Bill Day is a recipient of the Order of Canada. He has been a college President and a Citizenship Judge. His professional achievements are considerable. Of at least equal interest to me is his sense of adventure. The accompanying photos of his trip to the Arctic Circle
are selections from a number of fascinating shots he shared with me. I’d love to visit the Arctic Circle but this may be the closest I’ll get.
Vi Woods is a consultant in autism, a grandmother, and at age 69,
a member of a world champion Dragon Boat racing team. Anyone needing inspiration to achieve a difficult goal will certainly find her to be a valuable role model. She provides ample proof that with determination, perseverance and a vision for something significant, great things are possible.
Entered in the 60 plus women’s category, her team competed in this summer’s Club Crew World Championships in Italy. The competition was organized by the International Dragon Boat Federation.
Standing at 5 feet, 1 inch, Vi needed to train with exceptional diligence to make the team. It is her grit and strong will that attracted my interest.
Approximately 40 women, including some from Penticton, Victoria and other centres tried out for the championship team that made the trip to Italy. “Besides the Drummer who is at the front of the boat and the Steerer at the back, there are only 20 available positions,” Vi told me in a telephone interview from her daughter’s home in Winnipeg. “I wasn’t at all certain I’d make the team. The women trying out for it were highly skilled, very strong and fiercely competitive.”
“ My personal training included 4 strenuous sessions in the gym each week, one with a trainer. I also paddled 2 times each week with my regular team, the Grand Dragons, and once per week with the competition team. There were also two day camps, spaced several months apart. I needed to be totally disciplined in honing my paddling skills and in my physical conditioning.”
To be named to the team, Vi needed to successfully complete a series of rigorous tests. These included a solo paddle on an outrigger boat. There were also strength tests such as an 80 pound lat pull, weight lifting and pushups (she can do 20). Much like an Olympic athlete, she had trained for some 8 years to achieve the skill and fitness levels required to win a greatly coveted place in international dragon boat competition.
“When we are training for a competition,” she said “it becomes consuming. It’s what I think about and talk about.”
Dragon Boat racing dates back some 2500 years and is still part of religious ceremonies and folk customs, especially in areas of East Asia where there are ethnic Chinese populations. One purpose is to venerate the Chinese dragon water deity and to encourage rainfall.
“We have to work closely as a team,” Vi said. “Our strokes must be
synchronized. The Drummer plays an important role in achieving this. We are all friends and help each other.”
She concluded by saying, “it’s very exciting going into a competition. These boats go really fast. We have to be totally fit and focused. All our strength goes into the race.”
Apparently their boat did go really fast. Her team wasn’t defeated in any of the races. Vi and her team mates each came away with 3 gold medals. Her reason for being in Winnipeg at this time is to spend time with Olin, her newly born grandson. Even Dragon Boat racing must step aside for this.
Each day we are drawn to the Webster Street bridge over 20 Mile Creek. In fall the view is especially spectacular. The water flow has slowed from the early summer torrent, exposing rugged rocks. Yellow iridescent leaves glow in the brilliant afternoon sun. With towering mountains surrounding our little town and a gentle blue sky overhead, we see in this scene the hand of a creative genius, a Designer whose work is not adequately represented on a photo. We share the pictures with you in the hope you too will experience and enjoy the mystical beauty of 20 Mile Creek in October.
Our rural location near the Canada-U.S. border was ideal for Simon, in fact for anyone hoping to avoid notice by the authorities. The local police rarely made even a token appearance on Defehr Rd. We were a clean living, hard working, law abiding lot. Grant, a loner renting the adjacent 5 acres, almost at the end of the road, was not a problem for neighbours.
On a sunny afternoon in early spring, I saw a stranger outside at Grant’s place and went over and introduced myself.
His name was Simon. I guessed he was nearing 30, although a mildly receding hairline may have added a few years to his appearance. His blue eyes were exceptionally vigilant and I sensed he was carefully assessing me. For the next 2 weeks, we talked at length several times. His quick mind looked at things from unusual angles.
There was one puzzling aspect to him. For reasons I did not yet understand, he invariably turned aside personal questions. In spite of this, he was an interesting, engaging conversationalist.
After about two weeks, he disappeared as quietly as he had come.“He ran into a little trouble a while ago,” Grant told me. “They put him in Matsqui Institution.” From experience with the prison I knew “a little trouble” didn’t land anyone in Matsqui.
Disappointed at this news, I wrote Simon a note asking him to put me on his visitors list. He agreed and I learned that the “little trouble” Grant had mentioned was a parole violation. He was doing time for possession and trafficking of heroin. Prisons had been home for him much of his adult life.
Being confined behind the double fences along Matsqui’s perimeter, Simon could no longer hide his past from me. Still, he spoke of his life only reluctantly. I sensed confusion and despair within him, as though there was an inner conflict between the reality of his dreary circumstances and the more positive vision he was trying to nurture and project.
“I’m done with heroin,” he said. “I have a few friends here who want to stay clean. They’re the only ones from inside I’ll see when I get out.” I’d heard similar words from others, but certainly if Simon could avoid the lure of drugs and quick money, he might have the determination and character to stay clean.
When he was released from Matsqui, he again disappeared. Two years later he called from Revelstoke. “I’m staying clean,” he said. “Everything is good. I came here to get away from the street.”
Accustomed to taking risks, Simon had become an elite fire fighter, parachuting into rugged terrain to extinguish small blazes.
“This might surprise you,” he said with a note of satisfaction, “I’m married now. We’ve got a kid.”
After that Simon drew a veil over his life for 25 years. A proud man, he hoped to release himself from the tentacles of his tainted history. For him, this apparently meant leaving people behind.
We had moved twice, and I had retired when the phone rang one dark October day. Clouds were threatening a deluge.
“Hi, this is Simon,” a subdued voice said. “I’m in Abbotsford. Can I come over?” It was a delight to know my friend was still alive.
I watched through the living room window as he pulled into our driveway in a near new blue chevy pickup, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. Same old Simon, I thought. But I was to learn that some things had changed. Much of the earlier swagger had fallen away and he needed to talk. Lowering himself into the chesterfield, the expression on his deeply tanned face remained sombre.
He began to talk and I felt that he was picking up part way through a conversation that had been bedeviling his mind for some time. “Like I told you on the phone when we talked a while ago,” he began, “I got married and we had a kid. The woman I married is a paralegal. Everything was great. I liked my job.” His serious tone and downcast expression suggested a desperate despair somewhere in the hidden depth of his soul. Uncharacteristically, he made no attempt to conceal his inner turmoil. This puzzled me. In the past he had hidden behind a mask that allowed no one to glimplse the demons tormenting him.
“Between my wife and myself, we were making decent money,” he said. “We had holidays in Mexico and a home with a pool. She liked to spend money, and I wanted to please her.”
He was distracted by the laughter of children on the street. When he rose from the couch, I realized he had lost much of the robust strength of earlier years. From my vantage point, I could see the pre-school age children, a boy and a girl running ahead of their mother. She was a pretty young woman with black hair, smiling at her children’s antics. The children saw Simon and waved enthusiastically, as though he was a dear friend. He waved too, and lingered at the window, watching them.
“She’s a lucky woman,” he said. “I hope the kids have a dad.”
His spirits seemed to have been momentarily lifted by their attention. He turned to face me and pushed a hand through his greying hair. There was considerably less of it than I remembered. His mind was still reflecting on the woman and her children. “All the years in jail before I met Tanya,” he said, “a family is what I really wanted.” It was the first time he had mentioned his wife’s name.
His hand rose to the pack of cigarettes showing in the breast pocket of his shirt. Seeming to remember he was in a home, he let it drop again.
“A few years ago I went to see a doctor,” he said, as though in his mind the conversation had not been interrupted. “Pain in my chest.” His voice slipped almost to a whisper. “After the tests, he told me I had lung cancer.”
Apparently thinking I must be wondering why he still smoked he said, “I should have quit years ago. It’s going to kill me. I’ll probably lose my right lung first.” He paused and looked down. “The chemo and radiation put it in remission.”
He checked the time on his wrist watch. “I need to go soon,“ he said. But he made no move to leave. I remained silent. “After I got the diagnoses, my wife divorced me. Her friend told me later she’d been working on it 3 years. By conniving she managed to get the house and everything except my pickup truck.” His hand reached for the pack of smokes again but once more he dropped it.
“It wasn’t all her fault,“ he said, “I made some mistakes. The last few years it’s been all down hill.”
He had been stripped of family, home and health. His existence was in a state of shambles and despair, but Simon wasn’t a quitter. He possessed an inner resolve to start over and rebuild his life. He rented a room in Abbotsford, not far from where Linda and I lived. Because his health no longer permitted him to do physical work, he began delivering pizzas. Even in this his luck continued to spiral downward. He sold the truck, which he prized, so he could buy a car.
In a moment of inattention, Simon rear ended a vehicle, totaling his car. Not having insurance, he had no choice but to buy another car with the small amount of money remaining from the sale of his truck. Shortly after, he damaged the second car. Still without insurance, he accepted a loan from me to repair the car. Once again he resumed delivering pizzas. Sometimes late at night, a few undelivered pizzas remained. He looked for street people who were eager to receive them.
Although Simon had never been appreciated or treated well at home, when he learned his 91 year old father was seriously ill, he drove into Vancouver many times to visit and help. During this time, while his father was living out his final days, Simon’s own health was again deteriorating.
One day I received a call from him. “Hi, this is Simon,” he said. “I’m in the Vancouver General. I’m going to lose a lung.” Conversation was difficult for him and he seemed to feel he had told me what I needed to know.
Several weeks after the operation, he called again and Linda and I went to visit him at the VGH. Sitting on the edge of his bed, he appeared weak, pale and very thin, scarcely a shadow of the Simon we had known. It was a brief visit, our last with him. When I spoke with him by phone a week later, he was waiting for a doctor to see him. Breathing had become difficult.
“Simon,” I said, “have you made peace with your Maker?”
“Yes,” he said, “I have.”
It was our last contact with him. Not long afterward, a brief obituary in the Vancouver Sun confirmed he had passed away. He had never been able to exorcise his demons or to completely trust those closest to him. But Simon had been a special friend. Even now, Linda and I miss him.
I highly respect the political science and sociology professors who gave me an education at SFU. They were learned individuals, with
degrees from prestigious universities. In spite of my regard for them, for significant life lessons, I’m actually more inclined to turn to my 3 chickens.
Better known in Hedley as “the girls”, their leader in innovation and thwarting my purposes is Miss Lonely Hearts. She is the odd girl out. Possibly due to the rejection, she is most apt to think “outside the fence.” Then there are the two Cleopatras, life long buddies. We can’t tell them apart and therefore decided one name will do for both.
Like an unanticipated pregnancy, the girls arrived without any prior notice. To control them, I affixed a length of chicken wire to poles around the garden. With the fence in place, I felt confident the garden was adequately protected.
Very quickly I found myself locked in a fierce battle of wits and will with Lonely Hearts. It was spring and appetizing shoots were sprouting out of the soil in the garden. Possibly even more compelling, the garden was off limits, and this she could not tolerate. All that first afternoon she patrolled along the outside of the fence. With the Cleopatras marching behind, they looked like determined, hardened cons, seeking to escape from prison.
The following morning the girls were in the garden, furiously scratching for insects. Tender young plants were being uprooted with alarming haste. I picked up the girls individually and gently threw them over the fence. They had squeezed through a narrow opening between the fence and storage shed. A quick fix. I was considerably mollified by their thoughtful gift of 3 beautiful brown eggs.
Same story the next morning. They were in the garden and again I evicted them. In the afternoon Linda saw Lonely Hearts run toward the fence at breakneck speed, then blithely soar over. “Clip their wings,” people said, and that day we clipped the right wing of each girl.
For almost 2 weeks Lonely Hearts devised creative means of penetrating the fence. Her favourite trick was to poke her head through one of the small openings in the fence and work the wire with her neck, patiently and persistently stretching it until she could slip through. When Linda went to the garden to harvest her basil, the girls had already thoroughly clipped it and had started on the radish tops.
After two weeks, I installed a higher, much sturdier fence. Lonely Hearts flew over my new five foot high fence once, by taking off from a box I’d left standing on end inside their area.
The lady’s strategies mirror the words of Jack Canfield in “The Principles of Success.” Canfield suggests we “operate outside the world of conventionality and instead live in a world of expanding awareness, creativity and accomplishment.” He urges us to “become free of the many fears and anxieties that diminish the imaginations and ambitions of the vast majority of people.”
This describes Miss Lonely Hearts nicely. Like the intrepid individuals who dug tunnels under the Berlin Wall to attain freedom, she concocts strategies that will take her under, over, around or through the obstacle.
If we were to apply this thinking consistently at the personal and community level, could we develop more fulfilling lives? Could we create more attractive communities that people would want to come to and be part of? Miss Lonely Hearts would say, “it’s possible.”
If automotive tycoon Henry Ford could see what Leroy Fague of Princeton, B.C. has managed to do, he’d surely be more than a little green with envy. A few days ago I saw this pretty 1936 Ford pickup parked on the street in front of my neighbour’s place. I couldn’t resist the impulse to get up close. Dwight (better known as Whitey), introduced me to Leroy, the truck’s owner. Leroy invited me to sit behind the wheel. What comfort and pleasure! He has certainly improved on Henry Ford’s creation.
“Originally it was a Bellingham Airport fire truck,” Leroy told me. “A one ton. I built it on a 1953 Ford F1 frame. Built the box myself.”
Listening to Leroy talk about the pickup, I quickly realized he is focused, serious and meticulous in re-building vehicles from the past. “I don’t do muscle cars,” he said. “I build only hot rods. That way I can select parts off any vehicle I choose.”
As he talked about the parts he had installed on the pickup, I concluded that in fact this really is a 1936 Ford mostly in name and appearance. “It’s got Mustang front and rear suspension,” he said. “The engine is a Chev small block 327. It has a turbo 350 GM 10 bolt differential.” I’m not mechanical but I understand that in assembling such a variety of parts to create a very special vehicle, he has accomplished something remarkable.
The ride is unique he told me. “It’s visceral.”
Leroy began this interest by building custom Harley Davidsons. When he switched to cars, the first one was a 1923 Ford. “No fenders. No top,” he said.
“I wanted to learn about the science of building a car,” he continued. “I learned to do welding, engineering and fabrication.”
At one time he had a business in Surrey, doing it for others. “I didn’t enjoy that,” he told me. “I don’t like selling what I build. I rarely make exceptions.”
You’d need a hefty stash under your mattress to buy this 1936 Ford pickup. It has been appraised at $36,500. In my case, looking at it admiringly is the limit. Anyway, it’s not for sale. Leroy did say he’d give Linda and me a ride in it though, and that’s an offer I plan to accept very soon.
Once again the Hedley Museum’s annual Harvest Dinner was a virtual sell-out and a huge success. Ninety seven guests filled the Senior’s Centre Saturday night to enjoy a palate pleasing feast. Out of town people came from Keremeos, Cawston, Old Hedley Road, and Princeton. For $10 a plate, they were treated to turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, yams, stuffing, various vegetables and more. Pie and other desserts topped off the culinary extravaganza.
Museum President, Jean Robinson said, “We always invite all the communities of the Similkameen Valley, and we are pleased at how many out of town people came.” She mentioned that 6 free dinners were delivered to individuals who have difficulty getting out. It was evident that this gave her great satisfaction. “It’s what the community does,” she said.
She stressed that the dinner was a real team effort. “People donated much of the food. Some served the meals and when it was over, we had help cleaning up. I’m very pleased.”
After walking about an hour along Hedley’s 20 Mile Creek, well into the depth of Windy Canyon, we came upon it unexpectedly.
Initially we thought maybe it was a mirage, or at least a trick of our imagination. How could there be an elegant, truly lovely suspension bridge here in this rugged mountain wilderness?
It was 2003. Linda and I were still living in Abbotsford at the time and came to Hedley only on occasional weekends. No one in Hedley had mentioned the existence of a bridge here, let alone a fine one like this. In the past, almost 30 years ago, I had made many treks along this trail while working with young offenders for the One Way Adventure Foundation. The only means of crossing the creek here at that time was an unstable walkway nailed to a log. It had disintegrated at the far end and we had needed to jump to reach land. It never occurred to me that one day some creative genius would decide to build a magnificent suspension bridge at this crossing.
On this day Linda and I stood quietly for a long moment, transfixed. Why would anyone build a bridge here, we wondered. A place where only committed outdoors enthusiasts ever ventured? This is the question I put to Ted Thompson, Hedley’s most famous (and only) bridge builder. He moved to Hedley from Vancouver Island in 1998 and built the bridge in 2003.
“I was a retired home builder,” he told me. “At that time I was only 70 and I still had energy. I was looking for something to do. In the back of my mind I’d long had a desire to build a bridge.”
His father had left the family when Ted was only 8. “I became the man of the house,” he said. “If something needed doing, like bringing in sawdust for the stove, or cutting the grass, I did it.” Apparently this early experience instilled in him a belief that he could handle difficult projects.
“Did anyone help you?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “At the time there was a Buddhist monk living in a cave about 5 or 6 crossings farther along the creek. Some Vietnamese Buddhists came to visit him and when they saw what I had started, they wanted to help. They had emigrated from Ho Chi Minh City some years ago and were now mushroom farmers in Langley.”
Ted told me that to transport materials, he bought a riding lawn mower and had a hitch put on it. Pulling a small trailer, he painstakingly hauled in planks, cables, posts, gravel, and whatever supplies were required. When the motor on the tractor gave out, the Vietnamese paid for a new one. They also provided funds for some of the wood and other materials. Because they worked in Langley during the week, they could help only on weekends.
“I designed the bridge to have a curve,” he said. “That was to take out the sway. It was 65 feet long and took a few months to build.”
The trail to the bridge had deteriorated in some places so Ted and the Vietnamese devoted many hours to it as well. He personally built some of the rock walls that still exist. It was his plan to also build a bridge over the second crossing.
Unfortunately, not many people, even those living in Hedley, ever saw the bridge. In June, 2004 high water in the creek damaged the approach at the far end. Then, in August, 2004, the bridge was completely shattered by a massive rock slide.
No one volunteered to rebuild it but Ted and several men from
Hedley did drag a large tree over the creek, with the help of a come-along jack. Using the tree as a platform, they built a simple 80 foot long walkway on it.
It seems that fate did not want a bridge in this location though. The second bridge was soon destroyed by a torrent of high water.
At age 80, Ted has no ambition to build a third bridge. His mind is still alert though and his body is lean and fit. Now he’s working on another challenging project which he says could be of greater importance than his ill-fated bridges. In the meantime, although Ted’s magnificent suspension bridge no longer exists, the memory of it continues to be a unique gift to the people of Hedley.
A small town perspective on people, community, politics and environment.