rv newbies

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 7.24.56 AMWe know lots of folks who travel by RV, quite happily long-hauling a house on their journey. The Hubs and I have struggled to envision ourselves in this scenario. We’re not well suited. I look for pull-through parking spots and have difficulty backing our car out of the driveway. (Don’t judge. It’s a long driveway.) He maneuvers heavy farm equipment without a second thought but is easily irritated by typical traffic in a regular sized vehicle. (Meanwhile, I’m on high alert: brake-lights!) The mere thought of taking to the highway behind the wheel of a rig sized for intergalactic travel induces stress.
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gananoque

gananonqueOur final stop on the mini-getaway was a quaint St. Lawrence River town. “There’s not much there,” a Canadian forewarned. “A couple of blocks. Yeah, and a few shops.” Never you mind, I thought. I’d read that Gananoque was worth a visit and so it was!

We strolled up Gananoque’s main street, stopping in several shops with local character. The best was the ancient hardware store, Donevan’s; I couldn’t resist the window displays of items purchased decades ago. Inside we found two older gentleman at the helm. The younger appeared to be at least 75 and the elder was navigating by walker. His was the voice of authority when I had questions. Turns out Charlie is a local legend at 92 years old!

The store was a combination of genuine hardware (at the rear), household goods, trinkets and flea market fare (at the fore), some with an invitation to make an offer. I found a miniature tea set, Fiestaware style (for the grands) and a percolator knob (that didn’t fit, as it would turn out) but the real value was in the cultural and generational exchange.

The tea set was unmarked and the Hubs suggested we make an offer. “Well, you could do that,” the younger clerk said, “but make it fair.” I turned that over in my mind. ($10? $15? Surely no more that.) Before I could respond he tried to dissuade me, perhaps one of the other tea sets would do? (No, not really.)

Finally, he pulled his phone out of his pocket with a flourish to call Mary. “Hello, Mary, this is Gary.” For whatever reason, the proprietor’s daughter was not on front desk duty this day. (Is Gary her husband? Such mystery and intrigue!) These three must make for some sort of retail sales staff record.

It took only slightly less time to place the call and receive a return call and finally get a price ($15) than it did to make the actual transaction … but not by much. Gary preferred I pay in cash but our Canadian was in short supply and he had no American change. He agreed to process by credit card only after warning we’d pay taxes to do so. This led to commentary about local and national politics and other disturbances. I don’t know that we’ve ever spent $20 with more interest!

IMG_4681The Tuesday afternoon sun was brutal, beating down relentlessly, so we were thankful for a reprieve on the Lost Ships of the Islands St. Lawrence River boat tour. Despite our familiarity with the region and abundance of excursions from American shores, the Canadian perspective is unique.

We saw many more islands than we have on U.S.-based boat tours with much better narration and a much nicer boat than good ol’ Uncle Sam provides. My favorites were the historic island stop for American slaves escaping via the underground railroad and two islands linked by reputedly the world’s shortest international bridge, a small white structure connecting stony footprints in each country. This must be among the world’s friendliest borders. It seems that every island flies a flag but some fly flags for both the USA and Canada.

Most islands are independently owned and many are so small that a few trees and single family home consume them. This is typical of the region; only a few are large or lavish. There are nearly 2,000 islands; some are far too small to inhabit, others are state or provincial parks open to the public. We sailed past millionaire’s row which sparks our imagination for living the high life. The most famous among the rich and famous are Boldt and Singer castles on Heart and Dark Islands, respectively. We’ve toured each and were happy just to sail by on this trip.

What set this St Lawrence River boat tour apart was a rich media presentation as we passed over sunken ships. The turbulent Great Lakes and rocky shoals and shifting sandbars of the St Lawrence River have claimed far more than their share of ships and lives. It was intriguing to see below the surface through videos of divers as the story of each wreck was relayed. We sipped ice cold Canadian beer in comfortable shade as clouds rolled above and small skiffs, boats and ships of all sizes sailed past on either side.

We followed a large vessel for a while — whether saltie or laker I cannot say. The Great Lakes Seaway System is amazingly versatile and vital to both countries. As our northern border and “fourth coast” it is worth a visit, in and of itself. We locals tend to take it for granted. The large ship stayed true to the deepwater channel as we veered off under another span of the Thousand Islands International Bridge. It was a perfect day on the mighty St Lawrence.

 

Disembarking, we had just enough time to stop by the Gananoque Brewing Company for local libations before dinner.  Delicious! Our final stop was a perfect landing. I’d learned of the Maple Leaf Restaurant in a Lonely Planet guide book. With this inside scoop, we were determined to stop for a bite. Inside we found an impeccably clean and tidy restaurant with old world charm. The menu included several types of light and tender snitzel and delicately seasoned spatzel; top that off with strudel and you simply cannot go wrong.

I mentioned to our waitress how we’d landed there and the next thing we knew, Vlad, the proprietor, was at our table. He has been running this place for 28 years and is justifiably proud of the results. We left with a cool cloth bag filled with leftovers for dinner the next day. We will return, I am sure.

Thus we wrapped another modest but meaningful Canadian adventure. We never fail to find warm and welcoming people, fantastic food, and adventures midst our northerly neighbors. I hope I’ve inspired you to visit!

~ René Morley

 

kingston

IMG_4605Kingston is a small historic city with loud and proud loyalty to the crown, interesting architecture, and quaint English pubs. We got into town late in the day and drove directly to the hotel. We ate dinner at the Pilot House because it was an easy walk and we were exhausted from the dunes in the heat! They offer several varieties of their famous fish and chips.

Being farmers and all, we were up early to seize Monday. It was overcast and drippy, a sleepy morning where not much was happening. Martello Alley is currently the #1 thing to do in Kingston, so we headed there — unwittingly a full hour before they opened.

The proprietor is just that great that he flung wide the gates and welcomed us in. We spent the better part of an hour enjoying the place and his company. He was admittedly perplexed about the Trip Advisor rating. I think his winning personality plus innovative approach help explain this success.

It really is a great idea! He’s transformed a decrepit old alley into a year round art gallery that is owned and operated collectively. He quickly unlocked doors hanging on brick walls to reveal a sampling of artwork for sale, each door a different artist. An inner courtyard revealed more art, flowering plants and a cafe seating area. Even further into the alley, more valuable artwork was on display on walls and tables in the main gallery.

By then, Kingston was waking up but we weren’t sure how we wanted to spend the day.  We haven’t visited in years so we hit the reset button and joined the hop-on, hop-off trolley tour. Yes, it’s touristy but it’s also an easy and relatively cheap way to get the lay of the land. At times we had the trolley to ourselves. It is a thorough tour, which includes the Royal Military College of Canada, some government buildings, Fort Henry, and several museums, including the Canadian Penitentiary Museum.

This latter museum is free but unrelated to Kingston Penitentiary tours, which are among the hottest tickets in town. (Book in advance.) Who knew Kingston was the penitienary capital of Canada and had seven prisons in operation? The tour also passed through the Queens University campus. Near there we hopped off and found our way back to a glass artist before taking a delicious lunch at Chez Piggy.

As an aside, I will say that Fort Henry  is  among the best North American military forts I’ve ever visited. Interpreters dressed in period costume vividly portray fort life as it was back in the days of American and British conflict. I was tempted for a repeat visit but the Hubs wasn’t overly interested. It was hot and we were doing a lot of walking so it didn’t take much to convince me to stay on the trolley. I expect we will go back with the grands in tow someday. They will love it!

Later that afternoon, we took the Wolfe Island ferry. It’s a pleasant surprise to find ferries run free in Ontario as part of the highway system. This particular ferry is large but very busy; you must plan ahead to drive on. Locals queue early, park in place, and return when the ferry docks to board. The line of cars and trucks was much longer than the ferry’s capacity on this trip. We were walking on, so no worries! It’s a short sail across the St. Lawrence with lovely Kingston harbor vistas. I enjoyed chatting with several locals and lifelong islanders heading home from work.

On one lady’s advice, we walked off the ferry, hung a left, and landed at the Wolfe Island Grill. There we were greeted with friendly staff, a delightfully fresh and innovative menu (for example, a watermelon, feta and mint salad), waterfront patio and local brews. What more could we need?  After dinner, we caught the ferry back to Kingston. Easy peasy.

On Tuesday morning we had “The best breakfast in Kingston” at Peter’s Place because, well, the Hubs insisted. Breakfast is the meal he most often has to forgo due to his work schedule and so he doesn’t like to miss it on vacation. This  was classic diner food and just that, no apparent local specialties. It was my least favorite meal of the trip but he was happy!

About this time, I realized that we’d missed the annual military tattoo  at Fort Henry by one full day. Drats and double-drats! We won’t make that mistake again. I was suffering some regret as we wandered around town, strolling down Princess Street, browsing and shopping. There is lots of variety in Kingston retail therapy and local flavor in arts and antiques. It was a pleasant morning. The best part was a vibrant farmer’s market where I found unique preserves and pastry gifts to bring home.

My only real disappointment in Kingston was in our hotel, the Marriott Delta Waterfront. It’s a great location but a truly disappointing property and hardly worth two of the four star rating. I won’t bore you with details; suffice to say we were satisfied only because we were staying for free. If you’re headed to Kinston, try the Sheraton?

~ René Morley

 

prince edward county

IMG_4685Last weekend, the Hubs and I struck out for Canadian adventures across the river. Our northerly neighbor is vast, second only to Russia in landmass and leading all in coastline. Fortunately for us, about 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border. That means one of the best things about the North Country is Canada.

Toronto, Ottawa (tulips, tulips, more tulips!) Montreal, and Quebec City nearby in the east: what’s not to love? But there is so much more to Canada than her major population centers and for this birthday get-away, I wasn’t in a city frame of mind. We had less than three days and two nights. I developed an itinerary for modest hotel reward points and a few new explorations centered on the St Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. When the Hubs asked, “What should I pack?” I said, “Sand shoes and all kinds of casual.” We left home Sunday morning, headed to Prince Edward County. All he had to do was drive.

I recently read that Prince Edward County is emerging as a foodie mecca and assure you that is for good reason. The County is farm country; field after field of oats, corn, soybeans and other crops followed by acres of fruit and orchards and fields of vegetables. There were a few dairies, no Holsteins but other breeds in pasture. It is also wine country, with endless vines and plenty of wineries. We tasted a lovely range of sophisticated selections, from crispy-dry to appertifs; my favorite was the full bodied Sandbanks Cabernet Franc.

IMG_4599The Sandbanks Winery makes it easy to explore with $5 per glass and free tasting when you buy two bottles. And my, oh, my mercy, if you also have a thing for butter tarts, be sure to buy some there! You will never find a more delicate, melt-in-your-mouth crust or delicious filling. What’s your pleasure: the quilt trail, wine trail or butter tart trail? Yeah, it’s rough living in the County.

The gentle landscape is flecked with small towns, antique shops, fruit and vegetable stands, bed-and-breakfasts with “no vacancy” signs and cottages with lakeside views. There is no hotel on the peninsula currently but a forlorn structure in Picton has been leveled to make way for progress. I only hope the place doesn’t lose it’s sense of self in the process.

IMG_4580County roads are narrow, the scenery spectacular from nearly every vantage point –hilltop to furrow to lakeshore. I loved reading names of roads and establishments suggesting Scottish or Irish heritage but the County is foremost loyal to the crown; we’ve never seen so many Union Jacks!

We followed the progress of the combines as long, golden ripe fields of oats heavy with seed became brush-cut hollow stalks, the fields shaved close like an old man’s head, wagons piled high and tight with massive bales of straw. “Every farm has a combine,” the Hubs commented, “no matter the size.” Farming must pay here, I mused.

We delighted in dizzying dunes of silky-soft sand at Sandbanks Provincial Park — an anomaly on the Great Lake I happily credit to a Creator with infinite imagination. These dunes out-do the Outer Banks in their unique way. Seriously, get in your car right now and just drive because you do not want to miss out on this place. Entrance to the park is pricey ($17) but given the free ferry at Glenora, that was okay. We arrived fairly late in the day and there was no cut rate available which also explains why, when we left only an hour or so later, some rascals were scrounging passes from departing vehicles.

We savored refreshing craft brews accompanying an artful ploughman’s lunch and amazing views at Miller House at Lake on the Mountain. This lovely lake holds close her mystery, high above the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario. Spectacular views rival many we’ve relished abroad.

We’d go back just to repeat any one of these County experiences. At the end of a long day, tired and sand-dusted but fully satisfied, we ferried from Glenora to Adolphustown and continued on our way.

~ René Morley

 

 

quebec city

IMG_0467The first and last port of call on the fiftieth birthday sailabration was Quebec City. This was another of my bucket-list destinations. I was pleased when the Hubs suggested we go a day early and spend a night on our own before the cruise.

He made arrangements at Auberge St. Antoine, a richly historic hotel on the outer edge of the old city and very near the pier. Our itinerary allowed for two more nights in Quebec City on the return. What a gift!

It was a pleasant drive up to Quebec City, through woodlands and farmland, skirting Montreal, traveling the Trans-Canada highway until a scenic riverside boulevard led us to our destination. It could hardly have been easier. Staff at the St. Antoine were quick to greet us and park our car. The room was amazing, with an expansive balcony and both St. Lawrence River and Chateau Frontenac views.

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The hotel is one of the finest we’ve enjoyed, with every detail attended — right down to the dental floss! The weather was beautiful, brisk and bright, which made for great walking. We were up and down hundreds of stairs — eschewing the funicular — on several trips from the hotel at sea level to the Chateau Frontenac and beyond, following the boardwalk out to the citadel, the Plains of Abraham, and back again. Just perfect.

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On one of our trips up to the Chateau, we came upon small park with canons perched along the edge overlooking great views of the river and old city. It was set up for a nighttime production of some sort that looked worth a return visit. As it turned out, the climb back uphill was welcome after dinner. Being part of the local arts scene was, too. Always a turning point in feeling connected, more than just a tourist.

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The next day we had plenty of time to explore the old city. It is a fun place for walking, if you don’t mind the up-and-down. It is just lovely, full to the brim with quaint cobbles and cafés, artisan culture and architectural ambiance. I’ve often heard people refer to Quebecers as French elitists and we certainly recognized their pride of heritage in various conversations. However, we felt entirely welcome throughout our visit. (Which is more than I can say for certain European cities!)

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The hotel staff agreed to keep our car at a very good rate and in a much more secure location than pier parking. Then they went the extra mile (or five) and delivered us and our baggage to the pier using our vehicle. As it turned out, our ship was not docked across the street as we’d anticipated. It was definitely not walkable with baggage in tow.

Ten days later, we were back in port. We’d had time enough to explore the old city on our own before the cruise, so I’d booked a tour for our return. It didn’t leave until after lunch. Our driver from the St. Antoine had recommended the large farmer’s market not far from the pier. It is easy to spot by the green roof.

Inside the sprawling building was a bustle of activity. Merchants sold everything you might imagine in a market — from pumpkins to pickles, chocolate to cheese, maple products galore, clothing and kitsch. We loaded up on preserves and condiments for gifts and braced ourselves for a brisk trek back to the ship.

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We soon boarded for our one and only bus excursion of the trip. One is usually more than enough but I have to say this one was really nice. Much of that was due to our tour guide who, as it turned out, was a farmer from the region. She and three generations of her family live in the same farmhouse that her family has inhabited for 10 generations. What’s more, her family has been farming in Quebec for 14 generations!

Better yet, she has five brothers, all of whom are actively farming together with her and her family as a cooperative. They are a very diverse operation, with dairy, fruits and vegetables, maple syrup, and also firewood. That’s some teamwork, eh? To top that off (impossible, you say?) the youngest generation — 32 cousins — are mostly farmers! Some are still in school, their career choice perhaps not yet determined, but that is quite an amazing agricultural heritage.

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We were worn out from all of the activity of the past ten days and there was a bitter cold wind blowing so it was quite relaxing to sit back and enjoy a cozy ride and our guide’s informative dialogue. We stopped first at Montmorency Falls at sea level on our way to Île d’Orléans. These falls are much taller than Niagara Falls; though not nearly as wide they are impressive. If you look closely in the photo at left, you’ll see two figures walking toward the base of the falls, which looked like a rather adventuresome hike. Our guide noted that the frozen falls form a sugarloaf in the winter and Quebecers come out in droves to play. Apparently this is just what you do for kicks in Quebec City.

I was very much interested in visiting Île d’Orléans, renown as for its agricultural richness. Even though we were well past prime growing season, there was plenty of evidence of the bounty you’d enjoy most of the year. Most of the fields are typical of the region: long and narrow, woodland at the back. Most of the houses face the water, boating being the historical form of transportation. Our guide mentioned that the bridge to the island is closed much of the winter due to blizzard conditions over the St Lawrence River. There is only one gas station and a small grocery store on the island. I guess you’d need to be prepared to hunker down and ride out a storm!

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Our tour included a visit to a sugar shanty for maple taffy. There was a long trough filled with crushed ice. Maple syrup, boiled to a soft candy state, was poured out in strips on the ice. We rolled the warm maple sweetness around a flat wooden stick for a yummylicious treat. When we were kids, Mom made a similar confection she called sugar-on-snow. She’d set an aluminum baking pan out when the first snow fell in big flakes. Meanwhile, she’d boil maple syrup on the stove top. Soon enough the pan was overflowing with fresh frosty crystals. She’d trickle hot maple goodness over the snow, where it would harden in golden strands. We’d each grab a fork to pull sweetness into our mouths. It is a favorite childhood memory, one I must remember to make with the grandchids.

We learned how the sugar shanty in Quebec becomes a place of revelry and feasting, especially in the spring during maple syrup season. Quebecers dine out at shanties throughout the region, where they serve traditional dinners of maple ham, pea soup, maple pie, eggs, and other hearty fare. Well, that is quite an idea. Unfortunately, sugar shacks in the North Country do not operate as restaurants. However, I know how much we also welcome spring after the long winter. Quebecers have good form!

IMG_0563When we left the island and crossed back over the bridge to mainland Quebec, I marveled again at how shallow and rocky the water along the shore, how tricky the narrow channel with tides. Our guide noted that the river on the eastern end of the island is freshwater, in the middle it’s brackish and on the western end it is saltwater, as the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Atlantic Ocean are not far from here. On the ship we’d learned from the naturalist about the beluga whales that live in this river — some near Montreal and others not terribly far from here. Their DNA is distinct from belugas anywhere else in the world. Oh, what I would have given to have seen one!

We continued climbing in altitude until we reached Montmorency Falls Manor at the top of the falls. Here we were served afternoon tea with a lovely maple cake. After a bit of fall-gawking, we traveled on, climbing higher still into the Laurentian foothills and Lac Beauport region. It is beautiful country and quite exclusive, too — home to Patrick Roi and friends.

We were tired, the sun was sinking, and I was glad when we headed back to the pier. We’d covered a lot of ground in Quebec City, making the most of the short time that we had. But it is one of those places I sure do hope to return to one day. The next trip should be in summer, I think!

~ Rene Morley

pei or anne’s land

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Prince Edward Island was a treat. There is simply no better way to describe it. It was our final port of call before we were to return to Quebec City. For about as long as I can remember — well, at least since I fell in love with Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” — I’ve wanted to visit PEI. I’ve mapped it multiple times but the trip was so daunting, given the driving distance and vacation time available, it just didn’t happen. I didn’t realize until the day we dropped anchor it was the first time this ship had made port there. It seemed too good to be true that we were on it!

DSC_0744We’d followed the excellent advice in Tom’s Port Guides and rented a car from Enterprise. Just like clockwork, they picked us up near the pier in a white van and delivered us to the rental agency office downtown. I was amazed to hear the young man behind the wheel say he’d no idea who Anne of Green Gables was! She is present across the island; it seems nearly everyone is trying to sell something-Anne. (Clearly, the driver hadn’t the curiosity to find out.) Although we were stuck with a big ol’ van (reminiscent of our ’90 Astro) instead of the sporty SUV the Hubs ordered, no matter. We were in PEI!

It was a beautiful, calm, clear day. We’d enjoyed a slow glide into the scenic harbor, signature orangey-red sandstone cliffs standing stark against evergreen forest, fields already hemmed in by fall. PEI is a simple island to navigate and I had a basic route plotted, cutting northwestward toward the shore, stopping first at Green Gables before meandering through small towns and countryside. In no time flat, we were off to explore.

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When we arrived at Green Gables, all was quiet. There were a very few cars in the parking lot and zero tour buses. Score! We had the place almost to ourselves. A small group of Tourists were far enough ahead of us that our paths barely crossed. I’d no idea until this trip how popular Anne is in Japan — no doubt due to her role in the grade school curriculum. Even so, we hardly noticed on this day. We wandered the property in leisurely fashion, thoroughly enjoying stepping back in time.

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Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Woods were quiet, nearly empty as we walked through. Birch trees decked out in regal gold leaves, bright red sugar maples, and a crystal clear brook bubbling alongside the path all made for a delightful diversion. It was a brisk fall day so we dropped by the café for fresh scones and tea before making few gift shop purchases.

From there, we drove on toward the shore. I’d read in Tom’s PEI guide about the beautiful teacup rock formation so it was on our route. We found the access road, finally — not much more than a red dirt track. We parked the van but didn’t get far before we ran up against a “private property” sign on entrance to the walking trail. (Hmmm. Tom’s guide failed to note this part!) Most, perhaps all, of the homes, in this area were vacation homes and uninhabited this late in the season. The Hubs was game to plow ahead. “We came for the teacup. I don’t give up until I reach my goal.” But I was not so sure it was worth the risk. “I’d rather not be arrested for trespassing today.”

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There was another way to access the rock, a longer route directly on the shoreline at the waters edge. I hadn’t checked the timing of the tides and we didn’t know how far the trek. I was dubious. The shoreline was beautiful, though, and that was enough for me — until next time, when we rent one of those houses. This is one of those few must-come-back-to places. I only hope we have grandboys and grandgirls along for the adventure when we do!

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We enjoyed a scenic and ’round-about return to Charlottetown, marveling at the massive potato harvest and beautiful bucolic countryside, before we landed at a quaint pub, Gahan House. I fulfilled my fresh lobster craving and we fulfilled our craft brew quest there. This was followed by a bit more retail therapy. We stumbled upon a wonderfully unique Canadian store, aptly named Cow, whereby we purchased the sweetest PJs for the grand boys: “I’m moo-dy in the morning.” The grandgirls, I should note, were beneficiaries of soft and cuddly Anne dolls with bright red yarn hair and green dresses because their GiGi just couldn’t resist!

IMG_0525We might have quit there, but I knew that I couldn’t leave PEI without also tasting the famed Malpeques oysters. (I think we happened upon an oyster farm, shown in a photo above?) Fortunately, a restaurant on the pier was perfectly accommodating. I may never pronounce Malpeques right, but I can tell you this: they are a delicious, tender, and not-to-be-missed delicacy of the island. So that’s how we closed out a fantabulously satisfying day in Anne’s land.  If PEI is not on your short list, it should be!

~ René Morley

inuksuit and such

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One of the unexpected treasures on our Alaskan journey wasn’t in Alaska at all. This is quite ironic, as it turns out. The majority of prospectors rushing to mine their fortunes in 1898 were unaware that Klondike gold fields were in the Yukon Territory! More than a century after the “Alaskan” gold rush, we discovered another kind of treasure there.

On this day, we were traveling in comfort northeast from Skagway on the Klondike Highway. Partially mimicking the White Pass route, it is the primary commercial highway and bikeway inland from the coast. It is relatively well traveled during tourist season. Otherwise, it is lonely and treacherous, sometimes impassable. It is the 150-mile artery from Skagway, Alaska, to Whitehorse, British Columbia.

From Whitehorse, you must continue on another 550 miles to reach Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. No wonder so few prospectors made it back in the day. By foot or on horseback, then by boat, hauling 1,000 pounds of required gear and supplies 700 miles inland was a daunting task and harrowing journey.

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As we progressed inland, the lush coastal landscape gave way to something more like a moonscape. The terrain became harder and darker, brooding and mysterious. An overcast day added to the effect. Smoky clouds hovered over stark peaks with tell-tale stripes of avalanche. Exposed rock was often reddened by the oxidation of iron-bearing minerals. The place had a barrenness about it, seemingly devoid of life. This was the Tormented Valley on the long trek to gold.

There is plenty of life here, if you know where to look. “Look for the moving patches of snow,” our guide, Luke, advised. “Dall sheep love the high rocky terrain.” Mountain goats, too. The region is also home to caribou, moose, and bears. We saw only rock and more rock midst the ever-thinning forests, silty streams, and mesmerizing lakes rich with minerals and fish.

Scrappy trees and scrubby brush root in thin soil. Some cling to steeply sloping rock face stretching around and above us. In early September, it was a breathtaking panorama, a rising cloak of blue-green, gray-brown, yellow-gold and red-orange; rich hues befitting a royal gown. Interspersed for dramatic effect were sharply stunted coniferous trees with thin, twisted trunks and spare, tiny needles. The krummholz are the old-timers of mountain flora. In this harsh terrain with severe cold and howling winds they grow a mere quarter-inch per year — but for hundreds of years.

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Along the way we pulled off at the edge of long lake where an inukshut village has sprung up from the loose rock and boulders at the base of the mountains. Native peoples have assembled inuksuit for ages, purportedly to bring good fortune to the builder and those who come behind. This inukshut village is under continual development by virtue of tourists passing through on the Klondike Highway.

20131008-191916.jpgThe Hubs and I spent a few moments selecting stray rocks to create our own inukshut. It was a simple act to mark a fleeting presence in a vast place; a reality check. How small we are, hardly more substantive than a speck of dust on this planet. How great is our God, creator of this amazing place we call home.

Most of us are desperate to make a mark here, to note our presence, to validate our existence. I guess that is what we were doing just then, piling a few rocks into a pillar. For a time, at least until the next big storm, our paltry pile will stand as a testimony that we were there. Right there.

I was intrigued by the custom and honored to participate but I know our small effort doesn’t amount to much. The next person to pass by will never know our names or learn our stories. We will remain unknown, insignificant. In that regard, it is not much of a marker. The stones are silent. We might as well be invisible.

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How incredible then to consider that we are visible every moment in God’s frame of view. Only He is big enough to always see us! Better yet, in the path we choose, the lives we live, we co-author with our creator. God is not a distant deity but here, among us. He journeys with us.

Sometimes God calls us to mark a place as a testimony of what he has done. He instructed Joshua and the Israelites to do just that with twelve stones gathered at the Jordan River. This became a pointed reminder of God’s power and provision for his people. Sometimes we need a memorial, a touch point, to maintain perspective.

Most often we mark our way with less tangible but even more telling artifacts. Travelers coming behind find piles of evidence and footprints between them. I hope I am building signposts of faith and perseverance, integrity and trustworthiness, generosity and kindness, as I find my way along. I may not leave but a dollar or two behind, but I hope there is grace enough to puddle in my footprints and love enough to muddy the ground. May those who come behind find abundant evidence that God was with me in this journey, loving and living through the dust of his creation.

~ René Morley