By Mickey N. Ask ’79
Every year, the Alumni Association president has the distinct privilege of choosing the annual alumni trip destination. This year, president-elect Debra L. Stottlemyer ’86 chose the Canadian Rockies, which turned out to be a fabulous choice.
We filtered into cosmopolitan Calgary, the starting point, over Friday and Saturday, staying in the old stately Fairmont Palliser hotel downtown. On Sunday the bus arrived to take us to the town of Banff in the heart of the Canadian Rockies at the northern continuation of the Rocky Mountain chain.
The bus wended its way through the towering snow-capped spires along the meandering Bow River across the Trans-Canada Highway. Along the way, we took an exciting though brief helicopter ride on the edge of the mountains with expansive overviews of the vastness of forests, lakes, rivers, and mountains. We arrived at Banff National Park enchanted by the scenes of waterfalls, cloud-backed towering craggy mountains, and lush green forests. Glaciers grind boulders into a fine powder dispersed into the melting ice and carried down in grayish rivers into blue-green lakes which influence its distinctive colors. Two beautiful pristine glacial examples of this were Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, momentarily rendering us speechless with their turquoise beauty!
Our creative trip planner, Esther Tan, ever nervous about impending boredom, included a walk on an arrhythmia-enhancing glass-bottomed walkway jutting out from a cliff over a seemingly bottomless chasm, but my memory might be a little fuzzy! We went on to the Athabasca Glacier in a gigantic-wheeled bus, which kept us awake and unmistakably impressed of the immense power of a glacier to carve valley spaces. We were able to see obvious and significant glacial retreat over the last century. Our journeys also took us into Jasper National Park. One quote on a plaque captured well the impact on us of being in this space: “I gave my heart to the mountains the minute I stood beside this river with its spray in my face and watched it thunder into foam….”
On the next two days, we had a red carpeted boarding of the fabled Rocky Mountaineer train. Its glass-enclosed views clackety-clacked us from Banff through Glacier National Park on its way to Vancouver. We found it to be an enchanting journey, eating gourmet meals in the lower section and enjoying spectacular views of clambering mountain goats, snow-capped mountains, meandering rivers, and lush forests. The train hugged the banks of the Fraser River, bending to the right and to the left, giving us impressive views of the train itself, and going over bridges, through rocky tunnels, and even looping itself to mitigate the steepness of the grade.
On Friday we enjoyed the misty Capilano River rainforest, hanging grimly onto the cabled suspension bridge, continuing through the heights of the towering redwoods, and discovering the history, flora, and fauna of this area. We also enjoyed driving through Vancouver’s Chinatown and exploring on foot the northern Vancouver section with its interesting boutique stores.
We concluded the trip with a pleasant Sabbath on Vancouver Island in the beautiful lush environment of the Butchart Gardens. It was created out of a previously working rock quarry, and we ambled leisurely through the rose garden, Japanese garden, and other formal and informal gardens, viewing the ponds with a changing fountain spray, noticing the unique bordered pathways, multicolored seasonal plants, and flowers.
This experience fanned within me my inner poet, and I’ll conclude with my observational musings and the feelings and words that arose within me throughout this trip: “A rapturous confluence of appreciation, awe, gratitude, and wonder enlarged my soul as I reveled in the view of rivered valleys, tree-lined slopes, and razored mountain backbones with cotton clouds embracing all. The orchestral music of the water’s flow and water’s falls and the soundless messages of the flowers and foliage reminded me to connect to the instruments of the heart as I now understand better the varied mechanisms through which God attempts to communicate with us about his love.”
This trip involved meeting up with alumni friends, introducing us to new alumni friends, and giving us a break from medical practice or an exploration of retirement practices! I believe each attendee of these trips would not debate this as a fact.