The Epistle of Q — Chapter Thirty-Nine

Just what is the Meadowlark Festival and why did I attend?

Every Victoria Day weekend in Penticton (and other parts of the South Okanagan) a dedicated group of volunteers puts on a festival to celebrate and explore the outdoors. There are literary dozens of different events from bird watching to bat studying to rock investigations to whatever someone is willing to share their expertise about.

When I returned to the Okanagan four years ago, I signed up for about eight different events — two a day for four days. By the end I was really tuckered out, so to speak. The next couple of years I restrained myself to a mere couple throughout the weekend. It worked so well that this year I determined that a larger involvement was again warranted. Not sure that my analysis was spot on, but nevertheless I signed up for six different events. In the end, I again was tired but a great deal more knowledgeable about the South Okanagan — the place I probably will live in for the rest of my days. Here is a brief synopsis of the weekend.

Day 1: Morning — Spotted Lake
For any prairie kid this is a fascinating place. Basically an alkali slough except that there are these amazing circles throughout the lake. At times they are even different colours. I had a basic idea how the system works from my days on the homestead ranch in Saskatchewan as well as the times I had student mission fields in rural Alberta and Manitoba. Saline water with no noticeable outlet can create a special eco-system, mostly devoid of fish and plant life the edges are very white from the alkali/salt build up.

This trip was organized with Aboriginal leadership and perspective as Spotted Lake is once again under control of/jurisdiction of the Okanagan Nation. This interested me because I wanted to know more about the Aboriginal uses of the waters, particularly because there is some ancient history that suggests it was a healing centre. After an initial orientation at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos (a place you should definitely visit as it shows what strong economic development-minded First Nations’ leadership can do for its people), we headed off to the site on the traditional lands of the Osoyoos Indian Band.

Unfortunately the rest of the trip was decidedly uninformed. As for the scientific aspects of the lake, the only answer we got was that the research to date is inconclusive. As for the Aboriginal aspects, the response was to take us down along the lake shore. However the water is very high this year so the circles are not too visible and the explanations of activities in the past were vague. I could understand if there is a cultural reluctance to share medicinal secrets; but this was a tour that claimed to educate participants to this cultural aspect of the lake as well as explain the aquatic science that causes the circles. Neither happened. I did learn later in the weekend, following a geological event that the lake is implanted by subterranean activities that force warmer water up into the formation, acting on the minerals in the water and soil to create the various circles. I will follow this up in another Epistle because it is an interesting phenomenon.

Day 1: evening — the Bat Trail
My faith in the Meadowlark Festival was restored in the evening with my trip to Peachland. I have always had an appreciation of bats and their abilities to reduce the bug population, especially mosquitoes and other pesky critters of the early evening and dawning. As you know, I now live near a creek and like the home in PEI which was near a man-made reservoir that began to produce mosquitoes, I’ve felt a desire to install a bat house as a way to discourage such pests from lingering in the neighbourhood — especially in the early evening when friends are over to enjoy a glass or three of the Okanagan’s finest wines. So I signed up for this tour in an attempt to learn a bit more.

A bit more? Definitely an understatement. The tour guide was very organized to begin with — throughout the walk we were kept on time and focused on each step of the journey. The expert was just that, a person with a Masters degree in Bat Science. Every stop along this trail (which has been built for the public, with countless learning stations along the route, and very near civilization including a school) is a wonderful walk. Learning moments occur constantly and the expert was very deft at answering questions, even from an inquisitive five year old who had good questions. The club in Peachland that aims to protect and enhance bats should be given a collective Order of Canada — they are dedicated yes, but more importantly, they have steeped themselves in knowledge so all that they do is for a purpose and with a latent professional focus.

The walk concluded back at the Info Centre which is in an old school. When it underwent renovations the group maintained the attic in its original state as it had become a bat haven. Thus at dusk we got to watch the bats coming out of the various vents — probably over 5,000 in all. In addition, early that day the expert had captured one and put it in a safety bag. As the bats were leaving for their time of foraging, she showed us this bat so we could see how small it actually is and how large the wings are. It was fascinating to watch it actually try to bite the expert and when she finally let it go, it took only an instant to fly around is and then off to hunt.

Inside the Centre was a plethora of information plus actual bat houses, etc. for purchase. There also was a live video stream from a camera in the attic. It was interesting to watch the colony just prior to the time the bats left for the hunt. All in all, a very informative evening — including the advice that if one installs a bat house, there is no guarantee bats will come, and make sure the house is at least 4 metres in the air with no branches, or other impediments below it as bats like to drop out of their nest and then begin to fly and climb.