LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
My stepdaughter Gabrielle and I just spent the last week in Kelowna, British Columbia, to celebrate my little brother Matthew’s wedding. In the time we were there, I was reminded of just how much work planning that Big Day is. Every morning, we’d sit around the kitchen table and the questions would start. Would it rain? Did they need to rent a tent in case it did? Why hadn’t they heard from the caterers? Should they stop at the music store to make sure they knew what they needed for the DJ? Would it rain?
But one morning, in the midst of the flurry, Gabrielle and I escaped in our runners to head out for a walk. Shortly after we hit the road, Gabrielle pointed out what she termed “a goat path,” a narrow trail that carved out of the side of the hill between a few houses. Eager to get off the boring pavement, we headed up and soon the path widened into a trail that climbed upwards.
With the thrill of discovery spreading across her face, Gabrielle walked on and I followed, hoping against hope the trail wouldn’t end so our little walk could turn into an adventure.
For those of you who have never been, Kelowna is in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, which is well known for the wine produced at the many vineyards nestled inside it. The town itself is surrounded by the Rockies and then anchored with a stunning, expansive lake that adds sparkle to almost every view. Couple all that with vast orchards bursting with cherries, peaches, apricots and apples and you have a pretty fine place to have a wedding.
Very quickly, the goal of our trek was to get high enough so we could get the very best view. Since the only way was up, we kept climbing and, soon, my calves were burning and I could hear Gabrielle breathing hard behind me. But the heat of the fall sun was soft, and there was the perfect amount of breeze to keep us cool. The path itself was littered with pink and grey granite stone, along with amber needles that had fallen from the towering pines that surrounded us.
We came upon a water reservoir, rounded the corner and then spied some giant boulders in the distance, the tops of which promised the view we were looking for. We beelined for them, abandoning the path, and were soon debating the best way to scramble up this hunk of Canadian Shield.
Climbing rocks has been one of the best parts of our summer, with Gabrielle especially keen to conquer any summit she’s run in to during our many hikes. At the beginning of the season, she chose her footing carefully, hesitating between steps, opting to slide down on her bum rather than risk a fall. But now she was an old pro, finding her footing easily, propelling herself up with grace, trusting her increasingly tall and lean body to negotiate the descents. As for me, I never grew out of my love of climbing rocks, so I was happy to tag along.
Upon reaching the top of this climb, we realized we’d found what we were looking for: a vast vista showcasing this truly outstanding collection of mountain and water. We sat down on the rock and contemplated for a while, recovering our breath, watching the boats draw white wakes into the blue and even listening to the chime of a few church bells.
Already thrilled with our day, we decided to head back, this time opting to make our own path through the desert scrub and moss that lines most of the mountainside. On our last turn before we rejoined the trail though, we noticed some piles of sticks that Gabrielle decided needed exploring. Upon getting closer, we saw the sticks were, in fact, knitted together like huge birds nests. Each circle had a small entry into it and from inside you, at once, could imagine boys and girls playing, either as soldiers protecting their fortress or girls setting up elaborate games of “house.” Linking the nests together were small paths lined with little granite stones tucked together like gumdrops. In a third nest, we found that its base had been packed with soft moss and downy grass — a space clearly designed for napping or reading a book.
We walked around completely enchanted, talking in whispers, feeling like we’d discovered someone’s fantastic secret up on the mountaintop. Immediately I knew this was the moment that would top off our trip — and our summer. Gabrielle and I looked at each other, and we silently headed back down, rejoicing in our perfect wedding gift.