Sechelt, Part 3

Nicol and Kathryn

Two friends of ours, greyed after years on the Sunshine coast, lived in a tiny triangular house perched on a cliff overlooking a minuscule lake in the middle of an ocean of trees. Nicol and Kathryn, they were called; they were like a third set of grandparents to us. They seemed natural, fitting, inevitable: Sechelt without them would not have been half as lovely. Nicol was a fine sturdy man, in his late fifties, with a closely trimmed hoary-white beard, like a ship’s captain. He had lost the tip of his right thumb to a stray axe blade, and I (only eight at the time) admired him for the scar. Kathryn was a slender, angular, vibrant woman, of similar age, and very attached to her marvelous impressionistic paintings that she was always working on. Nicol was an amateur boat-builder; he had a decade’s project sitting on props in the front yard, a massive aluminum boat of his own design and construction, always waiting to be finished. Us being impressionable Christian kids, we immediately christened it “Nicol’s Ark.” As we became closer friends, Kathryn began to teach Amy and me how to paint and sketch, how to wrestle this rough, unnamed beauty onto flat paper and canvas. And Nicol would lead us on long walks that wound through the middle of nowhere and somehow always made it back to civilization, just after we were sure that we would have to bivouac and start sending up smoke signals. They were teachers: Nicol taught us to see the land, and Kathryn helped us capture it — a lesson that my sister and I have never forgotten. We loved them, those old people; and they loved us.

Moving On

 We moved to Washington about five years ago. It is beautiful, but it is not beautiful like the coast of Canada. It is dry, and rocky. We had mountains once, but now we have left them behind. We lived by deep woods, mysterious and fascinating to our young minds, but now our trees are sparer. Once an ocean ebbed in our backyard, and in exchange we now possess a small pond. I miss Nicol and Kathryn. But one thing has changed. We own our land. The mountains have shrunk into hills; but the hills are ours. The trees are not as wild; but that small copse is ours. The water is still, and the beaches are congregations of clattering reeds; but the pond is ours. Now that I have learned to love the land, I have land to care for. In the summer we cut back the ambitious grass, and in the autumn we burn the weeds out of the fields. In the winter we scissor through the white heavy linen of snowfall, shoveling our long driveway with deep, efficient Canadian snow scoops. And in the spring, our land buds again. I haven’t yet learned how much I have been given; but every time the tree swallows migrate back into their traditional nesting box, every time the perennial dandelions sprout in the backyard, every time the sun surfaces over the hills, every year the pines reach another branch into the eternal sky, I think I catch a glimpse.

Advertisements

Sechelt Part 2

Trails

In Sechelt, the world was paint for the canvas of my imagination. A brush a mile long could stroke through my thoughts and leave a trail there, bold and green like the woods around me. We memorized the trails and befriended the back-ways, particularly the one that led to the corner store where paradisal plastic boxes filled with gummy candy lay waiting for our eager pennies. The world was a walk – a road-tale that unrolled under the short strides of our sesquipedalian legs. Dirt byways where any nook might conceal a world unknown – this was the fertile soil that my mind buried itself in. It was like some great careless king had spilled open a marvelous green treasure chest, and a living, dancing story had tumbled out. My young mind was printed out in letters as large as the free blue sky and sea. I have lived my life looking out since: looking for places where none have gone before, looking for secrets, looking for adventure.

 

Beaches

The other major face that loomed large in our life was the ocean. A multitude of beaches sat waiting to be explored, seeing as we lived on a peninsula. One shingled stretch we called pebble beach, innocent of the copyright on the name: we just called it that because it only had pebbles. We collected driftwood and made little huts. On another beach, we turned over boulders, straining our little legs and arms, gleefully scrabbling to scoop up the dime-sized crabs that scuttled everywhere like drops of animated mud. When we had buckets full of the tiny arthropods, we would dump them out again, disoriented and irascible: a hardshelled, pinching tide of pointy pebbles. We never swam in the ocean, because it was cold and dirty: the beach itself offered far better opportunities for discovery. Once, during an unusually low tide, in a rock outcropping we found a tiny cave, not a cave, but a blowhole actually, rubbed smooth by the grating sea, and specked with barnacles. My grandpa held me up to the hole, and I followed the path the water took, up through the rock, and back into the gray sunlight. We looked for it many times after that. We never found it again.

At another beach, far different from the steep shores of pebble beach, mud flats oozed out to the distant waterline. We would find sand-dollars, and hermit crabs muttering their way from pool to pool. The tongue-dug clam holes would spit water at my sister and I as we tiptoed over their home-made minefields. Reticent-looking, slumped cormorants on tarred posts that leaned out of the water all askew surveyed the beach grumpily. Paradise.

Sechelt, Part1

(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.)

Woods

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.