For the love of our wild spaces

Summers, for as long as I can remember, have included the wilderness, forests, lakes and oceans. Many weeks and nights were spent slapping bare skin as mosquitoes snacked on me, staring at the stars and wiggling in sleeping bags. While my mom worked, my dad would cart us off to Strathcona Park and we’d paddle back and forth across Buttle Lake, wander up and around the forest on the trails.

But it wasn’t just summers that were spent in the woods, it was weekends and even the odd Thanksgiving. My family and another family actually ate Thanksgiving dinner from a picnic table, rain pooling on a big blue tarp and turkey cooked in the small oven of my parent’s Bigfoot trailer.

In the photo above, my friend and I were posing in front of one of the Carmanah Valley’s beautiful Old Growth trees, and as you can likely see in the picture, I wasn’t always happy to be on a trail. My clothes and trail mix strapped to my back, blisters bloomed on my heels and I had to carry an inhaler to get me up the steep hills, but once we were there, away from everything, cooking over small stoves, our dads cooling their beers in the creek, I didn’t want to leave.

It was easier to get away from it all in the 90s. We didn’t have cell phones, or wifi, or data. We brought books and decks of cards. My dad didn’t reserve campsites, we just showed up and hoped for the best. Last year, my husband and I went back to Strathcona Park, where I spent many summers, and walked a trail I hiked with my dad and sister, within 45 minutes we passed 50 backpackers. One had a blue tooth speaker dangling from her pack, country music blaring into the canopy of Douglas fir and cedar boughs. I was horrified. When I backpacked as a kid and teen, the only thing that hung from my backpack were bear bells. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to go into nature and not want to be fully surrounded by it, including its sounds. Even though we talk about the silence of the woods and the forest, anyone who’s spent time in the woods knows, it might be quiet, but it’s far from silent. We’ve just forgotten how to listen, really listen, and in the places where things aren’t so noisy or quiet, we start to hear ourselves too. And this can be scary and uncomfortable.

On Friday, I’m packing up my car, my tent, snacks, books and my bathing suit and I’m heading into the woods with a friend and her dog. Some people might get excited to go to spas or resorts, but I am over-the-moon excited to be 45 minutes away from town, away from cell reception, away from my inbox and my computer. I’m looking forward to being surrounded by quiet, so that I can learn how to listen again. I’m also looking forward to reconnecting to that girl who spent her summers in a damp bathing suit scratching the constellations of mosquito bites covering her arms and legs.

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