Friday, June 02, 2006

was coming back from alaska, low on money, tired of travelling, on my way home, but heard about a trail on the west coast of vancouver island, the long beach trail, that i really ought to try. travelling around? you'll love this place, way out by the sea, where the tides come up against the cliffs and the rain forest.

it wasn't easy to get to, but i went where they told me, a small town out there where the trail started into the forest. the trail was about fifty miles, and they told me it would take four or five days walking, because at every river or creek you had to come down off the cliff into the river bed and then climb back up again. on the beach, you'd notice that you could walk along the rock at the base of the cliff- but be careful, when the tides came in, they came in big, and you could get stuck there up against the cliff with nowhere to go.

on the first night i found a place to camp, but there were people around, and they told me that when the tide came in i'd want to be further up, away from the sea. that night, we stood around a driftwood fire and told stories. apparently there was always plenty of driftwood- it was all over the place. and there were also mussels- they were like clams, stuck shut, but when you tossed them in the fire they'd sizzle for a while, then pop- and they'd be delicious, fresh, slightly salty, like the sea. once i learned how to find them and cook them, i must have eaten a hundred- and thought i'd be sick in the morning, but wasn't.

i don't remember much about the people, except that there was one israeli guy who was a polished hiker, in a hurry, who was gone in the morning when i woke up. he had offered to join me, but he seemed to be going much too fast for me to try to keep up with him. the fog and the rain forest had put me in an introspective mood- and, having just enough money for the ferry back to the mainland, a five-day trip across the continent to the east in front of me- and noticing, after a year and a half of travelling, that there was a ready-made fire and delicious sea food every night, fresh air, a soft bed of sand to sleep in, the ocean waves lapping up against the embers, i was in no hurry. they said that there were some native villages up the rivers a ways - the natives had lived there forever, always having enough to eat, not bothering anyone, and it was, in fact, their land; though they let hikers come through, you wouldn't even know they were there, as they wouldn't introduce themselves. and they didn't.

one night i ran into the israeli guy again- he'd found a bottle with a note in had been dropped from a boat going to vietnam in the late sixties. we tried to figure out what it said, but he wasn't keen on letting anyone touch it. i felt a strange sense of kinship with the guy that dropped the note...wherever he i was the only american at the beach at that moment, and he had been wondering, i'm sure, if he would ever return to american shores. the israeli guy, in his haste, had, in hiking, misjudged the distance between two rivers and had actually gotten caught, with the tide coming in, up against a cliff, climbing up and losing a night's sleep trying to get away from the rising tide. this had scared him, but hadn't slowed him down much, as he was off again, ahead of me, and going much faster- i didn't see him again. i still was in no hurry- my boots in the sand, eating berries and mussels, watching out for bears, enjoying the wet, all-enveloping greenery of the rain forest, and talking very little to the people i met.

but then,i came around one corner, out on a cliff and in the open, and saw washington state off in the distance, clearly and unmistakably. it was like i'd come back to the usa by walking- though i was in fact still standing in canada- trip was over, time to go home. on the ferry i was surrounded by people again- could hardly bear to go to vancouver, though i'd heard it was a wonderful city, any city at that point was too much, and i headed straight for the plains, stopping only to pick peaches for an afternoon in the okanagan, and make enough money for a large pizza. the ocean, at that point, was already only a memory, but that's how i like to think of it, constantly bringing back the flotsam, dropping it on the shore by the cliffs, reminding us that yes, we will always come back to this lush green earth...if we're lucky....


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