(This post and the following two are an essay I wrote for a writing class, consisting essentially of creative sketches on a common theme: a place called Sechelt, where I lived as a child.)
Before we moved to the States, our family lived on the Sunshine coast of Canada, in Sechelt. The delightfully open spaces that rolled over those mountain shores were always fenced by dense woods. Down a short and wide road that dead-ended our street, there was abrupt wilderness, boundless, untamed brambly thickets and tall cedars. To my sister and I, she nine years, I seven, we had never seen a place with less boundaries or more beauty. In some places there are barriers between the city and the wild, palisades to separate people from the surrounding nature. But not here. Here the woods loomed over the asphalt in a living arboreal culdesac, clustered against the open. If we went down one of the secretive trails that wound through the clustered brush and trees, it felt as though we were going back-stage in some grand, elaborate theater, leaving the suburban civilization façade behind. Down one trail we found an old car, swallowed up by brambles, as if the woods had caught some careless driver idling too close to the forest, and dragged the hapless vehicle away to digest into rust, broken glass and crumbling rubber tires. Down another we found a set of short cliffs, perched over a tiny plain of wind-tossed ribbons of grass. Through one imposing cliff we found a mysterious hole, seemingly randomly bored straight down through the center of solid rock. We dropped a pebble down and never heard the click at the bottom.
Once, in that culdesac of trees, we found a young owl, confused and dazzled by the daylight. We looked at it; it looked back. Figuring that this was the chance of a lifetime, we set upon an experiment: to see if owl heads really could turn all the way around. One of us shook our fingers close to its beak, and then when it had noticed them, moved them around behind it. Not dismayed in the least by this turn of events (pardon the pun), it swiveled its fluffy cranium to look straight behind itself. It gave up once it got to about three quarters of a full turn. We wanted to keep it, but according to the government, owls are “endangered”: we left it out in the open, hoping that those wild woods would take it back to where it came from.
Even the trees in our back yard were arranged in a crazed and tangled circle, as if they were forming a wild treeish cult in the middle of all the civilization around them. But then my sister and I would sit inside the ring, shaded from the sun and parental eyes, able to build our sky castles in the privacy of our own world. The trees must have shivered when we built a fort of dead cedar next to them: cedar taken from the forests, tamed, stripped, shaped to make the sturdiest tree-fort ever heard of.