The City, the Bush, and the Road Ahead
Vancouver, Mid 70’s. The discovery of a magic land is the stuff of myth. The idea that there must be a place somewhere, long forgotten, where mountains soar, streams gurgle, animals stalk, and faint old trails lead to long lost cabins, is one of the ultimate romance stories.
The Vancouver watershed, for the longest time, was just such a place. This is where we built our first cabin and, as the years went by, this is the area I explored with a variety of bushwhacking, ne’er do well pals.
As it turned out, our teenage experiences in that country were just the thin edge of the wedge. The land revealed itself to be, more and more, the mythical landscape of our imaginations – complete with mountains, streams, wildlife and, yes, faint old trails that led to long lost cabins.
The area is the water source for the City of Vancouver. It’s huge – 330 sq. miles (530 sq. km), containing two large man-made lakes (Seymour and Capilano) and many smaller lakes at various altitudes. The level of these bodies of water has to be monitored and the depth of the snowpack checked on a regular basis. And this land is rugged. So, in the old days, the water board built cabins on these remote lakes, and trails to those cabins, allowing technicians to overnight as they hiked from location to location. At some point that practice stopped, the trails were allowed to grow over, and the cabins sat un-maintained.
When we set out to rediscover those old trails we had our work cut out for us. They were often hard to find, and the cabins, when we reached them, were in poor repair. They were, however, still in one piece, and they were a sight to see. Not only were the locations spectacular (perched on the side of glacial lakes in some cases), but the cabins contained history.
The old stoves and kerosene lamps had remained intact – on their last legs, but fixable. The roofs, for the most part were tight to the weather. But the biggest surprises were waiting for us inside.
Sitting on those tables were packs of old playing cards and tally sheets; plates, knives and forks; magazines and log books from the late 1940’s – books that listed trips, water levels, weather and personal comments. Reading them was like walking back in time.
In these early days, the entire watershed was off limits, the result being that few hikers actually went back there. But we managed to hike a great deal of it anyway, including every ridge back to every major peak in the area. There have been many trails built since then, but at the time, this meant bushwhacking through the rainforest. It was hard work, but we were young, and we were cheeky.
Great days. That’s what they were. But there was trouble a-brewin’.
All of us were at that age where major decisions were looming on the horizon. At some point, evidently, we were supposed to decide what we were going to do in the ‘real’ world … you know … the construct we signed on to before we were old enough to call bullshit. As a result, some serious casting about and self reflection was taking place in my hiking tribe.
My version of it tended toward the bush, making re-entry into the city increasingly uncomfortable. The hard edged concrete, glass and steel was becoming more and more of a shock – a harsh contrast to the benign, if tough and rugged, country we had just left.
There was also that consciousness drop. Stumbling out of those hills, I often felt like a character descending a ‘zone’ or two in one of Doris Lessing’s* novels.
I was a working musician in Vancouver, teaching, currently writing a second Jazz instruction book for a major publisher, and hiking my ass off in the bush. What was the matter with me? This was great! Wasn’t it?
* “The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five,” – Doris Lessing, 1980.