Land of the Spirit Bear


I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer; for as long as I can remember the wind has carried melodies, certain trees protected on the off chance a fairy had made it her home, the night sky a reminder of endless possibilities. Never a Santa Claus or Easter Bunny believer; appalled by the indignity of slapping fairy after tooth – my spirit thrived and grew on the certainty that ancient people accomplished feats beyond explanation because they revered the world around them. Before Christianity and organized religion closed the minds eye, before worshipping the sun or seasons became a sin, and before pondering the stars resulted in  death on a fiery stake – mankind listened as the earth spoke.

I don’t want to debate religion – I want to ponder what mankind seems to have forgotten.

I find it so disheartening that technology, science, and religion have eradicated “wonder”. Wonder as in awe and reverence; not Godly rhetoric but honest to goodness, gob smacking, holy crap our world kicks ass wonder. Few people gaze at the stars – the cosmos practically invisible from artificial light pollution. We Google answers, opinion or solutions to questions without any attempt to solve them ourselves. Divisions insulate us based on religion or politics – both of which have agendas of their own. Media irresponsibly turns fiction into fact under the guise of “opinion”. Technology lulls us into a false state of invisibility, while our connection to the earth collapses under pressure. Instead of opening our eyes to natures signals, we genetically alter perfection – all in the name of the almighty dollar. Mankind is out of control – simply because we’ve forgotten how to slow down and wonder.

Children’s classics like Mary Poppins and Peter Pan capture the essence of my dismay. Children who could talk to the birds while very young, or never grow old in Neverland. Written as fading gasps for an inexplicable longing; sensing something was lost but unable to remember what it might be. Knowing an emptiness simmered just under the surface, yet never being able to put your finger on it.

My life is no different; despite my beliefs I’m caught in a hamster wheel just like everyone else. Sometimes something happens to shake my world back into perspective. If I’m lucky, when I least expect it – my world becomes crystal clear. Two days on Vancouver Island brought me back from the brink. Not 5 paces into the trail at Cathedral Grove, I stopped as the gently swaying giants whispered to me. I had entered the land of the Spirit Bear. My senses trembled,  years fell along the path;  each footstep taking me closer to wonder. My nose filled with the scent of cedar and damp moss, I heard sounds from birds in the canopy to moles deep underground. Nothing escaped me; I was awake and alive in a techno-colour dream. Aboriginal spirits danced in splashes of sunlight; their voices telling the story of how Raven created the Spirit Bear to remind him of a time when the world was covered in ice and snow. I made a silent promise not to forget that moment.

http://www.wildshots.ca/2009/10/legend-of-the-spirit-bear/

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Nanaimo to Port Alberni


A trip to the “the island” always starts the same way; stepping onto the steel deck of the car floors is like that moment when your airplane taxis to the runway. Ship engines complain noisily, forced to patiently wait as passengers park their cars. The deck rumbles beneath your feet, faint whiffs of diesel mix with sea air as travellers make haste for the upper deck. With no turning back, you can sense relief as the dock fades and ocean engulfs the vessel. Airplane passengers uncurl their toes, breath easily, and stop pretending to read a magazine – ferry passengers head for the cafeteria. Hungry or not, eating on the ferry is mandatory. With 38 nautical miles, or 2 hours until “the island”, a trip to the over priced cafeteria gobbles up half an hour. I usually lap the inner decks a few times – the gift shop with it’s local crafts, fridge magnets, and travel books; the wall of attractions and tourist pamphlets – without fail I stuff a handful of whale watching or promotional maps into my bag before heading to the outer deck. Even on a calm, sunny day stepping outside is a blustery proposition.

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Passing the lighthouse is our cue to head for the bathroom one last time –  the island is just a few minutes away.

Despite making this trip too many times to count, I’m struck with the same impression driving away from the ferry.  It’s as if I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole; vegetation is the same but slightly skewed, less rainfall, rockier, the highway lined with oddly twisted, pealing Arbutus trees. Nanaimo comes and goes as the road sways north towards the junction at Parksville. The 50 Km. or so between the ferry and Parksville gives me time to adjust to my surroundings. Every few minutes a logging truck punctuates oncoming traffic. Parksville/Qualicum Beach, a tiny retirement town on the inner coast, is the junction for our turn to the east. Now travelling across the island for 45 Km. to Port Alberni at the tip of Alberni Inlet.

The first few Km’s remarkable only for the industrial nature of businesses; auto wreckers, machine shops, a gravel pit – all without any obvious thought given to placement or planning. At Coombs, all that changes. The road leaves behind chaotic ramblings and climbs out of the valley, forest trades places with corrugated buildings; my heart beats a little faster as I know Cathedral Grove is moments away. Cathedral Grove, a Provincial Park protecting a tiny stand of old growth trees is magical. This place is the elusive elixir needed to restore our souls. Five minutes walking beneath these 800 year old treasures does more good than many 2 week vacations.

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Next stop Port Alberni; a lumber and fishing town struggling to survive. The lumber mill belches smoke as you descend along it’s steep streets to the inlet. Business after business closed, boarded up or for sale.

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Tomorrow I’ll continue the trip from Port Alberni to Tofino.