Canadian Rockies and Pacific Northwest

Winter has melted into spring, a child was born, Daniel has completed his first year in kindergarten Tal has finished first grade Yeela turned nine and I haven’t written a word. Oh well I guess that at my age (almost thirty six) you begin to lose track of time and things seem to blend together.

I assume you’ve heard that we had a forth child. It is a boy and his name is Amitai. Unlike all his siblings he is recognized by that name alone. It’s not that we’re not looking for another name but nothing has clicked yet. People tell me that he looks .a lot like his brother. Who knows, if you ask me dark brown eyes are not ‘just like’ light green eyes. I guess people are aware of how delicate the situation is and are very consistent with their observations.

Amitai is a good nature baby. He is growing fast and developing poor sleeping habits… From child to child they grow bigger faster (sheyiyu bri-im hamseeh) and sleep less and less. Its almost at though they know that if they manage to maintain a state of round the clock at-least-one-child-awake, they have a fair chance of preventing another one of them from being created. Gallia bares the brunt of their accumulated perpetual alertness. I have the benefit of owning a useless ear. This wonderful cosmetic ear enables me not to hear them at night if I sleep with the hearing ear on the pillow. Half deafness is bliss.

Daniel is the fastest changing child in the family character wise. Gallia decided to remove his diapers for good two months ago. This is a feat of incredible courage which is way over and beyond anything that I could have mustered. Had it been up to me the children would have graduated high school in their diapers, as long as they don’t have accidents anywhere. However building character requires that some shit must fall on the paths that we tread. It took a day or two and Daniel was completely ‘dry’. Of course not before he used the house and the surrounding premises as his always present shit house. It was like walking a dog only a little more (or a little less) embarrassing, depends on whose perspective you take. He’s had very few misses since then, and none of them in his bed. One should always remember that not wetting the bed is not a sign of indefinite control. The fact that he can control himself so well does not mean that he’ll wait forever. The words ‘ABBA PIPI’ or ‘IMA KAKI’ mean ‘drop everything you’re doing and get me to a toilet NOW’.

Yeela has completed third grade. Unfortunately I can’t say I know what she learnt there this year. On one hand I’m not too involved in what they study. On the other hand I don’t think they study very much. Given that the child has plenty of brain capacity to spare Galliasees to it that she reads Hebrew and English every. She’s very good at both. Galliateaches her math as well, to keep up with curriculum in Israel. Hopefully the child will have a too difficult time catching up when she returns. Tal learnt the ‘ABC’ during the first year of school. With the concept of the written word engrained Galliataught her to read Hebrew in a week.

Both girls play the piano. I think you’ve received a video cassette which shows them both playing. In my eyes this is a an unbelievable feat which by far supersedes walking out of diapers. This too is one of Gallia’s achievements. Looking back at human history there is a fair chance that one day the girls will be deeply grateful for this. The boys still have it in store for them.

Daniel went to a ‘kaytana’ today and summed the first day crying whole heartedly on Galliashoulder. He explained that ‘lo ahavti et ha-anashim ha-ele’ (I didn’t like these people) – this is a two and not-even-half year old mind you. Maybe its me that’s messed up. Somehow it does not seem natural to me that such peep squeaks can express themselves so well and do so openly without any qualms. But then if not them then who?

It’snine thirtyat night now and Amitai is out walking the neighbor… It’s not easy when a baby thinks he’s an owl. The child loves the night scenes. He talks to the stars, screams at the moon, brushes the mosquitoes aside, blinks at the lamp posts and listens to the wind in the trees. Maybe we’ll move him to a planetarium.

On a more specific note the rest of this letter describes our two and a half week trip to Canadaand Washingtonstate. You may also read the article ‘Don’t Feed the Bears’ which appeared in one of the last Friday issues of ‘Yediot Ahronot’. It pretty much describes a lot of what we saw.

It all started out when Udi’s family and Doron’s family and Gallia’s family decided that it was time to take a vacation. With everyone feeling younger than they were it was only natural that a flying-driving-hiking-climbing sightseeing ordeal would be better than a get-to-a-hotel-and-rest-in-bed-everyone’s-dream vacation. Once the basic framework was accepted it was all downhill from there. We decided that we would fly north of the 50th parallel, rent a massive fifteen-seater ‘car’ that could carry two families (so we will not lose each other in hostile territory). The vehicle would be the moving base from which we would conduct the eighteen day tour.

Day one July 7th – Getting there.

The flight plan was simple – catch the 12 o’clockflight from San Francisco(every one knows where that is) to Calgary(to where?…ask the pilot). Noonflights are optimal – nothing better except for a cruise. You don’t have to get up early and everyone is quite coherent. The kids react when their- names are called. Reaction does not assure obedience, but it’s an essential factor in one’s overall ability to maintain some control over large bodies of kids. The spare time allows for proper feeding of the clan which in turn raises the probability that they would remain on their upbeat side until the airline serves their lunch. Airlines feed children because airlines don’t like (hungry) children, and will do anything to keep them busy in their seats.

With all these positive settings on our side we drove to the airport.

The first hurdle is the checkin process. With twelve foreigners with funny names its not at all trivial to perform the functions of matching ticket reservations to people and passports, and issuing all the appropriate tickets. Things become more complicated if anyone of the attendants senses is limited for some reason. Poor hearing comes with age as well as poor hearing. A brain is a god-given gift which is not assigned equally to people. We seemed to end up being services by a person who has been unfortunate in all three categories. Smart people learn to cope with their limitations. Stupid people blame you for their inability to function. The name matching process seemed to do on forever: ‘He is Yiftah’ and this is ‘Yeela’ Galliawould say and point to each of separately. ‘So where is Yiffa passport’ the attendant would ask. ‘This is Yiftah’s passport’ Galliawould say. ‘So who is Yoad?’ the clerk would ask. Before Yoad could answer the surprising question Yeela would state the obvious: ‘I am Yeela’. This not being the expected answer, the clerk would loose it. After three or four repetitions it became clear that only the first letter of each name mattered to the clerk. We took a minute to think about this and decided that it would be best to let each person no matter how young to address the clerk directly with reservation and passport in hand. After all he only needed to identify us, the reservation was done for twelve people anyway. We will never know who really held which passport, but we all ended up being someone in our party which was good enough for us, as long as it was good enough for the clerk. We could resume our identities after we had checked in.

Being a party with ‘young children’ we had the coveted privilege of being among the first to board the aircraft. Getting the kids to board is easy because each of them things that they can sit by the window and next to each of their parents. None of them realizes that fallacy of the assumption. The seating problem manifests itself very quickly. You have to get everyone seated before the rest of passengers come aboard. The only way to move things along is to promise that everyone will eventually get to sit by the window. What this really means is that the biggest screamers win and the older kids (what older kids?) are screwed. There is a weak notion of putting the smallest child next to the window so that a bigger child has the opportunity to look over the smaller child’s head. This works well under two conditions. The air craft has to be on the tarmac and there are things to see when not looking straight down, and you can only do this at most once in a lifetime to a child. Normally you can only do this to the eldest, because the younger ones see them get screwed and learn…

Following the annoying half hour of pre-flight preparations the plane began to taxi along the runway. We waited as the planes before us took off one after the other. Finally it was our turn to take off. The engines roared- the plane begins accelerating down the runway gaining speed. We felt the forces of acceleration pushing us against the back of the seat and the runway raced by the windows. The plane began its liftoff , the ground outside is moving away quickly, ‘ABBA PIPI’!!!.

We switched planes in Seattleand flew on to Calgary. Calgaryis in the provinceof Albertain Canada. The article in ‘Yediot’ recommends that one start the trip at Edmontonwhich in retrospect makes a lot of sense. We rented a fifteen seat van and packed all of twelve of us and our bags aboard. With everyone aboard we headed west towards the Rockiesand our first destination – the town of Banff. Udi would meet us there, having flown in from Texasa day earlier. On tile way we stopped to admire the sight of the winter Olympics which Calgaryhosted in 1988. At first I thought that the place was significantly damaged, seeing all kinds of what seemed to be roadways that started on the mountain sides but ended in midair hundreds of feet above the ground.. It turned out the that place was in great shape. The roadways into the sky were ski jumps. Amazing what people do for sports (medals) and fun (millions). So busy was I contemplating the enormity of man’s insatiable quest for thrill and blood that I missed an ‘ABBA KAKI’ and had to clean it up. However it would be the last miss for the entire trip including adults. Of course Amitai did not count – he had the full privilege of relieving himself in his diapers for another year to come.

The road to Banffwas fascinating. We couldn’t stop admiring the lush green vegetation which covered the vast open landscape as far as the eye can see. A few houses dotted the rolling hills spread miles apart from each other. Coming from a place as small and as dry as Israelthe vastness and abundance of water makes you green with envy. Imagine your next door neighbor being two miles away as the crow flies. Let alone the fact that your closest enemies are thousands of miles away, and knowing that you jump off those skyways wouldn’t want to mess with you anyway. It all made you kind of wonder what god-almighty was thinking when he doled out lands to our forefathers.

We reached Banffin the evening which was eight o’clockat night according to our Mediterranean terminology. At these latitudes the people get an extra two hours of daylight during the summer and two extra hours of darkness during the winter. In the waning light we could still clearly see the valley where the town is located the river that flows through it. The mountains were covered with trees and snow covered some of the peaks. This to the locals was their natural backyard. To us this was beauty made especially for us tourists. We would see many such back yards in the coming days.

Udi was waiting for us in the hotel. It struck me that it was kind of funny that we both used to go down to the street to meat rather than travel fifteen thousand kilometers away home in order to do so in the middle of what is practically no where as far as civilization was concerned. But then one could also argue that ‘civilization’ is not necessarily defined as the ‘center of events’. ‘It could very well be that sitting fat and happy with the ability to choose between nature and the amenities of the modern world is a much better definition of ‘civilization’. Philosophy (I think you could all it that) aside, here we were in the back yard of some Canadian moose, after not having seen each other for more than two years.

We met the moose the next morning as it was eating its lawn for breakfast. We chose cereal and milk. Doron’s family had an anthropological experience finding out that Udi like myself lived on milk. If you think about it, not too many Israelis drink milk for a living and here there were two of such rare specimen gathered together in close quarters available for a study.

Daniel and Noa (a girl his age but too old for him) drove the moose into the woods. It made sense when you think about it. If a cockroach can chase a person from his kitchen then why can’t a child chase a moose from his? Let alone that there were two of them.

We were sixteen in all, ten of which were kids. This is a formidable number when attempting to make decisions. Fortunately we were at the tail end of a long planning process which had been going on for weeks prior to our get-together. It was perfectly clear that we would do what Udi wanted provided that all the children agreed. With supplies in place and command and control established we were ready to head out together.

The next seventeen days – July 8-24

Rather that mention the exact dates and places we visited I’ve picked some of the places and occasions which were worth mentioning.

The article in ‘Yediot’ mentions ‘Château Lake Louise’, as a dreamy place to visit and stay. Well it’s there all right. However at 700 dollars a night I found it hard to believe that the reporter really expected us to sleep there. In fact I was pretty sure that this was the reporters way of telling the ‘hevreh’ about the benefits of an all-expenses-covered trip to the Canadian Rockies. Street dwellers or not, the beauty of the area was undisputable. The location was famous for the turquoise colored lake located at the bottom of a huge steep basin formed by the surrounding mountains which almost completely encircle it. The surrounding create a view which looks likes acres of Jade which were spilled out of an bag of earth and rock and ice, brown and gray and green and white. ‘Haval al hazman’ as future terminology would put it.

Being the skeptic Israelis that we were, we had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that the water color was natural. Indeed the turquoise color is a result of a specific concentration of silt in the water- which reflected shades of bluish green light. ‘Yeah, sure…’. ‘Probably have someone from the hotel pour drums of color into the lake’. Would have really hurt to find out that it was color drums and not mother nature. To this date there is no hard evidence of drums so the silt theory holds. In a way its very much like the theories of the origin of man. The bottom line is that it makes no difference where man came from. In the same manner why worry about where the color came from. It was still gorgeous and that’s all that really mattered.

A two mile climb up a steep path lead to a small tea house on the edge of a cliff which overlooks the valley. I survived the climb with Daniel on my back. I have no idea why I carried him. He was asleep most of the time and might as well have been down in the car or with Galliaon a bench on the valley floor. Another smaller clear lake called ‘lakeMorainewas added at this higher altitude to further please the tourist. The lake’s water drops in a lovely waterfall on its way to lake Louise. The upper lake is completely clear. Once again raising the question whether it was too heavy to regularly drag drums of paint up the mountain, or because there was not enough silt in this smaller lake. Daniel woke at the top and began chasing ground hogs vigorously. It’s not that I mind young kids developing eye-hand coordination, muscle and speed. What I do mind is the fact that this was taking place at the edge of a cliff where the ground hogs seemed to disappear from sight. While experience comes from bad judgment, so does death at times and I had no intent of letting the kid find out that he could not possibly stop on a dime at the edge of the cliff and wait for the ground hogs’ next move on a two inch wide rock shelf three or four feet below the edge of the cliff. I could just hear the ground hogs thinking ‘Here comes the kid over the top, who wants to watch?…’. A groundhog is another type of chipmunk which is for all practical purposes a rat with fur all the way to the tip of its tail. There is really no reason to covet the animal and I felt that I was or firm moral ground trying to keep Daniel on firm physical ground. Daniel was not interested in moralities or practicalities so after a while we started back down with him on my back…

Another special attraction was the Columbiaglacier. A glacier is a piece of ice and what makes it into an attraction is the fact that its big. I got the impression that its surface area was at least four times the size of Jerusalem. The signs and books tell you that it is approximately one kilometer thick. To us and the likes of us this was a lot of ice. Tell it to an Eskimo and he will not even honor the place with a glance. It order to provide us with true ice-cap-exploration experience the locals have arctic busses dedicated to driving tourists half a mile up the glacier and back. These busses are specially designed to impress and are other wise completely useless. They are contraptions made of original bus cabins which have been mounted on top of monster wheels s as tall as myself. A jeep could have done the job just as well, but would not have created the polar expedition experience. About one kilometer (which is approximately half a mile) up the glacier we were allowed to leave the bus and walk on the ice. To a cynic like myself it makes no difference whether the ice is one foot thick or one mile thick. However I did find comfort in the though that ice that thick was not likely to crack open and have us fall into the freezing lake swarming with primordial monsters which have been kept in suspended animation by the cold temperatures and have been restored to their carnivore living states by our warm blooded presence. There are times where imagination takes you places which simple common sense would have simply avoided.

Amitai was safely strapped to Galliain his kangaroo carrier, bundled under her coat so he was safe and oblivious to his surroundings. Daniel was asleep on the bus. He woke up as the bus was coming to a stop back in the parking lot. It would have been a disaster if someone had made a statement in Polanit such as ‘Haval sheyashanta!. Hifsadeta et hakarhon…”. That was the last thing we needed. Daniel had been expecting the glacier all day. A bit of dishonesty and quick thinking saved the day. ‘Ata rotze mishkefet lirot et hakarhon?’ I asked. He looked at me half dazed and reached out to for the binoculars. When he was done we left the bus and went back to the car. Daniel has his arctic experience and the day was saved.

All kids had their demands. The older the child the bigger the demands or rather the effort you need to make in order to satisfy these demands. We had a fourteen year old who had to do some rafting. Rafting is the sport of pitting a small boat against the currents of a river. The smaller the boat’s chances of surviving the trip the more of a sporting challenge is becomes. Kind of comes together for people who jump of broken sky ways with skis. As for us it was questionable how much of this we were really ready to take on. Being ware of the fact that drowned tourists make for poor dollars the governments of civilized countries which have rivers have defined grades of skill or danger which the rivers pose. Tourist access is limited based on these grades. The grades are as follows:

  • One: Total bliss.The river waters are calm and barely flowing. One can put a rubber tube in the water and let the current carry you down stream for days and days.

  • Two: Much like grade one with a one – most people enjoy a blissful ride while one or two work through the bumps that would have otherwise disturbed the rest.

  • Three: A significant step up in current speed and roughness of the rapids. You need to know how to negotiate a grade three. Mistakes can be painful and wet but rarely result in significant injury.

  • Four: Not a tourist zone. This is for experienced rafters only. Team work is mandatory.

  • Five: Mistakes are fatal in grade five rapids. This is for daredevils only. Simple people can only imagine how people survive these rapids.

  • Six: Let’s just say that the Niagara falls and the Victoria falls are grade five rapids… Maybe they have grade six on some moon of Jupiter

We had two rivers to choose from – the Anthabasca which is anywhere between grades one and two, and the Melign which is a notch up – between grades two and three.

Our now one hour older fourteen year old would not settle for a drift down the Anthabasca so we sent the women and the smaller children including Amitai to that river, and the men with the older boys went to challenge the Malign. It was the men who had more fun, and happily the fourteen year old suffered from the cold. After all we got very wet and the water was very cold. Personally I could have gone on for hours on that river but they take you out after less than an hour so that they can latch onto someone else’s purse for more money. All the women and children got wet except Amitai who was buried deep inside Gallia’s coat, covered with a full Eskimo suit, and strapped in a kangaroo front pack.

Then there were Whistler mountain with its majestic views for almost one hundred kilometers in any direction, Terra lodge with its sweet little cabin on the river banks, Anthabasca fall, the Black Canyon, a bear and a half, Vancouver, Victoria, Burchart Gardens, Mount Olympic and its rain forests, and more and more. So many things to see we’ll probably forget most of them or all of them except the charred wasteland surrounding Mount St. Helen.

As you might recall Mr. St. Helen erupted in 1980 in and completely destroyed and restructured some two hundred square kilometers. Standing there and looking at the destruction you find yourself in a complete loss trying to grasp and describe the enormity of the forces that were unleashed there thirteen years ago, which in five minutes performed what the ‘natural course’ of weather, and gravity do in millions of years. A mountain blew itself apart, raising the basin of the lake beneath it by twenty meters. The lake waters were sent in a tidal wave onto the mountain sides on the far side of the lake sweeping tens of thousands of uprooted trees into what was once a blue lake. Today a landscape of gray and brown, covered by tree stumps all pointing away from the blast’s epicenter is all that remains. The mountain sides look like a balding porcupine, tree stump serving as needles, on the face of a brown gray skin. I think our fourteen year old was finally impressed.

In Seattlewe went to see a three dimensional film of the blast, its results and the growing of a new volcano inside the devastated caldera of the mountain. Daniel fell asleep and Amitai screamed through most of it.

Then there was the rest of the trip, and finally Galliagot us to the plane at the very last minute using the baby as an excuse to move ahead of hundreds of cars waiting to cross the border from the USto Canada. She walked on the curb with the baby in her hands and we followed in the car… We were so late getting to the airport that we got separate seats, each person alone in a row including the children. Well that to begin with was unacceptable so I ended up with Daniel and the baby in somebody else’s seat. During the correction of the mistake I found the video camera which in my desperation I had left in yet another seat, and landed apprehensively in what turned out to be yet another wrong seat. At least now I only had Daniel, as the baby was transferred to Galliaby some good Jehovah witness or something. In the end Galliamoved the plane around in a manner which enabled her to sit the children next to her. I spent the rest of the flight between a nasty man who insisted that he had the window seat only to close the window and read a book, and an old lady with a nasty husband who are so much in love that they need the isle to separate them…

Finally we all returned home safely and I could go back to work for a well deserved rest. We’re now preparing a video cassette of the journey which we hope will be ready in a few days (weeks). The cassette is a combination of what Doron meticulously filmed, and which describes where we actually were, and what Galliaand myself periodically bothered to film, but it is better than nothing. I’m sure you’ll also notice a difference in emphasis on characters and narration between the portions of the film.

And now it’s Thursday July 29, I’m thirty six and well continue in the next letter.