A Virtual Visit

Fifty years ago (Fifty! How did that happen?) a school friend and I discovered a marvellous place, quite literally in our back yards. Well, somewhat beyond our actual back yards. We started out at the house my family lived in then, an old, rambling and somewhat decrepit place we were renting while my parents built our new house nearby. With bottles of water and apples as provisions, we crossed a hayfield behind the house and entered a wood in which vanilla-leaf plants were in bloom (it was May).

We emerged from the wood onto a road leading uphill, following it to where it turned away in a switchback. Leading in the opposite direction was one of those magical little nameless roads — two wheel-tracks with plants growing down the middle. It led uphill too, taking its time.

After several kilometers and one or two steep climbs, we came to a place typical of the southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia — a hillside sparsely treed with Douglas firs and arbutus, and scattered clumps of juniper, hairy manzanita, and bearberry. Moss was abundant on the rocky outcrops and cliffs, with licorice ferns growing from it. The place was completely natural but looked landscaped. No, more than that — it looked magical, as though inhabited by nature spirits. And indeed, we heard an unfamiliar sound at times, a distant, rhythmic wheezing, like someone sawing wood with a hand saw. I now suspect it was made by male grouse flapping their wings as part of their spring courtship routines. Every now and then, we heard the strident double whistle of a pheasant, but we never saw anyone else there, either human nor animal.

I can’t remember how many expeditions we made to this delightful place. At least three, but probably no more than half a dozen. By June, my annual pollen allergy (which has since vanished, one of the benefits of growing older) made outdoor activities miserable. Then summertime holidays and activities took over, and for whatever other reason, we never went back.

I’ve made a couple of tourist-type trips to that island in the past few decades, showing the sights to visiting friends, but until now haven’t made a systematic search for this special place. Recently, I revisited the area by way of Google Maps and Street View, zooming in on the locale, navigating by names of roads I remembered, finally switching to satellite and Street View. I followed various roads, floating along like a ghost, turning this way and that, looking for the familiar.

It was a weird and dreamlike experience, and ultimately not satisfying.
Although invisible, I couldn’t trespass on private property or go beyond the point where the car with the cameras stopped. Any number of inviting little roads had to remain unexplored. Frustrating but compelling. Eventually I stumbled on a photo someone had taken that looked a lot like the terrain I remembered.

Now I’m planning a real life visit. It’s not that far from where I live, and would make a pleasant day trip. I’m telling myself to temper my expectations for such a sentimental journey. Because what I really wanted to do on my virtual visit was to zoom in, press a button, and be back there, half a century ago, a child of twelve or thirteen, enchanted by the beauty I had discovered. But the eyes and brain are different now, shaped by the experiences of fifty years, and that means any new experience will be different as well.

Image from Pixabay

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30 comments

  1. Very nicely written, Audrey. Well done. We couldn’t afford a back yard when we were kids in Whitechapel. My dad used to take us to the graveyard and make us cut the grass around the mausoleum. We were poor in those days, but by the living, breathing Christ on The Cross, we were happy!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. After forty-five years I visited my childhood neighbourhood and home. The once familiar street that served as a road hockey rink in winter, looked much narrower than I’d recalled. The trees (Dutch Elm, I believe) were now much bigger, pushing up the sidewalk in several places. The big shocker was our house. It had been nicely preserved, but it seemed to be in miniature. When I reflect on my childhood, I prefer to do so with my ‘child brain’.

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  3. Lovely! I almost feel like I’ve been there myself, your description is so good. I’ve had similar experiences with the limitations of Street View. Sometimes it feels more like a fairly vivid dream, but it lacks something so you can’t inhabit it. But sometimes close is better than nothing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kevin. Street View and Maps are great for scoping out places, but definitely not like really being there. When I was writing this post, I remembered one on your blog about revisiting somewhere you had lived years before. A great way to stir up the mental mud!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. When we are young so many new places are magical. If I thought hard I’ll bet I could remember similar places as well. I’m happy to read you are seeking new adventures.

    The place you described sounded familiar.I was raised in Northern Washington about an hours drive or so north of Seattle. My grandmother spent her childhood on Lopez I Island and briefly lived in British Columbia.

    Looks like you were not to far from the San Juans.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the Gulf Islands are quite close to the San Juans. And I think you’re right about youth imparting the magic of novelty to places and experiences. That’s why revisiting spots one knew as a child can have mixed results. Thanks for your comment, Bryan!

      Like

  5. What a beautiful memory of a magical place. I think there are places of spiritual welcome where, for whatever reason, we are perfectly meant to be there at that moment in time, totally aligned. I hope your return visit, though different, will be just as welcoming. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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