There is a lot one can do on Haida Gwaii, but I am so tired of driving and so starved for quiet time outdoors that I go in search of hikes nearby. The Golden Spruce Trail is a short drive down the logging road from town.
It is an easy walk through beautiful woods to the Yakoun River. On the far shore lies the dead top of the once-glorious Golden Spruce, whose story is told beautifully in John Vaillant’s book by that title. From that point I head upriver through the woods, following a small dirt path. The woods are classic west coast rainforest with huge old growth trees, huge logs, huge lumps of old man’s beard (moss), and hugely brilliant greens. The river is swift and quiet, with huge fallen trees scattered about. Even the blades of grass grow huge. It is like a land of giants. I walk though this listening to the sounds: eagle, frogs, forest birds I can’t name. Then there is a different sound. It might be a bird, but some part of my brain says, “Big Cat.” I stop abruptly. Cougar?? Are there cougars on Haida Gwaii? I don’t know, but supposing there were, I suddenly feel small and bite-sized in this gigantic landscape. I decide to err on the side of caution. I am, after all, out here all by myself. I head back carefully, wondering if one is supposed to look a cougar in the eyes or not look a cougar in the eyes. I unzip my jacket, spread it like wings, practice looking big (just in case).
At the B&B, Lorette laughs and assures me that there are no cougars here, and the bears stay away from the villages. This explains why nobody has shown even the slightest concern about me wandering off into the woods alone. Lorette and I have a good chat and end up at the pub. There’s a crowd of earthy young folks huddled around beers and I recognize my tree-planting friends from my first day here, back in Sandspit. They’ve been moved to this area now. I’m surprised how happy I am to see them again.
Haida Gwaii is an archipelago of two major islands and about 150 small ones, but to someone from the city it feels like one big village. In Masset, I get together with my high school friend’s cousin. (We were put in touch with each other by her aunt.) It is delightful to meet her, and the world gets smaller when it turns out her partner is a cousin of my storyteller friend Kung Jaadee, also of Masset. Kung Jaadee herself, it turns out, is friends with my friend Liz in Victoria. And with my friend Susan in Vancouver. And so forth. If this is a land where things grow to gigantic size, it is also a land where fine, invisible webs are brought to the light.
On my last day on Haida Gwaii, I go back to the path that follows the banks of the Yakoun and follow it for an hour upriver until the trail disappears into marsh. I sit on a log at the water’s edge in fine drizzle and think about “lasts.” I’ve thought about this a lot since my father died two months ago. At some point, there will be a breath which will be my last breath. There will by a last heart beat, a last day. A last word spoken, a last visit with a loved one. A last bike ride, a last trip to the grocery store, a last time I sing. Dance. Sleep. Wake up. In fact, everything I do could be the last time I do it. This is absurdly obvious, but it shakes me like thunder as I sit there on that log. I’ve always assumed that any beautiful place I visit, I can return to and see again. But the truth is, this could be my last time here. It could even be my last walk. (For that matter, this could be my last thought.)
Across the river, a kingfisher dives. I pull off my shoes and socks, stuff them into my pack, step into the water and wade for long enough to feel the cold in my bones. Then I turn to the path and let my bare feet walk me back through the woods, over moss, between giant logs, through mucky puddles and soft black soil, decayed cedar, balsam, spruce. I startle a resting doe who scrambles to her feet 3 meters away. (Actually we startle each other.) We both stand still, looking at each other without moving, then she turns and picks her way deeper into the dark forest where she disappears among gigantic trees.
Now, back at the B&B, it is nighttime. Early in the morning, I will drive an hour to the ferry for a daytime sailing back to Prince Rupert. Amazingly, the skies are clear; frogs sing by moonlight under the stars.