British Columbia Gulf Islands

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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