Indeed, There Is No Planet B

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.” (The Road, Cormack McCarthy)

Sea to Sky Highway, British Columbia

Sea to Sky Highway, a distant ribbon below the Howe Sound Crest Trail.

I went for a great hike with my sister the other day, a roughly four to five-hour round trip to St.Mark’s Summit along the Howe Sound Crest trail on Cypress mountain outside of Vancouver. I used to hike it fairly frequently but it’s been a few years since I was last up there, mostly Scott and I are on the bikes. Woof, it was hard! It’s a challenging trail and clambering up roots and rocks isn’t quite the same as spinning circles, even on a mountain bike.

I was dismayed though at the utter disregard by some for this stunning spot, I don’t recall garbage being an issue before. Quite a few people seemed to be using the trail as an outdoor stairmaster; they appeared oblivious to the spectacular views surrounding them. Wet wipes, tissue, and bits of packaging were scattered here and there (I admit I was grossed out at the first two items and didn’t feel like picking up other people’s garbage on that day. Shame on me, I should carry a bag or something specifically for collecting trash). Some carried radios and music blared out as they stormed up the trail. It was enough to temporarily sully this glorious area. I was looking forward to a quiet picnic at St.Mark’s Summit, but the incessant sound of a drone buzzing around put paid to that. Once the group using it left, taking their toy with them, a sublime quietness descended and we were able to watch peacefully as a bald eagle rode a thermal, the Sea to Sky highway a distant ribbon below.

It was a similar story a week or two ago. I plunged into the sea water off Porteau Cove for a swim after a hot and sweaty mountain bike ride in Squamish, and watched as one, then several more orcas passed by in the distance. Astonishing. As I swam back to shore I noticed bits and pieces of garbage that I grabbed: a pen – it’s not bad, we’re using it at home – a half open plastic packet of something chocolatey, and an elastic band (that might have ended up getting tangled around a flipper, a fin or a beak) both of which I threw into the garbage. A girl paddling on her air mattress grabbed a floating beer can. Compared to many areas of the globe, it’s a minor amount of trash, but it’s depressing to see it all the same. We all drop the ball (and accidentally garbage sometimes), but mindlessly tossing trash, leaving wet wipes and tissue after utilizing the outdoors as a dumping ground is incomprehensible behaviour as the world around us burns and pollutants pile up.

For the first time in a very long time I cried the other day. I’d been reading recently about the struggles of the orcas in these waters known as J pod and I felt overwhelmed by the wrecking ball that we as a species seem to personify. When I sent an email to the David Suzuki Foundation to ask what we could do, the reply was direct and specific:

‘Thanks for your note. Reversing the decline of southern resident orcas is indeed complex, but there are straightforward ways that we could regulate a safer environment that would give a better chance for recovery.

Those include reducing the chinook fishery, improving upstream habitat, reducing shipping traffic speeds, creating marine refuges and protected areas, reducing pollution, among others.

As far as something that each and every person can do in their daily lives, reducing our carbon footprint, reducing consumption, etc. will also help to improve the environment in the long-term, and raise awareness. However, these elements will not lift orcas out of their current crisis.

Keeping decision makers focussed on these issues in the short and long-term are the best likely target to enacting remedies for southern resident orcas. So, what each and every person could do is contact their elected officials and fisheries and oceans staff to let them know their deep concern’.

Grieving over the environmental degradation we’re responsible for is one thing, but we have to act too. So pick up your garbage, better still, don’t drop it in the first place. Pick up other people’s garbage when you can. We need to be more aware of our impact. We should do better, we need to do better, we have to do better.

Howe Sound Crest Trail

View of the ‘Lions’, Howe Sound Crest Trail, Cypress Mountain

Once Upon A Time…In New Zealand

Routeburn Track

Routeburn Track

……I spent a month or so packing kiwi fruit and another month hiking a few of New Zealand’s famously fabulous trails. I had been travelling for the majority of the time by myself in Australia but rejoined my then boyfriend briefly in NZ.

It’s over twenty years ago now (which explains the quality of the photos a bit) that I was in this slender country, long before I moved to Canada. Once here in British Columbia I felt that I recognized aspects of New Zealand in the landscape and coastline of my new home – and of my old home. Something of the coastline and mountain ranges were echoed in BC while the rolling green hills and ubiquitous sheep reminded me a little of England.

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I was rubbish (apparently) at picking out the not-quite-good-enough kiwi fruit from the production line as we packed them in boxes. What I lacked in discernment I made up for in enthusiasm and speed. Instead of being fired I was relegated to marking up the boxes for shipment. I didn’t mind, I was working in the same warehouse as my boyfriend, we were able to pay the rent and buy food and when a month or so was up we left to go hiking on the first multi-day trips I’d ever undertaken.

Those strenuous outings stood me in good stead for living in Canada and all the cycling, snowshoeing and hiking I have done and do here – not just in laying the groundwork for a good fitness base, but also for what not to do. Like not having enough food. To reduce the weight of our gear (sometimes we tented it, if there was room we stayed in one of the trail huts with their excellent wood stoves) we took red lentils, dark rye bread and biscuits. We took or filtered water as we went. That was it. We lost a lot of weight, just not in the right way. And I can’t believe now we didn’t have coffee.

Abel Tasman Track

Part of the route along the Abel Tasman Track

Or we failed to pay enough attention to the weather. We hiked the Routeburn and Greenstone Tracks so late in the season that we found ourselves wading through rain-swollen streams and rivers as we traversed a valley floor; water cascaded down the mountainsides. Our boots remained sodden for almost the entire time. As we progressed along our route we noticed fewer and fewer hikers until we were completely alone, everyone else had either turned back or finished their hike already. And the night before we set off on what I think was the Anatoki/Waingaro Ciruit I was so cold thanks to an inadequate sleeping mat that I lay awake shivering uncontrollably until we got up the next morning. Hiking tired isn’t great, I stumbled and sprained my ankle on the first day. Soldiering on we made it to a hut set cosily in a meadow between treed hillsides. It was already inhabited by two fathers and their young sons (we weren’t the only late season hikers) and who thankfully had a roaring fire going. When we woke to a blanketing of snow we decided enough was enough and packed up for the return journey. I still remember looking back as we left the clearing and seeing four faces peering out at us through the window.

Occasionally we badly misjudged our distances. To the point that one long, long day – having decided we could fit two stages of hiking in one – we ended up stumbling down a rocky trail, in the dark (I don’t remember even having a head-lamp) led on by lights from a hut and falling, exhausted, through the door.

We were idiots. But it was a fabulous time, our naivety and ignorance aside. New Zealand is one of the best places, I still think, to hike. The routes are well maintained, the huts handily placed along the way in scenic spots – I recall one right next to a roaring river, the swing bridge conveniently located just moments away – the forests, mountains and ocean outstandingly beautiful. The convivial atmosphere on the trails was lovely and we were met with great kindness by New Zealanders who never failed to help out when they could. The island boasts remarkable birdlife, native fish, lizards and frogs but no bears or mountain lions, poisonous reptiles or vicious insects to think about when you hike.

I think it might be time for a return visit.

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Cape Foulwind, west coast South Island

 

Quadra Island

In early September we drove north on Vancouver Island as far as Campbell River and from there it was a ten minute ferry ride across to Quadra, one of the so-called Discovery Islands that resides along the Inside Passage seaway between Vancouver Island and the mainland and which sits at the edge of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Despite the often unreliable weather reports in this part of the world we’d planned a break for a couple of days, naively trusting the forecast of ‘mostly sun’. Although the latter did pop out now and then from behind banks of clouds as if to say ‘boo!’, surprising us with its warmth and brightness, it was more often a metallic grey sky that accompanied us on our walks during the time we spent away. That grey, and the rain, has its own beauty though.

Rain, Quadra Island

Steel-grey skies

 

The island has a lovely rural feel to it. As we travelled around on the quiet, leaf-strewn roads we spotted small farms, goats and sheep wandering in fields and signs advertising bags of apples. A woman we met walking her dog mentioned she had an overwhelming amount of berries she’d had to freeze following this year’s bumper crop. We also found Quadra unexpectedly mountainous (at least on the north end) with a surprisingly busy forestry industry. A friend told me he remembers being flown in with a group of workers by helicopter to do some tree planting over thirty years ago. For the last twenty years there’s been an inspiring and protracted push to protect the environment and the effort seems to have paid off. The island also has a distinct and prosperous indigenous presence. The We Wai Kai band of the Laichwiltach people (part of the Kwa’ Kwa’ Ka’ Wa’Kw First Nation) largely reside in Cape Mudge, one of three main villages on the island.

We drove through verdant forest thick with trees, moss and ferns, until the road we were on ran out. After parking we walked to the waters edge, chatting with another couple we bumped into who were hoping to spot whales (they never appeared), and gazed across the rain-stippled water at a homestead, it’s back protected by a wall of trees.

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There’s a great hike (one of many on the island) up a lovely area called Chinese Mountains. A few steps off the road into the forest and after that we didn’t meet a soul for the next couple of hours. It was mulchy and damp on the trail, banana slugs strewn around as if they’d been thrown there. We tried to avoid victimizing them with an unthinkable squelching as we picked our way around them, attempting to avoid slipping on a trail that was largely made up of wet, sharp rocks. It was only lunchtime and already the mossy greenness seemed to be getting darker; the rain was moving in but we wanted to get to the top for a view of the Coast Mountains and Vancouver Island.

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Use all four limbs to climb up this part of the trail

Despite the fog and mist obscuring most of the vista the truncated view was worth the effort. We huddled under a tree eating a chocolate bar as the rain started to get heavier. I was antsy and wanted to retreat before it completely poured, I had visions of us barreling down on our backsides in a torrent of water. As it was we had to be careful to pick out the occasionally obscured trail as the misty dampness roiled around us, at one point backing away from a sheer drop we had somehow managed to walk ourselves out to.

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View from the top

Appropriately, now that I think about it, the north end of the island was enveloped in mist, cloud and rain the entire time. It was on the south end that we enjoyed some sun. It made an appearance when we were taking a look at Cape Mudge lighthouse, one of the few accessible by road in Canada. It’s manned too, which is rather cool (although the romantic in me was a bit disappointed to find out the lighthouse keeper – isn’t that a lovely vintage sounding phrase – doesn’t actually live there, but in a building behind the lighthouse). The latter sits on the edge of a sandy beach where we found a comfortable log to lean against and fell asleep for a few minutes in the sudden warmth. Our hopeful whale watching friends had mentioned that they’d heard the whoosh of a blowhole from a whale whilst they had been here. We of course heard seagulls, the plop of waves….. and the distant throb from tugboat engines.

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Cape Mudge lighthouse

Actually it felt as if we were seeing the world in a micro rather than a macro way for our entire stay. On the way back from a lodge after dinner we spotted several deer, of mostly bambi size, and even a tiny frog that leaped heroically away from the glare of the car headlights (we drove very slowly) and at the small but fascinating salmon hatchery we spotted an undulating group of tiny salmon hatchlings sheltering at the shallow end of their nursery pond. Whether it’s small or large wildlife, whether it rains or shines, it really doesn’t matter.

Rebecca spit, Quadra Island

Looking out from Rebecca Spit, east side of Quadra Island.