little farm at 1154 Three Mile Road on the way to Naramata. I hesitate to call Andy’s a petting zoo. It’s more like animal nirvana. And it’s place for parents and children to learn respect for farm animals. “Kids spend so much time in the virtual world and there is such a disconnect between people and the source of their food that I feel I can help,” says Andy. Many of her charges are rescues, all like Wilbur will not end up on a dinner plate and she works with many young volunteers who find the experience therapeutic. Lots of wins there. The animals come first with opening hours limited to four at a time and lots of fresh air, sunshine and room to roam at the farm.
I was particularly taken with the chickens. I feel I should name this series of photographs: Portrait of a Rooster, one, two and three.
Andy learned her animal husbandry skills during a 10-year stint at Maplewood Farms in North Vancouver. She turned her property from weeds and dirt to home for more than 60 farm animals over a period of eight years, opening to the public in the spring of 2013. A labour of love, it costs her more than $900 a month to feed all the critters and insure her business. Then there are vet bills, heating lamps, equipment….and “constant, constant, constant labour.”
There are some great rewards though.
And a whole lot of love on the farm.
It’s all fun and games until a goat jumps on your back.
Opening again soon on weekends, you can find out more by calling 250-809-5122. I’ll leave you with a few more photos.
Of the terms in my header…”vintage” is by far the most disturbing. I wrote my university thesis about Marian Engel and her novel, Bear, which is now mouldering in some unforgotten corner of the Mount Allison University library. Vintage? Really?
Engel’s Bear, is outwardly a novel about a sexual relationship a woman has with a bear told in a pretty explicit way. Inwardly, according to my brilliant thesis, it’s about a recurring Canadian literature theme of our complex relationship with nature. Like all Canadians, when we get a bit messed up in our heads, we find some wilderness to sort out who really are and what matters the most.
The novel won the Governor General Award in 1976 and then sort of fell into obscurity. Along comes 50 Shades of Grey and voila, Bear is re-discovered and an imgur post about it went viral.
A blog reader sent me this link to a series of Bear covers re-imagined. I love this one by Kris Mukai…
By moving to Naramata I’m living that quintessential Canadian literature dream that began somewhere around 1852 with Susanna Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush. I’ve found the nature I’ve always craved and in a full-circle, coincidental, ‘wee de wee de’ way, a ton of bears in the process, none of which I have gone near enough to touch let alone…
Our property is in the middle of a well-travelled bear super highway. On one side is a large treed acreage and on the other a creek that brings them down from higher country to look for food in late summer and fall.
Here is a small selection of the many photos I’ve taken in our yard.
The Naramata Cider Company is making some magic. Miranda and Del Halladay have found a way to distill the essence of summer in this special part of Canada’s Okanagan Valley into a refreshing, sparkling drink best sipped resting in a hammock.
The couple who founded Elephant Island Winery in 1999 have been trialling cider since 2005 and felt ready to open the sister company in 2014 to get in on the ground floor of an exploding craft cider movement. The Naramata Cider Company is the first cidery on the Naramata Bench in British Columbia, so well known for its many wonderful wineries.
“Our craft ciders offer a richer, more diverse experience for visitors to the area,” says Miranda. “It allows us to create something else great from what we grow here. When you look down on Naramata you see a quilt made up of vineyards and orchards with all the pieces weaving into one another. We have added another agricultural element to that tapestry.”
She says the Naramata Cider Company is perfect fit with Naramata’s special status as a member community of Cittaslow International. Born from the slow food movement, Cittaslow’s main goal is to promote the philosophy of Slow Food to local communities and governments, applying the concepts of eco-gastronomy to everyday life.
Made from either apples or pears, it tastes lovely. As I’m not a tasting expert, I’ll defer to someone who is. The Vancouver Sun’s noted wine critic Anthony Gismondi describes the Naramata Cider Company’s Dry Apple Cider Rest Easy as: “Effervescent with spicy, ginger, light floral, grassy cooked apple aromas. Dry, light, fresh style with good bubbles. Flavours are light with green apple and grass with a bit of lees. Elegant, but very simple…” He had me at effervescent.
Crushed, pressed and bottled in Naramata, the company produces dry pear cider, dry apple cider and cider maker’s (Del) select which was a limited production of apple meets blackberry this past season. Production is growing from 7,000 litres in June of 2015 to 20,000 litres beginning this April.
Some of those litres will be sold in single-serve bottles this year in addition to their current 750 ml bottles and others in a new type of recyclable keg made by Petainer.
There are now about 25 licensed producers of cider and apple wine in British Columbia and half have been licensed in the past two years. What’s the big deal? It’s all about the craft that is going into making them, says Miranda. Gone are the days of sweet, syrupy “alcopop” so-call ciders that are made from concentrate with added sugar and artificial flavours. According to noted wine writer and critic John Schreiner, so much care goes into making these new craft ciders that they are as complex as wine. An added benefit is cider’s moderate alcohol content of seven per cent and the fact that they are gluten-free.
Miranda says the cider’s branding is a fun way to tell the story of Naramata.
For example, we have a peacock that calls Naramata Village home. “We love it…especially when it’s chasing the blue recycling truck down Robinson. Another reason to slow down and appreciate the joy.”
Castanet used my blog post. Check it out here.
Yes indeed they can, but rattlesnakes are small potatoes when you think of the island’s key resident, Ogopogo, said to inhabit a cave beneath the island. Swimmers participating in the unique 7-kilometre out-and-back swim that loops around the back of Rattlesnake Island or the one-way 3-kilometre swim across Okanagan Lake from Rattlesnake Island to Peachland, British Columbia, Canada, have never reported encounters with Ogopogo but rattlesnakes abound.
Plastic snakes that is. Each swimmer takes home one of these coveted reptiles if they finish.
Organized by The Across The Lake Swim Society, Rattlesnake Island Swim, is one of the most beautiful and unique open water swims in Canada. Never sponsored, advertised or promoted, the race has been growing in popularity over its 20-year history by word of mouth.
It’s a challenging swim for a few reasons. Currents and swells can mean more people end up swimming the race than the number that started it. The 7-k swimmers are required to have a kayak, canoe or stand-up-paddleboard escort and in rough conditions paddlers have ended up in the drink and have had to be helped by safety crews.
Many swimmers with inexperienced paddler guides end up swimming farther than the 7-k, some as many as 3-k more. It’s tricky to handle the currents and winds at the slow paddling pace of a swimmer while aiming for the almost invisible island, which blends perfectly into the surrounding landscape. The more serious swimmer/paddler duos use GPS to help plot the shortest course around the island.
The more you race Rattlesnake, the more you learn how to race it. It’s hard to compare times from one year to the next however, as conditions change in this narrowing stretch of beautiful Okanagan Lake. The average time is about 2:30.
Swimmers are required to wear wetsuits and wear a swim buddy, which is an inflatable marker that can also be used to buoy you up if you get into trouble.
The swim, which takes place August 6 this year, is well organized with lots of safety boats and personnel and includes orientation sessions which are great for first timers.
John says his decision to join the Channel team was pretty spontaneous. “I said yes before thinking. But its great bucket list material.”
He swam on a team beginning at age five until he was 15 and then “retired” to take the sport back up again when he was 45. At 50 he used his swimming skills to help him complete Ironman Canada. “I’m swimming more than ever now and ‘escaped Alcatraz’ earlier this year.”
John says he’ll be very embarrassed if he gets seasick. “I’m going to have to dig a little into my background for this swim. My family are commercial fishermen on British Columbia’s west coast and I did that for awhile before becoming a petroleum geologist in Calgary. My scuba diving background and experience on ocean-going boats will be helpful I hope.”