Life Above The 50th

A New Mexican Family Explores Life in Northern British Columbia

Heading South January 28, 2009

Filed under: Family — tellesca @ 1:24 pm
Skidoo-sledding with the Allie and Alex

Skidoo-sledding with Allie and Alex

This is not an easy post to write… which is why I have put it off as long as possible, though this will only make it seem more sudden. We are returning to New Mexico.

I realize there has been no warning; no allusions to doubts or difficulties. An experience is what you make of it, and we gave this one our best. When we moved here only five months ago, we did not think we would be going back. Yet, things can change, and here we find ourselves packing again.

The reason is mostly financial.  We have a house, and certain responsiblities in New Mexico which we need to take care of. However, it has not been an easy decision. It nearly breaks my heart to not be here to see spring come, to watch the willows burst into green and the ice break up and float away down the river. It will not be easy to exchange our wild “back yard” of fields, trees, and river for the tiny one behind our house in the neat and proper little town of White Rock. I am sad when I think of the black soil under the white snow; my garden plot which will not be planted.

That we are leaving does not diminish our experience here at Graham and with the Smith family, who shared their time and their lives with us. How can you go through a northern winter together, and not come out closer on the other side? Our last few meals have been poignant, and we have lingered around the table, talking, till late. Allison staged one last theatrical dance with Lyra and Marley. Tonight, she built a “house” in the living room, and she and Alex crawled in there with the kids after supper and told spooky stories. We know Lyra and Marley will miss their big brothers and sisters. Nick will miss teaching kung fu to four energetic students, and though he would never admit it, I know he will miss his sessions with a certain yellow-handled maul in front of the woodshed.

We feel privileged to have had this time here, and though we wish it could have been longer, we leave with only good memories. Having more time together as a family, we have come to appreciate each other more. A recent letter from a friend in New Mexico expressed how I feel about our remote circumstances. “Really, this experience with your family and just daily living is an incredible time. You have none of the “clutter” (TV, American society, social pressures to do this or that) to distract you from what really means the most. You can really appreciate the simple and lovely parts of life. I know you have always done this, but being away from all of… this… just makes it easier.”

We were out walking today. I was lost in my own thoughts, and Marley looked up at me with such a sweet smile, and said, “Mommy, don’t you just love these kind of days?” To me, it wasn’t anything special, but Marley was just enjoying being outside, being a part of it all. They are so quick to point things out. They are the ones to notice the magpies outside on our stump bird feeders (the only birds we’ve managed to attract all winter). They are the ones to cry, “Look, the sky is on fire!” at sunset, or “Look at the tire tracks in the sky!” I realized recently, that they are repeating back to me things I’ve said to them since they were babies, “Look all around you at the world; isn’t it beautiful?” Here, though, you don’t have to look very hard to see beauty; it is all around.

Ice crystals on the Graham at -40 C

Ice crystals on the Graham at -40 C

We have so appreciated all the people whom we’ve met and who have shared with us this winter. It has been different living two hours from a grocery store, but that is not the reason I’ve bought so few groceries. I have not purchased a pound of meat all winter, yet we’ve had more than enough: pork(ham, bacon, sausage), lamb, elk, venison, beef, even grouse(a small wild game bird with dark meat). We’ve had potatoes, carrots, beets from a friend’s garden and apples from the Okanagan Valley in the root cellar all winter. My mom sent me home with bags of frozen wild berries each time we visited, and we’ve enjoyed those nearly every day. Our Russian neighbors down the road at the Maccabee community shared fresh milk and eggs with us each week. (I have missed good, dark leafy greens and fantasize about fresh rhubarb chard, or springtime baby leaves of lettuce, but soon enough.)

The children and I fly out of Fort St John on the morning of Sunday, February 1st. My brother booked us tickets on his airmiles to Seattle, and from there, we fly to Albuquerque. The kids are incredibly excited to be flying for the first time (that they remember). Nick is sorry to be missing this as he gets the enviable task of driving our belongings south for four days, accompanied by Zia and Mittens, the cat. The task of moving being so much more overwhelming with a newborn, we decided to do so before the baby’s arrival. I have already made an appointment with a midwife in Santa Fe, and am very much looking forward to having this baby at home.

Less than two months to go!

Less than two months to go!

I have so enjoyed taking the time to write, besides my journal, and would like to continue to do so, though it will take a different form. Something like “family living in Northern New Mexico”, and those of you who appreciate excursions into nature, gardening, homeschooling, and cooking (the wonderful, varied life of a mother) might enjoy the read. I’ll be sure to post a link on here when we get settled in again. Thanks for all your support and encouragement, every one of you.

Fiona's (the horse) pasture down by the beaver pond

In Fiona (the horse's) pasture down by the beaver pond


Starwatching January 23, 2009

Filed under: Family,Nature — tellesca @ 3:41 pm

Our house sits atop a high bank at the edge of a river. Surrounding us are fields, with hills a distance away. We have a good view of the sky. Really, the only thing blocking our view are old buildings. In winter, the sun travels only about 90 degrees in the sky, so from our southern-facing window, we watch the sun rise, and a few hours later, set.

We’ve become more aware of the weather: cloud patterns, sun patterns, and of the night sky as well: moon patterns, the planets, and stars. Marley woke up the other morning, padded downstairs, and asked me, “Mom, can you show me the moon?” It was a thin crescent, barely visible. We watch the moon in the middle of the night, too, after a trip to the bathroom, or a bad dream.

The other night we were walking home from supper at Dave and Sue’s. “Look at the stars, mom,” said Lyra. “I know what we should do! We should get a flashlight, get our star book, and go look at the stars.” It was already past bedtime, but that was just what we did, first stopping at the house to get some warmer clothes. It was a perfect night for observing stars. At the tail end of the warm spell, it was perhaps –5 C, no wind, no moon, and clear. Lyra had picked a good night.

A little ways behind our house at the edge of the riverbank is a high vantage point, nearly clear of trees. Lyra spotted Orion right away, and the Pleiades, a little cluster of stars also know as “the Seven Sisters” in Taurus. Marley loved Venus, which was enormous in the southwestern sky, and also the Big Dipper. He was somewhat preoccupied, however, with various concerns about owls, wolves, and bears, which fears his father played upon by making low growling noises. Lyra and I were busy with the star chart. We found Caster and Pollux, “The Twins”, Big Dog, and Little Dog. In the northern sky, Lyra’s constellation was just setting, with its bright star, Vega, glittering on the horizon. After a few minutes, we’d had enough and ran back to the house, the kids yelling, “Come on! Hurry!”, anxious to get inside safe from imaginary wild animals.

As we got jammies on, I read a few “star stories” from H. A. Rey’s book, on Constellations. It’s a good one to have around.


The Big Hill January 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — tellesca @ 5:48 pm


The warm weather and sun have continued for the last few days. We play outside until we get completely soaked, then come in to dry off. Usually, the snow is so dry and cold, this doesn’t happen. Yesterday, we checked out the “Big Hill” across the river, about 3 kms from our house. We drove, then hiked in and up. This hill cannot be sledded until there is plenty of snow, as it is very fast with some wicked bumps. There was no trace of other humans. The snow glittered under a bright blue sky. Nick brought his snowboard and got some runs in. Once we broke a trail, the run was super fast, but the deep snow provided plenty of cushion. Lyra and I screamed lots, and everyone got thoroughly wet.

Last night for supper, I cooked some venison chops my brother had given me. They were so good, I had to share my method. First I salted them and seared them in a cast iron skillet, cooking them medium rare. I set them aside, and deglazed the pan with a bit of brandy and apple juice. I then added a couple handfuls of frozen huckleberries, which I mashed with a fork a bit. I reduced this a little, then added a small spoon of honey, a splash of balsamic, and a big lump of butter. I served the chops over polenta with this sauce. Marley said, “Mmmm this meat is the best I ever had. Can we have this every night?” Although it was a compliment to Uncle Josh’s venison, I think the huckleberry sauce may have had something to do with it.



Chinook Winds January 17, 2009

Filed under: Nature,Uncategorized,Winter Fun — tellesca @ 2:54 pm

My mom called the other day, and asked, “How’s the warm weather?” “Well, it’s not exactly warm. It’s still –15C,” I responded. “Oh, well we heard you were going to get up to 5C today (40F).” My mom listens to CBC every day, and always knows what the weather is around the province. I laughed. “That would be nice…” After over a month of serious cold temperatures, we were resigned a frozen state for the rest of the winter.

The day slowly warmed up, however, and when I loaded the stove before bed, it felt different outside. That night the wind picked up, whipping around the tarp on our woodpile. It blew the clouds out of the sky and the beautiful bright moon shone into our room. In the morning, the thermometer registered above 0C. After the sun came up, we went out to play. The dry snow crystals were barely sticking together yet, but we managed a couple of small snowmen, and then headed up the road for a walk. It felt like spring. A warm wind was blowing. We took off our hats, closed our eyes, and let the sun warm our faces. I could just feel the Vitamin D, which I haven’t gotten in its non-pill form for a while now. The kids were giddy, giggly, walking silly. We walked up to camp, and I got a couple of yogurts from the fridge. We sat at the picnic table outside and had a picnic. Nick and Will had just come back from a town trip and were unloading groceries in their tee-shirts, which Lyra and Marley thought was very funny. I told them that in the Yukon, when the Chinook winds blew, I used to go skiing in just a tee-shirt. I still recall that feeling of freedom, after wearing so many layers to go out.

Today was even warmer – up to 8C (46 F). The sun was warm, too. We went for a ski along the river. Zia plunged through the chest-deep snow, which she usually hates, and for once was not shivering. There were animal tracks everywhere: tiny tracks running across the surface of the snow as clear as writing, and heavy tracks, obscured by the deep snow. Everything is still in the deep cold. Today, the trees dripped. The river rushed and gurgled, making pools through the ice. Birds flew overhead and called: magpies, ravens, jays. Marley closed his eyes and looked at the sun. “I’m getting some Double AA”, he said.


Christmas Memories January 10, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — tellesca @ 7:49 pm
Lyra and Haidi

Lyra and Haidi

It is a full moon night here at Graham:  a brilliant night with no clouds and moonlight glittering on the snow.  The moonlight is so  much more noticeable here, when a moonless night is completely dark.

It is well into January already, and I haven’t said a word about our Christmas trip to visit my family.  As always, it was a busy time.  My brother’s children are now 6 months and 2 1/2, and by the time the kids were in bed at night, we were pretty much worn out.  We spent most of out time at my brother’s place in Smithers, BC,  driving an hour to my parent’s place in the Hazelton’s several times.  My parents have recently acquired a goat.  Not just any goat, of course.  A purebred black Kashmir billy.  My mother is into fibers; she has spun, woven, and knit for years, and kept angora rabbits for some time as well.  I somehow did not photograph the splendid specimen known as “Pepito”, but believe me, he is one of the family already!  My mom plans to add a couple of nannies to her small herd in the spring.  Milk, fiber, and living weed-whackers all in one.

Some highlights of our vist were:

The warmer weather!  It actually warmed up to -5 C (23 F) one day, and though we had some cold weather, it was quite a bit warmer than what they were getting on the other side of the Rockies.  We got outside a lot with the kids.

Christmas Eve at my parents.  Cheese fondue and presents.  They had a little jack pine from their property which was decorated with rose hip chains, antique glass balls from the thrift store, and various jaunty bits of ribbon.  I thought it was charming.  Nick thought it looked a lot like the trees I had picked out when we were tree-hunting.

Christmas Day at Josh and Laura’s.  No presents to open, so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of Laura’s wonderful panetone, bacon, eggs, and oranges.  After several cups of coffee all around, we bundled up and headed down the road to the golf course, walking distance from their house, to check out the sledding.  We were the only ones on the hill, and after loads of fresh air, laughter, and exercise, the kids took amazing naps.  My brother Josh and I cooked Christmas dinner together.  We had a great time hanging out with each other, and produced an amazing meal with relatively little fuss.  Mom and Dad came in mid-afternoon in time for an apertif, and some grandkid time.  Laura’s brother and his wife, who happened to be in town visiting family, were surprised by the early arrival of their first child Christmas morning, so Josh and Laura squeezed in a visit to the hospital to visit their new nephew.  A lovely day.

Josh undertook making a batch of sausage with some of his venison, and our pork.  He borrowed a sausage maker, we brought our grinder, and Laura and I happily let Josh and Nick go at it while we took a nice long walk with Jesse (the baby).  When we returned, there was raw meat from one end of the kitchen to the other, but the sausages (similar to a bratwurst), were so impressive we didn’t say much about the epic cleanup.

Watching the cousins play together.  Marley and Ava were well matched, and Marley enjoyed telling someone else what to do, though Ava didn’t let herself be pushed around.  Ava’s two year-old ways did not mesh with Lyra’s well-formed plans of play, so it was telling when towards the end of the visit, she informed us that “I love Ava much more than I used to,” and on New Year’s Eve, she said, “Good-night, best friend.”

Great music and dancing at Driftwood Hall.   Josh and Laura, (who incidentally were married at this beautiful community hall) bought us and several other friends tickets to a dance featuring a couple of local bands.  Mom and Dad babysat all four grandkids, which is saying something, as they usually go to bed at nine.  It was a great time which I wouldn’t have missed for the world, as it’s been far too long since we’ve been dancing.  Now, dancing in public is one of those things which is made far easier by the consumption of a little alcohol to loosen the limbs so to speak.  Nick was soon loosened up, and though I was probably the only sober person in the place (except for a pregnant friend), I was not about to let the opportunity pass me by!  Los Gringos Salvages was the main band; sort a Latin/klezmer sound.  Lots of fun.  Mom and Dad were still up when we got home after midnight, and so was Jesse.  Apparently Lyra and Marley were still making trips to the bathroom at 10:30.

Hanging out at the homestead.  We spent several quiet days at mom and dad’s place, enjoying mom’s cooking, (lasagna with homemade noodles, ground lamb, and fresh sheep’s milk ricotta), shoveling snow, and stacking wood.  We also took a great snow walk with mom one bright morning, exploring parts of their property which are dense with roses and brambles in the summer.  Their property has a variety of trees – birch, cottonwood, willow, several pines and spruces, and even cedars.

Snowboarding at six-and-a-half months pregnant.  I figured out early not to fall on my butt in the powder, as it was almost impossible to get back on my feet.  My bro took me up the ski hill on December 31st.  We caught a ride up the T-bar the last run of the day, hiked a bit to the top of the chair, and then did a sweet run.   Last summer, a run was put in from the bottom of the chair to the town of Smithers.  3750 vertical feet.  It was amazing to be up at the top of the hill as the sun was setting, and to be the only ones on the hill.  Thanks, Josh.  You made up for the first time you took me boarding, 16 years ago, when you took me up to the top of the T-bar and said “see you at the bottom!”  You’ve come a long way!

Click here to view more Christmas Photos!


Reflections of 2008 January 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — tellesca @ 8:44 pm
Happy New Year!  Lyra, Marley, and Ava with sparklers

Happy New Year! Lyra, Marley, and Ava with sparklers

As a small group of family and friends sat around the living room New Year’s Eve at my brother Josh’s house in Smithers, BC, his wife Laura asked, “Resolutions, anyone?”  Most of us shook our heads.  I gave up on resolutions years ago.  One year when I was a teenager, I made too many, too hard, and gave up on the concept.  Keeping up with small children often leaves little time for reflection, yet I see looking back as important for personal growth which I have NOT given up on.  A new year gives us a new chance, much the same as a new day:  to start fresh, to learn from our mistakes, to look ahead, to live more fully.

2008 brought change in our lives in a way I did not anticipate.  I did not envision myself sitting here at Graham River Farm, gazing out at snowdrifts sparkling in the sunshine and abandoned cabins mounded in white, nor did I remember exactly how cold -40 is!  2008 brought us from a tidy new home on a tiny lot in a friendly neighborhood town in warm, sunny New Mexico, to a fixer-upper on an ex-community in northern British Columbia, backed up to a beautiful river, surrounded by room for the children to run.  We went from having Nick’s family, and our close friends, right down the street to a place where the neighbors, (with the exception of the Smith family whom we see most days), are at least a 20 km drive.  Nick left a steady job in technology education with a fixed salary and set days for something much less certain:  working at the camp just down the road,  and here around the farm.  We have felt lonely, scared, exhilerated, elated, and definitely cold!  We have missed our family, friends, and the beautiful place we lived for five years.  Why did we do what we did?  What have we gained in exchange for what we left behind?

I think the simplest answer is it did not take any courage to do what we were doing.  Not that there is anything wrong with a steady job, and staying in one place; in fact, one of these days, I fully intend to put some roots down (it’s all Nick’s fault!).  But the truth was, deep down, we wanted to do something different, and for a long time we were just too scared.  Scared of making a mistake; of losing whatever securities we had worked for.  Now, I realize when you make a choice, from your heart trying to do the best for you and your family, there is no such thing as a mistake.  You will gain, learn, and grow, as we have.

We have grown closer as a family.  Nick has had more time with the children; they have played and worked more together.  As Nick has been around more, this has caused some adjustment on my part learning to work together everyday and to let go of petty disagreements and attitudes.  There is nowhere to get away from each other, and no girlfriend down the street to commiserate with me!  Focusing on the good in each other is key to growing in love, and it is essential in other relationships as well.  Not being around as many people, I’ve found myself more thankful for the company of the ones I have,  such as my family and the Smiths, as well as meeting various community members and neighbors.

We have learned that we love the wilderness/wild places.  Although the cold has been hard and kept us indoors the past couple weeks, we have found ways to enjoy winter, and never tire of the quiet, the solitude, or the beauty.  The sky is so dark at night.  We watch the changing cycles of the moon, and can see all the stars stretched across the great night.

We have learned to trust God in a way that our past life did not require of us.  Again, that is not to say that this cannot be learned in a less extreme setting, but I guess we are just stubborn.  I do know that I have a hard time letting go of control.  When things are predictable, and life is comfortable; when I am capable of taking care of things in my domain, I don’t have much need for God.  I am learning personally, for the first time, how much he cares about the little things, and that is proving to me that I can trust him to take of things much greater.  Thanks for all your encouragement and input; we really appreciate it. We are so thankful to be here, and look forward to all that lies ahead in 2009.


Merry Midwinter! December 24, 2008

Filed under: Family,Seasons,Winter Fun — tellesca @ 1:15 pm
Sunset at 4 P.M. - December 21st

Sunset at 4 P.M. - December 21st

The cold weather of last week has continued and become even more extreme.  The thermometer finally hit -40 two nights ago, and then sagged a little below that.  There is a big difference between -40 and -25 C.  The cold bites; stings; takes your breath away.  I don’t want to go out.  I put off as long as possible opening the door and getting a piece of wood.  Our house has stayed quite cozy, thanks to Nick getting up and stoking the fire in the night.  Physical activity has been limited to yoga mat (me), and wrestling games (Nick and the kids).  When all else fails, we get a big pile of blankets and pillows and build a “house”.


Back of our House and Various Abandoned Buildings

The days, though short, have been clear and bright.  The sun woke up sleepily on the the shortest day of the year.  It finally decided to peek over the edge of the hill at 10:35 am, December 21st.  We were glad to see it even though it didn’t warm things up very much.  It LOOKED warm, anyway!  We had a cozy day inside preparing for a Winter Solstice party, as the Smith family was invited over for an evening of food and fun.  The fire was roaring; candles and lamps were lit giving the place a warm glow.  Hot apple cider simmered on the wood stove, and spicy Mexican coffee as well for later on.  When it is that cold outside, there’s really not much better to do than eat, drink, talk, and play games.

Nutcrackers Guarding the Nuts

Nutcrackers Guarding the Nuts

Nick, Alex, and Allison built several hot air balloons with dry cleaner bags, straws, and birthday candles, and at the end of the evening, we all bundled up and went outside to watch the ascent.  Nick lit the 64 birthday candles with steady fingers… and we watched the four balloons take off into inky black sky until they were only  four bright planets, bobbing and weaving somewhere below Orion’s belt.  Then, we ran for the warm house!

Here’s to the days getting longer. Even though we have that to look forward to, we still have the coldest months of the year ahead of us.  I got out and took some pictures just as the sun set, about 3:58.  I hope you appreciate them, because my fingers sure were cold.

Lyra Making Sugar Cookies

Lyra Making Sugar Cookies