It was a last-minute idea. I was supposed to go on a trip that would require five hours of drive time -- and then bam! Three weeks before trip day, I got an engine light on my car. Time for a new plan. The engine light popped right back off, so I decided that a more local trip was a realistic adventure. A calculated risk, you might say. So, when I saw the special rate of $45 for a room at Vernon's Village Green Hotel, I thought, why not?
Vernon is twenty-five minutes down the road from my house. It is where my family moved when we arrived in the Okanagan when I was sixteen. Several family members still live there. The family farm, which was sold in March (waaaaaaah) was there. It is where my youngest child was born. So, needless to say, I am well-acquainted with the town. That is the primary reason it didn't appear in my travel book, Where the Locals Go. Vernon, to me, never really felt like a day-trip destination.
Then again, whoever really acts like a tacky tourist in their own backyard? I figured I could go to a bunch of those places I never really go. Like, the well-known orchard, Davison Orchards. The casino. One of the many lakes. A restaurant where you don't order at a window. It could be fun. And, for fourty-five bucks, how could I go wrong?
The weather agreed with me. Although we've been having an exceptionally cool and wet Spring, the sun was shining on this morning. The forecast was for rain, but it seemed the forecast was wrong. I left home earlier than intended and headed to Davison Orchards straight off.
The word 'orchard' is a bit of an understatement where Davison Orchards is concerned. That is certainly how the business started way back when. However, the company -- the concept -- has grown. Davison Orchards now supports a gift and produce store, a restaurant, a tractor ride, two children play areas, and a petting zoo. Plus the orchard. My camera and I wandered in and out of buildings snapping pictures of the indoor model train, the rows of canned goods, the gift products by local artisans, the fresh-baked pies, breads and muffins, and more. I took pictures of the orchards in spring blossom, the tractor-come-sandbox, the tire swing, and some really giant-sized hay bales. Also, I made friends with the goats and seriously pissed off the turkeys. By the end of my prowling, I was sweaty and smiling, and ready to check into my hotel room.
That is where the fun really began. Back in the day, the Village Green Hotel (now called something else), was one of Vernon's nicest hotels. It used to house the town's casino, used to offer shuttle service up to Silver Star Mountain's ski hill, and still has a decent nightclub with live music on weekends and a great dance floor. It also is home to what was once a pretty upscale restaurant. But...
I'd spent a night at the hotel right when Covid first emerged into the world. That night, the price was also $45, and yet the stay was perfect. Lovely room, room service from the restaurant. A great time had. At the Village Green, a lot has changed in two years.
I checked in for my cheap rate and was assigned a room in the older part of the building. That side of the hotel did not have elevator service, so I hauled my overnight bag and my laptop bag up a flight of stairs to the second floor. I passed the public washroom on my way. It had an out of order sign on the door. This wasn't surprising considering the fact that the door was ajar, so I could see the giant flood happening inside.
My room was 207 -- located directly adjacent to the nightclub. Since I was staying mid-week and the live music only happened on weekends, I just shrugged. If it was noisy, worse things had happened. I'd be fine. Of course, it was noisy, but not for the reason I imagined. Actually, the hotel was doing work on the roof -- directly outside my bedroom window. Oh yeah, also, the roofers started work at 8 am. Come on! The nice thing was, the roofer also had a cute little black and white helper named Elsa up on the roof with him. The little Jack Russel barked away at me as I stood out on my patio.
The patio was supposed to have a mountain view, and to be technical, yeah, you could see the tipytops of the mountains way out in the distance. But my real view was of a vine-covered wall and a satellite dish. High class, all the way. Also, apparently, the restaurant I'd so enjoyed on my last stay was closed. it wouldn't be opening for... a few more days. Well, okay then. So much for room service. I took myself out to the Walmart located a block away and bought snacks for the evening instead. Fortunately, I also purchased a few breakfast items. Juice, coffee, muffins, fruit. I say fortunately because the included breakfast turned out to be (wait for it...) two packs of oatmeals cookies and some juice.
Have you ever had an experience that was just so bad in every way that you had to laugh? That was me with my hotel experience. I mean, the place was clean, the bed was comfortable, and the tv worked, so really, that was probably about as much as could be expected for the price. To me, close enough to home that I could have just checked out and slept in my own bed if I chose, it didn't matter. The hotel just became part of the experience.
I was giddy as I drove around the town trying to determine where I wanted to eat. I live in a small town where the choice of restaurants is limited to pubs, fast food, Chinese, or pizza, so having all these dining establishments at my discretion was enchanting. Except... the promised rain clouds had started to roll in. If I wanted to take more photos, I was losing the light. Also, I was kind of craving Wendy's. It seemed all the way wrong, but I ended up in Wendy's drive-thru anyhow.
I planned to take my Junior Bacon Cheeseburger, side Caeser salad, and lemonade to the beach to eat and take photos of sunset, but en route, I got a better idea. The year I was twenty-one, I was a singer in a band. It was a good year, and it was a horrible year. While on tour, my dad suffered two heart attacks which thankfully he survived, and also, the guy I was dating dumped me. Three times. At the end of tour, I quit and moved home to my parent's Vernon home to heal and figure out the rest of my life.
I used to take these long walks in the hills, and one day I discovered this old run-down church and graveyard. I have a thing for graveyards, so I was delighted. These graves were all old and were all in a language I couldn't read that looked, to me, like cuneiform writing. What I loved best about the graves, though, was that regardless of their age, they all were well-tended with fresh flowers laid. This spoke to me. Love, it seemed, transcended death.
In those days, the church was abandoned but unlocked. I wandered inside and discovered people had used the place to party. Pews were overturned. Cigarette butts were stubbed out on the floor next to discarded, broken, long-neck beer bottles. At the age of 21 and trying to feel better about the world, this seemed like such desecration to me. I returned to my parents', picked up some cleaning supplies, then drove back to the church and swept up the mess inside the building. A few days later when I returned, the building was padlocked. Some time after that, the place was declared a heritage site and restorations began.
I have returned periodically over the years to the site of this old church and graveyard. It brings me peace. So, I knew before this trip to Vernon that the place was actually once a Ukrainian Orthodox church. The strange lettering was Cyrillic. Exiting Wendy's parking lot, it suddenly occurred to me that my little church would be a scenic, peaceful, private place to eat my meal. It also was an excellent spot for a photoshoot.
By the time I arrived, the wind up on the hill had picked up. The clouds were really rolling in, and it was flat-out chilly. Parked beside the gate to the graveyard, I ate inside my car. Then I picked up my camera, and I walked among the graves.
Maybe it's just me, but it seemed disrespectful to snap photos of individual graves. At least, not in close-up. The place was still well-tended and flowers still graced the stones, but new graves had been added since I'd last been here. These new graves had Irish names, and German names, and Asian names sculpted into their headstones. At some point, though, it hit me that while I was here, chronicling this Ukrainian churchyard with my camera, the home country for the people who originally built this site was suffering atrocious devastations. I walked around the graveyard and started praying for Ukraine. Except, my prayers went a lot like, God, I don't even know where to start praying for Ukraine.
Because, what do you say? God, please end the war? God, please protect the people? God, please...
That ended up being my prayer for Ukraine. God, please. When civilians are being raped and schools are being bombed, really, what else is there to pray?
In the front of the graveyard in Vernon, there is a large white cross. From the back of the graveyard where I stood, it appeared to be looking out over the hills framing the town. It appeared to be standing guard as a symbol of hope. With the storm clouds rolling in behind it, I started photographing the cross, and it seemed like a metaphor. There was a storm coming, but still there was something that remained. So, there was hope. And I think there will be a day coming when Russia finally retreats, the party is over, and we will all have the opportunity to take our brooms and help put Ukraine back in order.
I drove away from the graveyard no longer in the mood to photograph the casino and no longer doubting that, fancy or not, I'd chosen precisely the right restaurant for my meal. I felt like something profound had happened to me inside that churchyard. I was glad I came. And then, driving away, for the first time ever, it occurred to me to wonder... all those years ago when I impulsively took my broom into that church building to sweep away someone else's mess, did the parish actually think I had caused the damage to begin with? Maybe it wasn't the vandals that padlock was meant to keep away. Maybe, I laughed to myself as the thought occurred while I drove away, the lock was there because of me.