Last summer, while residing at the UBCO campus, I accepted an invitation from a reader I sometimes correspond with to join her and her girlfriend on a driving tour. As with most Okanagan driving tours, wine is involved. But because this was billed as a “tour of my youth” -- “in honour,” she added, of a book I once wrote that functioned as a tour of Vancouver in the 1970s -- we visited spaces only teenagers know about.
One such space was atop the bluffs of the Upper Mission, where between stops at Summerhill Pyramid Winery and St. Hubertus I was shown a Quilchena Park quite different from the Quilchena Park of my youth, as well as a stretch of road affected by the Kelowna fire of 2003. Most curious about this stretch was a situation that featured two alternating phases of mansion housing, with many of these houses appearing in an “order” out-of-phase with the usual pattern of property development -- an order so random as to suggest an otherworldliness that some might associate with Surrealism.
“The most unsettling part of this fire,” the Reader began, “was not the incineration of my aunt’s house, but that the houses on either side of it were untouched.”
It was then explained to me by the Reader’s girlfriend (a volunteer at a West Kootenay fire station) that the presence of wind and fire together allows for a condition where within seconds a canvas patio umbrella can be lifted from the ground, set ablaze and propelled through a dormer up to two miles away. (Another explanation might have it that these houses are spaced so far apart from each other -- on lots upwards of three times the size of those found in the city -- that the likelihood of one house setting fire to the one beside is almost nil.)
“It’s God’s will!” proclaimed the Reader as we pulled into St. Hubertus.
“Only if you believe in Her,” said her friend.