Forty-five degrees and rising. The smell of cottonwood lingers, its sap stuck between my toes, bonding my bare feet to dust and leaves wherever they step. And my fingertips, like scented glue sticks, collect twigs and pebbles and everything else they touch. The smell of summer is almost familiar here, lounging by the Cayoosh Creek, pinned into laziness by this foreign heat. Nothing is refreshing here. Even in the shade it is too hot to rest. The wind is as hot as my breath and drier than my chapped lips.
We’re at a rest area roadside along Highway 99, the Sea to Sky Highway. It’s too hot to be driving now. We’re not the only ones who think it. There’s a father and son, strutting upstream with their fishing gear. There’s an aging couple in a caravan, idly preparing a meal. There’s an official looking man examining a cable box in the parking lot, overheated in his professional uniform. I’m with my good friend Sarah. She’s in the shade, topless in tattered cutoffs and bare feet, gathering sage and huckleberries. The horseflies are nibbling at her flesh. She swats at them with a ribbon of long grass she’s bound together, mimicking the defensive flick of a horse’s tale. Logical. We’ve been in the area only a few days and already have seemingly adapted to the constant gnaw of the oversized flies.
Better than mosquitoes, I suppose. Leave no trace of poison. They only take a bite. And Sarah and I have very much been bitten. Bits of our flesh have been stolen and are buzzing all through the Caribou in the greedy mouths of many a horsefly. Amplified by the presence of horseflies and incessant heat, at this roadside picnic area, there is the distinct odor of dried dog poo being reheated by the sun. It’s here only to spite us, a putrid scent layered amongst the pleasant ones, so when we breathe deeply, thinking we’ll capture flowers and cottonwood, we’re hit with a sample of heated poo wafting about.
Sarah, off scavenging through the scents and shrubbery, returns with a handful of Oregon grapes. I slip a berry into my mouth, it is precariously bitter. Tastes like poison. Nature’s warning, Do Not Eat. But we do anyway, because we know, not from instinct, but from textbooks and experience, that it is in fact, edible. I pinch a berry between my fingertips and smear the color across my legs and hands. Blue turns to purple to red. Like makeup, we color our lips with it, sour and alluring. We pucker in pride, like small girls playing with their mother’s stolen lipstick. I lick my lips; wash away the stain and sample the stinging bitterness of the poisonless fruit.
Covered in saps and berry juices, messy, as unattended children, not unsupervised adults, we giggle our way to the creek and plunge in, purifying and refreshing our heated bodies. Only twenty minutes along the Sea to Sky Highway into Lillooet, so we’ll take our time. Lounging and laughing in the smells of a BC summer.