With the end of the year only a few days away, I’ve been thinking about the moments in 2017 where I’ve been the happiest. They all took place outside. Here’s the first memory that came to mind.
May 23, 2017
I like everything about camping — the stale underwear and fuzzy legs and hair turned to straw from wood smoke, dried sweat and ash-smeared t-shirts. It means I’m in the right place.
I’m sitting on a rock on a Friday morning, in the breeze, looking out to one of the largest valleys in B.C. On the other side of the lake, steep mountains close in on the water like a Norwegian fjord six hundred miles from the sea. Snow hangs in great cornices, blue-grey in parts. Rivulets of white turn to roaring waterfalls that crash through the trees into a pool as low and far as a mirage this early in the season.
There is birdsong. There are dandelions. There is everything I want.
The sun burns through the morning clouds and pierces the mountains. This is not a sun that dances and flashes without giving warmth. This is a sun that cuts through to the bones. After five months of winter, it feels amazing.
When Dylan and I arrived at this body of water, this patch of woods, in the van a few days ago, I figured its beauty came from its wildness, how untouched it was. And then the signs of the Anthropocene revealed themselves — the scattered driftwood of ancient cedars, first growth cut long ago and replaced by groves of white birch and aspen, moss and ferns. The stumps of trees that are covered by water later in the season, when the water is high, but which for now are testament to damning somewhere earlier in the water’s route. Cars, trucks, bulldozers — I can’t hear them, but they are there, and they’ve been here.
The evening light turns the leaves transparent. The sunset looks made of fire. Each time I wake up in the night, there are new things to see out of the van window — a shatter of stars and northern lights, rose dawn light spilling over mountains, sunshine bursting through trees, dew, a pale moon hanging in the sky.
After lunch, Dylan and I cycle to our friends’ house in Valemount. It’s a 50km round trip along a baked dust road, past canyons and rivers roaring with snowmelt, past ATVs that that kick up the dust and create refracted rays of light among the trees.
That night we party. The next day we hike in the woods. Things we see include a flash of purple — orchids in all directions. Seaweed lichen. Wild strawberries. A million shades of green.
We rename ourselves Queen of the Dandelions, Kind of the Bluebirds.
Sunlight hits spiders’ webs. It’s their world. It’s the mosquitoes’ world. I feel raw from their bites.
Nothing is perfect, except when it is.
Before dusk, I cycle to Cranberry Marsh to look for birds. Yellow headed blackbirds rasp like smokers. Alien warbles and trills ring out in every direction. I see a beaver. White-tailed deer. Geese walking their babies along a footpath.
I have cuts from falling off my bike and a constellation of new freckles. I am exhausted only in the way that being completely outside for a few days brings. I am happy.