Beautiful British Columbia: Okanagan
To Be Continued
According to Wikipedia, "The Okanagan, also known as the Okanagan Valley and sometimes as the Okanagan Country, is a region in the Canadian province of British Columbia defined by the basin of Okanagan Lake and the Canadian portion of the Okanagan River. It is part of Okanogan County in north-central Washington, extending into the United States as Okanogan County. According to the 2016 Canadian census, the region's population is 362,258. The primary city is Kelowna."
All of this is true. Also, kinda boring for an incredibly varied, vibrant part of the world. I mean, read the Wikipedia article. It tells you the facts. It's a decent description. Just don't expect to feel the place when you do.
In 1986, my father's job sent our family to the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. I was going into grade 12, and I left behind the high school volleyball and basketball teams, the high school choir, and the high school boyfriend. I arrived kicking and screaming.
When we first settled in, the parents rented a home in the vibrant community of Oyama, which at that time boasted an elementary school, a fire station, and post office, and a community store/gas station. That was it, honey. Mind you, the house we rented was located one block up the hill from Woods Lake (behind what is now the thriving visitor spot of Gatzke's Orchards). The property was roughly an acre in size with fruit trees planted and enough room for dad to build a barn where, for the first time ever, we housed my horses on our own backyard.
That first summer, the high school boyfriend came up to visit. He, my sister and I spent our time alternating between walking down to the lake, picking fresh cherries, peaches, plums and apricots from the backyard to eat, and I, at least, spent hours riding my horses up in the bare hills at the end of our dead-end street.
And that was all it took -- one summer in the Okanagan, and I never wanted to live anywhere else.
I guess that is why most of my books are set here. There is nowhere else I love as much as the Okanagan Valley. From the cliffs in Enderby to the desert in Osoyoos, the jade green of Kalamalka Lake to the shallows of Skaha Lake in Okanagan Falls, I have been happy here.
So far, I have set a book in Armstrong (Rock Bottom Ranch), in Lavington (Feathers in the Snow), in Lake Country (The Lakeland Series), in Kelowna (Smoke), in Oyama (Honey on my Lips), and my new series Peachland Passions (arrives in 2021), is set in Peachland and ventures into many South Okanagan towns. Some of these novels stick as closely as possible to the true town geography and makeup. Some become a bit more loosely designed. Sometimes I use real names for businesses and streets, other times I change the names to suit. Always, though, the backdrop in my mind is the Okanagan Valley -- aka, home.
The house where we first lived -- and my father's barn -- still exist, but the hills where Lay Dee and I spent hours trail riding are now split by the highway to Vernon. When NAFTA happened, the then-thriving logging industry suffered a blow. The apple orchardists struggled to compete with American prices from Washington. Kenworth moved their plant to the US. Some things have changed here. There are specific challenges to living in the Okanagan.
Water is a big thing for us. We are blessed with lakes. In the winter, people ice skate or ice fish on some of the smaller lakes. In the summer, we swim, boat, waterski... It seems like much of the Okanagan lifestyle revolves around our lakes. We also are experiencing a population explosion which does pose conservation and water utilization challenges. Plus, I live in Canada, eh. My pipes have a nasty habit of freezing in the winter if I don't leave a tap dripping during cold snaps. But those same cold snaps also help the vineyards locally produce ice wine. Seems like a fair trade.
Those vineyards cropped up as the orchard industry evolved to meet their own chills. In the Okanagan, adaptation is reality. Living here means doing what you must to pay the 'sun tax.' Those of us who live here and love it -- like I do -- will tell you that sun tax is more than worth it. Life is good here. And that is exactly what I want to show in my novels.