Sunday, July 19, 2009


I looked into a beautiful clear blue sky with puffy white clouds as our family drove to Kelowna International Airport. We were going to pick up my older sister, Becky, at the airport and then spend the rest of the Sabbath relaxing in the gorgeous Okanagan summer weather. After a happy reunion at the airport, we loaded Becky's bags into the back of the truck and started for home. As we drove down Hwy 97 back into Kelowna, my mum called, "Look at the sky." All six pairs of eyes immediately scanned the horizon and then stared at a huge plume of smoke rising between two mountains in the west. I said what we all instinctively knew. "Forest fire."

The residents of the Okanagan Valley are no strangers to forest fires. Six years ago, on August 16 (ironically another gorgeous summer Sabbath), a lightning strike started an enormous fire in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park that devasted the park, decimated the crownland forest and burned more than 230 homes on the edge of Kelowna before it was contained. There have been a few forest fires nearby in the years since 2003, but none have been near as huge or as dangerous as that firestorm. Now we are facing the fear and uncertainty of fire threatening our town again.

When we got home, Tyler, my mum and I looked at the local news website and learned this new fire was in West Kelowna, a town across Okanagan Lake from the city of Kelowna. The fire started in Glenrosa, an area northwest of the town. One of my high school classmates lives right near where the fire originated and her family was immediately evacuated. We also have an Adventist church in the area. Our church pastor and my high school French and choir teacher live nearby. They might have been evacuated during the night.

A little while after we got home, some of us headed out again to find out more. We crossed the lake and watched the fire from the highway when we got caught in traffic. We found a place to turn off and drove to a park right on the water where we watched the helicopters fill their buckets with water and fly off to fight the fire. Water bombers were dropping fire retardant on the edges of the fire to try and keep it from spreading. After watching them work and cheering for them as they swooped down low to the water, we drove back to Kelowna. Later on in the evening, Bryn, Tyler and I walked up a few streets to a high point that looked over the whole town. The Glenrosa fire looked like it was getting a little less smoky. But as we started back down, I happened to look north and saw smoke-clouds coming from the mountains west of our airport. We quickly went home and checked the news again. There was a new fire, also across the lake, but miles north of Glenrosa. This fire started in the Terrace Mountain area. My family just took a quad trip to the top of Terrace Mountain two weeks ago when we were camping on the west side of the lake. I know there are many dry trees in the area, destroyed by pine beetles. After sundown worship, I kept up with the fires' progess by reading all the local news reports online. I even found out that had the story at the top of the national news all afternoon and evening last night. It's still the highest story on this morning. Around 10 p.m. when I was listening to the radio, I heard reports of a third fire in Rose Valley, only five kilometres north of the Glenrosa fire. My mum, dad, Bryn and I drove up into the mountains near the lake on the Kelowna side and my mum took pictures of the new fire, the only one we could see clearly from that vantage point. When we got home, around midnight, I stopped on our front steps and looked west. There, looking very, very close, I could see the new Rose Valley fire burning brightly.

This morning all three fires are bigger. The helicopters and water bombers, which had to stop working at sunset, have started fighting the blazes again. Despite ground crews working all night, six more houses (nine in total since yesterday afternoon) burned in the Glenrosa area. The Terrace Mountain fire is larger, but no people live in the area, so no one has had to be evacuated yet.

The Rose Valley fire is getting quite close to town and another high school classmate's family is on evacuation alert. They've taken in some people from the Glenrosa fire and now they might all have to relocate again.

I walk outside and smell burning trees. The sky is hazy. Tiny bits of ash float to the ground beside me. And I know the same thing that everyone else in this valley knows. This time, these fires weren't started by a lightning strike...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Unsolvable Ponderings

I've noticed a trend on lately. Readers posting story comments about crime and violence-type stories bemoan the fact that Canada has no death penalty. These readers are quick to post that, while so-and-so deserves capital punishment, (s)he will get an easy sentence and be back to their crime-filled lives in no time. All because on July 14, 1976, 33 years ago today, Canada abolished the death penalty.

I rarely read's On This Day section, but once in awhile the event will catch my eye. Today I noticed the picture link just after reading yet another comment decrying Canada's apparently (at least to this particular poster) lenient criminal sentences. The timing amused me and I clicked on the link to learn more about why Canada decided to get rid of capital punishment. I was surprised to learn that the United States reinstated the death penalty that same July, just after Canada abolished the practice.

After reading the pertinent information, I went back to the main news page. The first story I saw there told of an 85-year-old British conductor who traveled to Switzerland with his wife to die at an assisted suicide clinic. Again I found the timing fascinatingly odd and read the article.

I've been thinking about the two death-related articles all day. I have no concrete opinion on either issue. I can think of numerous pros and cons to both sides of each issue. I have especially been contemplating the double standard between human death and animal death. Why is euthanizing animals who become too old or ill to enjoy a healthy and happy existence viewed as humane and a common decency? Why is euthanizing humans exhibiting similar age or illness considered so offensive? I'm not saying that I would ever assist a suicide (or want someone to assist me). I'm also not saying I would never put a hurting animal down (or attempt lifesaving measures). I'm just trying to practice unbiased thinking and questioning... What makes capital punishment (or the lack of it) right? What makes mercy killing (or being opposed to it) wrong?

Friday, July 03, 2009

War Crimes

"Accused Nazi guard Demjanjuk deemed fit for trial," the headline proclaimed, grabbing my attention.

I took the bait and clicked the link, wondering what shocking deeds this former Nazi guard had committed. As I read the article, my feelings changed. I realized John Demjanjuk was a Ukrainian accused (a word my eyes skipped over in the headline), not convicted, of "being complicit in the murders of 29,000 Jews." By the time I finished the article, I recalled one of my favourite children's lit. books, "Hope's War" by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. That book, which I first read as a sixteen-year-old (one year older than the book's protagonist), made a huge impact on me. Now that I think of it, reading "Hope's War" is probably the reason I eventually decided on a career in journalism. It taught me that there are two sides to every story and each side needs to be given a voice. The book's controversial storyline is not unlike the news story I read this morning. In Demjanjuk's case, I can only hope that all those involved in his trial remember to weigh both sides with equal fairness and justice. Background on "Hope's War."

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Canada Day!

I wish you all a happy and glorious Canada Day. Exactly one year ago my family and grandparents enjoyed the festivities at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. It was awesome and I would encourage every Canadian to experience the capital-city celebration at least once. Even though I had a blast last year, I'm excited to be celebrating Canada Day in Kelowna again. My family is planning to take advantage of the perfect weather and go boating this afternoon and then head downtown to the Waterfront in the evening to watch the fireworks. All in all, it should be a great holiday, even without all the Ottawa-style excitement we took part in last year.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, I found a random CBC TV sign-off video clip.
I like the shots and the accurate depiction of life and scenery in all areas of Canada.
I also think the intro is really awesome and leads perfectly into the anthem. Enjoy!