Celebrating the Solstice in Cedar

Solstice on Vancouver Island seemed like a good idea so I headed down to stay with dear friend Maggie in Cedar, south of Nanaimo. The first few days were typical October Island weather (except that it was now summer …). We took in the Cedar Farmer’s Market in its field outside the Crow and Gate Pub on Yellowpoint. After spending time in the north, I am always amazed at how green and lush everything on the south coast is and how many beautiful colourful flowers there are. So, of course, I had to take pictures of almost every flower I saw:

Since it was a bit of a gloomy Sunday, we decided to do an art, lavender, and labyrinth road trip down the coast. The first stop was the garden and studio of a glass artist whose name escapes me, formerly the Barton and Leier Gallery, a lovely, eccentric collection of sculpture, junk, rusted vehicles, glass, and greenery.

This place would be wonderful as a film backdrop, a scavenger hunt venue, or to play hide and seek in the dusk.

Buddhas gaze out serenly from all corners of the landscape.

The artist was not immediately visible so we just peeked into the shop to see his glass wares, before heading off down the road.

There are several artists and artisans in this neck of the woods and at this moment, I can’t remember their names, but the next studio we visited was full of colourful abstract mandala-like images, as well as painted furniture.

Thinking that the Damali Lavender Farm and Vineyard was “just down the road”, we drove south from Yellowpoint, intending to walk the Damali labyrinth and do a little wine tasting. Damali turned out to be a little further down the road than we thought, south of Duncan near Cowichan Bay, but it was a nice drive on a not-too-busy highway.

Wine-tasting is offered in the wooden house (above) every day in the summer and it was lovely to stroll through all the many varieties of lavender growing here.

I had no idea that lavender came in different varieties, but as you can see the colours and flowers are slightly different from one species to the next.

Although the farm was not huge it took us a bit of time to find the labyrinth. I had thought it would be made of lavender hedges, but it was a smallish Cretan-style labyrinth simply etched in the grass at the edge of the property.

It was so great to spend some time with Janet, also staying with Maggie for a bit; the three of us sampled the Damali wine wares and left with a box full of vintage grape.

A bit peckish after wine-sampling, we headed down into Cowichan Bay (which I’d never been to before) for a snack.

Although very grey and socked in with clouds, the Bay was still beautiful.

The solar piece de resistance was to be the Cedar Keep Labyrinth walk on Tuesday night at 9:24 pm, the exact moment of the solstice, according to the internet-who-knows-all. But, in order for that to happen, we had to clean the path of its organic debris and get rid of the tall weeds impeding the way. Janet took on the task of removing the weeds, while Maggie and I brushed the path free of weeds, pinecones, and other assorted plant material that had wafted down on to it over the months.

Maggie’s labyrinth is a full size Chartres-style path which takes about 15 minutes to walk each way, so there was a fair bit of real estate to clear.

Its centre contains a cement pool, now empty, and a large ceramic pot with plant, next to which is a meditation bench on which to sit while contemplating the universe and its mysteries.

After spending some time clearing away debris, we spent the afternoon, now warm and sunny, painting in preparation for the solstice evening. It was lovely to see good Nanaimo friends Janice, Libby, and Colleen (and get in a round of bridge which I’m missing up here in the north country) who made the treck out to Cedar in the afternoon and I’m sorry to have missed some of you good people on this trip!

I decided to do a couple of small landscapes which I would consign, with good wishes for the coming year, to the solstice bonfire that night.

Janet staked out a shady position under the Japanese maple to execute a watercolour of the flowers in Maggie’s front yard.

We were so happy that it was warm, sunny, and dry finally. The late afternoon had a golden glow as the sun shone through the filtering canopy of the trees onto the cleared path.

As the sun started to set, we gathered supplies for the backyard altar and bonfire; Skye and Sara spent a few moments executing some yoga moves while waiting for the branches to catch fire.

The shed behind me in the picture above, through which the final loop of the labyrinth passes, contains the remnants of my mannequin collection, with random arms and legs and torsos occupying cast-off furniture, a silent chorus of spirits to cheer us on our way. While Maggie, Janet, and I spent some time lighting the labyrinth and mannequin shed with candles, Sara and Skye tended the bonfire.

I consigned one of my small painting to the flames and watched as it slowly crumbled up and dissolved, leaving only some small blue spotted remains behind.

I had brought some of my small coloured LED lights down with me which I hung on the central tree. We enjoyed the warmth of the fire as we waited for the appointed moment and at 9:12 we each set off around the labyrinth, aiming to end up in the middle for a toast at 9:24.

As the sun continued to sink, we toasted the solstice, the new year, and feminine energy.

Solstices happen twice a year – in June and December. The June Solstice happens around June 21 (June 20 in our location), when the sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer.  Solstice comes from the Latin words sol, meaning sun, and sistere, meaning to come to a stop or stand still. On the day of the June Solstice, the sun reaches its northernmost position, as seen from the earth. At that moment, its zenith does not move north or south as during most other days of the year, but it stands still at the Tropic of Cancer. It then reverses its direction and starts moving south again. (https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/facts-about-june-solstice.html)

The solstice is a day of deep historical and cultural significance. Solstice celebrations were a highlight of the pre-Christian calendar, and bonfires, maypole dances and courtship rituals linger on in many countries as holdovers from Europe’s pagan past.

In Canada Aboriginal Day coincides with the summer solstice. It was selected in 1996 after the Assembly of First Nations called for a day to unite and celebrate native cultures. The date had meaning because aboriginal societies traditionally marked the summer solstice one way or another. The Seminole of Oklahoma and New Mexico’s Zuni perform corn dances — for rain and the bounty of maize, bean and squash crops. Similarly, Mohawks do Wainodayo, a dance for ripe strawberries, a fruit believed to renew the spirit. The Dakota hold annual sun dances in North Dakota around the summer solstice, which has been a long tradition of many First Nations from the central North American plains region. (CBC website)

While we did not do a corn dance or courtship ritual, we feasted on fruit, bread, chicken, and bread next to the crackling fire.

We finished off the evening with a marshmallow roast over the fire. Good times!

To read my post on the building of Maggie’s labyrinth, click here.  To read about my solstice installation while an artist-in-residence in Ibrahimpasa, Turkey, click here. To see photos of that installation, click here.To read about our Solstice Nevruz labyrinth walk in 2014 at Barb’s place, click here.

To see more photos, click here.

Okanagan cycling and wine tasting – La Dolce Vita

All saddled up and ready to go wine tasting! Nothing like a beautiful weekend of bike wine tasting to put one in a good mood. Our home for the weekend in Oliver, the “Wine Capital of Canada”, was the Bel Air Cedar Motel and RV Campground, a sweet little facility on the highway just outside of town.

Barb, Christine, Ty, and I rolled along the 18 km riverside Hike and Bike on a hot, cloudless day – who needs Tuscany when you’ve got the Okanagan!

The trail is flat, with beautiful views of the rolling desert hills and river. Next to each of the pedestrian river crossings are signs warning of extreme drowning dangers due to submerged weirs. I wonder how many people have actually tried to swim in this area …

We started out fairly early, trying to avoid the mid 30s heat, but by 10:30 it was getting hot.

Someone had kindly left a couch riverside for anyone in need of a rest.

Periodically we had to stop in the shade to let poor Brubin cool down.

However, the best way to cool down is a dip in the river … which Ty proceeded to take, from a convenient rope swing, helmet and all.

He hit the water with such force that he lost the visor on his bike helmet … splash!

Ty at river Ty at river2

The views along the river were beautiful.

Our first wine tasting stop was the Church and State, a rather lavish outfit on the hillside; as it happened, this winery had received a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC Wines and the LG was on site with her tour bus entourage presenting the winery with the award for their Coyote Bowl Syrah 2010.

After stationing Brubin in the shade of the grape vines, we sampled four of their vintages.

Next up on the wine route was Silver Sage, a smaller family-run operation that specialises in fruit wines.

As you can see, Ty was excited about the possibilities …

The folks at the Silver Sage have their patter down pat, a very amusing running commentary on the wines and their characteristics. After tasting our crew did pick up a case load of it.

Silver Sage has a lovely rose garden out front and a beautiful view out over the countryside.

Further down the trail was the Oliver Twist Estate Winery; here Christine contemplates the Sauvignon Blanc.

We loaded some of our wine catch into the wine-mobile trailer.

Although I do love my bike, I was tempted to score a new ride at the Oliver Twist, something a bit more colourful.

Back at the Bel Air ranch, Christine had fun with the doggies, Doug’s two Duck Tolling retrievers.

Next morning saw Ty, Brubin and I out again on the bikes, this time on the trail heading north towards Gallagher Lake.

Our destination this morning was Jackson-Triggs; below you can just see Ty and Brubin disappearing around the corner towards the winery.

Since we were early in the day, there were relatively few visitors at this facility; a very pleasant attendant helped us sample some of the varieties.

After wine tasting we had intended to spend the afternoon at Gallagher Lake but were disappointed to discover that there was no public beach access there, only a private campground which did not allow dogs.

Back on the road again, we headed south to check out Tuc-el-Nuit Lake right in Oliver Town; while it did have a small public beach area, it, too, did not allow dogs. Brubin had to remain in the trailer. We wondered about this apparent antipathy toward dogs in this area …

In amongst all the private property signs (never have we seen so many private property signs – Karl Marx would be spinning in his grave), we managed to find a small trailway taking us back onto the Hike and Bike Trail down past a housing development.

Saturday evening saw us hillside at the Tinhorn Creek winery’s amphitheatre for a show by Canadian band the Matinee.

Since, unbeknownst to us, we had arrived rather late, we had to walk up the hill to the theatre to get to the concert venue.

The band put on a great show, thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Our final day in the Okanagan was spent riding along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail that hugs the side of Skaha Lake, running from OK Falls to Penticton.

Since the trail follows the old railway bed, it’s flat and relatively wide, with interesting vegetation and rock formations, including a couple of lightning-blasted trees.

Just as in Turkey, where trails like the Lycian Way wind past ancient ruins, here, too, are ruins, these ones the hulk of the former Kaleden Hotel built in 1913.

Past Kaleden, a land dispute has made a small section of the biking trail private property, so we had to push our bikes up through some trees and around a fenced off area.

I got pretty tired of all the Private Property signs in this area … obviously, this seagull is trespassing.

Skaha Lake is beautiful and also has a really nice public beach area on its shoreline.

Being a fan of ancient cities, I did love the old hotel ruin; we decided that it would be a great venue for an art installation.

Back at the ol’ Bel Air, the pool was a refreshing end to the day.

Our final wine-testing was at the La Stella winery just outside Osoyoos on the way home.

They specialise in Northern Italian style wines; here Christine savours a nice Gewurztraminer.

See more photos here.

Here’s the link to our accommodations at the Bel Air.

Here’s some info about the 2013 BC Wine Awards.