FLORENCE GILKESON: Wrong Team: What an Awkward Time to Vacation in Edmonton
Imagine landing in Edmonton, Canada, within four days after the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup, or as one Canadian put it: "We were whupped."
Two advantages went my way. One, I am not a hockey fan. In fact, I'm not much of a sports fan of any kind. The other advantage was the gracious behavior of the Canadians I met.
In the company of a predominantly South Carolina group, I thought it wise to call attention to the presence of three Tar Heels on our tour of the Canadian Rockies. We decided to downplay our presence in the land where hockey is not merely a sport, but rather a passion.
One of the first sights spotted when our bus arrived in Edmonton was a street named for Wayne Gretzky.
Our bus driver, Gary, surprised me by admitting that he did not pull for the Oilers.
Pressed for details, Gary said he did not root for the Canes so much as he simply did not want the Oilers to win. He expressed disgust at the behavior of some players, many of whom, he said, have a penchant toward arrogrant and rude behavior. He was angry about such things as general carousing, getting drunk, having accidents and expecting special treatment.
Then our Canadian guide, Lynda, grew philosophical about the Oilers' loss by pointing out that most of the Hurricanes are Canadians. In a way, she theorized, Canada is still a winner.
Later, in a photo shop in the resort town of Jasper, a young shopkeeper shared her dismay about moral values and athletes today. She, too, was aware of Canadian hockey players' inclination to join non-Canadian teams that offer more money. To this Canadian, the act of moving to the team offering the best pay is almost an act of treason.
Apparently she belongs to an era in which ethical values mean more than money.
If my low profile on sports was a benefit, so was everything else about my vacation. The scenery was breathtaking.
Traveling with NatureScene fans under the auspices of the ETV Endowment of South Carolina, I often enjoyed an up-close view of animals and plants.
You can imagine the uproar in our dining room at Chateau Lake Louise, when naturalist Rudy Mancke shouted "bear." Sure enough, Mama Grizzly and two cubs were strolling down a path less than 100 feet from our window.
Lake Louise lies sort of at the foot of a glacier named for Queen Victoria. How appropriate. I could imagine her icy gaze on the revelers below.
On a float down the Bow River, we watched with amusement as a bald eagle harassed an osprey that had caught a fish for dinner. Rudy said eagles cannot catch fresh prey and must either dine on carrion or steal from birds or animals better equipped to catch their own meals.
In the end they both lost out. The osprey lost its grip on the fish, which fell into the water, out of reach of both osprey and eagle. Most of us were pulling for the osprey.
I know the bald eagle is our national bird, but in that case the eagle was a bully and a mugger. The osprey had been diligent and brave. Besides, we were in Alberta, Canada, where the provincial bird is the great horned owl.
Then there were days of scrambling up and down rocky paths overlooking precipitous potential plunges into canyons, up mountains, around lakes and waterfalls. We saw elk, bison, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, mule deer and pikas. One mule deer rested in the shade outside our dining room at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton.
We watched magpies, yellow-headed blackbirds, ravens, Clark's nutcracker and, of course, Canada geese. We marveled at fields of wild roses, Alberta's provincial flower, and pasque flowers.
One day we traveled to the Columbia Icefield for an opportunity to slip and slide on the Athabasca glacier.
In Banff we enjoyed a visit with a retired Mountie, who regaled us with tales of exploits ranging from wild animals to domestic disputes. He happily posed for photos. But he admitted that the bright red uniform is a hopeless encumberment when it comes to normal law-enforcement activities.
The uniform is mostly ceremonial today. Regular mounties wear more practical uniforms. We wondered how he managed to appear so cool in that wool suit. After all, Canada was in a heat wave while we were there.
I'll need a while to absorb it all, and probably a couple of months to recover.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at florence@ thepilot.com
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