“You cannot get behind consciousness” – Max Planck.
Crossing into Canada was a simple matter. Being in an RV, I thought that I should be in the ‘truck’ lane. The customs officer smiled at me kindly as he returned my passport, with a reminder that Alice was not a truck. That smile must be universal, acknowledging the less mentally fortunate. Maybe it’s a new Canadian – American thing. Perhaps all of us trapped in trumpland deserve such condescension for letting it happen.
It was Canada Day when I crossed over. My plan was to visit some provincial parks. I love riding along the roads in British Columbia. The teal rivers tumbling down the ravines are dribbles of the power that once ripped open the earth. Millions of years. Right before my eyes. It is like winding through the folds of the earth, wrapped up in sheets of granite that were torn apart by glaciers. It is a ravaged landscape.
Turns out, the pass I applied for online was only for ‘national’ parks, of which there aren’t many. Provincial parks cost more than American state parks. And they were crowded. In Canada, they have a real appreciation for the sun. Reminded me of England. Sun-bathing, they called it. People everywhere. Traveling between the parks was expensive too. Gas cost almost twice as much.
So my return to British Columbia was a bit of a letdown. For the first time since I had been on the road, I fell into a bad mood. What was I doing, thousands of miles away from home? Wait. Where is home? Am I going to do this forever? Where will it lead? I thought my stay in British Columbia might not be that long after all. But where would I go after that? Was I just doing something stupid, once again?
After a couple of weeks in the provincial parks , I pulled into Glen’s driveway in Abbotsford, B.C. He surprised me with an offer to take me out to his favorite fishing lodge, in Bamfield, on the west side of Vancouver Island. I left Alice in his driveway. Two hours on the ferry, two hours crossing the island on the highway and then two more hours on a dirt logging road. Glen, Cheryl (his wife) and I arrived in time to share a steak dinner at the lodge with half a dozen retired police officers. I slept in a tiny shed, with two beds and a portable heater.
At 5:30 the next morning, Glen’s friend Jonathan took us out to sea. Jonathan is the varsity basketball coach at Vancouver high school. He is also a professional fishing guide in the summer and has worked with Glen, as a fellow guide, for years. It was cold and overcast, but the water was calm. We trolled around the islands, without disturbing the seals and the eagles. When a fish hit the line, the guys would haul it in and give me the rod for the last few meters. It didn’t seem fair to say that I ‘caught’ the fish, but I ended up with a couple of salmon. Fishing is not my thing. Something isn’t right with watching these beautiful big fish bleed on the boat deck. For food, understandable. But for sport, something doesn’t seem fair. These animals are minding their own business. Who are we to bring in boats, radar, multiple fishing lines with weights and flashers? The guys do freeze and eventually eat their catch. On the second day, Jonathan and Glen caught a couple of 30-40 pound halibut … worth a couple of thousand dollars as food. I took one frozen filet of salmon back with me and never could bring myself to eat it.
We went out the next morning and I took my camera. The eagles appeared to have territory about every two hundred meters along the coastline. They watched the fishing boats carefully. When Glen threw a little pink salmon back into the water, the local eagle was on it in a flash.
Being out in the elements, after stripping me of a hold on the past, restored a connection to the world around me. Out on the water, following the tide around the islands, it is impossible not to feel a part of everything. Everything is more powerful than you are. You can never dominate, you can only fit in. Out there, it seems like such an obvious lesson.
Once again, Nature sorted me out. This time, instead of mighty forests and rushing rivers, it was the power of the ocean. It doesn’t take long to realize, travelling in the Northwest, that water is the essence of life. Frozen water ripped passages through granite, making valleys that foster seeds. Evaporated water feeds the new life. Rivers return the water to the sea. Nothing stays the same. It’s impossible not to see that this is how it all works. One element depends on the next. It is a continuous stream, not a mess of bits and pieces. Out in the ocean, my soul fell back into place.
I realized that, in a larger sense, I was home. This was it. I came all that way to be reminded. I was losing my self in the maze of concrete and steel, the veins of the city. I was disappearing in the piles of people that slogged and drudged their way along the freeways – the complete opposite of a mountain river. In fact, it was clear to me, there wasn’t any other place to go. The cold air streaming into my lungs. The mighty roll of the tides as the ocean breaths in and out. The songs of the birds and the splash of seals sliding into the water. The call of the eagles to one another along the shore. I fell into a chord that I could hear in my heart. I saw how what I thought of as my life was temporary, like a train waiting in a station. I would be moving on. All that is was poured into the little vessel that was me, for a little while. I was made up of the same stuff as the elements. We had vibrations in common. As above, so below. The ocean … the clouds … the glaciers … the rivers … it was all the same stuff. That stuff filtered into the earth and fostered life. Thousands of miles away from what I thought was home, somehow I belonged there.
There is a note, a vibration, a feeling, a state, a realization … that is Heaven on Earth. Those early mornings, out on the water, slipping between the islands as light filtered over the horizon, filled me with a spirit that was tangible, that I carried with me to sleep at night. The edge of my mind opened to a larger world, behind the sights and sounds, the here and there and the me and you. For a while, I was everything.
This was the experience I had been looking for. Since I was a kid, I knew it was there to be had. By this time though, I had to work my way back through 60 years of learning to operate on the world by being a separate identity, instead of being in the world as a part of something greater.
After a week in the Canadian coastal wilderness, I said goodbye to Glen and Cheryl, hitting the road for Mt. Vernon in Washington. I was not ready to go south to the cities. I heard the mountains in Montana calling. I ran into Eggi again at Ocean Shores. She was preparing to go to La Push, on the Olympic Peninsula … one of my favorite places. She says that the TV series ‘Twilight’ was filmed on that beach. Having had my fill of the ocean for a while, I crossed into the middle of the state and sat for a couple of weeks by Little Diamond Lake.
I made plans for the rest of the summer. At the end of July, I would head for Glacier National Park. Then I would drive south to the Tetons and Yellowstone, eventually making it to the Craters of the Moon park to catch the eclipse. From there, south to Aspen in early September for the 50th Ruggerfest. I had offered to photograph the tournament for the host club, the Gentlemen of Aspen. The president of the club offered me his driveway for the week. From there, I would go further south to Texas and visit my brother. After that, I would return to Central California, making a loop around the Northwest.
That August, it seemed like the whole world was on fire … or at least, the western North American continent. The firestorms would last the rest of the season, from British Columbia to Los Angeles. Following a record year for rain, the earth was primed to burn. I spent the rest of the summer avoiding thousands of acres of forest fires.
I read about the Going-to-the-Sun highway, in Glacier National Park. That looked like the next stop. From the ocean to the mountains … which were once under the ocean. An observer up there stepped into the middle of millions of years of history. That was where I was headed next.