Splat cockroach wall

Down the Winding Stream

Art and Places — Off the Similkameen, Hedley, BC
Most people come to the country for rest and relaxation but it feels like I come to the country to work. I’ve been in the Okanagan for the past few weeks now and it’s been busy. Perhaps it just goes with country-living– up early, physical labour, care of animals–but I’ve had minimal time this round for swimming in the river or basking in the end of summer sun (well, maybe a little)—but it’s a good kind of feeling like you’re really alive.

Dam off the Similkameen River, Hedley
View of the old dam off the Similkameen River

I’ve set up camp in the booming metropolis of Hedley,B.C. (population somewhere around 400 though all the For Sale signs make this seem like a sliding scale).

For Sale, Car, Hedley, BC
For Sale, Hedley, BC

This small Canadian town is a special place and its magnetic pole has drawn several of my city-loving friends into its sphere. I get it: despite its diminutive size, Hedley has its own resident UFO guru and the ghost-town remains of a gold-rush, mining, operation climbing out of the hills of its rockslide backdrop.

Rooftop dome Hedley BC
Glass Geodome, (assembled from car windshields?), a beacon for the skies above
Mascot Mines, Hedley, BC
Mascot Mines, Hedley, BC

It also has its own legends, including a reputed Shamanistic curse placed upon the town and its dodgy usurpers and a peculiar overhanging rock face where Bear swiped at Chipmunk scratching his rump.

Chipmunk rock face Hedley BC
Chipmunk, Rockface, Hedley, BC

There’s also a river with the skeleton of an early 1900s dam squatted by its present-day, throw-back, engineer, a beaver, and enough stars in the night sky to remind one of the infinity of the universe above.

Dam and Beaver Hedley, BC
Beaver (left), Beaver’s dam (right) off the Similkameen River

Situated off a busy highway route, Hedley is a frequent big-rig stop and its pedestrian streets see a steady increase of fair-weather tourists for the length of its desert-like seasons. Hedley streets are also the purgatory stop of an eclectic mix of vintage cars (some in better shape than others) so I wasn’t all that surprised when Rod Moncrieff, the ‘caretaker’, of the ‘Black Lite Gallery’ just off Hedley’s two-block main drag, explained that the cockroach-like abstraction on the building’s outside was ‘what happened to the guy after he hit the wall’—an unfortunate biker gone splat.

There’s a curio, bits-and-pieces, shop connected to the Black Lite Gallery with several of the aforementioned cars stationed outside. Plants of Nasturtium and other blooming vines line the outside entrance to the gallery potted in an assortment of repurposed appliances: bathtubs, toilets, classic washing machines.

Flower pots outside the blacklite gallery
Outside the Blacklite Gallery

Rod takes me into the long hallway set-up of the Black Lite Gallery. The room is filled with astral-sculptures looking as if they are assembled from the same reclaimed parts of cars and washing machine parts sitting outside: and switches off the lights.

Rod’s not your typical run of the mill corner shop owner but I suspect I ask the same questions the many tourists who’ve dropped their loose change in the gallery’s tip jar ask: ‘did you make these?’ . . . no the guy who made them took off and I’ve been watching them (or something along those lines) for the last few years, and he just left all his stuff here. . he didn’t even know the paint he was using glowed in the dark until I told him. . yeah, he’s shown them before. . . in Burnaby, something, something, at Burning Man this year. . . it’s all a little vague but feels harmless, even with all the lights off. The sculptures radiate in the dark like trippy 70s disco citadels.

Blacklite Gallery, lights on

The place has that dark velvet luminosity I imagine permeated the era as well, and the walls pulsate with paintings of swirled blacklit neon.

Sculptures Blacklite Gallery
Glow-in-the dark neon art, Blacklite Gallery

Rod turns the lights back on then takes me next door to his studio and shows me some of his peace pipes, some shaped like. . . toilets. . .and others of more respectable Native inspired motifs. There’s a painting on the wall, Futuristic in feel, hanging next to biker skull flags, skeletal remains, more toilets and other far-flung memorabilia, a cool spider medallion beaded with gems and dangling from a chain.

Frank Stelkia painting
Frank Stelkia

The painting is by a Native artist, Rod explains, named Frank Stelkia and has the reflective impression of a study or self-portrait, the angular features of a warrior-machine emerging or merging into its own skin.

Back in the reality of daylight the yardscapes of Hedley transmorph into birdhouse bonanzas, garden-gnome mania, found-art, and upcycled-installations. Off of Daly Street and across from the Spirit Gardens is the Daly Gallery a non-descript mini-white framed building (creation of Creative, Angelique Wood) once a chicken-coop, now serving the dual-function as a bedroom for its watchdog guardians.

Framed chickens
Framed chickens

Two show windows display an assortment of oddities: skeletal remains, taxidermied feet (what’s left of a stuffed owl that one of the resident dogs destroyed, I am told), tiny crab shells showcased in pill boxes and identified with Chinese characters, a small animal’s skull, a mummified bat, the outstretched wings of a moth, stones and other assortments.

Next to the Daly Gallery are the chickens’ new home, larger and more spacious, and a bat house towering into the sky, inviting its living brethren to take up roost. One peers into the windows of the gallery, somewhat unexpected on this solitary back road, then up at the stratified rock above—it’s quiet out here—the legends of the past hanging in the air—everything gets recycled, I suppose, even death.

Gallery Bat House Chicken Coop
Bat Cave; Daly Gallery; Coop

I pick some basil from the Spirit Gardens across the street then head back to my adoptive home to make dinner, it is as it is, readying for the busy country-day ahead.

Church Spirit Gardens Hedley
Deconsecrated church part of the Spirits Garde


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